Psuedo Racing on the Coast

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Today is my last day in California for a while. I’ve ridden around 500 miles this past week and feel pretty good about that. I would have liked to ride more with some groups, but that didn’t seem to materialize, so I did nearly all of it alone.

I’ve been starting and finishing most every ride on the coast highway. It is the best way to get up to North County and pretty much the only way to get back into La Jolla returning over Torrey Pines.

I’ve run into a lot of different people riding on the coast highway this past week. Mainly guys just commuting to work or back home, depending on the time of the time. These commuter guys seems to be pretty friendly, but also competitive. It is amazing how many times I’m being passed by a guy riding a slick tired MTB bike, that has been turned into a winter commuter bike. I’m not sure why you’d need a winter commuter bike in San Diego, because there isn’t winter, thus no winter weather, but a couple guys I’ve spoken to said that they were riding their winter bikes. These guys come blowing by me when I’m already riding over 20 mph, so they are definitely working going faster than that on a 30 lb. bike. I usually catch up to them when they stop for a light and say something pertaining to how well they are moving along on such a heavy bike. They act like it is their normal everyday speed, which is close to impossible or they would be on Pro Tour teams.

Then there are the guys out training. Since I’ve mainly been riding on weekdays, I’m not meeting up with so many racer guys. I see a few dozen throughout the day, but not the hordes I see on the weekend days. The racer guys aren’t so friendly, which is strange to me. They look straight forward and don’t really say hi or anything. I don’t really pass any guys training, I only get passed even though I’m riding at my normal training speed, which is brisk.

It seems like a lot of these guys are just out racing up and down the coast. They can’t always be riding 23-25 mph or more.

Yesterday I rode up and did a small loop in Elfin Forest. It is about a 70 mile ride. The wind was good and blowing from the Northwest, which meant a tailwind coming back, which is nice. I was approaching the Torrey Pines climb, which is kind of the official end of the ride. After that it is about 6 more miles into La Jolla, but all residential and lots of traffic.

About 1/2 a mile from Torrey Pines, this guy comes blowing by me. I was already going maybe 23, so not slow, but the wind was at my back a little. I decided to be one of those guys and follow the guy up the climb, whether he went inside or the outside road up the hill. Torrey Pines is not even 2 miles, but a few hundred feet. The inside the Park road is steep and shorter. The outside is more gradual and longer. I usually ride the inside because it is way more scenic, but this guy stayed on the coast highway, which was outside.

I could tell the guy was riding hard, you could tell by his pedalling. He just stayed on his seat and mashed away on his pedals, keeping pretty much the same speed at the bottom of the hill. I had to accelerate to match his speed. I was riding, maybe 10 bike lengths behind him. I could tell he was wondering if I was still riding behind him, but knew that I was far enough back that he wouldn’t know unless he turned around and looked. And I knew he wanted to look.

I was mildly surprised how long he kept going good. He kept a real good rhythm up at least 2/3’rds of the hill. I was going at least 80% as hard as I could, which was working. But with a couple minutes of the climb left, he sort of petered out. Not super bad, just enough so that he was riding slower up the hill than I normally would have. I decided to just keep going “my pace” and closed down the small gap. He heard me coming up and immediately took off again. He didn’t ever stand up, he just accelerated on his seat.

I had been riding most of the time out of the saddle. For some reason, I’ve been climbing like that a lot more the last couple years. I think it might be because I’m losing either leg muscle or power as I age, but not so much Vo2, so I compensate for it by just using more muscles, which I do by climbing standing. That is just a theory, I really don’t have a definite reason other than it is easier to climb standing, a lot of the time, than sitting.

So anyway, the guy gets to the very top of the hill and slows down a ton, like really coasts. I don’t usually slow down training over the top of a climb, so just kept going by him. He sped up and road up to me and I tell him he was going pretty good up the climb. He answers something like he knew he was going good and then calls me Steve. I’m always surprised when someone I don’t know uses my name like he know me, but that is my deal.

