23 jan 2020

Pedro Gomes: The Coast Ride

For those familiar with this informal event, you may skip this first paragraph. To the others, The Coast Ride is a gathering of cyclists in North California, who will later become best buddies, that takes place every year around the third week of January and challenges them to ride from San Francisco to Santa Barbara in three days of great camaraderie, solid climbing and whole a lot of miles banked. It is not a race, there are no timing mats, primes or closed roads, but there is an organization to facilitate the transport of personal bags from start to finish of each day, provide any needed mechanical support and keep everyone properly fueled throughout the journey. Each year, around 350 cyclists join the party, flying, driving or riding into San Francisco on the Friday night with nothing but good spirits, a personal bag to drop off at SAG and their bikes, hoping to leave back home from Santa Barbara on the next Monday night with some sore glutes and in need of a good night of sleep. Now that you are familiarized with the ride, lets get to it.

New gear that I took for a spin
This ride presented the perfect opportunity to test out a bunch of new equipment that I will be using throughout 2020. First, of course, is the Cervelo S5 road bike with disc brakes. With the weather staying dry for the entire journey, I didn’t really get to experience the disc brakes performance on wet roads. However, the S5 revealed stiffness and lightweight that were a bonus (an advantage) over the course of the 600 Kms with over 6K meters of climbing. On the Cervelo S5, I had the Vision Metron 40Sl wheelset which offers the perfect combination of weight and aerodynamics for both the rolling hills and flat sections of the course and all the climbing. The Metron 55Sl would have not been a bad choice, given the slightly deeper profile without that significant added weight. I also got to try the Prologo Dimension Tri saddle which was a welcoming surprise. Given that I had only used it for about 40 km before this journey, this Prologo saddle gave me zero issues “down under” and I can safely say it’s a match made in heaven. Unlike previous road saddles I owned, the Dimension Tri has a slightly wider nose but not wide enough that would be uncomfortable like other famous wider nose saddles. If there’s one thing road cyclists appreciate is a good “sofa” to seat on and using well under 200grams of material. Lastly, I’ve put to good use two items that I knew it would be just perfect for the presented riding conditions (4-7 degrees in the morning): 1) the Jakroo Jupiter All Weather Jersey, custom designed, order and shipped in less than 10 days (!!), which was perfect for the chilly riding conditions, keeping the core warm without over heating on the climbs and offering an amazing wind shield for the downhills, and 2) the ImpactX-2 Photochromic lenses for the Rudy Project Defender, which adjust the tint based on the amount of light outdoors, perfect for the sunrise/sunset riders that go from night light to day light during their rides or vice-versa.

The Day to Day of the Ride

Day 1 – San Francisco to Monterrey, 203km, +2085m
You start the ride at Sports Basement just off Crissy Fields with prime view to the Golden Gate Bridge, offering the perfect backdrop for the kick-off pedal stroe. Organizers provide bagels and coffee for a warm start and this year the weather was on our side with nothing but a slight tailwind helping us get out “match made in heaven” on the road. There is no official time to start, only time cut off to drop bags, so slower riders tend to go before sunrise while more experienced riders usually start in the break of dawn. For me this was the second time around doing this event so the ride out of town thru the South West was not new, but you can’t help but really enjoy it like it’s the first time. I hooked up with the San Francisco Olympic Club who was welcoming to both myself and the other nutcases that drove with me from Phoenix on the day before. Day one is mellow and gives you a nice taste of what’s coming. Navigation wise is not complicated to find the coast road although it can be tricky to go thru Santa Cruz. You either aim to ride along the coast and try to make it or have maps set up in your bike computer. Given that there are always cyclists on the road going the same direction, worst case scenario, you wait for the next group to follow. There are a few rolling hills along the way as well, but everyone knows that it’s just a warmup for what’s happening on Sunday. Organization provides a lunch stop on every day and for the most part consists of a lot of gluten and sports nutrition. Day 1 is usually a day that people take too hard given the loaded muscles reserves and tons of excitement so its not uncommon to hear about one or two crashes along the way. On our end, we all got safe and sound with zero mechanical issues to Monterrey which is always a win.

Day 2 – Monterrey to Morro Bay, 196km, +2650m
This is the day the entire event is known for, remembered for and will make you come back again. The ride along the coast, through massive cliffs, the Big Sur, its breathtaking views and challenging climbs is indescribable, and photos won’t ever do it justice. Most of the climbing happens before the lunch break (around 70 miles in) and so the day can become a little demanding for the less prepared. There are no very long climbs but there are a few sets of climbs and a basic constant up and down while you are tempted to look to the side and admire the view. This is the day that in wet conditions, disc brakes can come in handy and while we were lucky to stay dry, outstanding performance of rotors over rim brakes is obvious on some of faster descents. Everyone at the Olympic Club kept the pace comfortable and steady for the most part so it was another solid day in the saddle banked and an infinite number of pizza slices consumed at the end. I’ve ridden in multiple locations around the globe including French Alps, Rockies, The Pyrenees and other famous mountains, and nothing compares to the beauty of a clear day along the Big Sur. It’s simply unique, reminds us the cliffs in Ireland or the roads you only see in the movies and don’t actually believe they exist. I’m already looking into 2021 where I will possibly do this day twice, one on each direction, instead of doing Day 3 of the normal route. As on Day 1, we couldn’t get a reservation at the host hotel in Morro Bay but there are plenty of other options within walking distance of the host hotel, so you don’t need to book that far in advance (unless the event gets massive within a few years!). Also, remember it’s January and it’s a Sunday, so don’t expect to there be a Whole Foods (as on Day 1) or lots of restaurants to the hotels. There is however a small but decent selection of food options and between the pizza place, the thai restaurant and the Mexican dinner, I’m sure there is something for everyone.

Day 3 – Morro Bay to Santa Barbara, 208km, +1650m
For me this is the less interesting day and you should do it mostly for the challenge of the third day in a row riding long rather than the beauty of the route. For the most party you take country roads inland before coming down to the coast for a long drag into Santa Barbara. It’s a fast day, good roads and one big climb about 2/3 of the way in, which can feel dreadful. It’s not a hard climb but, as someone said, a gentle and progressive kick in the nuts as you go into it with tired legs and usually a headwind through what seems to be a never-ending canyon. The idea on the last day is for everyone to roll out together off Morro Bay and make a stop about 17 miles in for breakfast at this cool café in San Luis Obispo. We – as in, we from Phoenix – rolled out as smaller group for this last day as most of the Bay Area riders don’t do Day 3 of the ride. I guess people must work on Mondays, go figure. Anyways, despite a little mechanical issue from one of our friends, most of the ride was uneventful and it felt like just another steady 6hrs+ day on the saddle. By the time we get out of the 101 freeway and into the final stretch of 15Km into Santa Barbara, everyone starts cursing due to the insane amount of lights while a sense of relieve settles in at the same time. If you made it thus far, nothing will stop you from getting to the finishing host hotel. A strange old feeling of pride takes over as you just accomplished something that is, on paper, hard for most. As we all rolled safe into Santa Barbara, I rushed into the airport to pick our rental car, fitted four bikes into the truck along with three other tired looking cyclists and powered by Red Bull and coffee we muscled our way through LA traffic and back to Phoenix before 1am. We could have probably stayed in Santa Barbara that night, woken up the next day and do a recovery spin up the mountains in the morning before the drive, but I guess people also work on Tuesday. Go figure.

To sum it all up, if the coast ride is not on your list of events for 2021, please don’t bother. About 400 people were on the road this year for it, so I’m sure you are not missing out on anything. Please read this last paragraph with a tone of irony.