Skyline Drive on a fixie…
I wasn’t sure where to place this—under Road Cycling, Singlespeed and Fixed Gear or Long Distance Cycling. I finally decided the Fifty Plus was the place, because as I ‘fit’ in the former categories, I really am an old guy at heart .
Skyline Drive is part of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It connects to the Blue Ridge Parkway (Actually Skyline Drive is the northertnmost 100 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway). A popular ride is to start from Front Royal (mile 0) and ride to Big Meadows (mile 51) and back. It is a tough ride, with about 10,000 feet of climbing (and descending). It starts with an almost 5 mile uphill and then follows the ridgeline. It is a beautiful ride, and there are always bikers up there in the warmer months of the year.
Yeah, I’ve been told I’m crazy—well, I won’t argue. Yesterday was one tough day. There were 6 of us that rolled out of Front Royal at around 8:15 or so yesterday morning. Two were planning to do ‘around 80’, and the rest of us are all going to “Ride the Rockies” in Colorado in 3 weeks, and this was a ‘test’ to see how the training was going. We were slated for Big Meadows and back. I am riding my KHS Flite 100with a 48 tooth chainring and an 18 tooth cog.
It started well, the grade on the first 5 miles isn’t so bad, and riding the fixie wasn’t bad at all. I quickly jumped to the front (not intentional), as that is where my pace placed me. I had company, as my friend Carlos (a.k.a. “Lucho Herrera”) rode with me—and he did most of the day. We decided we would regroup at the top of the first hill, then ride as a group until the next uphill, and regroup at mile 24. We would ride from mile 24 to 31 as a group, and then it was to each his own.
We ended up waiting quite a bit for the two off the back, but it was a very pleasant day. Everything went well until about mile 22…there was a sign on the road stating “Caution—loose gravel”. Not the type of pavement I expected on Skyline (you guys who were here 3 weeks ago didn’t say anything about this!!). We had to ride carefully, as it was pretty gravelly, which made handling tough. Of course, I can’t coast through the loose stuff, as being on the fixie forces me to pedal 100% of the time. On the first downhill I was riding just in front of “Lucho” when he told me we were going 34 miles an hour. That is very fast on a fixie (at least on one with the gear ratio I have). I put on the brakes a little to slow it down to around 30, which was much more manageable.
We ended up waiting about a fifteen minutes at mile 24 for the last two to arrive, and then a further 15 or so while they stocked up (it was getting hot) and used the bathroom. Finally we were off, and stayed together until the bad pavement ended, at the intersection of Rt. 211. There the pavement got smooth again, and we just kept on going. Very quickly we divided into 3 groups. “Lucho” and I were off the front, Bill and Javier took the middle and Sergio and Carlos brought up the rear. Carlos and I kept a steady pace going, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the barrage of hills above the tunnel was not that bad on the fixie. The worst part was probably the last hill into Big Meadows—with the wind blowing in our faces as we struggled up the last grade. We got there in 3:50 minutes of riding time. Not too bad for all the climbing we did. About 15 minutes later Bill and Javier arrived. We ate and tried to limit our stop, but it ran to close to an hour. Finally we were ready to go again.
The return trip was a lot tougher for me than for anyone else, as it is predominantly downhill. They would all fly down the hill, while I kept it at around 25 or so miles per hour, pedaling like crazy, using the brakes and getting very sore arms. At the foot of the next climb, I would ride up to Bill and Javier, pass them both and try to catch “Lucho”. (I never did). On the next downhill, Bill and Javier would fly by me and we maintained this type of order for the duration, until the next-to-the last downhill, which is about 6 miles long. My backside was hurting a lot from sitting most of the day, and my arms were hurting. I actually stopped twice on the downhill to give both a rest. Then it was keep going. As I hit the base of the last climb, Bill was just going around the bend ahead—that is about as close as I got to him, as once over the top, it’s all downhill. The last two miles were brutal on my arms… and on my legs. They were getting really tired. I was very happy to see the Ranger station/entrance to the Park roll by-- I was done. Total riding time was just under 7 hours for 102 miles—and about 10,000 feet of climbing (and descending).
Will I do it again? You bet…but I think I’m going to put a rear brake on the bike to ‘rest’ my legs a little on the downhills.
Next big ride will be “Ride the Rockies” in about 3 weeks… and I intend to do the whole thing ‘fixed’.