He then asks me why I’m not wearing a helmet. He says he is concerned about my safety. I tell him I don’t usually wear a helmet training, it’s just a personal choice. I think it is kind of strange how strongly someone must feel to say something like that almost the second I meet him. He must have been pretty opinionated about wearing helmets, as most people are, I guess. I’m not very opinionated about it, either you wear one or you don’t. Anyway, that is just a sidebar.

So, we ride just a mile or so together and then he says he was turning, which I was too, but he took off like I as slowing him down, which I wasn’t. He took off doing about 25 or so, his “normal” training pace.

I’m wondering if I was just one of those guys that was kind of racing on the coast. I wasn’t really trying to show off to the dude. I just wanted to see how fast a guy like that was going to climb a hill I’d been climbing solo for a week. But, I guess each and every rider going up and down the coast has his own little reason for riding whatever speed his is going. My reason isn’t any more legitimate than anyone else’s I suppose. It’s kind of fun and frustrating at the same time, which is one of the reason I like the sport so much.

Descending down Torrey Pines into the fog yesterday

Descending down Torrey Pines into the fog yesterday

Starting up the inside road of Torrey Pines.

Starting up the inside road of Torrey Pines.

50 thoughts on “Psuedo Racing on the Coast

  1. Chris

    I feel like there’s an element of the greater good in wearing a helmet. Your fellow riders don’t want to see you turf it and lying concussed or worse on the asphalt. No matter how good a rider you are, tires and wheels can fail at the wrong moments. Hospitals don’t want to take you in (I have friends working in the ER, the volume of cyclists they see is distressing). Well-meaning but careless motorists who might not see you shouldn’t have theirs and your lives ruined because you suffered an injury that would have been preventable simply by strapping on a helmet. I cracked a helmet against a curb after a car t-boned me in an intersection, the driver immediately accepted responsibility and his insurance replaced my bike. I wouldn’t have wanted my blood and hospital bills on his hands as well. Likewise with anyone on a training ride who might unintentionally half-wheel me.

    I certainly won’t go out of my way to chastise anyone over their decision on headwear, because overzealous helmet nazis are as annoying as any other brand of dogmatist. But they may have a point.

  2. Gummee!

    Having lived just inland from the the bottom of the Torrey Pines climb I can tell you from personal experience that there’s ‘racers’ out there that never pin on a number.

    Instead they live to ‘drop that guy on the hill’ etc. up and down the coast.

    My neighbor was one of those guys. Ummm yeah. Did the guy you ‘dropped’ know you were racing?!

    Its a strange phenomenon. Only other place I’ve ever seen that kind of behavior is here in the DC area on the W&OD trail. Same kind of mentality for some reason. I’ve been ‘dropped’ so many times that I have to laugh. Ya see…. I’M not ‘racing.’ I save that for A. places other than the 101/WOD and B. when I pin on a number and do it for real.


  3. Wildcat

    I started speed skating in 1994. We wore helmets. My coach was a bike racer, he got me out for a few rides, and I decided I liked bike racing better. We always wore helmets. I’ve never been bike riding without a helmet. For that matter, I’ve never ridden in a car without a seatbelt. But I was born in the 80’s. Steve, I guess you’re a member of a dying breed of bike racer. Kind of like the farts who think marijuana is the devil. Coast-to-coast in 20 years it will be illegal to ride a bike without a helmet and pot will be legal.

  4. Rod

    I live here too, just got back from a ride that included Double Peak, a short but brutal hill near the Elfin Forest area, then down to the coast.

    I think what gets me around her is the often (seemingy) unfriendly attitude of cyclists who pass without even acknowledging the presence of the rider they pass. I ride pretty fast so I pass more people than pass me, but I always slow a bit to say hey and move on. Maybe it’s me feeling inadequate or whatever but I honestly do take that personally and probably shouldn’t.

    I’m not one to try to drop people when I’m out riding alone, but if I get passed I generally try to keep up, unless I’m in full recovery mode.

    Gummee! …very funny aboutthe W&OD, I commuted from OTA to DC from 2008-2011 on the Mt Vernon Trail, and when I saw a light coming up behind me I new it was game on. W&OD was worse IMO, always seemed there were more people walking, esp with strollers, etc so it felt way more hazardous to me.

