Well, this goes back a bit. I’ve been motorcycling for a while. I’ve been bicycling for a while. ~5 years ago, I spent 4 weeks riding my motorcycle around Canada and Alaska.
As my next 5 year sabbatical approached, I began planning what I thought would be a motorcycle trip down the Continental Divide (from the Canadian border down to Mexico.)
I also started recovering from my latest injury and began bicycling more, culminating in participating in a local hill climb series (shout out to Low Key Hill Climbs!) as well as dropping the latest 30 pounds I gain every time I get injured.
I figured I should use my current cycling form for something, and decided I should at least ride all the top climbs in California this summer. Which lead to John Summerson’s “Complete Guide to Climbing by Bike” book.
Unfortunately for me, I loathe long car road trips.. but I can ride my motorcycle day after day forever, no problem.
A quick Google for “bike racks for motorcycles” turned up the most excellently engineered 2×2 Cycles Rack and a vague sketch of a plan formed in my mind: I would travel around the western US with my motorcycle AND bicycle. Motorcycle to the foot of a remote climb, switch to bicycle, ride it, then switch back! CRAZY!
Crazy enough people said I should blog about my experiences, including my lovely wife. I don’t do Facebook, my Instagramming is inconsistent, and Strava only covers a small aspect of it. Plus, I’m capturing my own learnings and actions as I go along.
So, here it is… count-down to (probably) June. Please leave a comment if you’re interested in any particular aspect of this craziness!
This is, so far, my deeply thought out plan (each balloon or diamond represents a notable climb.)
[Photo from a training ride down Highway 1 this past weekend]
Been a while since I updated, all the snow the western US has received was making my trip a bit dodgy, but the latest heat wave seems to have opened up most of the passes (the exception being, of course, the first climb on my list: Mt Harrison in Idaho. A recent Strava attempt made it to within ~1000 feet of the summit, so I’m hoping another 2 weeks of heat will make it passable!)
I’m still finalizing my route and targeted climbs, but here’s what it looks like so far (and no, I don’t expect to ride all of these – I imagine I will bag a dozen or so, depending on conditions, weather, fitness, and how the body reacts to multi-hundred mile motorcycle days.
So far, the plan is:
500 miles to Oregon (mostly slab, get outta town!)
500 miles to Albion area (ride Mt Harrison)
Head up to Montana and northern Wyoming
500 miles through Wyoming (ouch) to Colorado
…and then… not sure… Pike’s Peak and Mt Evans are on the list.. we’ll see! Either spend the whole time in Colorado, or if Utah looks good, might head over there.
My most optimistic route home is cutting straight north through Idaho (Another wack at Harrison?) to avoid having to cross Nevada
Another practice weekend where reality went awry from plan several times.
Mosquito ridge is a pretty remote & isolated climb, that is difficult to pair up with much else, so a good target. There’s a couple of spur roads that add to the difficulty – both ~2500 ascent and 10% average grade. One of these is dubbed “The Corkscrew” and the other ends at a place that Google maps marks as “The End of the World” – you can also do a loop that takes some dirt for another 1000 feet of ascent, and ends up totaling 11,000 ascent and 85 miles.
I’d prefer to do the bulk of motorcycling the day before a hard climb, but Friday traffic looked too depressing to fathom, so I decided to get up REAL early and try to hit the road by 5 AM Saturday, do the 3 hour motorcycle ride, and give myself maximum daylight for the bicycling.
Everything after this ended up being improvised on the fly. First thing was the WIND. There were wind warnings everywhere near the bay, 40 to 50 mph gusts. So I decided to head east and go up the inland valley. Conveniently forgetting the Altamont Pass is covered in windmills. So my ride was pretty tiring (even ignoring the soul killing power of the central valley) – they were holding big rigs at the pass due to the high winds, so I suppose that means it was pretty strong.
This is the point I started thinking “hmm, maybe I won’t be doing those extra two climbs!”
I rolled into Foresthill on time, to be faced with 41 degrees and wet, heavy fog.
My transformation time was hindered by being COLD and not super psyched to do an 8 mile descent to the base of the climb. I did remember chemical toe warmers, and a half buff.. but that’s still really cold.
The good news is my latest modifications have further sped up the bike removal part – single quick release bag and I have modified the front wheel holder to use a spare through-axle that I can leave attached to the rig.
I downed a hot cup of coffee to brace myself, and headed down the hill. And yes, it was REALLY COLD.
The other important part here is that this 8 mile descent means if you turn around (instead of doing the loop) – you’re gonna have to pedal back up it.
Once over the bridge, I started the ascent. The first spur road (the corkscrew) was a couple miles up the climb, and I immediately noticed the dirt fire roads were all EXTREMELY wet and muddy.. boding very ill to make it over the top.
