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March 22, 2019 4 min read

My buddy Nick put it best when he said that one of the great things about going to the North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show is that it gives us the chance to just talk about bikes.  Events like it remind us that we're not alone in our fascination with, and passion for these things—just look at all the work that the builders have put into the ones they've got on display!

A special event like that warrants a special introduction, and what better intro than a ride to the event?  I had seen Nick and another friend when they arrived in Sacramento after a similar ride the last time the event was held there, back in 2016, and had promised myself that I wouldn't miss it were I given the opportunity to do the ride next time.

Nick setting out into the early morning from Santa Rosa
Early on the first climb

That's where I stood when I got the word that he was putting together a ride to this year's edition of NAHBS. It would leave from Santa Rosa, and ride the 110-or-so miles to Sacramento, where the event was held.  Getting to the start would be a trick, but I knew that missing it wasn't an option.

Shige and Nick high on the first climb.  It was steeper than it looks!

Where the first iteration had followed pavement all the way, this time Nick wanted to stay off the paved roads as much as possible because of how narrow and full of cars they were on that previous ride. The options for any kind of roads between Santa Rosa and Sacramento are pretty limited as you get closer to the Central Valley though, so it wasn't simply a matter of choosing a different route and being done with it.  In the end, the route was a bit of an open question of whether we'd be able to make it, and that meant that it had all the makings of a great adventure.

Our little group consisted of  Shige and Rie from Sim Works; Nick, the master of ceremonies, Adam Sklar, builder of swoopy bicycles, Derek from Siskiyou Saddletramps, and our friend Eli.  We even got the royal treatment in the form of some old friends who rolled out on the first leg with us!  

Our crew plus a few who rode out with us on the first leg enjoying the view on the first summit
Our collection of bikes waiting while we ate in St. Helena

That ride ended up being a perfect example of bikepacking at its best (and most multi-surface), taking us up out of the Santa Rosa and Sonoma Valleys over a lung and leg-buster of a climb, before heading down a brake-burning descent into St. Helena in the Napa Valley, at the beating heart of the California Wine Country.  We had been told that we had to stop at the Clif Family Tasting Room, which is set-up to be very welcoming to cyclists and happens to have fantastic coffee.  Once outside though, we were pulled across the parking lot by the smell of tasty tacos, at the Azteca Market, so it was with full bellies that we set off from St. Helena, and headed up to the secluded town of Angwin for the last resupply of day one.  After a stop at the market for dinner and breakfast, we managed to squeeze in a bit of singletrack—complete with creek-crossings, slippery, rutted descents, and a touch of bushwacking—before emerging at last in Pope Valley to bathe in the golden light of a California spring evening on our way to camp on the shores of Lake Berryessa.

Riding trails around Berryessa

The morning of the second day found us anxiously awaiting the sun as it rose behind the mountains that we would soon climb. While the day before had been warm, it hadn't been hot, and the night got cold—much colder than the summer sleeping bags that many of us had so hopefully packed were prepared to handle.

Lake Berryessa waiting for the sunrise

Soon we were back on the road though, and for the next many hours we pushed our bikes across washed-out creek crossings, struggled to maintain traction on steep-cattle-trampled climbs, and squinted at our maps to make sure we were actually where we wanted to be (or at least still headed in the right direction). We rode through an epic stretch of scorched earth and charred manzanita bush stumps before being rewarded with a 360 degree view that really let us stretch-out our eyes.

The day started down in the verdant green lowlands
Through the burn
Shige climbing up through the remnants of a burn
Big views....

After taking in the panorama for a bit, we pushed on down the hill into the valley, only stopping to form small bucket-brigades to pass bikes over cow-field gates that happened to cross our path. The descent was, as they say, ripping; but was over before we knew it, and we found ourselves surrounded by peach orchards, then walnuts, oranges, and kale.

The crew as we near Sacramento
Sacramento in the distance

We refueled at the first convenience store we found, and headed off across the flat expanse of valley toward Sacramento, which was already showing the tops of its tall downtown buildings in the distance.

20-or-so miles of narrow farm roads full of afternoon traffic gave way to wide clean shoulders and miles of slow-to-stopped traffic on Interstate 5 when we had to bypass a large flooded area, and then it was back to narrow roads and no shoulder as our mellow paceline rolled along the Sacramento river toward downtown. We finally pulled up to the state capital as dark was really settling in, and after a quick stop at Sacramento Convention Center, where the show was taking place, we all dispersed in search of our respective showers and dinners.

Riding to the show was a great experience, and though I might be wary of doing the exact same route again, given some of the challenging spots we encountered, getting to show up at the bike show on a bike felt awesome, and I'd highly recommend it.  If you get the opportunity to ride to next year's show in Houston, go for it!

Photos by Brendon Potts

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