"Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia."-H. G. Wells
Sacramento may or may not be Utopia, but look around a bit and you'll begin to see bicycles everywhere. For good reason: We have a great year-round climate, lots of designated bike lanes throughout the city, and varied, welcoming terrain close at hand-spacious Central Valley flats; rolling, wooded and riparian foothills; thrilling, lung-busting alpine steeps. (Tahoe Rim Trail, anyone?) And we have the awesome American River Parkway. All in all, it's about as good as it gets.
Riding a bike offers a little something for everyone. There's that glorious sense of spare time, the oasis of childhood and freedom. There's necessity, too-given today's high gas prices, commuting by bike makes a lot of sense.
With Lance Armstrong, the greatest American cyclist of all time, retiring after the Tour de France this month, it's worth wondering: Could the next great American champion come from Sacramento? It's possible. Sacramento offers a group, a club, a ride, a race, a product and a recreational opportunity to suit any level of interest or ability. Here's a look at our cycling scene-our very own Tour de Sacramento.
The Cycling Spirit
One of the great things about cycling here is the enthusiasm and spirit of the people who ride, people of diverse interests and abilities who, somehow, make cycling an integral part of their lives.
Take Clint Swett of Land Park, who considers himself a purely recreational rider-despite the fact that he owns a TREK 5000 OCLV carbon fiber road bike. (Read: nice.) He manages to average a pretty decent 17 to 18 miles per hour on his favorite weekend outing, the so-called Freeport Loop. "It's 24 miles total, really a pleasure, especially as much of it follows along the Sacramento River," he says.
For six of the past seven summers, Swett and his wife, Karen, have traveled to Iowa for the annual Ragbrai ride, a one-week cycling tour covering 471 miles that attracts some 8,500 riders. And this month, the Swetts will finally realize a longtime dream: They will take a cycling trip to France, joined by a couple of close friends. "We can't wait, especially since our trip includes watching a stage of the Tour de France," he beams.
Then there's Linda Elgart of Curtis Park. Biking is pretty much her life. By day, she works as a rep for Voler, maker of VeloWare cycling apparel and accessories. In her off hours, she races competitively in just about every kind of event there is. Asked how many bikes she owns, she says with a chuckle, "Gee, I have to count," then mentions road, track, pursuit, tandem and, most importantly these days, cyclocross.
She and her husband, John, organize and promote a series of cyclocross races that takes place in the Folsom area every fall. No slouches, they both recently won national cyclocross championships in the masters age category.
Given her skill and accomplishments, Elgart most loves "utility riding-just putting on regular clothes and going to the store, running errands in town," she says. "But John and I will ride anywhere; we even bike out to Arco to watch the Monarchs play." Doing training rides with more serious groups on the American River Parkway is another favorite pastime of hers, as is heading into the foothills. "Sacramento is so close to such beautiful settings, like north of Newcastle, the Apple Hill area," she says. "It's like our back yard is just a great big biking playground."
For Marc Hoshovsky, "utility biking" has a different meaning. Besides rolling around Davis, where he lives with his family, he frequently commutes 15 miles into downtown Sacramento to his job as a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. He rides with a neighbor, Ted Sommers, on a recumbent tandem; Marc is the stoker, Ted the captain. "Some of my best days at work are when I ride in instead of drive," he says. "I feel fresher, more alert, and a whole lot less frustrated when I can see I'm going faster than the traffic sometimes."
On his own, Hoshovsky enjoys mountain biking in the Tahoe area, making sure to hit the Flume Trail during the peak of fall color. "Marlette Lake north of Spooner Summit is spectacular for views," he says. To him, biking is "a very sensory experience in any circumstance, but especially away from civilization. You can see every bit of the land around you, feel the wind in your face, just experience your surroundings more richly than just passing through in a car."
And then we meet Pat McAuliffe of East Sacramento and his band of merry fellow riders who collectively, and casually, go by the name of Velo Bozo. "It means 'The Cycling Clowns,'" he says without apology. "We like to have a good time."
The group consists of about 10 regulars; they get together on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to knock out rides of up to 50 miles, daylight and weather permitting. They also travel together: to Italy, France and, this past spring, all the way to Australia, where they toured in their "quasi-serious" way.
About 10 years ago, McAuliffe and friends started a yearly Christmastime tradition, gathering in his garage for a brief repast before heading out to view Christmas lights around town. "Over the years, through word of mouth mostly, the ride has grown in numbers," he says. "Last year we had 93 people turn out." Besides the obligatory lights and reflectors, many of the participants add holiday decorations to their bikes. When asked if they sing caroles as they go, McAuliffe answers, "No, not yet. We haven't had a music director join us, come to think of it. But that's a great idea!"
