Tuesday, April 7, 2009

6th Annual Nifty Ten Fifty

Slideshow here (click on image to read caption): flickr.com/photos/macpaulster

The 6th annual Nifty Ten Fifty bicycle ride took place on April 5, 2009, as is the custom, on the first Sunday in April. We have some rider quotes later in the write up, but this one from Jim Frink, a Nifty vet, is so good we just have to run it up front!

"Ah, the 6th Annual Nifty Ten Fifty. Lots to remember from this edition of this great event. First, the weather: abundant sunshine and crystal clear skies and views all the way around, from Diablo to the City. Couldn't have picked it better. Intros, passing out of cue sheets, and then this announcement from our fearless leader: "My cell phone is on the sheet. That said, don't you dare f#%^ing call me." :-) I knew it was gonna be a long day when my front wheel wouldn't stay on the pavement on Moeser. But all the climbs were beautiful. The riders: Paul "how much does he weigh?" McKenzie; Tom - the smoothest; Kevin - probably the quickest overall; Graham - chasing Kevin all the way; Doug - the noisiest - using his "huffing/puffing" technique from behind to psych out other riders; Jeff - SF City boy makes it look easy; John, from the North Bay, who never become flustered with east bay ride techniques; Forrest-o - "I can climb this hill doing a wheelie"; Craig - "I climbed 7000 feet yesterday"; and lastly, Jim - going for county lines on the wrong ride. A couple of notable quotes: "I can see just fine from here", - anonymous participant, even though we were well around the corner from the Virginia descent on Euclid, trying to look back up the hill for John; "You mean there is one more 28% grade?" - Craig the rookie, while sitting at Peets with just 4 miles to go. Highlight of the day: As I crested the penultimate pitch on Marin, and before heading down a sidestreet for a breather, I looked up at the final pitch, and there was Paul, doing his CWC boyz proud, 2/3 the way up, out of the saddle, looking oh so smooth, just floating to the top - all 125 pounds of him and his 10 pound bike, keeping ahead of previous KOM winner Tom. A great site to see Paul take the KOM title this year. Congrats man. And thanks for a great Nifty!"

We sent the “B” group off at 9:00. This group, led by Nifty vet Bill Oldham, looked pretty strong. Riders included Bill, Linda Fluhrer, Bruce Carroll, Dario Benavides, Vance Jacobs, and Kenny White.

Next off was Janet De Haven, leading the ‘Nifty Lite’, which turned out to be the ‘girls ride.’ Accompanying her were Nancy Farzan and Terri Ruttledge. Becca Heald would join them in the hills so they were 4 strong. I had mapped out a Nifty Lite course, but Janet had her own ideas. I’ll probably give in and change the course to her specifications. Heck, if she’s leading the ride, then she should have that privilege! The Nifty Lite cuts out some of the uglier climbs, such as Marin, Moeser, and Hiller. It also cuts out Snake, an easy but somewhat frivolous climb. Instead, she took the riders out to “The Bears” and did Pumphouse Hill and Happy Valley, returning via Mines Rd. I don’t have the specs yet on the new Nifty Lite ride but I’ll map it out soon to get mileage and climbing. Let’s call it 42 miles and 8,000’ as an educated guess.

Lastly, the “A” group left at 10:30. There were 10 of us. The idea is that all the groups should finish at the same time. In years when we’ve had a slower B group we’ve caught them in the middle of the ride, so I moved our start time back from 10:00, to 10:30. Kind of a mistake this year. We never saw the B group!

The A group knocked of the first three climbs very quickly. Graham and Jim immediately set a hot pace up the Moeser Ave. If you know those guys, then that not likely surprises you. Second climb up Terrace was mellow, with everyone sitting in and chatting. Then we swooped down to attack Marin. Forrest wasn’t getting his ‘not quite fit’ 200 lb. body up the climbs very easily, so I suggested he not descend and just ride the easy route to the top of Marin via Grizzly Peak. He took my suggestion with no resistance. Marin is by far the hardest climb on the ride.

