Bicycling in Southern California – A Quick Guide

Bicycling in Southern California is a real treat, especially if you’re from the desert like I am. Even in June, you can count on mild temperatures, decent cycling infrastructure and some hilly routes to help burn more calories.

If you’re into bicycling, Encinitas is a nice place to get a taste of bicycling in Southern California. It’s a bit removed from the craziness of San Diego, but close enough that you can still get there in about 20 minutes or so.

Here’s some advice for riding in and around Encinitas.

Bring Your Bike or Rent?

If you’re traveling, I recommend renting a bike. It’s one less thing you’ll have hanging off of your car or pack up for the airplane.

It’s also fun to try a different bike. You’ll appreciate your personal bike a little better, while also getting an idea of what other bikes do well.

I rented from RIDE Cyclery. It was $80 for 24 hours with a carbon-fiber Cannondale road bike with Shimano 105 on it.

bicycling in southern california

The staff was friendly and very accommodating. I actually forgot to bring my personal pedals from home, but they found a matching pair among all their spare parts. They also took time to nail my saddle height, plus they included a small seatbag with a few essentials for fixing flat tires.

I added my own computer bracket to track my ride. And some of the locals hanging around recommended some routes for me. RIDE Cyclery couldn’t have been better at helping me get the most out of bicycling in Southern California.

What’s Bicycling in Southern California Like?

If you’re visiting Encinitas, Carlsbad or any of these beach communities and plan to ride your bike, hit Strava. Look for people holding “King/Queen of the Mountains” records and check their routes.

Chances are, you’ll find some nice options for rides of all lengths. These can be the building block for planning your route. If you’re using a fancy GPS-based computer, you’ll also be able to create turn-by-turn instructions to navigate.

bicycling in southern california
Hanging out on the beach after a ride.

One of my routes took me down the Coast Highway to the north end of La Jolla. The route had some nice fast parts, along with a terrific climb as I headed south.

The Coast Highway can be a bit maddening when you start hitting four-way stops and stoplights. When you’re on the beach, you’ll also deal with a lot of people walking in the bike lanes, especially in the wrong direction.

El Camino Real is also a great street to ride on. I got stopped at traffic lights while riding early on a Sunday morning. But traffic was light and most of the lanes were in decent shape. Also, nice views and plenty of rolling terrain and curves. Good fun!

There’s an interactive bike lane map for the area. It’s a valuable resource for planning a ride in the San Diego area.

California Bike Culture

In Arizona, when you pass riders in the opposite direction, you give a nod or a wave. Not so much in California.

That could be because there’s so damn many riders. If you acknowledged them all, that’s pretty much what you’d be doing the entire ride. It’s actually nice to see that many people riding.

There’s also widely varied opinions about how to handle stop signs, especially when there are no cars around.

Most of the drivers were also relatively civilized, so that was pretty good.

On the down side, more than a few streets had “sharrows,” those infernal arrows that indicate that bikes can use the same lanes as cars. Every cyclist or cycling advocate I know find these sketchy. Give me a good, dedicated bike lane any day.

What About After the Ride?

To me, beer and biking just go together.

The closest spot to get a beer is at the Modern Times tasting room. They have a huge selection of fine Modern Times beers, including many I couldn’t ever access back in Arizona. They also had their social distancing game dialed in. The food seemed to be all vegetarian (but still good).

bicycling in southern california

If you want to go further afield, I recommend Arcana Brewing. They had a delicious single-hop ale called Mosaic Monster that was perfect; moasic hops are among my favorite (along with amarillo, galaxy, simcoe, and cascade). Another standout was a fruited braggot. It’s one of those places that changes its lineup often, so you won’t always find the same selection. It appears they are BYO for food, too.

So that’s what you need to know about bicycling in Southern California. I recommend Encinitas rather than Carlsbad as your base, just for proximity to Modern Times and the great people at RIDE Cyclery.

Where to Ride on the Grand Canalscape Bike Path

My local news outlets recently had a bunch of headlines about the Grand Canalscape bike path. Most were breathlessly impressed by a bike/pedestrian lane that would stretch “12 miles from Tempe to the I-17.”