  5. Gummee!

    I try to keep it to a dull roar on the WOD. Too many people doing too many different speeds to go too fast. Not everyone rides like that tho. (see my post above)

    I rode the 101 on days when I wasn’t doing Tues Night Racing at the velodrome or Thurs Night Worlds over on Fiesta Island. IOW days when I wasn’t planning on going quickly. There’s just too much scenery to go fast.


  6. Rod

    Yeah I hear you…101 is not the place to go fast except maybe up Torrey Pines, OTT too many lights/stop signs/cars/people/etc. Plenty of good places inland to ramp up the speed.

  7. Touriste-Routier

    It is a SoCal thing; I bet they don’t know their neighbors either. It happens in LA too.

  8. Mike

    Not riding with a helmet is an incredibly selfish act. While I am well aware of it’s not a guarantee, I don’t to want to greatly increase the odds of other people to be paying for somebody else giving me long term medical and personal care supports.

  9. The Cyclist

    Cycling IS a selfish act. Personally I ride to enjoy myself and for this great feeling of FREEDOM I get from it. Those who don’t understand this maybe should put on a helmet and go play football or something instead.

    Ride free!

  10. Aaron

    I’ve been riding in the Nor Cal region since 2001, and have been amazed by the number of fellow cyclists who don’t acknowledge me on a ride. Waving to oncoming cyclists, whether racers, rec riders, or commuters was a common practice amongst cyclists where I grew up, racing in the Boston area. In my personal version of the “collective” we were all in it together, riding for similar reasons and facing the same threats of Boston traffic. I loved & miss that part of the cycling community.

  11. Ken

    I’ve been a victim of inexplicably unfriendly cyclists, so it isn’t just a Cali thing. Most recently I rode up on a couple of guys, tried to engage them in conversation and you would have thought I was a leper. So “f” them I thought to myself and rode off. Maybe 45 minutes later they come blasting past me like they are on the Champs Elysee. So, I jump on the back wheel. They make multiple attempts to drop me (never did), then turn around and ask rudely if I’m ever going to pull through. My incredulity almost knocked me off my bike. I ended up riding on the front for the next half hour until I turned off for home.

  12. SD rider

    Yep pretty much always someone on the coast looking for a street race. My favorite is when I pass them with my wife on my wheel and they instantly grab a few gears and try to attack. They never last too long before we reel them back in. All in good fun I suppose, though I will say I’m rarely the one getting passed 🙂

  13. Doug P

    Steve, please wear your helmet. I’m currently a brain patient at CNS in Irving TX. It has been about 6-months since this all started. I was in Parkland Hospital for 90-days. 45-days ago, I was learning to suck out of a straw and how to use a fork. I’ve seen dozens of people at rehab whom hit their head and irreparably damages. I have been blessed to be in what I consider good shape. Other than gaining 35 pounds from medication, I’d say I’m 80% back. If you don’t have Medical & Disability Insurance, get it NOW! That way, Trudi won’t be stuck with the bills or the stress of caring for you. Thank God, we have Great Insurance and an I have an Angel for a Wife and we are not saddled with the almost $350,000 in Bills!

  14. Jim

    I usually say hello when overtaking another rider and I rarely alter my pace because of another rider. I don’t care for riders drafting unless they let me know first then I’m cool with it. I don’t know why but it just bugs me unless others ask first. A lot of the “group” rides turn into hammer sessions that I don’t care for so I’ve avoided these rides the last few years. If I do a group “ride” I’ll do 20 – 30 solo miles first and try to hang with the group. If I get dropped so be it. At least I get challenged.

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  16. Bob Kennedy

    Great read (again), Mr Tilford! Lived out there a few years back when wife worked for Kashi. We’d cruise up Torrey Pines, me on single speed Cannondale mtn bike hauling a B.O.B trailer headed to farmer’s market in LaJolla…it was fun picking off the weekend warriors with a big Midwestern “Whoa, cool plastic bike, dude!” as we passed. Riders were, for the most part, pretty easy going, and chatty, especially the Swami dudes, once you made first contact.

