Every Tuesday and Thursday morning year round without fail, there’s a core group of seriously fast bike riders that throw down on the same training loop around Woodside, Portola Valley, and Los Altos Hills. Around here, it’s just called the morning ride. It starts in Palo Alto but the regulars ride over from towns all around the area. For those that don’t frequent this hammer-fest, the ride is usually spoken of in relatively reverential tones simply because it’s the fastest ride in an area with a whole lot of fast riders. Of course, there’s a debate out there that the seasonal Wednesday night Valley Ride is quicker and there are those that say the morning ride is too short, just a quick burn. The Noon Ride is certainly longer and more social, definitely hard. But if you do the morning ride regularly, you’ll have spent more time going anaerobic than on any other ride. It usually hurts. A lot. But there’s no better training to get fast than to ride with the fastest riders you can find. The morning ride is the realm of local pros, Cat. 1/2′s, accomplished masters racers, and a few hacks like yours truly. The most challenging aspect of fast rides like this is that you have to do it regularly to get used to the suffering but you have to endure the suffering to get through it regularly. Either way, you’re going to suffer.
The traditional start is at the Starbucks on University Ave in downtown Palo Alto around 6:15am but a significant number of riders comes up from the Los Altos area and riders filter in throughout the early stage of the ride. In particular, there’s a group that sits at the corner of Clark Way and Sand Hill, picking up the ride around 6:30am while another group waits 5 more minutes up the road at the corner of Santa Cruz Ave and Sand Hill (corner of Santa Cruz/Sand Hill can be seen in the ride map below).
The early, short climb up Sand Hill is taken at a leisurely pace with conversations still going in the early morning light. The ride crests Sand Hill and descends towards the overpass of the 280 freeway and the momentum takes the group up to the first dig of the ride. Climbing back up Sand Hill towards Portola Valley is where a few riders always begin to punch it. Up and over and down again, past Whiskey Hill, and into the face of a short 12% lung-buster. This is where a few riders always attack. Now onto Portola Valley, the ride takes a very fast, sweeping right hand turn up to Mountain Home Road, a twisting and rolling backcountry lane where the suffering really sets in. A left on Woodside, a right into the “maze (see map),” and the hammer is definitely down. The ride rolls through the back side of route 84 and back onto Portola Valley where the strongest riders take turns pulling through, often dropping riders dangling off the back whose lungs are busted and legs are popped. A left at Alpine, right on Arastradero, and onto the climb up Page Mill to Altamont. Mercifully, the ride stops and regroups for a moment at the corner of Page Mill and Altamont. The descent through Los Altos Hills is definitely not for the faint of heart. Narrow, twisting, hairpin, country roads lead the group back to Foothill where many riders end their ride at the Los Altos Peets. A smaller group hoofs it up Foothill back to Palo Alto and surrounding areas.
Like I’ve often said, the best way to get fast is to find out where the fastest riders are and go there. On the San Francisco peninsula, the Palo Alto morning ride is it. If you’ve never done this ride and you’re considering it, just be aware that there’s definitely a pecking order and good Group Ride etiquette is a must. This is one of the safest rides around because it’s fast and strung out, most everyone knows each other and is familiar with one another’s tendencies. But like any ride, if you stick with it, respect other riders, and ride safely, there’s no greater rush or workout than blasting through empty roads before most people are even out of bed.