This Wednesday was my first time doing this ride, I knew a lot of locals did it but didn't know the scale - I'd estimate at least 150 riders between 3 groups headed out, with a CHP escort, quite different from your average shop ride. More info can be found here, the short version is the ride happens every Wednesday at 5:45 leaving from Mike's Bikes in Sausalito, and the last Wednesday of the month during daylight savings the ride is accompanied with a highway patrol escort, so far more people show up for these rides. The ride is all up and down after the short start through Tam Valley, 3300 ft of climbing over 26.5 miles.
though the views along Hwy 1 are incredible this
is what most of the ride looked like through my eyes
I knew the A group is very fast, so my strategy was turning off my Garmin display so I wouldn't know my heart rate or speed, get on someone fast's wheel, and hold on til I fell over. The ride starts down Highway 1, the first climb is "neutral" so nobody really makes moves here, but this is where the A and B groups separate. The groups aren't really that defined since the relentless climbs fragment them, so don't sweat it if you want a mellower ride, there will be someone for you to ride with. Though there are no attacks on the first climb the pace is pretty fast in the front, I wasn't suffering but I wasn't having too much fun either. The reason this climb is neutralized is so the CHP can keep the following descent, which is very fast, clear of cars. Nobody is going crazy on the descent either but you need to stay awake and descend safely to hold on to the front.
After a short piece of flat at Muir Beach is a short but steep climb, about a mile at 9% grade. This kicker is where the "race" breaks open, I was maybe 30 back from the front and some people slowed here to save their legs for the big climbs later and some people were out of the saddle immediately. In accordance with my ride til I fell over strategy I started hammering away, fortunately making it to the top with still functioning legs. There is a false flat up here and you can get a glimpse of where the group stands, already the fastest guys were about a minute ahead, and most of the riders in front and behind were in groups of 4 or 5. It behooves you to stay in a group here since there are nasty winds in the afternoons along Highway 1. This section rolls along with some tight turned descents and medium 200ft or so climbs. The pace does not relent at all, I was pedaling most of the downhills to hang on to the rider in front of me. The last descent towards Stinson is a good opportunity for a gel or drink, since when you get to the bottom you take a right and immediately begin the long climb up Panoramic to Pan Toll.
This climb isn't hard, very steady 7-8% grade with a few very short kicks around tight corners, but it is long at 3.6 mi and 1400ft of ascent. I couldn't tell if people were cracking, saving it for the top, or if I was just going way too hard since I started passing people steadily right away, reeling in a rider every 30 seconds or so it seemed on the bottom half of the climb. I resisted the urge to look at heart rate and kept spinning away, feeling uncomfortable but not on the verge of death. As I hit the big redwoods there was a group of 3 ahead of me that I couldn't seem to get to, I'd make good progress in the mellower sections but lose it every time the grade kicked up a percent or two. This was the story of the whole top of the climb for me, I had done this climb before but couldn't remember where the top was, as a few people I had passed came up to me again I figured it was close so I started to try to really turn it on, I didn't have much left though. The rest of the group awaits you at the top, and after a short rest the group heads down the mountain back to Mike's. Back at Mike's is a free barbecue, beer, and people hang out for a while afterwards sharing stories of spandex clad heroism at the battle up Panoramic. At $0.00 you can't beat this experience, don't skip this one if you live in the Bay Area.