I’d bet that not a single one of the journalists rode the entire length on a bike. I honestly wouldn’t expect them to. What I wouldn’t mind, though, is if they interviewed a wide swath of users. That would range from people using a bikeshare for a mile to someone working the Grand Canalscape into a larger ride, maybe even in combination with the Rio Salado bike path.

I’m part of that latter group. So I have the info you couldn’t get from the news stories.

Part of a Huge Canal Network

I’ll repeat a key talking point: Phoenix has tons of miles of canals dating back to the days of the Hohokam civilization. They could be much more than they are today, which amounts to unsightly watery alleys.


Back in the old days, huge shade trees lined the canals. Jon Talton correctly points this out and laments the loss. I get it.

Right now, utilities are in charge of the canals — mainly Salt River Project. There are rules about how much unobstructed access utility crews require.

Trees cut into that, which is especially critical in skinner sections of the path.

Obviously, the beautiful tree canopy is history. There’s no bringing it back.

The question is — what’s the best way to use it now? The Grand Canalscape bike path sure beats letting the canal languish.

Phoenix Cyclists are Hungry for Infrastructure

The Phoenix area is a horrible, horrible place to ride a bike near a road (our mountain bike trails are pretty damn fine, though).

Experienced cyclists are scared to become the next Rob Dollar. Authorities have little appetite to protect us, either proactively with bike infrastructure or with arrests and judgments that fit the circumstances; one often-repeated line is “If you want to get away with murder, use a car.”

And make your victim a cyclist.

grand canalscape bike path
Here is the Grand Canalscape under construction in 2018.

The plethora of canals presents a nice option for separating bikes and cars. If you can’t make the drivers civilized, get cyclists away from them, right? Tucson showed what’s possible with the 130-mile length of The Loop. Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix have done an alright job with the Rio Salado bike path.

The Arizona Canal is pretty solid, especially since it offers quite a few underpasses for cyclists, runners, walkers, scooters and whatnot.

The Time is Ripe for Grand Canalscape Bike Path

So how was the ride?

grand canalscape bike path
Other people getting out for a ride on the Grand Canalscape.

Honestly, the Grand Canalscape bike path is a mediocre ride if you plan to cover the entire distance.

It’s as good as it can be, but it has some inherent flaws that prevent it from being world-class cycling infrastructure:

  • It’s at street grade with no underpasses. That means traffic signals will stop you often.
  • Speaking of traffic signals, some of them are interminably long.
  • Since the canal cuts through the city largely at a diagonal, you’ll run into even more traffic signals.
  • Drivers are either confused by the HAWK signals at the crossings, or they just don’t give a crap. I saw many blow right through when cyclists and pedestrians had the right of way.
  • There are no restrooms or water fountains. My bet is that officials were worried about use and abuse from the homeless. Well, address that situation better and the problem goes away, right?
  • There’s one particularly big miss: The Grand Canalscape bike path should be directionally striped like a road. There are way too many people meandering in the wrong direction. Some particularly incompetent riders can’t even seem to stay on one side. At least striping it gives the rest of us a leg to stand on when we say “stay on your side.”
  • If you’re trying to connect to the Rio Salado bike path, forget it. There doesn’t seem to be any logical, safe way to accomplish that at this point. I will keep hunting for it and update this post if I find a good way.
  • There are few good connections to any good locations or cycling infrastructure, actually. This needs to be a priority with both signage and helpful, obvious ways to connect bike lanes to each other.

Pavement, Amenities and the General Vibe

The pavement is perfect out in the east. I favor rubberized asphalt, but whatever this surface is, it’s pretty nice. It’s seamed concrete, but without the bumpity-bump I associate with this sort of surface.

The seams and the bump get more pronounced as you go west.

grand canalscape bike path
Here’s a driver blowing right through a signaled crossing. Note the Walk signal.

There are also no easy-to-see amenities. If you ride the Arizona Canal, you have OHSO Brewery. They’ve rolled out the welcome mat for cyclists.

