Monday, March 16, 2015

Before the Heart Across America Ride

We are in the final countdown to the start of Sean Maloney's "Heart Across America" ride.

I thought it was appropriate to look at the relevant history of such rides, and specifically at Day 1.

The very first documented ride across America was in 1884. Thomas Stevens (born not too far from Sean's birthplace in England) rode from San Francisco to Boston, 3,700 miles, in 103 and a half days (20 of which were stopped for weather) - 22 April 1884 through 4 August 1884. Of course, that was still the era of the Pony Express and covered wagons - no bike lanes, no GPS, no pavement. In fact, some sections were completely impassible on wheels so he had to walk. He traveled on rough wagon trails, railroad ways, canal towpaths and irregular public roads. He rode a black-enameled Columbia 50-inch 'Standard' penny-farthing with nickel-plated wheels, built by the Pope Manufacturing Company of Chicago. No carbon.
Thomas Stevens

Sean's route will be longer, but the roads will be better.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is an annual "Race Across America" (RAAM). The current record is 7:15:56 (yes, seven days) by Austrian Christoph Strasser, who averaged over 16mph on the 3,020 mile route from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD.

Sean's route will be longer, but he'll get to sleep a bit more.

On Day 1 of the journey, following some local festivities, they will depart from Sean's current hometown of Palo Alto, CA and head over to the Pacific Ocean. The first climbing section is on Old La Honda Road. It's a popular ride for local cyclists. Perhaps that's an understatement. If you are aware of the cycling activity tracking software called Strava, well, Old La Honda Road is the #1 most popular segment in the entire world. And it has a gloried history of its own.
Old La Honda Road

It’s a public road, of course, not formally marked but the agreed start of the hill climb is the stone bridge; the end is the stop sign at the top of the intersection of Old La Honda and Skyline Blvd.

The course record, according to various posts on USENET newsgroups for decades before and Strava data for more recent years, is under 15 minutes. Legend has it that the old record was held either by Dr. Eric Heiden (the Olympic speed-skating champion who lived 2/3rds up Old La Honda), or a guy named Mike Murray. One source quoted Heiden’s time at 14:10. Ryan Sherlock is the current “king of the mountain” on Strava with a time of 14:41.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I think Sean's time will be slower.

I've added some un-edited comments from a blog post about the road (
From "Kamikaze"

We did this climb all the time back in 76-85 or so… it was the beginning of the long rides done twice a week with the Palo Alto Crew. I remember Eric Heiden going on the ride sometimes, but the stalwart climbers were Kieth Vierra and Sterling McBride… sometimes Dave Faust (Fausto) and Davey Mac would be going good, as well. The guys always said that Boyer and Ritchey probably were the fastest but that was all related “legend” wise …not actual times. Hard to believe anybody but LeMond could climb it better than Boyer …I remember us going up it in about 20 minutes every time …but we were younger and fitter then …lots of mist and bumps ...dogs sometimes.
From "Fritz Knochenhauer"

Regarding: OLH fastest times. I rode OLH regularly in the late 70s and early 80s. It was definitely the benchmark time trial climb for Category 1/2 USCF riders. It was the stuff of legend to hear times of sub-17 minutes during those days. I can vouch for only three riders in that category (myself included) and believe that Eric Heiden’s time was to his house NEAR the top and not all the way to the stop sign.
From "East Coaster"

Given that Basso climbed Ventoux at 96 vertical feet per minute that is consistent with what a top pro could do. 90 VFM = 14:20, 96 VFM is under 13:30.
I came across some speculation about Chris Horner’s victory on the Sierra Road climb during the Tour of California – and how that would equate to Old La Honda. (

The next question: what would he (Horner) do for Old La Honda Road? It requires a self-consistent calculation: we know what he can average for 16:47, we have a formula for predicting what he can average for shorter times (the critical power model), so if we know how long it takes to climb OLH we can estimate how much power he could deliver there. But we need to know the power to estimate the time, so it's simplest to use an iterative calculation. Old La Honda climbs 393 meters in 5.42 km. I'll assume a CdA of 0.32 (typical of what was measured by Tour magazine with a dummy) with an air density of 1.15 kg/m². I'll assume a 0.5% coefficient of rolling resistance as Old La Honda has mixed pavement quality. I'll still assume a 0.97 drivetrain efficiency. Playing around with the numbers I get 13.70 minutes = 13:41. 
That would be a record, but only by 17 seconds or so. Greg Drake told me he'd done "sub-14", and it's rumored Eric Wohlberg was even faster. So Horner had a great ride, no question, especially for a master's racer, but the result isn't as insane as it might appear just from the VAM.
And from the website:

Needless to say, competitive cyclists take this road seriously.  I have to admit, the engineer in me loves the analysis.  I also love the contrast of this epic battle against a hill compared to the serenity of the Pacific Ocean awaiting them at the end of the day in the sleepy little town of Davenport.

But let's not lose perspective. This is only Day 1 and it's not about speed. It's a ride across the country. But it's more than that. It's about awareness and leading a heart-healthy lifestyle.  It's all to get people talking about health, heart disease and stroke. You see, Sean is a stroke survivor. He's made an impressive comeback from not being able to talk or walk. He never gave up. And now he's setting out across the country to raise awareness for the American Heart Association and sharing his story. What can you do? Follow along. Consider riding with Sean. Consider getting an arterial ultrasound for your carotid arteries. I got the scan. You should, too. Consider donating. Do it for yourself or for a loved one you've lost. It doesn't matter how much or how little you do, just do something good.

1 comment:

  1. nice write up. I love hearing the trickle of the creek, seeing or just experiencing the towering redwoods, the shift from sunny to dark/shadowed is something.