In the midst of Bike Month yesterday, 136 cyclists went out for a ride. They pedaled 102.7 miles from Escondido in temperatures that reached 100 degrees, while climbing 2,680 feet over Mt Palomar. And, they did it in four and a half hours.
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They were the elite of world professional cyclists, the athletes competing in this week’s Amgen Tour of California (ATOC). In its eighth running, ATOC has become one of the world’s greatest bike races and a highlight of National Bike Month (May) throughout America. Some 2 million spectators will attend the races, and this year’s tour is not likely to disappoint them.
In eight days, this week, the tour’s cyclists will travel 750 miles of scenic California backroads and highways. For the first time in ATOC history, they will ride south to north against prevailing winds, with stage starts and finishes in Escondido, Murrietta, Greater Palm Springs, Palmdale, Santa Clarita, Santa Barbara, Avila Beach, San Jose, Livermore, Mt Diablo, San Francisco and Santa Rosa. Along these routes, they’ll climb 13 summits, including a 3,455-foot ascent of Mt. Diablo.
To endure such an ordeal, professional cyclists are among the fittest of athletes. That example is encouraging everyday people to take up cycling for their fitness, health and a more positive attitude about self and life, according to Jeff Molinari of the Placerville Bike Shop.
A family-run business established in 1977, the Placerville Bike Shop is El Dorado County’s oldest cyclery. Bob Molinari, Jeff’s father, acquired the shop 33 years ago. He has seen the sport evolve from one done by a few adherents, to one of the most popular ways people exercise across California.
The senior Molinari grew up in Santa Rosa riding his “Schwinn Varsity all over Sonoma County. He says he “could ride all over town and not get run over by speeding cars or better yet, speeding cars driven by texting teenagers.” Though admits, “Times have changed. These days most parent’s won’t let their kids of any age ride on the street. They are not free to roam and experience this kind of freedom that we did as kids.” So where do they ride? On bike trails.
Fortunately, El Dorado County has the start of a great trail. It’s called the El Dorado Trail. It’s a multimodal transportation corridor planned to extend the entire length of El Dorado County from the western county line to the Lake Tahoe Basin. Most of the 28 miles of trail, from west county near Latrobe east to Camino, are unpaved and travel along an old railroad route. Class I (paved) bike path runs along Forni Road through Placerville. The rest of the route is a natural trail, proposed for improvement.
Class I bike paths are a proven way to attract travel spending and provide a significant resource for local recreation, of benefit to a community’s health and well-being. As evidence of this, the 32-mile, paved Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail (also known as the American River Trail) in Sacramento County is used by some 5 million people annually. Bob Molinari said, “During summer, people from outside the area contact our shop about local rides, and many of my customers drive to Sacramento to ride the American River Trail, and they spend lots of money on restaurants and shopping in that area.”
Most people who ride on Class I bike paths aren’t elite athletes like those that compete in the Tour of California. They’re ordinary folk out for exercise and experience, and they achieve it by varied means. Molinari says how cycling has diversified is reflected in the many types of bikes sold, today: e.g., fitness, hybrid, commute, camping, mountain, touring and road bikes.
“A lot of the bikes we sell are purchased by people who want to get fit.” Jeff Molinari explains, “These riders have been motivated by Subway Sandwich commercials, the TV program Biggest Loser and countless diet programs to eat less and do more. They see cycling as an enjoyable way to get exercise into their routine. They want to stick with it and not buy a bike that ends up gathering dust in a garage. They want one they’ll enjoy riding.”
“We work on about 1,000 bikes a year and sell three to 400,” he continues. “Among them, Trek’s FX is one of the new style of fitness bikes that have become popular. It’s designed for a more comfortable workout, than the light, but hard-riding equipment that a bike racer would use. One of our customers has ridden 25,000 miles on her bike. She loves riding.”
Lydia Molinari, Jeff’s wife, leads beginner rides several days each month. And, each Wednesday, the shop organizes longer rides for 30 to 35 intermediate to advanced riders. “The only requirement is that you wear a helmet,” Jeff said.
“The beginner rides are for people who haven’t been on a bike in a while. We start at the Forni Road trailhead and ride out to Missouri Flat and back. It’s an easy portion of the El Dorado Trail that helps riders get back their sense of confidence, balance and understanding of how to gauge speed, shift gears and brake. After crossing Weber Creek Bridge, there’s a short climb before reaching the top.”
While these beginner rides travel only a mile or two, Molinari said they, “feel real proud when they get to the top of that hill.” No, they haven’t traveled a hundred miles in a day like the Amgen Tour of California riders, but the true meaning of Bike Month isn’t who wins the race, but who wins a better life by riding a bike.
This week is Bike to Work Week.
John Poimiroo of El Dorado Hills is a travel writer who specializes in California destinations.