At this point I pretty much decided I’d go to the top of the ridge without doing the spur roads and decide what the plan would be from there.
I rolled past the Corkscrew turn, and there was a sign saying “Road closed 2 miles” – I don’t know how “closed” it was, but I wasn’t going to investigate at this point, and kept on heading up.
There was lots and lots of water streaming down the mountains.. pretty much waterfalls every where. Pavement was generally good, especially compared to the previous Napa trip.
The main climb is pretty gradual, and since there are few cars and no real difficult grades, you can really enjoy the scenery and the views. And it goes on, and on.
As I approached the second spur road (“end of the world”) I was greeted by everyone’s least favorite sight:
“Road Closed” has various meanings, depending on where you are. Sometimes they are advisory (“You’re an idiot”) and sometimes they’re serious (“We will arrest you and fine you”) – unfortunately this one looked like the latter type, reinforced by a friendly ranger who responded with “10,000 dollars of closed” when I asked him how closed the road was. The closure was also very long, so it wasn’t a matter of nipping past real quick like – I’d have been on that closure for an hour or an hour and a half.
So, plan revised yet again.. let’s check out the end of the world!
This is a dead end at a dam, and very steep.. The 10% average grade is misleading, since there are 2 slightly downhill sections. So the rest is >15% solid.
I zoomed down to the bottom and took a quick picture, plenty of water rushing through the dam.
The grind up was actually a nice change of pace after miles and miles of 4-5%, but that probably says something more about me than the road.
At the top, obviously my only choice at this point was to head back down, which meant 1) time to freeze again and 2) I was going to have to do that 8 mile climb back out, so I was unlikely to investigate “Road Closed” #2 on the corkscrew.
Down the lonnnnnnnnnnng descent, past the corkscrew and back to the bridge, where I collected a water bottle I had stashed on the off chance I had run out of water, which, given how cold it was, was utterly unnecessary. I didn’t even finish my 2L camelbak, so I hauled around TWO full water bottles the entire ride.
Still, I will call it a successful trip – awesome scenery, great climbing, and I barely saw more than 5 vehicles the entire time. The “full mosquito” will have to be another time!
After getting back to the cafe, I loaded up the bike and then threatened the employees with eating all of the food they had. Instead, I settled for a recovery meal of biscuits, gravy, eggs and bacon.
After eating my ridiculous breakfast (which I normally would not do if I had more bicycling to do the next day or two, really!) I headed over to Auburn to find a hotel.
3 hotels visited, all 3 full up. Apparently there was a “car thing” and a “mountain bike thing” going on this weekend. For a longer trip, usually that means heading to the next town or finding a campground.. but in this case, my bike ride was shorter than expected and I was feeling pretty good.. so.. I just headed straight home.
Yes, that means I spent 10.5 hours on 2 wheels. 3+ hours motorcycle, 4.5 hours bicycle, 3+ hours motorcycle. The good news is I felt pretty good afterward, so that’s a good sign for my trip!
Seems to be the top question people ask on the road!
Most people are surprised to hear this is a $300 generic carbon bicycle from China, with some vinyl stickers glued on for my trip. The rims are also direct from China, but with name brand spokes & hubs. I’ve put about 2000 miles on the frame/wheel combination, including a few punishing adventure rides (one where I discovered your bicycle will float away if you don’t keep a good hold onto it.)
Why this bike instead of my (substantially more than $300) sub-15 pound Parlee?
Crazy low gearing (a low gear of of 30-42)
Larger tires for comfort & bad (or entirely unpaved) road conditions
Security of thru-axles for mounting to the motorcycle
If I break it or it gets stolen, it’s $300! (of course the parts are a lot more than that, psychologically it is still comforting.)
Frameset – Miracle Bikes FM286 Cyclocross frameset
Fork – TRP Carbon Fiber with eyelets (although I never had issues with the stock fork, it’s the one part of the bike I always worried about)
Wheels/Tires: Light-bicycle RRU35C02 Rims (35 mm deep, 25 mm wide OD, 18 mm wide ID), DT Swiss 240S centerlock hubs + 160 mm Shimano Freeza rotors, 28 hole CX-Ray spokes. Tires are currently Hutchinson Sector 700×32 Tubeless, although sadly they measure out to 30.4 mm, so not really great for serious dirt use.
Shiny and new, lots more wear on it since!
Shifters/Brakes: Road Shimano ST-RS685 Mechanical shifting/Hydraulic brakes
Crankset: Mountain Shimano M985 XTR 44/30 (spacers all on the non-drive side)
Front Derailleur: FD-6800 Ultegra
Cassette: SRAM 10-42 XX1 Cassette
Rear Derailleur: Mountain Shimano XTR RD-M9000 11 speed + Tanpan travel agent to work with road shifters
KMC X11SL Chain
Pedals: XPEDO Mountain Titanium SPD compatible
Saddle: SMP Composit
Seatpost: China knock-off of an Ergon
Bars: Easton SLX4 Carbon
Stem: 3T Team alloy
Total weight without bottles & bags: 18.7 pounds
Bags I am still experimenting with, the tail pack + front bag are 5 velcro straps to mess with every time I mount/dismount the bike, so I am experimenting with a quick release Ortlieb saddle bag. Not as convenient as the front bag, but faster to attach/detach.
