Many Brits think of the USA as the land of armed pickup trucks, obesity, people who say “trunk” when they mean “boot” , where they shoot cyclists for fun, and in some cases that is quite an accurate portrayal, but of course it’s a very diverse country. In the San Francisco Bay area, cycling is a very popular sport, and they have the terrain for it as well.
I travel to Silicon Valley quite often for work, and on this trip I needed to stay over a weekend, so wanted to do some riding. The good people at Bike Connection in Palo Alto provided me with an alloy Felt bike, in XL size, at $35 for the day, which didn’t seem too bad. Fortunately it had a compact chainset, because “Valley” also implies “you need to climb hills to get out of it”.
I set off up Page Mill Road on a bright morning that promised highs in the low 20Cs. It starts as a four lane highway then turns into a twisty road up into the hills between Palo Alto and the Pacific. The main climb is probably about 15km, and goes up to about 700m. It’s very varied, with different gradients, lots of hairpins (some flat, some steep), wooded and open sections. Just one rider passed me on the way up, lots of others were coming down the hill.
At the top, I reached Skyline Boulevard, which turns out to be very popular with motorcyclists. Anyone complaining about sportsbikes in the UK with race exhausts need only be passed going uphill by a group of roughly 50 Harleys running open pipes to realise that actually we don’t have it so bad at home ! Although they were all trying to look fairly bad-ass, a bit further on I came to a layby where they’d all stopped to sign in at the control point for the ride they were doing, so hardly outlaws.
Skyline is along a ridge, but has a lot of downs and ups that you need to big-ring to keep momentum going, and I was enjoying the descents and sprinting up the rises. After a while I came to a junction, where there’s a gas station, deli and Alice’s Restaurant. The deli fortified me with a sandwich, my ears were assaulted by further Harleys as I sat outside and ate it, but I was ready for the food.
Checking my map, I decided to do a small loop down and back up the west side, before heading east back into the Valley. A slight map-reading error meant that the loop turned out to be a bit longer than I expected as I ended up in La Honda… but on the way back up I met a local rider, David, (well, more accurately was passed by him) who was happy to chat for a while and showed me a lovely quiet old road back up to the top. This was a really nice climb, partly through pine trees which were good shelter from the hot sun.
From here it was a pretty easy ride back home. The descent of the old La Honda road was really tricky, as it’s very narrow, steep in places, with bad tarmac and very tight corners. Lots of riders were coming up the road, and I quickly realised that it’s probably better to come up this one, and down Page Mill which is more open and an easier descent. At the bottom, it was back onto a gently rising straight road up the Portola valley, and then down Alpine Road back into Palo Alto. I stopped off to look at Stanford University, which is a pretty impressive place.
You can see the whole route map on Bikely , which tells me that the total distance was 73km with 1450m of ascent. A rare change for me from the usual Sunday clubrun fare, and a really memorable ride.
(Geek Note: Motorcyclists among you will have noticed that the “Ducati” I identified in the video was actually an Suzuki SV1000… tricked by the V-twin exhaust note I’m afraid !)