Eroica California - Single Speed on the Retro Re-Issue w/ Alex



I always wake up earlier on “vacation” than at home.  My alarm goes off before dawn and I spend a half hour getting dressed and trying to eat before getting on whichever bike I’m riding that morning.  Since it’s already getting warm in the desert I had to play this game on my motorcycle both on the way to and from California in hopes of avoiding the afternoon sun or at least getting to higher elevation by the time it hit. Leisure takes more effort than I thought.

Just say “no” to distracted driving.

Paso Robles is, at shortest, around 600 miles from my house.  Google Maps put this at about nine hours of driving, which means a bit more than that on the motorcycle, and a good amount more than that once Los Angeles traffic has its way, which it always does.  Instead of riding big interstates and revving out my bike I typically take scenic routes which are always more interesting even though they tack on more mileage and a good amount more time.  This trip I decided to swing through North County San Diego and Orange County on the way to Paso Robles to break up the trip, stay with friends, and get a little extra riding in.  On the way back I stopped in LA before cutting back across the desert.  Unfortunately I spent as much time doing bonus miles on the bicycle as I did wrenching on it.

The bike I rode for this event was the State Retro Reissue.  While not a pre-1987 bicycle, it has all the same technology so it passed the test.  Lugged steel frame, retro saddle, classic cranks, 1” threaded headset, and a couple extras that I put on such as road drops, non-aero brake levers, and clips and straps.  As it is meant as a retro track bike the tire clearance wasn’t terrific but I managed to squeeze some 32c tires with a bit of tread to smooth out the ride and grip a little better off road.  This proved to be an issue.  Also, as it is meant as a retro track bike, it’s single speed.  I threw a seventeen tooth freewheel on back instead of the stock sixteen to make a 46x17 ratio.  It killed me, but at least I had one extra tooth. 

I made it to San Diego the Wednesday before Eroica and had a great ride planned out for Thursday.  Part Belgian Waffle Ride, part coastal, and all based around breweries and eateries.  I put my bike together as it started to drizzle.  On Thursday the rain never let up.  I watched movies on Netflix while my buddy was at work before it cleared up and I was able to pedal to the warehouse.  On the way was a brewery!  San Diego is all about these things.  After a beer it started raining and I got to the warehouse a little soggy and proceeded to waste more time and not ride my bicycle. 

The next morning I rode back to his house, rounding out ten (10) miles of riding in two days, all of which were wet.  I packed my bike up and rode a couple hours, once again in the rain, to Orange County.  As I was only staying overnight I didn’t even attempt to assemble my bicycle, instead leaving it on the motorcycle and locking it up.  I opted for beers at a friend’s chopper photo show which ended with crashing out in his living room with ten homies at 3am.  Four hours later I was on my way to Paso Robles, hoping that the weather would hold out for the main ride of the trip.

For the most part the bike on back of the bike was no problem.  At low speeds, especially going downhill, using the front brake would make the moto’s front wheel “walk” a little.  Time to change that fork oil or probably just deal with it.

Just as I was about to hit the 101 the heavens opened up and said “Nope”, slowing traffic to a standstill as my waterproof gear proved to be not totally waterproof.  An hour later I prevailed, changed into dry-ish clothes, and pushed forward to Paso Robles, constantly looking at the sky up ahead.  Somehow the weather held off and I got to the town square with warm weather and sunny skies.  I checked in and looked at bicycle technology that I’d never seen before save for on The Internet until I was able to get my hotel room.  There I changed clothes once again, pinned my jersey for the next day, put my bike together, decompressed, then pedaled back to the festival for the pre-ride dinner.  Oh yeah, rain again.  Not too bad, but still concerning since I was going to start a 30% dirt ride in twelve hours.  The dinner was terrific and I stuffed my face with as much pasta as possible while getting my buzz on and watching the awards for the concourse (best retro bicycle and such).  The course designer got up and told us about some route changes that made no difference to me because I didn’t, and really still don’t, know the course.  I rode back to the hotel under increasingly heavy rainfall.

My alarm woke me up an hour before sunrise, which was also when my group was set to depart.  Most towns are quiet at this hour, and a small town like Paso Robles is even quieter.  I saw one other fellow pedaling to the start and just as many cars.  The long-route riders were lining up to leave as I showed up and found Saxon who was shooting video that day for State.  He drove out from LA at 2am so I couldn’t complain as much about waking up a half hour earlier.  We chatted a bit before I lined up for the 6:30am roll as the eastern sky began to glow.  Somehow the weather was holding off and we started to pedal.  