The Grand Canalscape desperately needs amenities like this. A nearby espresso shop (or even an espresso food truck) would go over well.
Phoenix needs to encourage “a scene” for lack of a better word to coalesce around the canal. Food, beverages, bathrooms, bike shops — any combination of them would be brilliant.

How to Ride the Grand Canalscape Bike Path

The ride begins in the east (as of March 2020) on 56th Street south of Washington Street. From there, it goes northwest before hooking back to the southwest.
On the west side, the pavement ends at Fairmount and 22nd Avenue. It continues unpaved and ends with an exasperated sigh at the I-17 frontage road.

grand canalscape bike path
The Grand Canalscape ends with a whimper at I-17.

The nicest bits are between 7th Street and 7th Avenue. There are some coooooool homes around the canal in that area.

The worst is currently between 32nd and 16th Streets. 24th Street was entirely closed to cyclists, and 16th Street and Indian School don’t have signalized crossings.

What’s the Best Bike for a Grand Canalscape Ride?

Grand Canalscape is great for just about any bike except maybe traditional road bikes using old-school 23c tires pumped to 120 PSI.

There are still enough choppy parts and the western part has enough bumps in the seams that more-forgiving tire sizes and air pressures will make it a better experience.

grand canalscape bike path
The perfect bike for riding the Grand Canalscape bike path, no matter how short or how long your ride will be.

Bike shares, mountain bikes, gravel bikes? All perfect. Obviously, some riders will do better on bikes built for the ride they’re doing. I wouldn’t want to ride more than a few miles on a bike share just because the position is so weird.

I also wonder what the rules are for powered. If someone gets on the Grand Canalscape with a bike retrofitted with a gas motor, is that legal? And which types of electric bikes are OK?

Bottom Line

The Grand Canal just has too many inherent flaws to make the Grand Canalscape bike path anything special.

No matter how many espresso carts, public art, bike shops or water fountains line the route, it will always have a herky-jerky stop-start nature that drives long-distance cyclists crazy.

grand canalscape bike path
Some parts get pretty industrial, but that’s OK.

But for local commuters and casual cyclists? That’s another story. They should love it. I know it lacks any shade, but that’s honestly OK for short rides. This could get a few cars off the road, and that’s no small matter.

Let’s just hope that better cycling infrastructure like the Arizona Canal and the Rio Salado bike path get the attention they deserve. Those are the real game-changers for serious local cyclists.

And again, I have to credit The Loop as Arizona’s number-one example of prime cycling infrastructure.

Bicycle Infrastructure is Cycling’s Big Problem

Better bicycle infrastructure could solve a lot of transit problems. More people on bikes means fewer cars on the roads, more people burning calories and cleaner air.

Cycling advocates love to point to the Dutch cycling culture to illustrate the possibilities. Adopting even a small percentage of their policies would be huge for the United States.

Unfortunately, decision makers at every level of government in the United States simply don’t care. Even those who support cycling are too cowed to front the political and financial resources. Exceptions are rare — all credit to the governments in the Tucson, Ariz., are for their success on The Loop. That’s 130-plus miles of safe, convenient riding.

This is why I have no confidence in an American cycling boom.

bicycle infrastructure
This bike superhighway in Helsinki is a great example of bicycle infrastructure.

Inconsistent Bicycle Infrastructure

I live in the Phoenix area. And you wouldn’t believe how widely our bike lanes and trails vary in quality — often within the same city.

Bike lanes wind up going nowhere. And city planners seem to have no concept of their user groups. Most of the bicycle infrastructure is adequate — barely — for recreational riders going less than five miles. Long-distance commuters and recreational riders have to overcome bike lanes that don’t connect to the corridors they need. They encounter frequent traffic lights and situations where drivers have no idea what to do.

One of my least-favorite examples is a cycling corridor along Pima Road: It has bike lanes on both sides of the street, which is good. But there’s a second bike-specific corridor on one side; the two-way bike traffic adds a layer of confusion for drivers and cyclists.

There are signs of progress, but they come very slowly.

Terrible Lane Maintenance

I’ve lost count of the places where I have to swerve out of the bike lane to avoid obstacles. Potholes and overhanging branches are common around Phoenix. That gives drivers another reason to be annoyed by cyclists.

