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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  6/1/2004

Short but Sweet

One hour.

That's all the time I have for a bike ride this typically perfect Saturday in paradise.

Maybe I could stretch it to an hour and a half, but that's it. Like most weekends in this student's life, the rest of my time is taken up by domestic chores, rote memorization exercises, studying for exams and preparing for lab projects.

What can I do with one teensy little hour?

I'm not about to drive a starting location. I need every second, so it's out of the garage and onto the road. This limits my choice of routes to within 15 to 20 miles of my house.

If I'm to reap any benefit from this hour of pedaling freedom, there are a few absolute necessities that simply must be included.

  • Warm Up There may have been a time when I could jump on the bike and zoom to 20 mph in under five seconds. But today I need at least a few miles to get in the groove before I tackle any speed or upwardly vertical terrain.
  • Spin. I've never used a cadence counter. My legs inform me when I'm spinning fast enough. And I know they need the training it takes to maintain smooth spin. So there's got to be some place where I can gear down and still speed up without benefit of slope or tailwind.
  • Pump. High cadence is great, but I need to put some hard work into higher gears too. What helps is a slight upgrade or maybe some headwind. (OK, I admit it. I hate headwind.)
  • Climbs. Gotta get that ol' heart rate up somehow. But with just an hour to ride, the climbs had better be short. So I look for the short, steep challenges in the surrounding neighborhoods. Ones that will get my heart beating faster without stretching out over miles and miles.
  • Descents. What's the good of going up if you can't head back down again? That's just one of the factors that make any ride sweet, whether short or long.
  • Sweat. All of the above should be making me work hard enough to shed some electrolytes (which I'll replace later, of course). If my jersey's not at least damp when I get home, I didn't work hard enough to get any benefit from my ride.
That's all I need out of my hour, right? NOT! If it's going to be both short and sweet, my ride's got to have at least one (if not all) of these nice-to-have's:
  • Scenic value. It's so nice to crest even a small hill and get a glimpse of the Valley below me. Or at least an out-of-the-way little canyon with a creek running through it. OK, sometimes I have to settle for the gilded rooftop of the Russian Church just below Canyon View Drive in Saratoga.
  • No (or next to no) traffic. Nothing spoils a ride for me more than lots of motor traffic. If I can get away from the main drags, great. That's why I've all but given up my Saratoga loop on Saturdays, when the high school is clogged with Farmer's Market traffic. (Soccer season is no picnic at the park, either.)
  • Company. Since I'm anxious to get back home ASAP, club rides are out of the question. Yet I do crave a bit of social interaction on a ride. So it's nice to run into other cyclists along my route. Sometimes we just exchange a "hiya." But now and then someone will ride along with me for a mile or so and offer a bit of conversation.
  • Fun factor. This is an intangible I can't quantify. Sometimes it's even hard to qualify. But like good art or good wine, I know it when I see it. If I can spend an hour riding and afterwards say to myself, "That was fun!" it can make my whole day.

Five good choices

Thank goodness I live where there are lots of roads to ride, many hills long and short, and a bit of countryside just a few miles from home. That gives me a range of choices for my hour.

Saratoga Loop

This is my usual default, no-brainer 14-mile ride. I simply head south and loop around the residential areas of this neighboring suburb. I devised this route over a decade ago when Mt. Eden (see below) was blocked by construction. There are lots of turns but the bike knows them by heart and I hardly have to think about where I'm going.

I get a long warm-up with a gradual rise to Saratoga village. Then I do some aerobic climbing just about halfway. The return is through "The Maze," a linked series of Saratoga side streets that can only be navigated by years of memorization (or by following someone who's already memorized it).

Mt. Eden-Pierce

Lots of climbing on this route around the hills above Saratoga. The 14-mile Mt. Eden loop is a traditional training route with about half a mile of climbing up the "mount." If I add the 15+% grade on Pierce Road it's a real challenge in just about 16.5 miles. The descent into Saratoga village can be hairy if there's lots of traffic on Highway 9 but otherwise it's a gas.

Los Gatos

Sometimes I'm so burned out on Saratoga I just want to skip it. So I go all the way to Los Gatos, about 20 miles round trip, including a nice flat cruise along Lake Vasona. Back when I had more time to ride, I'd tack on the Kennedy-Shannon loop (minus Hicks), but that can add up to another hour to my ride. So I just buzz through the side streets off lower Kennedy and Shannon, then head home via Monte Sereno (see below).

Monte Sereno

If I'm so pressed for time I can't make it all the way to Los Gatos, I can always dive into this upscale 'burb full of rolling hills and multimillion dollar homes. The cutoff involves a 13% or so grade for about 0.2 miles, so I feel like I'm paying my dues. And I get the same return as I would from LG.

Rancho San Antonio/Los Altos Hills

All the above options involve heading south from home, which normally gives me headwind on the way back. When I want the wind behind me coming home, I head north to Los Altos Hills for a roughly 19-mile circuit. To get there, though, I have to tackle a minor climb within three miles of my house. Then I negotiate expressway traffic (often graced by huge gravel trucks) and a steep climb to Rancho San Antonio Park that's often jammed with folks driving, running, strolling with their toddlers and otherwise blocking my pedaling progress. But once I'm out of the park, I can tackle the breathtaking ups and downs of Los Altos Hills with little to no interruption.

Which short ride is the sweetest? Don't ask. They all come out to about the same when I try to analyze them. So I just have to rely on the clock and my mood to decide which one I'll do for any given hour's time.

It may be short, but it sure is sweet to get out on the bike at all. Especially when I'm stressed like I am right now, on the brink of finals.

See you in August, after I've taken (and hopefully passed) my national certification board exam. And I'm back on the bike for more than an hour at a time!

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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