Encouraged by my friend Ken Spears, a top-notch tracky, I've been riding my fixed-gear bike on the road. He says it's good winter training, smoothing pedal strokes and all. Ken sports an extra tough glove on his right hand helping him "brake" his brakeless single speed machine. I'm not so bold. I choose a more traditional front brake.
I'm comfortable riding the fixed-gear in a group of roadies although the limitations are obvious. Rather than the climbs, it's the high-speed descents that leave me in the dust.
I'm okay fit. While the comaraderie of the group ride is my favorite part, I do contest the sprints and the climbs. But with the likes of Lawrence Malone, Robert Wright and Tim Neenan along for the ride, it's difficult to cross the line or crest the climb first.
Friday's ride starts where all our rides do, at the Bicycle Center, corner of Mission and Bay. We'll ride north toward Davenport. Except for the climb out of the Swanton Valley we're in for a 35 mile, gently rolling ride. The top of that climb and the City Limit sign on the way back into Santa Cruz are inevitably where the action is.
The question today is which bike to ride, geared or fixed? With some trepidation I select the single-speed for the Swanton jaunt.
There are 25 or so riders. We roll out from the shop at a gentle, conversational pace. It is mid-winter and even though this is the Central Coast, the pace reflects the season. In addition, having fresh legs for Saturday morning's Branciforte "Road Race" is on ours minds. (Getting to the table early for Ted's Gold Cup pancakes is a solid motivator.)
As usual, the group is together going into the Swanton Valley with just a hint of tension at the front as voices subside anticipating of the climb. I find Robert Wright's wheel at the base of the climb only to be instantly gapped as soon as the road turns upward.
Today though, thanks to the sweet efficiency of the fixed-gear, the gap holds steady. Surprised and encouraged, I dig deeper. I know this climb well. I know I should wait. I can't help myself. I just go.
Near the top, through fogged sunglasses and shreaded breath, I glance back and see Robert 20 yards behind. I know, for the first time, I will crest that climb ahead of him, and everyone else.
Of course, I'm dropped on the descent and am way off the back coming into town.
I hardly remember the countless times I didn't make it to the top first but I do remember the few times I did, including that Friday morning in 1976.
(Prompted by @jimlangley's recent post about seeing 100 cyclists on his Swanton Loop ride.)