There are many spots around the Valley where cities have added great bike lanes. But within months, plants encroach. If you build bike lanes, have a plan and budget to maintain them!

Debris is also a problem. Broken bottles and fallen branches litter the bike lanes. There’s no plan for reporting bicycle infrastructure problems. Concepts like Bikelanes.org help. But if government entities don’t act on the reports, it doesn’t matter.

Speaking of reporting problems: I’d love a cycling GPS that could log problems on the fly to be shared later.

Bike Industry Not Focused on the Problem

I like racing bicycles. I do it a few times of year, and it’s a great celebration of bike culture.

Photo by Ed Buckel.
This isn’t the reality for most people who own bicycles. We need to focus more on people who ride the roads. (Photo by Ed Buckel.)

But bike commuting and family riding are important, too. Unfortunately, the bike industry is uniformly too focused on the Mountain Dew-swilling extreme sports adrenaline junkie cliche. Most people can’t identify with that.

Maybe bike manufacturers could sponsor fewer races, and throw some money into advocating for bicycle infrastructure. Find some room in the budget for a lobbyist to influence pro-bike legislation and policies. That will pay dividends in bike sales and branding.

No Support from Law Enforcement

Every time I ride, I think of people like Rob Dollar. He was one of way too many cyclists who have been run over by drivers. Way too few of these drivers are ever held accountable.

Some police support would also help with drivers who threaten, harass and endanger cyclists. Chesney Parks’ Twitter account is a litany of near-daily conflicts with drivers. And some of the worst offenders are the authorities. The abuses of power are often shocking.

And police don’t seem to take this literal life-and-death situation seriously. According to this article, they look for any excuse not to investigate.

That sends a message to cyclists everywhere: We’re all alone in this.

And that means fewer people will see cycling as an alternative to cars.

Drivers Can’t Deal with Cyclists

Overall, drivers have no clue how to deal with cyclists. Some will try to be polite, but wind up screwing up traffic flow (Example: At a four-way stop, DO NOT wave at a cyclist to take your turn. Treat them like a car so everyone else knows whose turn it is next.).

bicycle infrasctructure
Here’s a great and very cost-effective way to protect a bike lane. Spotted in San Jose, Costa Rice in November, 2018.

Just yesterday, I was heading through a green light. The driver in the oncoming left-turn lane started to turn in front of me and changed her mind -- and then repeated the process twice. She then started gesturing at me.

And I’ve had so many cars swerve into the bike lane that I can’t even remember every close call. You can see a great example of this with the red cup experiment. Protected bicycle infrastructure would offer some protection.

Other Reading

https://bikeleague.org/sites/default/files/EBC_report_final.pdf

https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-bicyclists-drivers-crashes-statistics-2014nov22-story.html

https://thecisforcrank.com/2018/07/25/bike-lanes-are-for-everyone-fact-checking-claims-that-only-the-privileged-want-safe-cycling-infrastructure/

Rio Salado Bike Path: A Ride Guide (With Video)

The Rio Salado bike path is one of the most-overlooked places to ride in metro Phoenix. It’s a 16-mile stretch of sweet car-free riding. I’ve had many local riders act completely surprised to hear about it.

So let’s lift the lid on the Rio Salado bike path, which doesn’t even seem to have an official name.

Rio Salado Bike Path Overview

There are very few places to ride in Phoenix where bikes are completely separated from traffic. This is one of them. From the family-friendly Mesa Riverview Park to the Mad Max-style apocalypse-opolis of 18th Avenue and the Rio Salado, riders don’t have to cross a single street. It’s all separate bike path.
rio salado bike path

A look at the handy (but not perfect) MAG bike map.

You’ll have to dodge other trail users from McClintock to Priest Avenue. And that’s because Tempe is a prime place to park. You’ll find more users there who aren’t aware of trail etiquette, so be prepared.

As you head west, you’ll pass Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Liberty Wildlife and the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center.

Depending on whether you’re chasing a Strava PR, you can stop to have a look at them.

underpass rio salado mcclintock
Construction has started to link the Rio Salado bike path under McClintock Road. That will make it much more convenient.