Marin has claimed many victims. You really have to know how to ride it by saving some for the top. Graham took off hard with Jim again in tow. Jeff, our tall and slender rookie also was fighting to stay with them. I figured I might have a chance at the KOM, but they were so far ahead it looked more or less futile. Their lead got bigger and bigger, then I watched Graham sprint for Euclid Ave, and I figured he just felt great. He’s not a rookie, he knows it’s not the top...or does he? By now Kevin was in front of me. I gave him some encouraging words, “you’re still in it, keep it up!” I started feeling good so I went around Kevin, and got Euclid in 3rd place or so. I started the last three pitches. At the top of the first Graham, Jim and Jeff were doing donuts to catch their breath. I went past without taking a break, chugging up the 22% grade at super tempo with a little reserve. I couldn’t believe I was leading! I looked back to see if Tom was coming. He’s won the Marin KOM on more than one occasion on the last 26% pitch. Well, sure enough, there he was, but I had a good lead. I saved a little for the end and just kept up a smooth pace and took the KOM. I honestly thought it was something I would never do, but there I was!

Graham said he "blew a lung" on Marin. Now this is a term I hadn't heard before, but there have been other times I've heard something new from a cyclist after doing Marin! Before we had ridden one hour, we had three climbs in the bag. In fact we passed I-Point (in Tilden Park) at the 58-minute mark. Next climbs were uneventful, but someone was always pushing the pace, so if you wanted a hard workout, and you wanted to dice it out on the climbs, there was always someone to do it with. Graham, Kevin, and to a lesser degree Jeff, seemed to be the strong men of the day. One or more of the three of them always seemed to be pushing at the front. Tom was also consistently toward the front of the bunch on most climbs.

We ran into the Nifty Lite group at the rest stop after Climb #5 (our Subaru was packed with treats), Clif Bar, Shot, fresh fruit, drinks etc. A special thanks to Chris Randall from Clif Bar for the kindly donations that kept the riders fueled. Chris tried to find us out on the course but was unsuccessful. We must have missed him somewhere. Too bad, would have been nice to have another strong body.

Janet’s three mates were abandoning her at that point so I suggested Forrest join Janet. Again, he did not resist, and had a great time finishing the Nifty Lite with Janet at a sensible pace.

We left the rest stop and did Climb #6, Canon and South Park. Graham, and then Jim set a brutal pace on the flats between the two. I’ve been dropped there before, so this time I was ready. I jumped on Jim’s wheel and just sat there. Purrrrfect. Couldn’t help thinking that with this spirited group, the Nifty is a great training ride. Even on the flats!

Shepard descent #7 is always fun, super twisty at the top with impossibly tight hairpins, then a nice flat run out at the bottom. I took the lead and tried to get away going down. Unfortunately I had only a 50/12 top gear so I had to tuck. Of course Graham and the others caught me easily. We had a fast ride up Snake. I sat back while Tom, Kevin, and Jeff set a high pace, while Graham fell off. When I thought I was near the top I put it in the big ring and passed the whole group convincingly…but too early. The top was too far away and Kevin got me back! And Kevin wasn’t done yet.

Hiller was painful and ugly as usual. Doug just blew up at the base of Hiller; he’d been fighting shoulder pain and had been pumping Ibuprofen all day. I sent him directly down to Peet’s so he could avoid Hiller and recover. I too just wanted to get to Peet’s! We did, after some hard climbing on #9 and Janet, Forrest and Doug were waiting. We had the usual, extended, enjoyable stop, hitting Peet’s for coffee and the bakery next door for treats.