Imagine: About 100 people riding along on their brightly lit bikes, all singing "Jingle Bells" together. That's the kind of cycling spirit we have here in Sacramento.
Sacramento's Ultimate Mountain Bike Spokesman
Bob Horowitz is passionate about mountain biking, and about the fact that it is essentially outlawed in the city he calls home. There are no officially designated off-road trails in Sacramento, which these days is a source of controversy along the American River Parkway.
Besides being an ace mountain cyclist with a keen knowledge of off-road trails throughout the region, Horowitz is the president of the Sacramento Area Mountain Bike Association and a member of the 23-person American River Parkway Update Citizens Advisory Committee, charged with amending the American River Parkway Plan.
"Sacramento is a unique city for cycling. We have beautiful trees everywhere, and lots of bike lanes, so it's just a pleasure to get out and go," he says. "The parkway is our crown jewel-most of it, anyway." This is where things get sticky.
"The lower six miles-roughly Discovery Park to Cal Expo-are kind of up for grabs. It's a hodgepodge now, and perceived to be not very safe. People would like to see a place for dogs, an Indian heritage center, light-rail access-all of which are worthy. Off-road biking advocates, such as myself, feel there is good, reasonable opportunity to also construct specific, designated areas for fat-tire access, to be properly maintained as such. Our interest is not about tearing up the place. We want to allow for our sporting interests-just like equestrians-in an environmentally responsible way that enhances the opportunities for everyone."
Locally, he envisions a 15-mile "Discovery Loop," eventually connecting the California State University, Sacramento, campus and Discovery Park with dirt trails on both sides of the river.Access could be improved by connecting with existing spur trails linking Rancho Cordova and downtown on the south bank. He'd love to see Sutter's Landing-with a 70-foot-tall landfill, about the highest point in the city-designated for mountain bike use.
"Kids need healthy things to do, and proper facilities to do them," he says, adding with suitable irony, "If you outlaw the trails, only the outlaws will ride the trails."
For more information about the parkway planning process and mountain biking in general, go to sustainableenterprises.com/SAMBA/ or e-mail Horowitz at email@example.com.
Bicycle Shops for One and All
If you're interested in cycling, head to one of the outstanding bike shops in the area. In addition to selling bikes and their accoutrements, bike shops are a great place to find rides and fellow riders. So get in gear and check out your local shop.
Year after year, readers of this magazine vote City Bicycle Works as the best bike shop in Sacramento. Why? Selection, service and a certain passionate vibe have made City a two-wheeler institution for more than a quarter century. Owned by gregarious Jess Polakoff, City has two locations: the anchor store at 24th and K streets in Sacramento's midtown, and another shop on Greenback Lane in Citrus Heights.
The midtown shop is geared to serious riders, offering road, cross, "comfort bikes" (with softer seats, shock-absorbing seat posts and more upright geometry) and mountain bikes from entry level to high-end. Brands include Trek (Lance's ride), Bianchi, LeMond, Specialized, Cannondale, GT, Dyno and Santa Cruz.
Its repair shop employs a handful of ace mechanics, including professional cyclist Russell Hamby, a member of the Sierra Nevada pro team. Maps, guidebooks, clothing, rentals and other accessories round out the goods. (The Citrus Heights store is geared to families and kids, with a wider selection of small, lightweight BMX trick bikes.)
The midtown store is the starting point for several group rides throughout the week. "Some groups are pretty intense-a few miles of chitchat and warm-up, then it's pace-line time, at 30 miles per hour plus," Polakoff says. If you want to join in, call the shop to discuss which group would suit you best.
Most of Polakoff's employees have been with him for several years. "We all love what we do, and it shows in knowledge and enthusiasm, in how well we serve our clients and how well we understand everything we sell," he says. "You can ask us anything about biking, even if you don't spend a dime here."
2419 K St., Sacramento; (916) 447-2453; and 7885 Greenback Lane, Citrus Heights; (916) 726-2453; citybicycleworks.com
Other Shops of Note:
The Rest Stop in East Sacramento sells accessories such as clothing and supplies, from the usual (food, tires, tubes) to the eclectic (classic Brooks saddles, way-cool MODA Chunky handlebar tape). If you need inspiration, check out a video or CD from the store's extensive free lending library. (Tour de France history buffs: To revisit the glory days of Eddie Merckx, check out one of the Tour de France highlight videos from the 1970s.) 3230 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 453-1870
American River Bicycle, with three locations, sells bikes by Specialized, Giant, GT, Raleigh, along with Bike E recumbents, Yakima racks and accessories. The retailer's website has a helpful "Trails and Tips" tab with numerous ride suggestions and links. For locations, visit americanriverbikes.com.