I didn’t dress super warm for the start, but it was too warm the instant we started climbing.

After our first turn we started to climb.  After our second and third turns we continued to climb.  Then it turned to dirt.  Remember how I put on tires that barely fit in the brakes?  Well the dirt was like clay from the rain and it stuck to my tires which dragged it into my brakes which brought me to a standstill.  A few times on the climb, and even on the descents, I had to stop and clear the mud out so I could actually roll.  Even with this warm up from hell I couldn’t be upset because of the scenery.  All the climbing had gotten us higher up into vineyards, following narrow dirt roads under the cover of trees. The sky was still cloudy but the sun was poking through a little bit and attempting to burn the clouds out.

The first roll of film I shot on had been in my camera for at least a year so it had probably been toasting in the sun in addition to also probably being expired.  I had to enhance a couple pictures to get a better read off of them.

A fast, smooth, tarmac descent with a little bit of drizzle led us to the first aid station. The support on this ride was terrific, many of the stations being on private property and run by people who were eager to help us out.  This was the first of three that was at a vineyard but sadly had no wine for us.  Just more motivation to get to the next one! The route leaving this aid station was a steep, dirt road (get used to reading about these) which I saw people walking up as I had arrived.  Determined to prove my worth I pulled my toe straps tight and went at it.  NAILED IT.  Not too bad.  Wait, the road turns left and keeps going up, and up, and up.  Now I was out of sight so I resorted to walking near the top.  At least I had the appearance of killing it for a second.

There was smooth sailing for a while after this.  Also the first shot on my second roll of film.

This whole ride was split between excruciating climbs and terrific descents.  After making it up this dirt hill the road pointed downward and turned to pavement again for the next ten miles or so until the next checkpoint, another winery.  There were rolling hills, once again canopied with trees, and the occasional white knuckle section.  Views to the north looked like scenes from Jurassic Park with clouds clinging to mountains and no earth in sight that wasn’t green.  

This checkpoint had wine!  I pretended to know what I was talking about and also attempted to learn something about wine but I was too thrilled with the ride to care about much else.  We got our cards stamped in a huge, white barn before getting on the saddle again and riding through a covered bridge and through the vineyard grounds before hitting public roads again.

It turned to dirt again.  The ride is 30% dirt, but the vast majority of climbing was on dirt, so I probably spent five of the eight hours it took me to finish on dirt.  Maybe more. I was going full single speed mountain bike style, hovering over the saddle to get a little more power while trying to keep traction.  The 32c tires were now worth the trouble I had with them early on.  I was trying to shoot photos while riding up the mellow but consistent grade that ran alongside a creek which carved its way down a canyon while we cranked our way up it.  When turning around for a shot I saw that someone was coming up behind me, which was surprising since I hadn’t really been passed going uphill except for when walking.  Not trying to toot my own horn, really, it’s just that the one speed makes for a lower speed limit when going up.  I was interested to see what kind of fellow this was and who to my wondering eyes should appear but Tom god damn Ritchey.  I tried to fanboy out as little as possible, and he helped me out with that by taking my mind off of his celebrity status and setting it onto the climb ahead.  “That first climb was pretty painful but I mostly made it,” I said, so he let me know that this one coming up was much worse.  Yahoo.  At this point he had a tire blowout and we separated ways.

Those low clouds held out for as long as they could

Sure enough, the hill was painful.  Steep?  Yep.  Dirt?  What else!  I saw other people walking ahead of me and accepted my fate.  My PF Flyers were comfy when I dismounted, at least.  A couple mounts and dismounts later and I was at the top of the mountain eating a banana at a mini aid station.  As I took a photo and got ready to descend I overheard someone say “twelve miles of downhill from here to the next stop” and oh boy was he right.  

A beach bum/surfer bro/cyclist at Cayucos was very hyped that I made it up “the wall” on a single speed.  This was looking down the other side of “the wall” and ultimately toward the ocean.