Total Motorcycle Miles: ~300
Bicycle Miles: 82.1
Bicycle Ascent: 11,300′
Minimum/Maximum transform time: 22/36 minutes
Number of selfies with people (Hi Toby!): 1
This was a “no planning” attempt – what’s the minimum information and logistics to connect a bunch of climbs together. Also testing out new modifications to the bicycle & motorcycle rig as that continues to evolve.
I identified two climbs I wanted to do (Mt St Helena & Bald Mountain) plus some likely secondary climbs to get some extra miles in.
My preparation consisted of:
Identify a starting point nearly the climb(s), preferably next to a restaurant.
Load Waypoints into Garmin Zumo 665 GPS on the motorcycle.
Load the climb segments into my Wahoo ELEMNT
Plan a route in ridewithgps.com and load into Wahoo ELEMNT
Saturday – Bald Mountain & Los Alamos
Up at dawn, rode the motorcycle up through the east bay (I haaate going through San Francisco!) and parked in a relatively empty Safeway parking lot.
New aluminum bushing and fork QR sped up my transform time a bit, the previous QR and rubbery bushing requires some wrestling.
Still wasn’t terribly organized on what goes where, since I wasn’t fully packed up I could be pretty sloppy.
Rolled out toward Bald Mountain around 8 AM, down Highway 12. This section was pretty unpleasant, roads in Napa/Sonoma/Santa Rosa are some of the worst in California.
I was glad to be on fatter tires (700×30.5 Hutchinson Sector tubeless.. they claim 700×32 but they aren’t.) There was also a TON of glass, apparently driving drunk is very popular in this area!
The turn off to bald mountain takes you up a pretty narrow and twisty secondary road with a relatively pleasant grade, until you reach Sugar Loaf Ridge State Park – where a nice confused man attempted to figure out if he needed to charge me for admittance (Hint: No.)
From here, turning left takes you onto a dirt fire road. A few minor kick ups, but good flat dirt for the most part. At this point you reach a gate with old, broken pavement. This is where the real climbing begins – pretty much sustained 10 to 18% grades.
3/4 of the way up it turns back into dirt – but much steeper and looser gravel, and you are greeted by 20%+ pitches.
At the top, you’re greeted with awesome views of both sides of the mountain.
Descending is definitely an “advanced” descent – the top dirt section is very steep and loose, and the pavement section has a LOT of loose marbles on top of pavement. Once past that, smooth sailing back through the park and back up Highway 12 – this time with a head wind.
When I planned my route, I wanted to get some additional climbing in each days, so I tagged on Los Alamos front & back. Other than the terrible pavement (a theme!), the climb up wasn’t bad.
However, descending down into Hood Mountain Park I began to have a few regrets! The good news is at least the pavement was nice, it was definitely a grind getting back up.
Back to the shopping center, had lunch and researched for a hotel (yes, I had done no hotel planning, just like my real trip.) – my hotel criteria is usually “cheap and I can walk to food” – because having to kit up in smelly motorcycle gear again after showering is not ideal.
I am willing to splurge extra if they have a hot tub. Another lesson I’ve learned: Check in early. Even when traveling remotely, hotels are often full by 4 or 5 PM. Another reason to get my riding done at dawn.
Packed up the bicycle (1 spectator) checked in (hot tub broken! boo!) showered, got dinner, went to bed early to get ready for Day 2!
Sunday – Mt St Helena & Ida-Clayton
Hotel waffles for breakfast, and then motorcycled over from Santa Rosa to Calistoga and parked next to a cafe along Highway 128.
Back onto the bicycle and started following the route in my ELEMNT. This is really 3 (or 4 if you’re stupid) climbs:
1. Old Toll Road – a typical tertiary Napa-esque road
2. Highway 29 – fast cars and no shoulders
3. A hiking trail that is the WRONG DAMN WAY
4. A long, long, long fire road that goes to the summit
#1 and #2 – nothing really notable here, just keep pedaling
#3 requires some explaining: Since I was doing “minimal planning” – I didn’t give a lot of scrutiny to what ridewithgps was mapping. Apparently I was supposed to keep going another couple hundred yards on Highway 29, to the start of the fire road climb.
Ridewithgps decided it would much prefer I go STRAIGHT UP Robert Louis Stevenson hiking trail.
Since these two routes are so close, the Strava segment indicator said I was still on the right path. So I assumed (wrong!) that eventually the trail would become rideable.
