The Himalayas in my back yard

Mount Tamalpais casts a golden sunset over the San Francisco Bay Area, home to three peaks of 2,500 feet elevation or more. Photo by Michael Collier

Mount Tamalpais casts a golden sunset over the San Francisco Bay Area, home to three peaks of 2,500 feet elevation or more. Photo by Michael Collier

By Michael Collier

Imagine this: Hopping on your bike and climbing more than 29,000 feet  – the equivalent of walking vertically to the top of Mount Everest — in 20 days or less.

And this: Completing the challenge without leaving your home turf. In my case, home was the San Francisco Bay Area, and specifically in the hills of the East Bay, right across the bay from Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, which rises 2,500 feet from the Pacific Ocean.

In early November, I signed up for the Strava Climbing Challenge, along with thousands of others across the globe who use the fitness and social media site. The challenge was to climb at least 8,848 meters, or 29,029 feet, between Nov. 7 and 27.

I made that goal — with room to spare — with eight rides, none of which went beyond a 25-mile radius from my home in the East Bay. Most rides involved climbing between 2,800 and 4,100 feet, and most of my courses were variations of a small number of segments.

By varying my rides a bit each time, I warded off boredom. And on one ride, I came upon a teenager who had crashed his car into a retaining wall in the woodsy enclave of Canyon,  just east of Skyline Road in Oakland. The kid was okay but he thought his life would be over once his parents found out what had happened. The car was a high school graduation gift.

I spent the better part of an hour, as the afternoon sun began to fade, telling him how every teenager I know, including myself, crunched up a car at least once before turning 25. Then his parents arrived, I told them he was a good kid and I went back to my climbing.

After every ride toward my goal this month, I measured my total elevation gain, watching it increase as I anticipated my next outing.

My total after 17 days: 29,747 feet. I was tempted to push my total past 30,000 feet but stopped myself because it was Thanksgiving morning, the final day of the challenge, and it was time to engage with my family.

Still, my total elevation gain was in the top 13 percent of the 47,000 riders participating in the challenge. In addition, the Everest-like elevation I completed marked the first time I had climbed so far in a month where I was not training for a double century ride.

And the best part is that I did it all from the hills just beyond my front porch.

Hey, coach, wake me up

By Michael Collier

Do I look relaxed? At the same point in the Knoxville Double in 2012 I was ready for the support wagon. In 2013, I nailed it, thanks to strength training to my core muscles. No leg cramps as I reveled at the beauty of Lake County the upper Napa Valley.

Do I look relaxed? At the same point in the Knoxville Double in 2012 I was ready for the support wagon. In 2013, I nailed it, thanks to strength training to my core muscles. No leg cramps as I reveled at the beauty of Lake County and the upper Napa Valley.

The first day of summer was nearly two months ago. But in many parts of California, it feels like summer has yet to shed its mild and moist mantle.

Good news: We are about to enter the de facto summer in Northern California, which begins in the last two weeks of August. With the start of the “Indian Summer” weather patterns, we enter a fabulous, warmer riding season in coastal California.

That means it’s time to get ready for a wave of epic events, including the Knoxville Double Century on Sept. 27, the Bass Lake Double Century on Oct. 11 and the Solvang Autumn Double Century on Oct. 18. No matter your condition, it’s time to get on the bike and enjoy the most beautiful time of year.

Just like your bike may need a tune-up, you may want to tune up your body to make you more fit for your final rides of the year. You also may want to deal with some of  your limitations — say, you want to improve your climbing or descending skills.

If that’s the case, call Coach Collier, a USA Cycling certified Level 3 coach who specializes in helping cyclists of all ages take riding skills to a higher level.

For more information on Michael Collier’s coaching services, go to the Coaching page of this blog.

When Robin Williams met his bike-maker

By Michael Collier

In the wake of Robin Williams’ death this week, his love of cycling has become part of his story. He was a big fan of the top races, and he went to the Grand Prix in San Francisco and to the Tour de France. He also was seen riding his bike regularly in Marin County.

One of the most interesting accounts of Williams’ love affair with bikes and cycling, written by Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal, was about the actor’s  meeting with the man who built his bicycle, Dario Pegoretti.

Read the story

Holy smoke! Trucks fogging cyclists

By Michael Collier

The open road is a cyclist’s friend most of the time, but not when a trucker decides to blow a cloud of black exhaust on a rider or a group of riders.

It’s known as “rolling coal,” a blast of soot from a truck’s exhaust pipes that can temporarily blind a cyclist or a car driver — to the pleasure of the “coal-rollers,” who seem to be making a statement of what they think of people who travel clean and green.

This is what it’s like to be smoked:

http://youtube/ZdDxjge5hmY

For about $500, a trucker can add a couple of smokestacks to a rig and “roll coal” by stomping on the accelerator. It’s a dangerous game, with cyclists and car drivers saying they barely avoided being involved in a collision after being surrounded by a dark cloud.

Now the Daily Kos, a Berkeley, CA-based site, has launched an online petition demanding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice department crack down on the soot-blasters. At the same time, New Jersey lawmaker Tim Eustace, a Democrat who was blasted by a twin-stack rig last week, plans to introduce legislation to make diesel-soot shooting illegal.