This was one of the most fun/terrifying descents I’ve done.  The first bit was steep and dirt (I’m okay with that on downhills) and I’m glad that I had a tiny bit of tread and a little extra volume in my tires.  My cloth bar tape wasn’t doing much to absorb the vibrations of washboard braking areas and rutted out turns.  My back wheel broke loose on just about every turn but I didn’t lose the front too badly.  I mean, I stayed up. Once it got to pavement I was ready to relax but this was a rare instance where the paved portion is more treacherous than the dirt.  I’ve only experienced this phenomena once, and that time I had a brain bucket on.  Whatever!  Patchwork asphalt, steeper grades, and tighter turns had me grabbing my brakes and dropping into turns with all I had while my back tire skipped around looking for traction.  I don’t know how long this bit was but it felt like a while and I wish it had lasted forever.  Paradise is an endless descent where you’re just about losing control of your bike but barely holding on to it. This was the closest I’ve been, but not much lasts forever.  Eventually the road mellowed out into a calm grade with sweeping turns that I was able to cruise down no handed with a shit eating grin on my face for another half hour.

I kept slingshotting with this couple.  I’d spend ages at a rest stop then catch them on the road, then spend ages at a rest stop where they’d catch me, and so on, for the whole day.

After riding with some folks for a little we hit another rest stop at Cambria, right by the ocean.  I believe this was around halfway, but I know for damn sure that they had burritos, rolled tacos, flan, and margaritas.  I may have stayed too long here, and it may have been a painful climb out of there.  Once over the crest and past some arm cramps was the Pacific Coast Highway for ten miles until the beach town of Cayucos.  I time trialed my way on the flat or false flat road there, a little bummed that we were on a big road with cars and hardly any turns.  Then I realized that I was being a brat because this road wasn’t as beautiful as the other roads.  It cut through green hills littered with tiny yellow flowers and eventually led to an ocean view and clear blue skies.

This was the least scenic part of the ride.  Really big bummer being out here, for sure.

This rest stop was on the recently reopened boardwalk and had sandwiches and salad and cookies and beer and wine and I didn’t really want to leave but I had to.  We cruised through town for a mile or so before cutting inland again and doing a rare asphalt climb.  Mellow and paved?  I thought it was supposed to be steep and dirt? Oh, a right turn onto a dirt road, now we’re back into it.  This was the third “main” climb of the ride, at least from what I was told.  It wasn’t as steep as the first two but was more prolonged.  I was able to sit down for much of it which was fortunate because my left knee was getting pretty mad at me.  It was early afternoon and the exposed road climb had taken its toll on me because of the direct sunlight, but the dirt road was totally covered by trees so getting a base tan was one less thing to worry about.  Another summit, another rest station, and another step closer to the finish.

Even descending was getting tiresome by now.  The final rest stop had chips, trail mix, and wine, thank the gods.  Rather, thank the event organizers and volunteers.  From here on out the hills weren’t too steep and I was usually able to keep my momentum to get up the other side with minimal grinding.  A group of us wound up together as we saw Paso Robles in the distance with black clouds hanging over it.  Remember how the weather held out?  Well the organizers made some pact with the weather systems of Earth to throw a little bit of everything at us, because out of blue skies came a downpour while we pacelined a downhill.  It was about three in the afternoon by now and the rain was almost like a balmy baptism (and probably got some stink off of me).  A couple minutes of air drying later and it was back to easy cruising into town on some dirt bike paths and overpasses.

Stuff just grows out of the dirt (the brown stuff), a lot.  I don’t get it.

Riding into the town square was a great relief, and getting my bottle of olive oil was a new end-of-the-ride experience.  I saw Saxon there after not seeing him the entire day, but apparently he had seen me.  I guess I was focused too much on the ride to notice him standing in the bushes with a camera.  We watched some people come in and realized that two of the long route riders had finished before I had.  They started a half hour (at most) earlier than us and completed almost forty extra miles in about the same time as I had.  I’ll just say it’s because they had gears.  Yeah, that’s the reason.  I was starting to get sleepy which meant I needed to eat.  In the dinner tent from the night before was a post ride meal where I stuffed myself silly and scored some free beers.  The beers also made me sleepy, so we went back to the hotel room and lounged around for a while.  Saxon had the brilliant idea of “walking around town until dark then going to sleep” so we did just that.  Paso Robles isn’t very popping on a drizzling Sunday night so by nine o’clock we were both crashed out.

The next morning I took apart my bicycle, strapped it onto my motorcycle, and headed back to the Los Angeles sunshine and traffic.  This time the backup was caused in part by a chihuahua running down the I5 just south of downtown.  Even though it was on the other side of the barrier I still caught a mile of gridlock.  A little cautious lane splitting and I was back up to speed and on my way to another place to sleep.  I stayed with my buddy again and the next morning hit the road at sunrise to make it back to the desert.  Things dried up and got warm within a couple of hours and I knew I was getting to the end of my excursion and back to a place where I could sleep in and ride geared bicycles.  Well, at least until the next big ride.