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:


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.

Mountain travel pioneer, 80, conquers peaks on his bike

 By Michael Collier

Leo Le Bon on his way to the top of Mount Diablo (elevation 3,850 feet) last month. He also rode to the top of Mount Tamalpais ( elevation 2,500 feet) on the same day. Photo by Nadia Le Bon.

Leo Le Bon on his way to the top of Mount Diablo (elevation 3,850 feet) last month. He also rode to the top of Mount Tamalpais ( elevation 2,500 feet) on the same day. Photo by Nadia Le Bon.

Read the story

It’s common to see cyclists going strong into their later years. Leo Le Bon, of Berkeley, Calif., is one of them. But getting to the top of three Bay Area peaks in one day? That’s a challenge. Le Bon, who founded Mountain Travel in Oakland in 1969, has spent his life finding adventure across the globe.

Coaching a Rocky Mountain high

Phil Morton at Loveland Pass, looking good. Photo courtesy of Phil Morton.

Phil Morton at Loveland Pass, looking good. Photo courtesy of Phil Morton.


By Michael Collier

This is a feel-good story. Well, not all feel-good.

It’s about a guy named Phil Morton, who is an experienced cyclist and member of my bike club in Berkeley, California. This Spring, he decided to reach out for support from his friends as he prepared for the ride of his life in the Colorado Rockies.

One of the first things he did in his quest to ride a grueling, six-day bike trek was to find me. I am a cycling coach, and my specialty is helping endurance cyclists like Phil train, physically and mentally, for difficult rides. Phil was my first student and a very good one.

Last year, Phil participated in Ride the Rockies, an event sponsored by the Denver Post newspaper. It was a lot more struggle than fun. His legs ached, his stomach was upset regularly and, well, he wasn’t really a happy camper.

A new view

My goal as his coach was that he would turn things around — that he would be physically comfortable enough on the bike and find pleasure in viewing the breathtaking vistas of snow-capped peaks and reach a meditative-like state as he turned the cranks, one revolution at a time, and ascended mountain passes with elevations approaching 12,000 feet.

On my first on-the-road coaching session with Phil, we rode up Mount Diablo together. The first thing I observed was that he panted a lot. I demonstrated how to breath deeply and he tried it. He made it to the top (3,850 feet elevation), still practicing a “one one-thousand,  two one-thousand” breathing rhythm. With his mindful breathing, much of his physical struggle disappeared and he had enough oxygen to feel more energetic.

Phil is a coach’s dream; a motivated student who listens well and learns quickly.

Training regimen

I wrote up his weekly goals for distance and difficulty, leaving it up to him to ride routes of his choice. I encouraged him to keep up his yoga class and add more core strength exercise. In the four weeks before he departed for Colorado, Phil rode two hilly centuries (100 miles each) and logged more than 40,000 feet of climbing on his Strava page.

On our last ride together before his mountain adventure, Phil and I rode to the 2,500-foot summit of Mount Tamalpais. He was riding at his optimal pace with confidence and grace. He was fit and several pounds thinner than before he began training.

Nasty weather

Phil arrived in Colorado the first week in June, ready to roll. On his first day, he pedaled through thunderstorms, hail and snow. With snowflakes accumulating on the highway and temperatures dropping into the mid-20s, the Colorado state patrol closed the course and pulled Phil and others into waiting rigs.

The next morning, Phil awoke in his tent to temperatures in the teens. The weather improved a bit after that. Phil seemed unflappable.

On the fourth day of the ride, Phil wrote this on his Facebook page:

In the groove

“RtR Day 4: … It was just a great day of riding. It started off quite gently, and the rhythm of pedaling was like a meditation”

On the final day, Phil posted this: “This is it – Loveland Pass @ 11992′. Anticipation or dread?” Then this, in the final miles: “It was quite simple — just turn the pedals at your pace, drink enough water and eat sugar.”

This tale shows how one person can achieve a major life goal with undying devotion. It is also how a coach who is similarly devoted to a holistic approach to training cyclists can help get the student to the top.

Michael Collier is a USA Cycling certified coach. For more information about his approach to coaching, click on Coaching on the home page of www.spinadventure.com




Tour of California’s Stage 3 finish atop Mount Diablo (VIDEO)

By Michael Collier

Scores of cycling fans flocked Tuesday to Mount Diablo to get a glimpse of their favorite pro racers in the final twists and turns of a 108-mile Stage 3 of the 2014 Tour of California, which began in San Jose and ended at the top of the East Bay’s tallest peak for the second year in a row.

Ride leader Bradley Wiggins, who won the Tour de France in 2012, finished behind stage winner Rohan Dennis of Australia. Wiggins remains the overall leader.

The bonus: The fans got to ride their own bikes most of the way to the top — all but 1.2 miles from the 3,850-foot summit.

The drawback: They weren’t riding with the pros, and many of the fan-riders had to sit for hours in the scorching sun as they awaited, with great anticipation, the 128 pro riders on the last leg of the day’s ride.

I was one of them. As the temperature neared 90 degrees, I spent a lot of time refilling my water bottle with Skratch electrolyte samples at a tent nearby. I also scouted out the best angles for shooting a video. I chose my spot at Devil’s Elbow, with sweeping views of Mount Diablo and the San Ramon Valley below it.

I shot this video of the lead group of riders at the last hairpin turn before the finish. Special feature: Look for the guy dressed as a devil at the end of the video. His real name is Brad Porter and he’s  not at all devilish in person.

The Tour of California has become the primo pro road bike racing event in the U.S. Stage 4 on Wednesday goes from Monterey to Cambria on beautiful Highway 1.

Expect hard-core cycling fans to play hookie again. The tour finishes Sunday in Thousand Oaks (Los Angeles County.)