Who Should Ride the Rio Salado Bike Path?

There’s a little something for everyone. Serious riders will use it as part of a higher-mileage ride. The route doesn’t offer much climbing, but there’s usually a stiff headwind in at least one direction.

But there are several other places where you can do a less-intense ride. Families and more laid-back riders should start somewhere like Mesa Riverview, Tempe Beach Park or Central Avenue and the Rio Salado. Each spot has parking, restrooms and water.

What’s the Best Bike for the Rio Salado Bike Path?

My Lynskey Urbano gravel bike! But seriously, you can ride nearly anything here right now. The pavement is in good condition, so road bikes are pretty good to go — just be careful going under Central Avenue until that gets paved.

There’s very little climbing along the Rio Salado, so even single-speed beach cruisers will work.

What are the Path Conditions?

The Rio Salado bike path is in overall great shape. Here are a few good-to-know bits:

  • The Mesa portion has a 15-mph speed limit. That’s ridiculously slow, especially since it’s nice and wide with lane dividers.
  • Tempe could put some thought into educating trail users. I’ve seen some awful behavior, mostly users meandering on the wrong side and not paying attention.
  • Speaking of Tempe, you can use the pedestrian bridge west of Mill Avenue to ride to the North Bank.
  • The City of Phoenix made some recent upgrades: repaving some chopped up areas and adding underpasses. Its signage could be better, and the 7th Avenue underpass could use some paving. It’s fine for gravel bikes, but road bikes won’t be happy.

Improvements for the Rio Salado Bike Path

Overall, this is a good riding experience. But there is room for improvement:

  • Add more viable, safe connections leading to the Rio Salado bike path. This is especially true on the west side, where there’s literally no good place to ride once you leave the river bottom.
  • Add more bathrooms and water stops.
  • Stretch it out further west, preferably on the South Bank. The City of Phoenix appears to own the property where a fence spells an end to the ride. I wonder how viable it is to move the fencing a bit to allow bike access.
rio salado bike path rio reimagined
Near the end of the line of the Rio Salado bike path on the north bank.

About the West Side: It’s awful past Central. The area needs development. But I know that’s a challenge because of property ownership. But it should be a priority. Until the west side connects to someplace cyclists want to ride, this ride will be a mere out-and-back that pales in comparison to other cycling infrastructure. One good starting place, though, would be figuring out a way to link the Rio Salado path to the new Grand Canalscape bike path.

Fitting in With Rio Reimagined

Redeveloping the Rio Salado is part of an ongoing discussion that’s been tagged “Rio Reimagined.” It’s one of those projects that could last more than a generation. And it involves multiple governments. Sustaining some cooperation, coordination and vision will be hard for the long term.

rio reimagined rio salado bike path
As the Rio Reimagined project progresses, addressing the dead end at 15th Avenue must be a priority.

The Rio Salado bike path is arguably the first tangible link in this chain. Maybe the organizations trying to make this happen should focus there. It’s a perfect starting point for a connected, healthy community. It could fuse transit, recreation, business and residential development.

The Rio Reimagined effort should definitely engage supporters of The Loop in Tucson. That’s 130 miles-plus of car-free riding. And Phoenix cyclists who know about it are jealous. It’s an example of what’s possible with political will and funding.

Planning a Long Ride

Typically, I take Rio Salado Drive out to Mesa Riverview Park. That’s where I’ll hop on the Rio Salado bike path and head west as far as it goes.

I now stay on the south bank since Phoenix re-paved the munched-up sections. Then I’ll usually turn around and head back to Tempe, crossing Tempe Town Lake via the pedestrian bridge. From there, I have a few options for adding more mileage as I like.

rio salado bike path
There are some places along the Rio Salado bike path here you can forget you’re in a major metro area.

Of course, you can plan your own ride. And the MAG Bikeways map is a huge help. It’s not fully up-to-date, though: For example, it doesn’t show that the section under the 143 is finished. It also doesn’t indicate the quality of the routes — a pristine piece of new pavement with barely any traffic is marked the same as a choppy bike lane populated by speeders and semi trucks. Also, it doesn’t point out water sources, bathrooms or parking.