The Bicycle Business retails bikes by Gary Fisher, Trek and LeMond, as well as sleek Euro frames from Colnago, Bianchi and Mondonico. 3077 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 442-5246
Bob's Cycle Center carries a huge selection of bikes from GT, Klein, Diamondback, Schwinn, Trek and Specialized. It also sells car racks, bike trailers and fitness equipment, including Airdyne trainers. 378 N. Sunrise Ave., Roseville; (916) 784-2255
B & L Bike Shop is a snug-as-a-bug store that's short on space but not on knowledge or resources; it's home to Davis Bike Club (locally famous for organizing long-distance rides and races). It carries Bianchi, Jamis, Calfee (carbon fiber frames), Electra (retro styling) and Burley trailers. 610 Third St., Davis; (530) 756-3540; blbikeshop.com
3 Off-Road Rides Worth Every Drop of Sweat
1. Salmon Falls Trail: Also known as Darrington Trail, it's suitable for novice off-roaders working to reach the next level. This 10-mile (one-way) trail follows Folsom Lake, ending up in Peninsula Campground. The first section is steep and strenuous, with lots of turns and big drop-offs. You'll find great views, lush with manzanitas, but it's hot as hell in summertime.
2. Clementine Loop: Also called Culvert Loop, one of the region's best intermediate-level loops (seven miles) takes in the North and Middle forks of the American River, east of Auburn. The first 1.5 miles offer a great single track, with fine views of the Forest Hill Bridge and the North Fork. Then the tough climbing starts; if you're out of shape, you will suffer hugely. There are big drop-offs, and later descents are a rush, but technical-and watch out for hikers.
3. South Yuba Trail: Advanced riders adore this ride near Nevada City: It's long (25 miles one way, 50 miles round-trip) and difficult, with lots of large rocks for technical challenge. The well-maintained trail, with lots of options, offers great places to stop, picnic and soak your feet in the river. And the scenery is drop-dead gorgeous.
Hey, Dude, Wanna Race?
The Northern California/Nevada Cycling Association, working in conjunction with the U.S. Cycling Federation, National Off-Road Bicycle Association and numerous other groups, is your best bet for tracking down races in the Sacramento region. And there are loads of races: road, mountain, criterium (a closed-route race) and the increasingly popular cyclocross.
What’s cyclocross, you ask? Think bicycle steeplechase: a physically demanding cross-country-style race, using bikes that are hybrids of road and mountain designs—with smaller, lighter frames and wide, knobby tires. It’s pretty safe (most tracks don’t have rocks and boulders to tear you up) but undeniably arduous, with obstacles such as water, mudflats and 10- to 18-inch-high barricades. You won’t spend all of your time on the pedals, guaranteed.
The race names alone should get your blood up: Wheels of Thunder, Glory Hole, 24 Hours of Adrenalin. Some are for charity, like the Bike Around the Buttes out of Yuba City, benefiting the Diabetes Society of Yuba-Sutter, with routes of 17.5, 40 and 100 miles.
“If you’ve never raced before, it’s wise to watch a couple of events first to see what style of racing and race category suits you best,” says NCNCA treasurer Janice Goodrich. “There are numerous classifications for beginner kids on up to veteran or master class—usually age 45 and up. If you begin to get serious, organizations like ours and some bike clubs can help direct you to coaches, training camps, clinics and developmental programs.”
Race entry fees typically run around $25. Some events are single races; others are run in series—like the recently completed Prairie City Mountain Bike Race Series, held in the spring near Folsom. Prizes can be tasty: cash, medals, trophies, gear such as expensive multilens cycling shades and special jerseys. Teams come from literally hundreds of miles around, and the events can be a gas, offering music, great food (the post-ride barbecue at the Tour de Lincoln is outstanding) and a quasi-carnival atmosphere.
Upcoming events include the Vacaville Gran Prix (July 3) and the Fourth of July Criterium in Davis, with events for everyone from small children to AARP candidates. For velodrome racing—held on a steeply banked, enclosed oval track—check out Hellyer Park Velodrome in San Jose, which offers open-track time on Wednesdays and beginner instruction Saturdays; call (408) 226-9716 for details.
The NCNCA puts out a newsletter with information about upcoming races. To learn more, call (209) 588-8297 or visit ncnca.org.
The Club Scene
If you’re looking for a way to go a variety of different places, meet a diverse set of people and cover new terrain on your two-wheel steed, join a cycling club. Local bike clubs let you tap into a community of like-spirited souls—whether you want to spin at top rate or go get a latte and bagel in the ’burbs.
