After some serious time off the bike (twelve days in Hawaii followed by general work craziness) I was excited to get a semi-long endurance ride in this past Sunday. Per usual, my impromptu plan was to check the weather, decide on clothing (one layer or two), fill the tires, spend twenty minutes scrounging through cabinets and gear bags looking for stray PowerGels, recall the last known location of my spare tube and inflator kit, wash the film off the cycling glasses from the last adventure, and finally head out the door about an hour later than I had planned. So, at the crack of 12:45 PM I was on my bike (joy!), at the Golden Gate Bridge, descending down to Sausalito, and officially on my way, or so I thought.
The point of this post is that a certain cycling buddy of mine, Pieter Leezenberg, has often termed my core route “junk miles”, but I don’t think I really understood what he meant until this past weekend, about three years later. Perhaps it was the extended time off the bike, the influence of Tyler’s relentless Tuesday/Thursday morning spin classes I have become accustomed to, or even the two-day Webcor training camp I attended on the Peninsula just before leaving for vacation. I’m not sure which most influenced my perspective but I couldn’t help but notice how may times I was forced out of a decent cycling rhythm because of a stop sign or traffic light along the way. By the time I reached Larkspur the number of slowdowns seemed ridiculous and by Fairfax nothing short of absurd; over an hour of riding and I still couldn’t find an uninterrupted rhythm. (I used to count this route as training?) It wasn’t until I hit the infamous White’s Grade (a good friend’s little booboo spot) that I felt like I was really riding. At that point I decided to continue on to Rancho Nicasio and on the way back count the actual number of stoplights and stop signs along the route so…I could post about it. 😉
Upon reaching Rancho Nicasio, I was inspired by the new task at hand and quickly grabbed a Gatorade, Cliff Bar, and kept my conversation with the jolly, bearded shop owner (if you have stopped there, you know the one…nice guy) to the briefest I could still consider polite. “I have a friend coming in from Japan next weekend to enjoy a crab boil we’re hosting here. […] You like the Cliff Bars. […] There is a short Japanese cyclist who always stops here and has to have a muffin.” “Uh, Yuko?” “Yes, I think that’s it!!” (I kid you not.)
Refreshed, I was back on the road and counting the stops. Again, it’s pretty smooth riding until you hit the end of White’s Grade, then the fun starts. In all, I counted thirty-nine stops on the way back. Thirty-nine stops! (How many do you get? I’m hoping we can eventually agree on an exact number.) Of course you will add or subtract a few depending on the exact route you take through a few neighborhoods. This not withstanding, that’s approximately seventy-eight potential slowdowns or stops on a roundtrip ride from San Francisco to Nicasio and back or about one potential stop every three minutes of cycling time. Add in traffic and pedestrians into the figure and I believe you arrive at what Pieter has always deemed junk miles.
Now please don’t get me wrong. In no way do I mean to slight the route or lovely towns along the way. On the contrary, I think they would probably be even nicer without determined cyclists constantly trying to buck the system by blowing through stop signs and busy shopping areas. (BTW, I totally disagree with cyclists breaking traffic rules and believe local police are completely justified in handing out citations, in most cases anyhow). If you are a recreational cyclist or simply want to go for a ride to enjoy the weather you can hardly ask for nicer cycling territory. If however you are training for anything a bit more taxing (i.e. – bike racing, triathlon, or general endurance riding) where fitness is the result of sustained, even efforts then I think it’s worth racking the bike on the car and starting closer to where the cows roam.
Pieter was right – my standard endurance route was mostly junk miles. Beyond weekday Headlands hill climbs and the occasional “bang out a quick Paradise Loop” because it’s nice out and I’m short on time, I plan to make it a point to start my 2006 training rides at Lucas Valley Rd., the Peninsula, or perhaps learn some equivalent routes in the East Bay (looking for your help, Murph) and leave downtown Mill Valley to the Blazing Saddle riders.