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The Spectrum Ride

2005-01-16 6 min read Tours marco

The Spectrum Ride

If you have been riding on the San Francisco Peninsula, chances are you have heard of this ride. It’s not the most splendid setting per se (unless you happen to like your front man/woman’s derriere), but it’s a great ride, and you can join whenever you like.


The ride starts at 9 AM every Saturday, come rain of shine, at the intersection of Hollenbeck and Homestead in Mountain View. That’s where the old Spectrum bike store used to be, and if you are an old timer, you still have your Spectrum store jersey with you!

Highway 87 has an exit “Homestead”. Use that one, and go to the East from there. Soon you’ll get to Hollenbeck and its Starbucks (why do all bikers end up at coffee houses?). The trek leaves at 9 sharp, so be punctual!

Basically, Spectrum is an open ride and anyone can participate. It is quite a fast ride, so you have to be fit to participate. A lot of us jump on and leave after a variable amount of minutes, proud of having been part of the pack. Others though are pretty annoyed at slower bikers, and people don’t mince with their disapproval, especially at newcomers.

The Ride

After doing all of Homestead to Foothill Expressway, you’ll follow Foothill past Los Altos. You will see a lot of really good bikers joining there – they have been waiting for the fast part of the game, at the Los Altos Peet’s. You should go there to check out the latest bikes.

Lombardi Sport and Alto Velo now lead the pack down Foothill. You will be many, so you will probably ignore a lot of the traffic signs. Even police seem to feel unable to stop that rude behavior. The first change of pace will happen now – you’ll stop on the left turn lane onto Page Mill road, after the famous ascent that has shred many a youngster’s dreams of belonging.

You’ll turn on Page Mill and rush through Old Page Mill road, an abandoned section. Soon you’ll join the main road and cross highway I-280. You’ll still be enough to scare the heck out of cars shooting down the off ramps at 70 mph. Again you’ll ignore the stop sign, zip along until you turn right on Arastradero, and there the hammering starts.

The Hammering Starts

Arastradero is famous for its (frankly rather short) hill. The pack will break at the bottom, and a few riders will be chewed out, unable to join the main group again. You’ll reach the top of the hill, turn right and descend gently (at 30 mph, of course). Watch out, the road surface is abysmal.

Ari (as I tend to call the road lovingly) ends at a T-intersection onto Alpine road. You will want to turn left, which means you’ll have to cross traffic. Nominally, the speed limit is 35 mph, but you can be sure cars are going to come both ways at about 50 to 60. Good moment to let the pack split into many parcels, particularly dangerous since from now on it’s slightly uphill again.

If you managed to avoid all the guys with flat tires, if you succeeded in turning on time, if you succeeded in catching up to the snobbish lead group, things are rosy soon after. When Alpine hits Portola Valley road, you’ll turn right. Police will try to stop those that didn’t stop at the stop sign (:), but with two hundred riders, they’ll be able to catch only the slow ones.

Portola is a descent almost all the way, and it shows. The pack bends and gets out of shape while the best guys shoot ahead in an attempt to gain and keep leadership. Soon, much sooner than you’d like, you’ll reach the turn on Portola that indicates Old La Honda is near. That’s another day’s ride, for now you go straight ahead until the intersection with Mountain Home road.

Gushing Through the Side Streets

Mountain Home forks after a few hundred yards, and you’ll take the turn left towards highway 84 (La Honda road). It starts downhill but immediately catches up and has an impressively decieving uphill stint. Soon you’ll get to highway 84, which you’ll follow on the flat side (turn right).

After a while, you’ll reach a turn. You’ll stay straight and ride through the side streets (pavement sucks again) until you hit King’s Mountain road. This is another ride you’ll have to do on your own, for now it’s all about turning right.

A hidden turn that you will easily miss if you are the leader by now gets you onto Manuella, an unassuming neighborhood road that serves the only purpose of not getting you through Woodside proper. Soon enough you’ll turn left, then right onto Olive Hill road, which leads to the long awaited Canada road.

Long-Awaited Canada

Canada is an almost perfectly straight road that lead six miles to the Northwest. To you ignorants that’s towards the wind. And here’s where the courageous captains of fortune try their luck. A breakout group is almost certain to form on the downhill ride after topping the hill. Usually a single rider will shoot forward, and if he’s lucky (never seen a woman do the trick), he’ll get to the end first. More likely not.

Riding against the wind is not pleasant, and a few try drafting as much as they can. The pace gets undecided, since people don’t really know how fast they can get any more. Some weeks 25 is the best all can do, others we get closer to 30.

Past Edgewood road, with its flurry of activity, you’ll get to the most beautiful section of road I have seen on a bike. Filoli Gardens is to your left (although you won’t see much of it). The Crystal Springs reservoirs beckon while you start ascending the last hill.

When you get to the top of the hill, the group is already tired. The breakout is still zooming, and won’t stop until the bitter end. Which fortunately is not far, but requires a last ascent on a really windy breath taker.

The end of Canada is flat. You’ll find a lot of cars, and the winners and losers will cheer each other up, turning around, almost crashing into each other. Then the return starts.

Rushing Back

The pace now becomes more friendly. People start talking to each other, riding back at a quick but reasonable pace. We will ride through Woodside, this time, losing a few of the pack to the luring cafes and bakeries.

It’s Whiskey Hill road, then Sand Hill to Junipero Serra. We try to be fast, but it’s a sunny day (usually), and we don’t need the pace. I zip around a bit, not tired from the original race since I haven’t partaken in any of the sprinting. Lousy sprinter, you know.

The race is off, and most of us get lost in their original path before we get back to Homestead. A few hardy will have parked their car and go all the way back. That’s when you make friends. Not with the Lombardis and the Alto Velos on Foothill. You meet the nice people at the parking lot.

And it was fun.