Sunday, 4 October 2009

The New Guy

Friday night, La Roleurette, some friends, and I checked out the Oakland arts walk in Old Town and Uptown, two neighborhoods the City has been trying to jump start for years. Momentum is growing, with a middling artist presence and nicer restaurants starting to gain a foothold. But the local market is awash with empty condominiums, so things will be slow for a while. A decent number of hipster fixies and other cyclists cruising around.

On Saturday morning I hitched on the Mission Cycling club ride, which started at the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and sheared off into three separate routes in Marin. Around 25 people showed up, and folks described it as a medium-sized group. Apparently, several regulars had headed north for Levi's Gran Fondo.

The only other time I'd joined a club ride was a couple of weeks ago with the Marin Cyclists. That was a much smaller group, and having JK as a wingman greased the social gears. This time it felt a bit awkward being the solo stranger, standing around waiting for the ride to get going as everyone chatted up their buddies and tourists swarmed around taking photos in front of the bridge.

When you show up on at an ultimate pick-up game, you HAVE to interact with other people on the field, making for a good entree. Although the culture (and sometimes rules) of the game occasionally vary, you catch on within seconds, as long as you have any basic experience in organized ultimate.

In contrast, the normal new guy vibe, coupled with the unspoken rules of group cycling (how fast, do you stop and wait, where do you stop and wait, do you sprint for town lines, etc.) makes for a more tricky situation.

I rode with the A-group at first. After weaving through a charity walk (pink cheerleaders! disco music! fanny packs!) and climbing and descending Camino Alto, they broke off for Paradise Loop, a flat 35-miler. I got some satisfaction from not being the slowest climber, and even passed one guy with impressive legs, and a high-end carbon rig with a Powertap. I wanted to see if I could hang, but also hoped for a longer ride, so I dropped back onto the B-ride to Nicasio.

These guys moved slowly through town, pissing off three drivers on the way (at least pretend to come to a stop?). We hung around Fairfax Coffee Roasters for a bit, refilling bottles and using the bathroom, then most people just turned right around and went back to SF. Very weird to navigate 20 miles of flat suburban bike path riding, just to do a 180.

Five of us kept going north to Nicasio. The crew went slow on the climbs, but kept up a decent pace on the flats, which was a huge help with the insane wind. At one point, I went hands-free to put on my vest, and almost got blown over. I eventually had to stop, then had a bitch of a time clawing my way back onto the paceline. On the return leg, we took the bike path through Samuel Taylor State Park. Slow, but gorgeous. You can almost hear the leaves about explode into fall colors.

By the time I got back home I'd done a solid 80 miles, with some good efforts on the flats and mini-hills.

This experience confirmed that living in SF is a drag for cyclists. The GG Bridge and Sausalito, are ok as novelties, but quickly become a hassle on every single ride. Still, I liked the group - younger and hipper than the standard club riders. Also, their kit rocks. It would be more appealing if I didn't have to deal with BART just to get to the start. For city riders, I can see the allure of just showing up and making a plan on the spot.

Today I took it easy like Sunday morning. Great fall weather. Instead of the usual routes, I just wandered straight up the steeper Berkeley hills at a casual standing climb, never letting the heart rate get up. Lots of cool houses and one-lane roads up there. I carried the bike up one of the narrow staircases that crisscross the hills, and saw Bambi.

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