  17. channel_zero

    Basically correct. I wear a helmet and I’m taking risks riding like most of you too, so I’m not some sanctimonious couch potato. The public health statistics, when reported, tell us that helmets lower public health costs and lower life-altering injuries.

    Unfortunately, Steve would ride right by me so I wouldn’t have a chance to tell him to put a helmet on while we’re riding along. But, I’d do it and would not think twice about saying it if the opportunity presented itself. He’s free to disagree and I won’t think less of him for disagreeing.

    For reasons I can’t fathom, many SoCal (San Diego too) roadies are not friendly. There are many more on the road now than 20 years ago and not much has changed. I still talk to other riders regardless.

  18. Robert E

    I knew a liver transplant surgeon who got upset when helmet laws went into effect for motorcyclists. He said it would ruin his harvest.

  19. H Luce

    If riders want to wear helmets, they should wear helmets, if not, then don’t wear one. I wear one every time I ride, because of what I saw on a training ride in Florida about 27 years ago: two riders, the first to go down crossed wheels, went right down, smashed his helmet to pieces, his bike wasn’t ridable, so he walked his bike to the nearest place with a phone, a couple of miles down the road. He was with us on the next ride. The second rider to go down, 10 minutes later, wasn’t wearing a helmet, so a couple riders had to go timetrialling up the road about 5 miles to call an ambulance, the LifeFlight helicopter showed up very shortly thereafter, and three months later, that rider was walking again. I don’t recall him ever riding again, though. Steve has been through an amazing number of crashes, once going through the windshield of a Morris Minor headon at the UK Milk Race, and no head injuries or learning to walk, etc. He’s pretty skilled at falling, more or less, and he’s had tons of practice, so he probably just sees these things in a different light.

  20. H Luce

    As for unfriendly cyclists, group riders who don’t stop for flats, and so forth: They suck. And there’s no real reason to talk with them anyway. On the group rides from Steve’s house, if you’re in any kind of reasonable shape and stay up with them, if you get a flat, they’ll stop… No one has anything to prove, I guess.

  21. Aki

    For a number of years I visited out there to train, usually at around this time (seems that I’d leave shortly after Red Trolley). I’ve ridden up and over Torrey Pines a bunch of times, and inland towards Palomar. I’m slow enough that I rarely pass anyone. However when I do I try to compliment the other rider on their pace etc. No one’s been unfriendly and in fact I ended up riding with various individuals. The PCH is long enough that it’s hard to do a little surge to get by and then ease off because the rider you just passed could be passing you in 30 or 60 minutes. Around where I live if you can go fast for 5 minutes after you pass someone you’ll be out of sight.

    Nice to see the pictures of the familiar roads. Thanks for posting.

  22. burnt

    The he knew it was you punchline of this made me laugh out loud. The world is small. I know you come through the twin cities on occasion. I’m fat and out of shape but I ride almost every day and I’m going to keep my eyes open and when I spot you I’m going to pin it and ride until my heart bursts–330 meters or so. “Hi, Steve, bye, Steve.”

    As for helmets, whatever. I lead with my head and I’ve broken six helmets in the past 18 or so years. Clearly I should be wearing a helmet. People who are not me and ride more than 1,000 miles/year are less likely to be involved in a serious accident (cite? Google is your friend, this is a comment not a peer-reviewed paper, but there is at least one peer-reviewed paper out there that makes this claim). If you are a typical American your chances of experiencing a head injury are much higher when riding in a car (did you see the somewhat unfair switch I made here?) and I haven’t seen anybody wearing a helmet in their car who wasn’t on the track.

    The odds of suffering a significant head injury when riding sans helmet are pretty small. I’m not going to risk it because I have demonstrated that falling on my head is my preferred mode of falling. When the helmet scolds are advocating that everyone in automobiles sport helmets then I’ll acknowledge their sincerity on the bicycle front.

  23. Christine

    Ms. Super Opinionated here… I say, “Wear that helmet!’ Also, as an A-personality, my feathers get ruffled (rather badly) anytime I get passed during my solo training rides.

