Not sure this ride makes sense anymore until I get lower gears

Kevin powering away from me at the start of Redwood Gulch’s steep part
It would have been so much easier to just ride out to Pescadero, and return via Tunitas. It would have been easier to ride up Page Mill, descend West Alpine, and return on Tunitas. On paper, that shouldn’t be the case. On paper, heading south through the foothills and then up Redwood Gulch, Highway 9, north on Skyline and home, should be easier. Less climbing. The relatively-easy cruise north on Skyline.

Maybe it’s just because Mr Mustard hasn’t been up on Skyline in… years.

But I think it’s more simple than that. Redwood Gulch is just too steep for my gearing. For the longest time, I had the usual 53/39 with an 11/28. I think I even did Sonora Pass a time or two with that. Compact gearing came along just in time, with a 50/34 up front that allowed me to keep the size of my rear cassette to what it used to be. I’ve had this gearing for quite some time; maybe 15+ years, and until this year, it has served my needs very well. But Redwood Gulch is killing me. I’m quickly into my lowest gear and thinking the only way I’m going to keep going forward is by zig-zagging! My Bike Friday travel bikes, with its smaller wheels, is geared about 8% lower and, so far, I haven’t found anything in France that’s killing me quite like Redwood Gulch here at home.

It’s probably all leading to New Bike Day sometime in my future. I can avoid Redwood Gulch and probably have another 4 years on climbs like Tunitas with my present gearing, but the truth is, I’ve become inefficient climbing the really nasty stuff, with the gears I’ve got.

How much lower can I go? Quite a bit. Whether I choose Shimano or SRAM for my next bike, the default gearing is lower, and the optional gearing even lower yet. Shimano has the same 34 small up front, with choices of either a 30 in the rear (two teeth lower than what I have now) or 34 (a relatively-massive 6 teeth larger and honestly, I can’t imagine even trying a climb that would require a lower gear than that!). SRAM defaults to a 33 front chainring with a 30, 33 or even 36t rear; I’d probably go with the 33.

But today, for some reason, I just had to prove it was still possible to climb Redwood Gulch. Kevin wasn’t happy about that; this is, he says, his least-favorite ride of all. Even with the stop at Foothill Plaza, adjacent to our former store location, for coffee (Peets) and food. Maybe that stop is actually the problem; you get into a relaxed mood and there’s nothing at all relaxed about what’s to come.

Once on Redwood Gulch, Kevin quickly faded into the climb ahead, while I simply faded. I’ve lost a full minute since this past February! Kevin is more into training your strengths; I have this idea I should challenge my weaknesses. Kevin did pay for his strong effort up RWG though, with a seizure while waiting for me at the top. He recovered and rode fairly strongly up 9, a road he dislikes even more than RWG.

Guess it’s time to start seriously thinking about retiring my current Trek Emonda. Its closing in on 50,000 miles and is absolutely positively the best bike I’ve ever had. Anything I ask of it, it does. Except RWG. This also means I’ll finally be on disc brakes, something my hands will appreciate on long technical descents (like Kings Mtn; descending 84 requires very little braking).

Why was this one of our best-ever trips to France?

9 days of riding, one travel day between the Alps & Pyrenees.
Not sure why this trip went so well, despite some real difficulties getting to France (spent all day in the Munich airport thanks to a delayed United flight), and a longer-than-should-have-been travel day between the Alps & Pyrenees causing us to be stuck in Toulouse for hours. Also missed two stages of the ‘Tour, the first due to our extremely-late arrival in Grenoble Monday night (close to midnight instead of 2pm) and later on, when France cancelled rail service to Foix due to heat.

So a fair number of changes and hassles, plus the long transfer between the Alps & Pyrenees (we normally stay in just one place, but this year’s Tour de France route was really light on mountains in the Pyrenees, so the idea of basing ourselves in just one place, and then moving on to Paris, didn’t make sense.

Paris. We missed out on the final time trial and the finale in Paris. Logistically, even if we’d only done the Pyrenees, it still would have been impossible to get to the time trial and then Paris afterward. The time trial was in the middle of nowhere; it would have added another day of travel to get there, and afterward, it would have been tough to get to Paris the next day. But Paris is pretty tiring; it becomes a very very long day & evening, followed by a very early flight out the next morning.

If we weren’t traveling, we were riding. Every day, without exception. By the end we were absolutely stronger than the beginning! Nothing really long, but we did get in some pretty stiff climbs. The weather was probably the hottest ever, but the humidity was pretty low. The toughest was the very first day’s ride, a new climb for us, the Chamrousse. 104 degrees on the lower flanks of the mountain! But every day after seemed to get just a little bit easier.

The least-challenging ride was from Grenoble out to the Cat 2 climb out past Tulins, a town just 17 miles from Grenoble yet feeling like an entirely different country. While Grenoble is modern and people dress up and nobody’s overweight and English is common, Tulins is the opposite. The crowds lining the hillsides were 100% local too, with no sign of anyone who follows the ‘Tour from place to place. Kind of refreshing to see. Just surprising that you could be so close to Grenoble yet feel like you were in a different country.

I’m going to work on this some more, breaking the trip down day-by-day and try to figure out exactly what made it feel like such a success, despite the best efforts of airlines and trains to try and mess things up for us.