I haven’t been riding fixed that long, relative to die hards. As was illustrated in other threads, I feared them for a long time, based on what could happen to my already fragile knees, loathed some of the riders I saw around town, and was simply unfamiliar with how they worked, let alone WHY you’d want to ride one. Obviously all that’s changed. Lately, I’ve been pushing my personal limits on what I thought could, and should, be done with a fixed gear bike. Being a ‘tool for the job’ designer, it never made a lot of sense to me to haul ass or climb on a fixed any more than to noodle around the city on a racing bike. But I’ve done both.
A few days ago, I rode the fixed gear into work again, and this time, on the way home, decided to try and tackle a local climb called the Marin Headlands. It’s not the steepest, craziest climb around. But it’s virtues are that it is close to home, steep enough to give you a workout, and one of the most picturesque rides int he Bay Area. You start at the North Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, and work your way up Comzelman Road, a nice curvy paved noodle that carves up the side of the Headlands to Battery 129 and finally the Hawk Lookout. Like much of what you find on the South (SF) side of the entrance to the bay, it is surrounded by former protective battlements that long predate the bridge, back when we were worried about interlopers poking around in our little vista. The total climb is about 1000 feet from sea level, but you start arounf 200 at the bridge, so it’s just under 800 feet of climbing. It SEEMS longer, to me, but that’s because the profile of the grade is that it starts steep, which kind of beats you up, then levels off to an easier gradient, than pushes upwards, three sections. Before I was doing lots of year-round riding, when I first moved to SF, I remember blowing up on this climb, pushing myself wayyy too hard on the first section, letting my heart rate go too high for too long, and spewing my breakfast at a point I call One Vomit Hill (there’s a lone tree at this crest, vomiting has ensued, thus…) especially after mashing hard from the other end of the city or, say, Marin somewhere, before hitting that first section. I learned, over time, that if you pace it, it’s a much more manageable climb. But I’m not afraid to say, like most climbs I do regularly, they never get EASY, just less torturous. Also, again, the value add here is that Marin Headlands can be done before or after work easily for me being right by the bridge as it is. Normally, you taks a steep descent down from the battery and into the base, and take a windiong loop back to the bridge again, on a stretch of miserable modest gradient I call the Trail of Tears, because it looks flat, but wears you down because it’s juuuust enough grade, and there’s juuuuust enough wind, to keep you from pacing the way you think you are. But then you get to blast through a single lane tunnel under the freeway and you’re back at the bridge again…much speed to be gained in that pitch black tunnel…
Anyway, I rode up from Mill Valley on fix-e, after riding the Look in the day before and breaking in the new saddle, so I had the tender vittles. We have been in a record-breaking little heatwave, so this day was even hotter than the day before, and when I Ieft the office? 101 degrees. In Mill Valley, that’s not only uncommon, but a record. Fortunately, I prepared as if doing a desert ride, with lots of food and my hydropack reservoir full up, which normally wouldn’t be the case for a ride home OR the Headlands. Good thing though, because before I even got to the Sasualito Grade I was tuckered and overheated. Dragging a fixed gear up the grade is something I’ve only just started doing. Fixed-gear vets don’t care, they just plug along, but it’s new to me, to be turning over those cranks SO SLOWLY. It seems like you’re going to fall over at any second, and certainly that you’re going 1mph or whatever. In fact, I passed some road bike riders and made great time to the bridge, 45 minutes… not bad at all for 40/16!
I was supposed to meet Team Lope rider Eric for the Headlands, though I had been thinking about abandoning, based on that overheated fixed gear climb. He was escorting a bunch of people from work since it was Ride to Work Day. They were delayed, and after about 15 minutes of calming down, drinking and eating some dried lope, I decided to just go for it.
That first section was like molasseses. I started nice and smoothly since I had been at rest, and eased my way up to that eased-off section. In fact, though it was slow-going in that one gear, I did it seated and was euphoric to get the ‘hard’ part behind me. But then as I pushed through the easier patch and then up towards One Vomit Hill, I started to suffer. The back to back rides, the seat pain, and the climb in from Sausalito on the fixed gear had taken it’s toll on my legs. I was burning up in the quads, and my heart rate was high: all indications of another trip down Techincolor Yawn lane. Fortunately, I didn’t heave, and got about a third of the way past the tree before deciding, wisely, to slow up and take a one minute break to get my heart rate down. I’m glad I did. Becuase I saw some riders working their way towards me from below in their bottom gears, spinning away, and took off, only to find that about 20 revs later my legs were blown AGAIN. I basically tunnel-visioned my way up the rest of it, staring at the crest, hoping it was the top but not certain, in my addled state. Finally, I came around the curve and saw the benches and new I had made it, focusing on not laying the bike down in Lung style… and hopped off to recover in the wind, with that glorious bridge view before me. I doubt I could have ridden another 100 feet at that point.
Descending was just as hard, because in order to keep the speed manageable on the fixed gear, I had to push back constantly, lean on the brake, and basically work the grade at what seemed like the same speed with which I had ascended it. Tough on the legs, the hand, the arm, etc. Finally got down to the bridge, and noodled home, admittedly exhausted.
So pleased, though, because this was a personal best moment. Fixed climbing!
So there we are!