For many years I have just plowed through the winter from start to finish. While I certainly have a variety of outdoor activities that I can do when snow & ice covers the roads, and I have an indoor bike trainer, it's simply just no substitute for riding the bike outside. A couple of years ago I put together an older bike that I can use to get out on the road in the early and late seasons and even on those occasional days when things warm up to the upper 30's. We usually have a couple of days like that every winter and this year was no exception. But in general we're all still stuck inside pretty consistently for a minimum of 4 months. It's the one downside of being an avid cyclist and living up north, isn't it? So how can you take a cycling trip in the dead of winter?
A winter cycling trip has been something I have wanted to do for a long time, but simply couldn't justify financially. Not to mention the fact that I usually guide ice climbing during the winter months. Well this year my wife decided that we WERE going to go out to Los Angles for a 10 day vacation over the New Hampshire school vacation break to visit my sister and to do the tourist thing. It turned out that the planned time was right after the Valley Ice Fest and I didn't have any band gigs scheduled. Pretty close to perfect, I would say. Now it wasn't a real cycling vacation, but we were going to a much warmer climate where it was high;y unlikely that there would be ice and snow on the road, and I could certainly finagle some time to myself to get out on a bike. Now all I had to do was to figure out where I was going to get a bike to ride...
Of course I would love to take one of my own bikes to ride so I called up the airline, Delta, to see if I could bring my own bike along, I do own my own bike box. I'd used it for taking my bike on a cycling trip to France 3 years ago. At that time I flew Air France and they didn't even charge me for the bike. Well things have most certainly changed in that respect! This time it was going to cost me $175 EACH WAY to bring the bike. This was in fact more expensive than my personal plane ticket. Definitely not an option. I thought about shipping it via UPS, but there wasn't enough time for me to do this via ground, and it was still too expensive for 3 or 3 day UPS or Fed Ex. So now I started looking around for a place to rent a bike. Of course by now I was running out of time before we were leaving, so I postponed making any calls until we were actually out there and I could actually check out some shops. When we arrived at my sister's house in LA I looked in the Yellow Pages and did some searching around and found a place called Hollywood Pro Bicycles, now I think that they are called Topanga Creek Bicycles. Regardless they were reasonably close to where we were going to be, they had a BMC for rent that would likely fit me and the cost of $150 for a week seemed to be fair - so I made arrangements to pick it up the next day, Sunday.
We spent the morning together at Universal Studios and then I left the wife & kiddo at the amusement park for the afternoon and headed over to get the bike. It was located in Topanga Canyon on North Topanga Canyon Blvd. Chris, the owner, was a nice guy and helped me get a bike that would work pretty reasonably for me, a Jamis with a triple. I liked the large BMC with a compact crank and a medium cassette but it was already reserved. [sigh] However, he said that since if the person who had reserved the BMC didn't pick it up by 5 I could have it. So I decided to take a ride in the area and see what happened.
Chris suggested riding "around the block." Basically down the hill, take the next right, the next right and back up the hill over the top of the main hill and back down to the shop. I asked how long it was and didn't get a really straight answer, but instead that it was between an hour or two. Turned out to be an absolutely beautiful ride, roughly equivalent to riding over Thorn Hill and Dundee Road from my house at Cathedral Ledge. Maybe 20 miles and 2,000' of climbing. Sweet and easy on a bike with a triple. I've never ridden a triple before, and it's like having mountain bike gearing on a road bike. When I got back to the shop it was close to 5 and the person who had reserved the bike was nowhere in sight. I was psyched and right at 5 Chris let me go with a much nicer bike. It even was fitted with Dura Ace pedals like mine so I didn't have to swap them out.
So for the remaining days of our trip I would spend the morning with the family and the afternoons on the bike. I rode Mullholland Drive, the Hollywood Hills and along the Pacific Coast Highway. The weather was pretty nice, staying generally in the 50's and only a few showers. We went down to San Diego to visit Sea World and I got in a nice 3 hour ride in that area, mostly along the coast. The next day the family planned to go to Leggoland and I was going to take the whole day and climb Mt. Palomar. I have heard about this ride for a long time. You usually start in the Valley from the casino and then climb Alp d'Huez-quality switchbacks en route to the summit. It was only 4 days from the Tour Of California coming through there so the road was in great shape. There were signs in a number of places announcing that there would be delays on Sunday because of the race.
the post office at the intersection
The road heads up right out of the parking lot and it doesn't let off for 16+ miles. The climb reminds me a lot of ones I did in the Pyrenees several years ago. It's not all that steep, but it's unrelenting. I saw a number of other cyclists on the road, some coming down and some passing me. Nope, I didn't pass anyone, but I didn't stop either. That's my method, slow but I don't stop. I didn't have time to go all the way to the summit where the observatory is, but I did ride to the intersection of the South and East roads at a little over 5,000' where many people turn back. There is a little store and the local post office. While tehre wasn't much snow up until about 4,000' there was a lot above that.
All in all it was a great ride. I was pretty warm on the way up, but I was very clad I'd brought my jacket and long gloves for the descent. It was quite cold on the way down. The switchbacks kept the speeds pretty much under control, but I did get up to the mid-40's at one point. It was a long and tiring descent, again reminiscent of some I did in France.
After that we only had a couple of days left on the trip but I got in a short ride in the Hollywood Hills below the sign, very steep, and another two loops near the bike shop on the day we left. All in all it couldn't have been a whole lot better, with everyone in the family getting what they needed - including dad.
If you can't take your own bike with you, I can certainly recommend Hollywood Pro Bikes as a good place to rent from. They're nice folks. In retrospect I should have brought my own seat & post as well as pedals, but know I know. I will say that it's a really nice thing to get in some mid-winter outdoor riding while everyone else is still buttoned down for winter. I'm going to consider doing it again next year and you should too.