What The Rio Salado Bike Path is Like in 2020

The Rio Salado bike path has some growing pains. The cities have built it, but they’re doing a terrible job overall on a few key elements: They haven’t consistently signed it, and they haven’t educated users about some basic matters of safety and courtesy.

That means you have people wandering all over both sides of the path with no situational awareness. You have unauthorized motor vehicles (mostly ATVs). I’m also not thrilled with the Tempe Center for the Arts golf carts blocking traffic; we use this path to get away from vehicles. There’s no way the arts center couldn’t shuttle people elsewhere.

Take a look at this video. Keep in mind this is just one ride featuring literally everything I mentioned. At least I didn’t get chased by unleashed dogs on this ride. That also happens often.

And look at this guy from my previous ride. Keep in mind, stuff like this happens all the time. By that, I mean multiple times per ride.

It’s impossible to make every human behave themselves. But striping this path and having directional arrows would at least give people a clue. And a bit of attention from park rangers or police could keep motorcycles and ATVs off.

The Rio Salado bike path could be a world-class asset with some attention. Until then, we’re stuck with mediocrity. Building it isn’t good enough. We have to maintain it.

Recap: 2018 Tour De Tucson

The 2018 Tour de Tucson started to go pear-shaped for me about 20 minutes before the start.

As I walked my bike toward the start, I heard a "whiiiiiiiirrrrrr" sound from the front wheel. Disc brakes problem? I was sure of it, until I notice that the zip tie holding the brake cable to the fork had broken. My wife solved that problem by pulling out a roll of clear packing tape.

 

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Sending my dad off for El Tour De Tucson. Once this goon is on his way, I’m going to the zoo. #cycling #bikes

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Then, as I rolled to the start, I got caught being a wise guy. There was a line of people waiting to go under a tape barricade to get to the start. "A-ha," I thought, "I’m on a gravel bike!" So I popped onto a landscaped parking lot island, went around them and grabbed a nice spot in the line. Great success, right? Well, I noticed the goat head thorns in my front tire, then in my back tire. I pulled them out and spun the affected parts of the wheel to the bottom until the tire sealant did its trick. Thank you, tubeless wheels and tires! (And yes, they held for the entire race).

Then I went to turn my wrist-mounted heart rate monitor on. And it refused to wake up. I thought I’d charged it, but you know how that goes. So I’d have to rely on the Force.

2018 tour de tucson

And We’re Off for the 2018 Tour de Tucson!

Things got way better from there. My mid-pack starting spot saved me much of the frustration of passing a bunch of people, and it gave me and a work friend a chance to tag onto some faster-moving groups.

The 2018 Tour de Tucson had a different starting place for 75-mile riders than in the past few years, and it was definitely more convenient than it’s been in years past (please keep it, but sort the road signage out so we know we’re allowed to drive to the staging area). It routed us past a bit of the AMARG airplane graveyard – which also hosts a 10k run in the fall that you shouldn’t miss.

Desert Boneyard 10k
Hell, yes, I did the Desert Boneyard 10k in a frilly pirate shirt!

Being sans heart rate monitor, I had to rely on how my legs felt. I was a bit distressed to feel that electricity-like jangle high in my quads. I’d hit the electrolytes hard all week. I made a mental note to keep an eye on that situation. Within 10 miles, though, it was gone. Last year, I rode a tiny bit conservatively because of the crampfest that my first Tour de Tucson had been in 2016. This year, I wanted to really open in up a bit. So I did, which involved working with other riders for as long as possible until one of us wanted to slow down or go faster.

New Bike Comes Up Aces
Lynskey Urbano November Wheels
My Lynskey Urbano sporting its November Bicycles wheelset.

