When it comes to riding your bike and loving the idea of that bike as a transportation and fitness machine, you don't have to be hard-core.
You should love it or leave it on your own terms, whether that means riding every so often or every day, rain or shine.
Me? I like to go fast sometimes. I like to cruise occasionally. And do errands by bike as often as possible. I like the sunshine, and I dislike it when it's so cold that I have frozen toes and a runny nose.
This time of year, when nights are long and the weather is damp and chilly more often than sunny and balmy, we look for moderation. But we're also looking to the spring, when we will want to be in shape for longer, more rigorous rides.
That's where multimodal transportation comes in. The idea is simple: Use the bike for one part of your journey and take public transportation or though it won't score you cool points with your environmentalist friends your personal vehicle for the rest.
For this Great Ride, we came up with two options: one for some serious, but not too serious, training in the hills, and one for casual cruising with several options for stopping, whether you're after a box of chocolates, a nice lunch or a cold pint of beer.
Since there is not a serious hill to be found within Sacramento's city limits, we decided to head to Folsom on light rail and tackle a couple of decent hills. Climbing, after all, is where the glory is and the humility.
To get back home, we had the option of riding along the American River bike trail (about 25 miles) or cruising from Historic Folsom eight miles down to Fair Oaks Village for a quirky vegetarian lunch with a couple of feral chickens looking on.
If you want to be riding well when the warm weather arrives, this is the time to start putting in the miles, adding to your weekly output little by little. The annual Party Pardee ride in Ione is April 2, for instance. It's a 64-mile route with rolling hills that are challenging but not overwhelming. (That route was September's Great Ride.) Those hills will seem a lot easier if you start climbing now.
The light-rail segment of this month's route was a snap. We did the multimodal ride on a Sunday, when trains come by every 30 minutes. There was plenty of room for our two bikes. A couple of other passengers also had bikes. The trip from midtown to Folsom takes about 40 minutes.
For those seeking a serious workout, get off at the Iron Point Station and climb on your bike, then ride up Iron Point Road, heading east for about five miles toward Bidwell Street. After you cross Bidwell, you're about to hit a perfect training hill. It's a mile long, moderately steep, and there are no curves or tricks. It's right there in front of you.
This hill, which for years we have called "Costco Hill" because of the store to the right, is so appealing for improving our climbing that we often do "hill repeats." That's right, going up and down, over and over. On this ride, though, do it once and keep going a steeper hill is only minutes away.
At the top, we hang a left, enjoy a friendly descent and start looking for Alexandra Way on the right. For a road that meanders through a residential neighborhood, this is a fine hill for climbing. The pitch is steep and steady but never crazy. You can go at a moderate pace or jump out of the saddle and work on explosiveness, though you may blow up if your name doesn't end in Schleck or Armstrong.
Either way, by the time you get to the top, you'll have an excellent view toward downtown if you're not too winded to enjoy it. For those new to tough climbs, remember to find a gear that will let you spin the pedals smoothly and efficiently without feeling as if you're muscling the bike up the hill. And when your mind starts to urge you to stop and rest, don't succumb. Nothing feels worse than stopping on a climb.
That said, this is the climb where I once pulled over to rescue a young and aggressive rattlesnake from the middle of the road. Concerned that it would be run over, I grabbed a tree branch and scooped it up as it took several bites at my front tire. I didn't take it personally and set it down in the tall grass, then watched it slither away before finishing the climb.
The rest of the 23-mile route is not so taxing, and you'll be thankful for that. You'll do a few more rolling climbs as you head toward Historic Folsom.
This is where you meet the second option. If you're into casual riding, simply take light rail from Sacramento all the way to the last stop Historic Folsom. When we rode through the area, they were doing plenty of work on the roads, but it was still easy to navigate.
This section of town is also the entertainment district, and there's plenty to do, with several bars and restaurants. Drop in anywhere that suits you, then try another place or two. In season, you can even go for a skate on the outdoor rink.
Among the great options for stops are Sutter Street Grill (811 Sutter St.); Black Rooster (807 Sutter St.) for a salad or sandwich (and gelato for dessert); Snooks Chocolate Factory (731 Sutter St.) though overindulgence won't help with those climbs; Yager's Tap House (727 Traders Lane);and the Folsom Hotel Saloon (703 Sutter St.). Within a mile, there is also Coffee Republic (6610 Folsom Auburn Road)for coffee and/or lunch. That's a place well known to area cyclists.
Still in casual mode, we take the bike trail back toward Fair Oaks for about eight miles, then cross the bridge into the village, where chickens famously have the run of the place.
To us, the quintessential Fair Oaks village experience is lunch at Sunflower Drive-in (10344 Fair Oaks Blvd.). It's an all-vegetarian place that you have to try at least once. I'm a fan of the mushroom millet burger and the hearty chili, which is available only in winter. The black bean burrito is also quite good.
After that, we're either almost done or an hour-plus from being done. Our final option is this: Ride about two miles to the Sunrise Boulevard light-rail station and multimodal your way home, or take the bike all the way back downtown (about 20 miles).
Either way, you're getting some valuable miles that will pay dividends come April, and you're experiencing yet another way to enjoy a great ride in and around Sacramento.
Want to go multimodal? Just ride your bike as far as you want, then turn to public transportation to carry you the rest of the way or fill in gaps on your route.
For this ride, the suggested route includes a 40-minute light-rail trip out to Folsom. That way, you'll have enough time and energy to tackle the hills or hit the pubs.
Light rail costs $2.50 general; $1.25 for students (ages 5 to 18), seniors, disabled people and Medicare cardholders. Be prepared: Ticket machines take only cash. The schedule is very precise and is available at the Regional Transit website (www.sacrt.com). It is also posted on a large board at each stop.
Bikes are permitted on light rail every day and at all hours.
Boarding a light-rail train with your bike requires climbing a few steep steps. For some, this could prove challenging. On its website, Regional Transit recommends entering at the front or back of the train and looking for the bike racks. Each car is limited to four bikes. The front of the first car is reserved for passengers with disabilities, and bikes are not permitted there.
For this ride, take light rail to the Iron Point Station to start the rigorous training ride with hills or, if you're a casual rider, keep going to the last stop, Historic Folsom, and discover the lively restaurant and bar scene.
How fast do the light-rail trains go? We left our GPS computers turned on as we traveled and were able to record the entire trip. Top speed: 52 mph.