Then it was up Claremont/Grizzly/Vollmer for the last, and longest climb of the day. Kevin was simply unbelievable on the last climb. He basically dropped everyone and created a large gap. Jeff and Tom gave it a good go, but he was gone. He did wait at the top before the final finish, so Tom was able to nip him on the final 28% kicker up to Vollmer, but Kevin was the guy with something left in the tank at the end. He rode consistently all day. I hung back a bit to try to herd rookies John and Craig to the finish. Jim rode the tricky turns at the end with Craig while I sprinted ahead and just barely got into shouting distance to keep John from going the wrong way. Glad I did as John had gotten off course once already. Two times would have been too much.

Janet, Forrest and Doug, having left Peet's before us, were waiting at the top. They had left Peet’s prior and got there just before us. Snapped some pics, enjoyed the nice weather and view, then we headed down.

Even on the way back down, the guys were sprinting at each rise. Nothing but good clean fun, kids. More from the other riders below. Afterward we headed to Lane Splitter in Berkeley with a small crew for Beer and Pizza. Great day.

Random Awards from the A group:

Most Aggressive: Graham Pollack
Marin KOM: Paul McKenzie
Yellow Jersey: Kevin Keenan
Damn the Pain: Doug McKenzie
Best Rookie: Jeff Chen-Harding
Green Award: Jeff Chen-Harding (for suiting up and taking BART from S.F.)
Best Attitude and Wheelie: Forrest Huisman
Green Jersey: Tom Williard

B Group Award:

You’ll Never Catch Us: Bill Oldham Linda Fluhrer, Bruce Carroll, Dario Benavides

Here is a write up on the "B" group from Bill Oldham:

The B group Saga

With six elite riders the much-envied B group (because they get a head start) sort of pedaled off around 9:10? We managed to cross San Pablo without incident and started up Moeser. The race began. Here I thought I would be among the flower-smelling true type-B's, but apparently not. I managed to control my competitive urges and stayed at the back (where I belong). But there were no long waits and everyone regrouped for the somewhat complicated ride back down the same hill. Terrace was a bit more subdued, and we continued to find our way correctly through the nifty maze as a group. Only one person missed the Montrose right turn off Grizzly Peak and was within shouting distance, so again we got to Marin Circle together. (One highly rational rider took Santa Barbara/Euclid, skipping the Marin steeps, noting that "I have done Marin, don't need to do it again").

The ride up Marin was more interesting with two distinct approaches: a) sprint the steeps and ride around on the cross streets until heart is back in chest then attack again, or b) take a moderate pace straight up. One person from the method (a) approach arrived first, and a "type b" came in second. But everyone made it and agreed that it was an exceptional experience!

We hustled over to the only climb on the west side of the hills and all agreed to follow the leader on the "steeper but better" route (get off of El Toynal on Loma Vista, and skip the top of Toyonal and Las Piedras in favor of Alta Vista). It really is nicer, as well as steeper and quicker. Sadly the two younger riders in the B group decided to quit after climb 4 (Sigh, youth of today, etc).

So we continued with 4 seasoned riders (Bill, Linda, Bruce, Dario). Actually we were a very compatible group, with the faster riders, especially Bruce, willing to wait at the tops of the climbs for the plodders. We did ride together when possible, talk a lot, and have really nice rest stops at the Brazil room and Peets.

There were no surprises on Centenial, South Park and across to Oakland. And we only had two bad drivers that I noted all day (one motorcycle and one car that came too close or acted aggressively).

On the descent of Shepard Canyon Bruce got away from us, but he waited at the top of Snake. We had a serious complaint from one rider after descending the Thornxxxx's and climbing Broadway Terrace ("why didn't we descent BT and climb the Thornxxxx's... both Thorndale and Thornhill are steeper than Broadway Terrace"). Personally, I can live with the present route, mainly because I can manage it; I suspect I would fall over backwards on the suggested "improved" route.

We followed cars down Skyline/Tunnel; curiously I like that (if they go smartly) because I feel safer with someone in front sort of clearing the way. Again one rider had better sense than to ride Hiller and did a shortcut, but the leader and the other two dutifully ground their way up this short monster. We managed to get lost for a block on Gravatt (and descended one block on Stephens way -- kind of a short cut) but could already smell the coffee and beat it down to Peets.

