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About the author: Tom Edwards is a recent Sonoma State graduate and a Sebastopol road racer. He has ridden in the King Ridge GranFondo since 2010.

“After rowing throughout school, I traded in my calloused hands for a killer jersey tan and haven’t looked back. I’m passionate about all things exercise, from the physiology involved, to coaching. On top of that, I love homebrewing, writing, and music,” said Tom.

GUEST COLUMN: 10 Tips to Ensuring a Safe and Enjoyable 2012 King Ridge GranFondo

With October steadily approaching and the cycling season winding down in order to make way for cold and wet weather, Sonoma County bicycle fans are treated to yet another installment of the epic King Ridge GranFondo, put on by none other than local racing legend Levi Leipheimer and Bike Monkey Magazine.

Since its inaugural year in 2009, the Fondo has exploded in popularity and participation, from 3,500 riders to 7,500, making it one of the largest group rides in the nation*; one that is sought after by cyclists from all walks of life. That being said, it is, at its core, a challenging and technical undertaking, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly by even the most seasoned rider.

As with all sporting events that involve mass-participation and diverse experience levels, there are bound to be accidents and mishaps, just as the GranFondo has experienced over the years. In the past, riders have had to receive medical treatment or be hospitalized from various unlucky or misjudged incidents, and although unfortunate, they can serve as a reminder to future participants so that reoccurrence can be slighted. For example, the downhill segment right after the rest stop at Tin Barn is a notoriously technical descent; one that has been the site of multiple wrecks, even as recent as September 3rd, when a cyclist went off the road while training for this year’s Fondo.

Here are 10 tips for the GranFondo rider on details concerning the ride and what can be done to ensure that no accidents occur and the rider pedals every mile safely and in good spirits, allowing for the true beauty of the experience to make itself known.

1.     Make sure all equipment is in perfect functioning shape.

This is the foremost critical component to making sure your day at the Fondo is a smooth one. No matter how great a bike rider feels at the start of a ride/race, at the end of the day, we are extensions of a machine and if it isn’t able to do its job, performance will not only be hindered, but may cease to exist altogether.

 Examine your bike:

  • Make sure the brakes are tight and able to apply ample stopping power to the wheel. There are some sections of the route that force riders down -10% and steeper grades and if you aren’t able to stop your bicycle effectively, expect to have a fast and unforgiving meeting with either pavement or brush, all to the terrible cacophony of smashing bike parts.
  • Tires, tires, tires. No one wants to be the person standing on the side of the road after only 10 miles, desperately fumbling around with tire levers and patch kits. While some flats are unavoidable, many can be prevented by simply having a sturdy and fresh pair of tires.
  • Lube your chain. Not only will it make your bike ride smoother, but it will also give you a chance to make sure there are no damaged links. Although a rarity, the chance occasion where your glorious ride is befuddled by a broken chain does occur, and is a definite day-ender.
  • True your wheels. Wobbly wheels mean unnecessary losses in power and smoothness, so it is a good idea to true your wheels and also make sure that no spokes are dangerously loose. Over time, with repeated trauma to the wheel, spokes loosen in certain areas, and if they go unnoticed, can become serious hazards when 50 miles away from home. Wheel truing can either be done by a mechanically inclined friend, a bike shop ($15-30), or simply you and a Youtube video.
  • Tighten, lube, and clean remaining parts. Sonoma County boasts some of the best cycling scenery in the entire country. The smoothness of the roads, however? Not so much, and that is no secret to any local cyclist. Taking this into account, summon Murphy’s Law and make sure anything that has the possibility of becoming loose is safely tightened and ready to take on even the most organic of back roads. Components (derailleurs) should follow in terms of functionality, so a quick clean and lube should do the trick.

2.     Dress appropriately.

Now that your bike is tight and running like a dream, it is time to ensure that your body is clad in the most effective and comfortable gear. Let’s start at the top:

Helmet: Not only is it the most important piece of safety equipment, but you won’t be permitted to ride the Fondo without one.

Jersey: A stereotypical cycling jersey is highly recommended because the back pockets have the ability to store a multitude of important goodies, from cell phones to Clif Bars. If possible – lose the backpack! However small, they are unnecessary given the amount of rider support.

Padded shorts: Obviously, the most important piece of clothing. With a comfortable and trusty pair of padded shorts, no ride is too daunting, no saddle soreness too foreboding.

Extras:

Vest, Jacket, Arm/Leg Warmers: A lightweight, non-bulky jacket or vest is always a good idea to break the cold winds that tend to plague early Sonoma mornings, as well as the roads near the coast. Arm and leg warmers are a great choice and are easily shed, yet an unnecessary expense if not already purchased. One must always remember, it is entirely possible to ride simply with one layer and remember that the day eventually does get warm, especially when huffing and puffing up a steep hill; which at that time, you shall look over and see a fellow rider drenched in sweat beneath cumbersome layers and crack a smile.