    Enjoyed this post & your perspective.

  24. Ken


    I’m with you. I can’t stand guys I just passed jumping on my wheel without telling me. Usually I enjoy the zen of riding alone. People who buy expensive bikes and wear the spandex are competitive by nature, but nothing irritates me like a Johnny Racer I just came up on from a mile behind and then passed suddenly back there huffing and puffing on my wheel. I’m not even that fast, either.

  25. Ken


    I also began in Boston and I always remember “the wave” from cyclists on the road, always. I think back then there were so few of us it was a surprise to be up riding through Concord and actually see someone in “the wool.” I see so many guy out there now who won’t even crack a smile, I think, “Why so angry? It’s a beautiful day!”

  26. Ken

    Since he uses Strava, it may have been he was just trying for a PR time on that stretch of road, and not trying to race with Steve at all, although I can see why Steve would have thought so. Strava changes the way we all ride.

  27. OGS

    exactly. I think most cyclists enjoy or at least used to enjoy this game of “cat and mouse” even on regular rides, commutes etc. Nothing wrong with that, it’s harmless, often fun to play, and one of the beauty of the sport – sometimes you can ride next to each other and chat, sometimes you can be a bit competitive.

    Sometimes you are the cat, sometimes you are the mouse. Both riders have to be engaged, otherwise there is no game. So it’s amusing when one of them thinks the other one is more foolishly competitive about the whole thing. You both are!!!

    But it cannot be taken too seriously. The only thing more ridiculous than a rider self-congratulating themselves for catching the mouse or escaping the cat on a regular/commute-ride (often without other rider realizing they are playing) and perhaps taking it a bit too seriously, is a rider who self-congratulates themselves for never engaging in these serendipidous little games at all, as if their training is so important, so fine-tuned, and they themselves are so disciplined, they would never pick up a pace – not once, not for even 60 seconds, to play these sort of games, especially against some lowly cat 4 fodder rider.
    Because they are “serious racers”, on their way to “racing” this weekend or the weekend after, and that makes them somehow above doing something fun – god forbid one deviates from riding in zone 2, that would derail months of the entire training schedule, culminating in potential sprint for 42nd place at a local cat 3 race.

    As to helmets – on one hand, there are plenty of situations where it should be socially acceptable to go without one. If you are riding a beach cruiser 5 blocks down at 8 miles per hour, or fiddling around on your city dutch bike to get some coffee, or use one of the bikeshare bikes, it’s fine to go without one. Europeans ride like that all the time and it gets more people riding and improves safety.

    On that note, can we stop news outlets reporting on the status of helmet wear whenever a cyclist gets hit by a car? It’s as if we are automatically assigning blame, based on how risk-adverse the rider was, and try to scare the public – “see, that lady was wearing a helmet and she was still crushed by that pickup truck. What a tragic accident, just goes to show cycling is dangerous!” – note that it is always the truck or a bus that hits a cyclist, driver of said vehicle is somehow never really involved, and it’s always an “accident”, stuff happens, no criminality suspected.

    However, I do wish you Steve, or Chris Horner who rides helmet less around San Diego all the time, would wear helmets. Doing so would set a good example for next generation, that for long (1hr+) rides on fast roads full of traffic, with cycling speeds in excess of 30mph, you may opt for wearing a helmet to protect yourself and your precious brain in case of accidents (which do happen!). This is similar to wearing seat belts – your personal choice that shouldn’t affect anyone else, but helps save lives.

    Obamacare debates made me more aware of the hidden costs we all end up paying for risky behavior of others. Libertarian approach of “let’s let that motorcyclist go 100 mph with no helmet in t-shirt and shorts, it’s his problem when he crashes and requires skin grafts over 80% of his skin or becomes a vegetable” or “let that 400 lb morbidly obese lady stuff her face with 10 cheeseburgers, it’s her decision – even when she has heart desease and diabetes” break down when you realize that it is all of us paying for their choices, in forms of medical bills, disability payments, etc.

