Pie plates and motorcycle cops

Pushing the big gear and living to tell about it

The ride started off innocently enough this morning. My friend Paul and I, whose sons attend school together, hadn't shared saddle time since early summer. The plan was to ride the Big Loop, ascend Old La Honda, weave our way down Highway 84, then spin back to Mountain View. But two things got in the way on the chilly but sunny Saturday morning: Paul's pie plate 55-tooth chainring and the motorcycle cop parked in the bushes off Sand Hill Road.

Let's begin with the pie plate, deservedly named because of its size and largesse. I'm running a compact FSA crankset on my bike, with a 50/34-tooth gear combo. Paul, who loves mashing the gears (and has the horsepower to back it up) didn't think a paltry 53-tooth large chainring was enough, so he recently replaced it with a typical time trial-friendly 55er. His other option, he says, was to get 180mm cranks to replace the 175s.

He pointed out the new gearing 10 minutes into our ride; I died three deaths in that moment, gazing down at my undersized 50. Not one to worry about such trivial things as gear ratios, I soldiered on toward Old La Honda.

The conversation (and the pace) was pleasant and healthy. Paul bike commutes 30 to 40 miles round trip every day, and despite his 46-year-old body, gobbles up the fast miles like a junior. I, on the other hand, love to spin and put the hammer down once in awhile, but only after a brisk 45-minute warmup.

After shedding some leg warmers and full-fingered gloves, we ascended Old La Honda. Paul was forced to use his 39-tooth inner chainring, while I spun my 34. The gaggle of riders cliimbing the fabled climb (made famous by Eric Heiden's 1987 record ascent of 14 minutes, 10 seconds) was large and fun. We've never encountered so many riders at once, but then again what would one expect on a 55-degree sunny day in early December?

As fate would have it, Paul was suffering from a head cold, so our climbing pace was reasonable. With a quarter mile to go (after 3-1/2 miles of steady climbing at 7 - 8 miles per hour), Paul does the unthinkable, shifting into the pie plate before dancing on the pedals to the top, passing six unknowing riders. He couldn't help himself, he tells me at the top; the urge to "Pantani" his way forward was too much.

My biggest thrill is descending, and there's nothing more enjoyable than snaking down Highway 84. Thoughts of the pro peloton racing down the Poggio at Milan-San Remo dance through my head as I lean into every curve. We regrouped at the bottom, then made our way back to the Loop on Sand Hill Road.

But the elation of completing the thrilling descent was short lived, I'm afraid. Turning right onto Sand Hill from Portola Road, we did what most riders do: we rolled through the sign after checking for traffic on the left. Seconds later, the still morning air was violated by a motorcycle siren, beckoning us to pull over. Busted.

Busted by Johnny Law, who was camped out in the bushes somewhere along Portola Road, waiting for some unsuspecting cyclists to do what we and countless others do: fail to stop. The due process part was kind of interesting, though, getting asked what year, make and model our bikes were, where we worked, and how old we were. Standing there in our road riding kit, we sort of felt "profiled".

The funny thing is, Paul and I are puritanical about stopping at every obscure stop sign in the area. He does it on his daily commute, and I do it on my daily rides. I've written about it here, and get on my little soapbox about it regularly with friends. To get pulled over was a reminder that it doesn't matter how many times one stops, rules are rules, and we got busted in broad daylight, in front of several bike-riding brethren rolling past us on Sand Hill Road.

I'd like to end this blog by blaming the pie plate, but it would be futile. It was a shared experience, something Paul and I will be talking about for years to come. I know I'll be getting a lot of crap from my BikeRadar co-workers, and I'm ready to take it like a man (since I was testing some new Zipp wheels, I wonder if I could submit the ticket as a business expense?). After all, we were out riding, and even though I regret not having Johnny Law take our picture (or taking his picture for Facebook or Twitter), the memory will live on.

Thanks for the ride, Paul. I wouldn't change a thing next time; well, except my large chainring. 

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