WRONG WRONG WRONG
I don’t even have pictures of the craziest parts, where someone had cut ledges into the rock so you could climb up, in my case, carrying my bicycle wearing carbon soled mountain bike shoes like an idiot.
I nearly turned around to retrench, but a hiker who had done the route before assured me I didn’t have much more to go, so I scrambled my way up to the intersection with the fire road.
I took a break at the top of the ridiculous hiking trail, admiring my stupidity and having a snack, an then settled into the long grind to the top. This is basically loose gravel of various sorts on top of hard pack. It did make me wish I had slightly larger tires on, and I’d also consider this ‘advanced’ riding on a relatively skinny tired bike.
It went on for a long, long time and required paying attention to not end up in deep gravel, and to mentally note sketchy parts for the descent.
The last couple hundred yards to the top get even rockier, deeper, and sketchier – I skittered my way up, but was definitely on the edge of traction capability.
Amazing views at the top, and definitely satisfying giving the ridiculous hiking part!
I walked down the sketchiest bit at the very top since I wasn’t keen to break a collarbone, but took the fire road down the whole way (I would NOT want to try to descend the crazy hiking trail while carrying my bicycle!)
From here it was basically a fast blast back down to the valley, descending 29 and then the bumpy and cruddy Old Toll Road and then onto Ida Clayton road, one of the roads they do for Levi’s Fondo. This road is also a pretty typical climb, nothing really notable and no real view on the top either, so I took a picture at the top with some quality Napa pavement.
Another bumpy descent and I enjoyed a nice lunch, kitted up, and rode the 120+ miles back home on the motorcycle.
Another successful journey and more tweaks to bicycle & motorcycle, and I really need to acquire a Bluetooth keyboard so I can update while on the road.
Death Valley trip illustrated I needed to get some more room in my side cases, otherwise I wasn’t going to be able to pack enough stuff for several weeks!
Unfortunately my “big bag” just won’t fit under the fork, and my Kriega US20 was just a bit too small. Giant Loop makes some cool, cleverly designed stuff – I’ve been beating up their tank bag for years.
In the “side loading” bag segment, they have several interesting options – the Giant Loop Revelstoke (Amazon) seemed to fit the best size/shape profile for me. Interestingly this is advertised as a “snow mobile” bag – I’m not sure why it would care if it is attached to a motorcycle.. but that’s what I’m doing!
This bag comes with Giant Loop’s “GL Mount” stainless steel clips that capture the pack straps. With the Kriega I always felt like I was fiddling with all the various straps and buckles. The GL Mounts promise to make removing and replacing the bag easier, while being very secure.
Here’s a close up of the “TRI GLIDE BUCKLES” that lock into the GL mounts.
They seem VERY secure, so I’m hoping this bag stays attached even if contents shift or I forget to really crank down on the straps.
So, size-wise, I can fit everything I had in the Kriega, plus my Luxury Lite Cot, my Bivy, and a few camp incidentals. It would be nice if I could also fit my sleeping bag, but I guess that’ll have to do – it frees up about half a side case. That should be JUST enough room with some judicious packing.
Today was the ride home from Kernville, no bicycling.. but the motorcycle was definitely letting me know it had been neglected. The chain & sprockets were toast before I left, and now they were really bad. My aux fuel tank wasn’t working properly. My XM radio was cutting in and out (the horror.. at least on Interstate 5 it is!)
As a test trip, I’d give this a 9 out of 10. In general the things I expected to work, worked well. A few modifications and things on the “to do” list, mostly bicycle & motorcycle mechanicals, as well as figuring out how to pack for a multi-week trip and not just a single week trip.
Multiple climbs per day is unlikely, unless they can easily be pedaled between
Be selective on climb choice – scenic/epic vs. “really hard for no good reason”
Avoid back-to-back bicycling days
Camping should not be the first option as it consumes a lot of time and energy
SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP. The more the better! Motorcycling + bicycling is tiring, mentally and physically
Ride motorcycle more to remember how to ride properly
Accept being a ridiculous spectacle on the road and in parking lots, because it is ridiculous!
To-dos (crossing them off as I do them, ignore)
Replace chain and sprockets on the motorcycle
Fix aux motorcycle tank venting
Figure out how to load GPS maps to external memory of Garmin
Fix XM antenna to prevent suicidal boredom on interstates
CR2032 spare battery in front pack as a spare
Figure out how to pack bicycle chain lube without it making a mess
Fab metal bushing for fork axle bicycle mount
Fix broken Pelican case stay
Liner shorts for motorcycle riding
Larger tail pack to make room for longer trip stuff in the cases
Replace bicycle fork with something less sketchy
Tune up and R&R parts on the gravel bike
Acquire mesh gear bag to attach wet/sweaty gear to motorcycle when required