Gloves: Not just for warmth, but as a buffer between hand and handlebar, for what may be a few hours of constant pressure.

Sunglasses: Wind, dirt, and prolonged sunlight aren’t exactly the greatest things to have your eyes exposed to for an entire day. That being said, a comfortable pair of shades is a safe bet.

3.     Know the route.

The race organizers have taken the time to provide route details and maps, and it is always a good idea to know just what you are in for, and where. The Gran route has multiple climbs after King Ridge, something that is quite often overlooked. To make sure you are performing well at every mile and not begrudgingly walking your bike up Coleman Valley Road, ride while being conscious of what’s ahead. Another great way to get a feel for the route in its entirety is to check it out on www.mapmyride.com or STRAVA.

4.     Hydrate and eat sufficiently.

It is a general rule of thumb to go through about a 20 oz water bottle every hour, depending on the heat. As far as food goes, 30-60g of carbs per hour (Clif Bar = 45g) seem to be sufficient to prevent bonking, a period where the body has used up all of the blood sugar and is unable to produce work. One of the best pieces of advice was to not wait until hungry because once you are hungry, it is already too late!

Utilize whatever rest stop you choose and eat proper amounts, yet only in moderation. At last year’s Davis Double Century, I made the mistake of stuffing myself to the point where fatigue from riding wasn’t the biggest hindrance to my performance; instead just the overwhelming discomfort from being too full.

Overall, lack of fluids and food lead to muscle cramps, early onset of fatigue, and loss of power – three things that will make you look past the beautiful coastal landscape in your midst and send you right into the pain cave.

5.     Be aware of your fellow riders.

This is immensely important. Sonoma County roads are generally pretty narrow, which isn’t usually a problem on your typical weekend group ride, but when 7,500 cyclists take to the streets, things get complicated.

Last year, shortly after leaving Occidental road, I cringed as cyclists on the outsides of the group were literally forced off into the bushes as riders drove up the main line, covering every inch of available tarmac.

To avoid colliding with another rider, or forcing someone else into a dangerous situation, communicate if you are intending to move from your current line of travel, and always ride in the most predictable way possible so that no matter how many people become crowded around you, everyone may proceed safely.

Note: The overcrowding is something that tends to only plague the first 30 miles of the ride. Once the climbs hit, the groups string out considerably and remain so until the return to Santa Rosa.

6.     Go at your own pace.

There will be professional cyclists at the GranFondo, as have been in every year. With them, are semi-pros, weekend warriors, and even the most recreational rider. If you see a group blow by you, don’t feel the need to catch up onto their wheels, they may be at a whole other level of experience. Ride your race, not anyone else’s. After all, this is a ride, not a race.

7.     Descend cautiously!

As mentioned earlier, the majority of accidents that have occurred at the Fondo, and pretty much any bicycling endeavor, happen when descending. To make sure no incidents befall you, always descend while maintaining the utmost control, regardless of whether the previous climb left you seeing stars.

You can accomplish this by applying steady pressure on the brake levers (no sudden slamming – tires can skid), remaining balanced on top of the bike regardless of angle, and trying to maintain the greatest amount of tire surface area-to-road contact.

Note: Heard of a heat flat? One of my personal cycling nightmares, heat flats occur when such intense braking pressure has been put on the wheel that the heat from the rim actually bursts the tube within the tire, causing said wheel to be near impossible to steer. If such a fate does occur, and last year I saw plenty, keep your steering straight and slow to a halt, riding any farther will just be asking for a fall.

8.     Work with others.

On a flat grade, wind is the chief hindrance to bike speed, accounting for 70 to 90 percent of resistance. The less you are bearing the brunt of it, the less energy you will have to expend. If not climbing or descending, where wind resistance makes little difference, find a group or other rider, and take turns pulling at the front. This will maximize speed and efficiency to an unbelievable degree; also a chance for some friendly socialization and teamwork.

9.     Be courteous of residents.

Complaints about cyclists hindering traffic flow has been an issue not just with the Fondo, but in any area where cycling is popular. Although to many, stepping on the brakes and waiting an extra 5 seconds for a safe moment to pass may seem like a minimal amount of effort, to drivers looking to get where they are going in a timely manner, even the smallest obstruction can be irritating.

I consider myself a huge cycling enthusiast, yet am in complete agreement with some of the rage shown by drivers over the conduct many riders display. It is never OK to ride three-wide on a country road, aloofly chatting away as a car is forced to slow down. Always ride on the shoulder and in the most unobtrusive way possible.

 10.             Respect the environment.

It may just be the top of a Clif Shot or Powerbar wrapper, but when multiplied a few hundred or even thousand times, that makes for a lot of unnecessary cleanup from those involved.

Leave the land how you found it, both out on the road and back at the finishing line.

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