It was also my first race on a new bike – a Lynskey Urbano, which leans more toward the cyclocross side of the geometry spectrum. It’s longer than the LeMond Zurich I rode for nearly 20 years before, and it can accommodate some wide tires (I was on 30C tires after a summer training on 40Cs -- and the LeMond always had 25C). This made the Urbano super-stable on the fast descents. I was also riding with disc brakes and a flared handlebar, which made for great braking and a nice variety of hand positions. Part of the 2018 Tour de Tucson also goes through a wash (just like in years past). Rather than dismounting and walking, I rode the whole thing – Schwalbe S-One HT tires, for anyone looking for the right tire for their mostly-road-but-sometimes-gravel bike. Fast on the road, but still capable of getting you through some dirt with confidence. I’m also very enthusiastic about my November Bicycles wheelset.

After the gravel section is the short, steep climb where spectators love to gather. That would be a good test to see if that electrical pre-cramp leg tingle would come back. Nope, no sign of it. Strava would later tell me that I beat my best time handily, as it would for most segments of the ride.

I was worried about the wind. The ginormous used-car-lot American flags along the route were stretched taut on their poles. And it appeared to be headed opposite our direction for the final stretch of the ride up Silverbell Road – or Silverhell, as I like to call it – and along the I-10 freeway. Oddly enough, that meant the wind should’ve been at our backs as we headed north. But I couldn’t feel any benefit from the wind – I rode that part with a fast, experienced rider who seemed to know everyone on the course. Super-smooth bike handler, too. We’d been near each other off-and-on for the first 35 miles, and teamed up for about 15 miles. She finally latched onto a fast-moving group of dudes right around there.

Feeling too Groovy to Stop

I was also skipping aid stations. No need for a bathroom, and my two 20-oz bottles and little 16-ouncer filled with Nuun tablets and Trace Minerals magnesium tablets were doing the trick perfectly. It was also pretty cool out, so I wasn’t sweating up a storm. Every 45 minutes, I ate a fig bar. That and the electrolytes kept me sorted out.

2018 tour de tucson

I’d planned to refill water bottles at any stop around 40 miles, but I skipped it. I blew past the 50 miles stop. I stopped for the first time in the race at 61 miles to use the bathroom, fill bottles and get my EFS gel shot ready for use. By that time, I’d slayed the Silverbell dragon. Oddly enough, there wasn’t much wind. I grabbed onto a passing group as I left the aid station – they were some of the faster people in the 42-mile category, which made them pretty sprightly. I wasn’t able to stay with them, but I did team up with some guys who got bounced out of the group along with me. We all took turns at the front, but they couldn’t stick with me. Another guy on a Lynskey was a huge help for a few miles until he tagged onto a faster group. It was only about two miles to the finish at that point.

Those last few miles went well, and I sailed into the finish line about 35 minute faster than last year. I wasn’t really sure about how this year would go. I’m not sure why I rode that much faster, but I have some thoughts:

I’m 10 pounds lighter than I was last year. I’d ridden 500 miles more than I had by this point last year. Since August, I’ve done regular HIIT workouts at TruHit and switched up my routines a lot more. In August, I did plenty of squats at higher weights and lowers reps … and I experimented with the keto diet. I couldn’t stick with it … and I know I’m not being scientific here, but shaking my eating habits up temporarily did something.  

My Lynskey Urbano versus my Lemond Zurich. The Lynskey’s tires, fork and brakes are heavier. I’m not sure if its titanium frame is that much lighter than the LeMond’s; it’s overbuilt like crazy. They both fit well, but those wider tires and its relaxed geometry allow me to let it hang out on the downhills more.

2017 tour de tucson
Me in the 2017 Tour de Tucson. I’ll update when I get my new photos!

I trained solo a lot. In the summer heat, I was out there training for the 2018 Tour de Tucson. I spent a lot of time riding in the dirt and into the wind on those big 40C tires. I even did a 55-mile group ride with roadies on them, and was able to more than hang.

I started in mid-pack instead of working my way up from the back. This allowed me to team up with faster riders, and helped my first 10 miles go far faster. It’s a huge chore to churn through riders who are slower or – worse yet – not conversant in how to handle themselves in groups of rider (hint: slower traffic stays to the right).

Which of those factors made the biggest difference? I don’t know. Being lighter is, to a point, a good habit to keep up. I hope my Urbano will last as long as the Zurich. And I will definitely make it a point to get a good starting spot in the future.