Founded in 1968, Sacramento Bike Hikers is the oldest continuously active bike club in the area, focused on touring and recreational cycling for riders of all abilities and interests. The group is extremely well-organized, publishing a detailed ride schedule in its widely distributed newsletter and on its website.
“We exist to have fun and support each other,” says membership coordinator Bob Keven. “We’re always interested in getting the most out of our time in the saddle.” Monthly membership meetings are social and informational, offering guest speakers, discussion of cycling events or civic issues, and trip planning. Club membership costs $15 per year for an individual, $20 for a family. For more information, go to bikehikers.com.
Founded some 30 years ago, the Sacramento Wheelmen bike club schedules weekday and weekend “series rides” primarily for road riders (male and female) of intermediate to advanced skills, such as a 27-mile flat “pace-line” ride that whips around the Natomas area. For a more relaxing time, the club offers Tuesday and Thursday morning “breakfast rides.” This year, the club organized its first-ever trip to Mammoth Mountain in the East Sierra. (The club welcomes nonmembers on all its rides.) But the Sacramento Wheelmen’s major undertaking is the annual Sierra Century, a 100-mile ride through the gorgeous Amador County foothills that attracts nearly 2,000 cyclists every June. For more information, visit sacwheelmen.org.
Ophir-Milan is a club for women cyclists. Pretty informal for the most part, it’s in its seventh year and has about 40 members. The club maintains a website, sells a snazzy group jersey (buying one is the only requirement of membership) and holds regular weeknight rides. Members, who share a fondness for centuries (100-mile rides), are forming a racing team this year. For information, e-mail Eve Blumenfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ophirmilan.com.
For mountain bikers, the Folsom-Auburn Trail Riders Action Coalition organizes rides designed to appeal to cyclists of different ages and abilities, and provides volunteers to build and maintain trails throughout the foothills and canyons. For more information, visit fatrac.org.
If you’re into racing, the Sacramento Golden Wheelmen gathers for “training rides” every day except Wednesdays. Often, the group decides on the spot where and how far to go; to learn more, visit sacgw.com. And if you just want to kick back, investigate “The Few, The Proud, The Comfortable” of the Recumbent Riders of Sacramento; call Dave Stock at (916) 483-4435.
Training the Next Lance
Daryl Parker feels it. “My bike is like a friend,” he says. “I started bike racing when I was 13, mostly road, some mountain events. I’m 36 now but I feel the same—I absolutely love my time on the bike.”
An exercise physiology professor at California State University, Sacramento, Parker trains 18-and-younger riders as part of a national junior developmental program when he isn’t testing riders in laboratory conditions, such as in the high-altitude acclimatizing chamber on campus.
“Riding is first and foremost about fun, enjoyment, and that’s what I want my students to have,” he says. “If that translates into the other things—passion, competitive drive, victory—that’s just icing. If I can be a small part of that for these kids in my care, then I’m really happy.”
In July 2004, Parker made his international-meet coaching debut, taking his team to the grueling weeklong Tour de l’Abitibi in Quebec, Canada. His six young cyclists (drawn from Sacramento, Auburn, Redlands and Seattle) went up against more than 150 riders, on 28 teams, from France, Belgium, South Africa and other countries.
“We were just hoping to survive,” he says. But fueled by an incredible fourth-place finish in the demanding team time trial, Parker’s unit finished fifth overall—a stunning, totally unexpected achievement.
Just before the event, Parker’s best rider—Adam Switters of Folsom—was invited to join the U.S. national team, which took first place overall in Canada. Switters, who just turned 18, is rated Category One—the top class possible. Of late he has been riding in Europe, by all accounts building a brilliant future.
Seems the good Dr. Parker may have trained the next Lance.
In this day of high-priced gas, cycle commuting makes economic sense. And you can do your heart, cholesterol count and waistline some good, to say nothing of the local air quality. Here are some essential tips to get going.
1 Wear a helmet, eyewear and gloves—always. (A joke, or maybe not: What do you call a cyclist who doesn’t wear a helmet? An organ donor.)
2 Keep an extra set of work clothes at your office, just in case.
3 Once a week, make sure to check your brakes, tires and tire pressure, reflectors and lights, and nuts and bolts.
4 Always carry a bike lock, tire pump, patch kit, tool kit, water and compact first-aid kit. Best optional items: rear-view mirror, bells or horn.
5 Get familiar with your route before you commit to it; check out morning and evening traffic conditions and learn where any tricky spots might be, including potholes, uneven pavement and poor-visibility driveways.
6 Know the rules of the road—just because you’re on a bike doesn’t mean you don’t have to obey the law. Plus, you are less visible and more fragile than an SUV, so be safety-conscious.