After a nice long break, coffee and chat, we were hoping to see the A group come in before we left. But not confident that we could beat them up Claremont, even with a 15 minute head start, we left and hammered up to the finish. Where was the A group? Our time to there was between 5hr and 5:15 on various watches. It was a glorious day and a great ride with good folks. Thanks to Paul and Janet for hosting this absurd climbfest.


Here is a collection of quotes and memorable moments from Janet's Nifty Lite ride:

"If the word Happy or Flat is in the name of the road, it is rarely flat or happy."

"Now would be a good time to put it in the little gear"...... "I am already in the little gear."

Banana Bread Break at Becca's.

Highlighter pen and map back to Sutter Ave.

Mellow pace architectural tour of the new homes in the fire area with Forrest

Brownies at the Bakery

Steady speed of a Flood Light (200 watts)

Glider Planes near the top

47.83 miles & ? (enough) feet of climbing

"I would like to thank you for a great ride yesterday. The ride was great, Bill was a great leader and the conversation was very entertaining."

"Great ride yesterday. The B group is just perfect. I was never very far behind and they were always encouraging. There is an old saying for a ride like this: Bring low gears or low IQ."

"Thanks for putting the Nifty on enough times for me to finally get there and do the ride. I got my butt kicked, but that's probably good for me in the long run."

"Paul and Janet, the Nifty Fifty was spectacular! You guys know how to put on a bike party (and the pain)! What an amazing ride, great people and awesome support with excellent beverages and snacks along the way. It’s amazing how many great vistas we were graced with during this very clear and warm day…I actually got a sunburn. This is a must see and must do for next year. BTW, Congrats on the KOM up Marin Avenue!"

"56.4 miles 9020 feet. Plenty of workout for me. I came down expecting to hopefully do at least half. Injured shoulder/neck/back thing has been preventing me from riding more than 2 hours without extreme pain for about a month. Driving and descending aggravate the injury. So I get there, feeling OK considering I just drove for an hour.

Climbing is fine, as a matter of fact, I feel better climbing. So my plan was to warm up, hit all the climbs hard until I blow or have too much pain. This ride is my training ride for Copperopolis. I have not been able to spend much time on the bike, so I'm going for it

I get my ass handed to me on Marin. I actually have to do the recovery circles at the intersections, a first for me. However, the HR is up and I'm getting my workout. I hit the next climbs hard. Chasing Kevin and Jeff. By the lunch break, I'm done. Then we hang out, I feel better and decide to move on. I feel that this is not the right decision but decide to go for it anyway.

On the ridge, I chase Graham a couple times. Amazing amount of power he has on the slight climbs (4% or so). He rode me off his wheel at one point. After that I was starting to fade. The descents hurt like hell and the climbs were hard. I tried to refuel and re med (Ibuprofen). Not much help. The descent on Tunnel (I think that's what it is) is very difficult and I drop back. Up comes Hiller. Try to pedal, nothing. I mean NOTHING, no power at all. I can't. I'm done. I have to stop Paul and ask for a short cut. I've never experienced a blow up like that before. My brain did not allow me to pedal. So I ride to the Peet's and recover a bit and find Forrest and Janet (Ms. 200 watts). Take the last climb easy with them.

We get to the top and watch Mr. Willard crest first. He never ceases to amaze me. Always entertaining. Great ride, great workout. I'm still paying for it. Hopefully I'll recover by Saturday and be able to hang with the front group."


"I was pretty amazed by the strength and cohesiveness of the B group. It's amazing to find that many riders who like to climb and do it well. I also saw several new streets, many that I had ridden past many times.

Then I found out about the caliber of the A group. I have raced and lost to Graham before. I know because he dropped me on a short climb 440 miles into a race. I DNF'ed, he won. I had a really good ride with the B group and I'm pretty sure I would have blown up with the A group so the departure time was a good choice."