    You are free to ride without helmet and you won’t hear me confronting you in person about it, because frankly it’s your business and I have better things to be angry about, but know that we ARE quietly judging you – and that you would be a better citizen and a better example if you put your helmet on, at least once in a while. And why not?

  28. OGS

    well, FYI – from this rider’s perspective it could have been similarly weird. So here he is, on his quick 1.5hr training ride, hoping to hit some time (say sub-6) or power (say 400W) target for first 5 minutes of Torrey Pines, not really looking to race against anyone or be chatty and go slow, just do the workout quickly and get back home for dinner. While descending towards the hill at 30mph, he passes a helmetless rider who is going slow, taking photos of the ocean. Whatever.
    But then half way up the hill he realizes the helmetless dude is on his tail, chasing after him hard. What’s his problem? Why does everything have to be a race?
    Whatever, focus on the workout. Once he is done with his 5 minute effort and slows down at the top, the helmetless dude pulls up and tells him “Nice effort, man!”. But what he *clearly* must imply is “Ha-Ha, I caught you up the hill after you passed me! I win!”. He is a super-fit skinny dude, despite age.
    The guy personally feels strongly about dangers of riding without helmets and tries to convince the helmetless dude that this riding without one may not be a good idea. Not convinced that his message is getting across, he decides he doesn’t really want to ride with helmetless dude (who he may have now offended) for too long, so he takes off once they chatted a bit and he feels to fulfilled his social obligation.

  29. Zach

    I havent ridden much in LA/SD, but Im just north of there (been in texas and ohio as well). I find people have been mostly the same. I almost always give a nod or wave to a passing cyclist or one I pass (unless an interval). Maybe in those areas they are in their own game or head, but being the initiator certainly can make a difference as well.

    I dont get passed often as my city just likely isnt big enough, but I do find the cat and mouse game pretty funny, and fun as well. We are a competitive species.

  30. marco

    “The racer guys aren’t so friendly, which is strange to me. They look straight forward and don’t really say hi or anything.”

    This made me laugh! you’re kidding right?

    I started riding in high school yrs ago and immediately picked up on the ‘take myself too seriously roadie vibe.’ I thought the road scene was more cliquish than my school! to me, it still is still the same after 20 some yrs and no matter where you go.

    of course, the elite guys seem to always be friendly to someone when they are as strong or stronger than them.

  31. Dan

    I’m with marco, was that comment serious? Competive road cyclists as a group are some of the most unfriendly condescending people on the planet, and that’s pretty obvious from the get go.

  32. JR

    I’m with Marco & Dan.

    I ride a heavy MTB with slick tires for 90% of my rides, rain or shine. Then when I get on my tri bike for races, it seems SO much faster.

  33. Dog

    You have captured the racer’s “essence of riding PCH in San Diego County” with this post.

    I loved riding up and down it during the 19 years in which I lived there, but as time went on, and cycling became more ubiquitous on it, I came to not enjoy it as much. I’d be out for one of my high-mileage rides (I lived inland and made it part of my route) and just when I was about to say “howdy” and chat up a guy Id catch up with, the guy (9 times out of ten) would accelerate. And for those I’d “defeated” (their perception, not mine) there was no way they’d say hello back. Sorry, I’m a friendly guy. I like to be cordial.

    It’s an insanely weird culture. Triathletes are very self-centered on their rides (and going as fast as they can the whole time). Richies (guys with Weisel-style egos as well as wallets and bikes) just want to pass everyone, and prevent being passed by anyone.

    Then there are the guys who think” timing their ride over a certain route” is the way they prepare to become a racer. Months later, when they think they’ve finally “arrived” at fitness, they show up to a club ride, get dropped, and are never heard from again. They’re the ones who see your club jersey, pass you, think they’ve dropped you (when you simply chose not to play their game) and are utterly destroyed mentally when they aren’t that good (“But I drop those guys on PCH all the time!”).

    The best part is when you happen upon your fellow racers, even the ones you don’t really know. We tend to find each other. I couldn’t ride PCH without encountering at least one guy I knew from racing. They’re usually up for a chat. Almost always interested in riding WITH you, and you end up realizing that the universe made the tow of you racers for a reason.


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