Federal officials say the practice is outlawed under the Clean Air Act because the modifications to passenger vehicles are aimed at producing more pollution. But large trucks aren’t subject to the rules for passenger vehicles.

Cyclists in Northern California who have been victims of “rollers” are at wit’s end.

“The experience of being blinded by black smoke is not only frustrating as an act of aggression; it is dangerous, as it suddenly blinds your vision for several seconds, which in a pace line can cause crossed wheels and falls,” said one.

Adding to the frustration is that there is little chance that a cyclist will be able to decipher the license plate of the smoke-blowing rig.

Have you been “coal-rolled”? If so, please comment in the Reply box.

Drafting a recumbent no drag at all

By Michael Collier

Zach Kaplan on the HP Velotechnik Speedmaching that he rode in the Aug. 2 Mt Tam Double Century. Photo courtesy of Zach Kaplan.

Zach Kaplan on the HP Velotechnik Speedmaching that he rode in the Aug. 2 Mt Tam Double Century. Photo courtesy of Zach Kaplan.

On long endurance rides a cyclist’s best buddy is another bike to draft, especially when confronting a stiff headwind.

A few days ago, a bit of luck and good timing conspired to give me a much-needed lift halfway through the Mt. Tam Double Century in Northern California.

I was dieseling alone when I came upon a member of my bike club just before a turn onto Chileno Valley Road on the border of Marin and Sonoma counties. We took a turn right into a westerly wind and chatted a bit before it dawned on me to try and draft my friend, Zach Kaplan.

He was riding a recumbent, which is 30 percent or more aerodynamic than a traditional road bike — lower to the ground and with much less drag than the body of a full-grown adult creates on a diamond-frame bike.

Getting creative

Zach, who is one of the strongest and most generous cyclists I know, was game for a little experiment. I locked in behind him, hunched down in the drops of my road bike.

Over the next several miles, we passed at least a dozen other cyclists on regular bikes, with Zach pulling me steadily as I held an extra-low position.

Our impromptu test worked better than I would have imagined.

Working together

Zach didn’t exhaust himself because he was riding his usual pace, while I caught enough of a slipstream to regenerate enough energy to power me forward into the last 80 miles of the ride.

That is what you call teamwork, and that’s why working pace lines on ultra-distance rides is smart.

Chileno Valley Road in Sonoma County is known for its westerly headwinds. Photo courtesy Santa Rosa Cycling Club.

Chileno Valley Road in Sonoma County is known for its westerly headwinds. Photo courtesy Santa Rosa Cycling Club.

Bicycling heaven in Berkeley

By Michael Collier

An unidentified cyclist zips along newly paved Wildcat Canyon Road in the Berkeley hills. Spinadventure photo.

An unidentified cyclist zips along newly paved Wildcat Canyon Road in the Berkeley hills. Spinadventure photo.

Among the things that road cyclists live for: Being King of the Mountains. Long descents. Post-ride feasts.

Oh, and one more: Virgin asphalt, which is like riding on silk.

This week, the denizens of roadies in Berkeley, Calif., were doing cartwheels over the news that a crumbling, pot-holed signature parkway through the city’s wooded hills was being repaved after months of pressure from the city’s robust cycling community.

The Grizzly Peak Cyclists club’s e-mail list was buzzing for days, with a collective sigh from members that years of excruciatingly bumpy pavement were coming to an end.

One member, Mark Abrahams, was so excited that he jumped on his bike and rode to where the paving crew was just finishing the job — giving kudos to the workers as he passed by them.

Wildcat Canyon Road, a narrow, winding street with breathtaking vistas of the wild land canyon, had reached a state of such disrepair that it was almost unbearable to ride. Hard-core cyclists grumbled and turned to other streets for their rides.

But last week the city sent crews to the canyon road, which is in Tilden Regional Park, and laid down several miles of new asphalt. The effort is part of a $15.4 million budget to repave nearly 25 miles of streets in the famously anti-car city, according to Berkeleyside, a news site that covers the city.

A rider who journeyed onto Wildcat Canyon Road one afternoon this week noticed several cyclists breezing along the route, which will be striped in the coming days. They looked very happy to be there.

Tour de France toss up

By Michael Collier
Chris Froome and now a tearful Alberto Contador are out of le Tour after bone-fracturing crashes in the early stages.

Other stars, including Mark Cavendish and Andy Schleck, suffered the same fate, creating an unexpected field of possible podium contenders.

Today is a rest day, a pause for Tour-watchers to assess who may emerge as the top tier as the race kicks it up in the mountains.

Will Vincenzo Nibali be able to hold onto the yellow jersey? He seems to be the heartiest at this point, after winning a tough Stage 10 on Monday.

What about the others in the top tier? Alejandro Valverde has shown his toughness in several previous tours, but hasn’t been a race-changer more recently.

Richie Porte appears to be strong, and Tony Gallopin, who wore the yellow jersey for a day before Nibali snatched it back, has shown that he can compete with the leaders.

Then there is Tejay van Garderen, the U.S. hope. He was collateral in a crash early in the race but rode well in Stage 10.

My podium picks: Nibali, Porte and either Valverde or van Garderen.

Readers: Who are your picks? Please post your comments below.