Secret Society of Old Bad-Ass Racers (SOBAR) Santa Rosa, California
Words & Photos | Gary J Boulanger
I rolled up to Nikola Farat’s house in Santa Rosa, less than an hour after Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert earned the rainbow jersey with a fabulous Walloonian display of strength and panache on the final climb of the Cauberg in Valkenburg September 23, 2012.
“Congratulations on Gilbert’s big win today, Rich!” I said to Team BMC’s mechanic Rich Sangalli, who was kitted head to toe in the familiar red and black of chief operating officer Gavin Chilcott’s team, coincidentally based in Santa Rosa.
“He won?” Rich asked.
“Uh, yeah, four seconds ahead of Boasson Hagan,” I muttered, embarrassed for not respectively asking Rich if he already heard the result from the Netherlands that morning. Chilcott, also clad in full BMC kit in Nik’s driveway, nodded knowingly in my direction. I couldn’t contain my excitement for Gilbert, the first Walloon since Claude Criquielion won the worlds in 1984. At least I was in the right place—among 68 former road and track racers from the `60s, `70s and early `80s, gathered at the Barb’s house for the annual Dino Ride.
At 46, I was one of the youngest riders among the Dinos. Sterling Guy, the 15-year-old son of former road racer and mountain-bike pioneer Otis, took the honor. Although I technically don’t qualify to ride in this invitation-only event, organizer Tom Hardy has invited me as an ‘embedded’ journalist every year since 2009, when I was U.S. editor for BikeRadar.com.
Hardy, a talented San Francisco architect, retired from racing in 1977 to pursue his college degree, but never retired from riding. Ten years later, he organized the first Dino Ride, a reunion event to corral as many friends as possible from the good old days.
Last year, the stars literally aligned, bringing Greg LeMond, Jonathan Boyer, and George Mount together for the 24th Dino Ride. It was a magical day in the saddle for everyone, and the 25th anniversary ride in Sonoma County shaped up to be another doozy. With a forecast in the high 70s, our ride to the coast through Occidental would take us near the Russian River and up the sublime dirt road called Willow Creek.
Joining Hardy’s peloton for the first time was Bay Area native Gary Fisher, better known for his hand in bringing mountain biking to the masses in the late `70s. Unfortunately for Fisher, he also had the dubious misfortune to be the first Dino rider to crash and roll a tubular in 25 years. The man with the waxed handlebar moustache took a tumble descending at high speed, tearing up his hand and shaving off weight the hard way with some road rash. Fellow mountain bike pioneer Otis Guy, who sliced a sidewall riding up Willow Creek Road, gave Fisher a helping hand remounting his tire. Fisher, it turned out, got a flat a few days prior during a 147-mile ride to Monterey, and neglected to glue on his replacement. Battered but not beaten, Fisher rejoined our speeding peloton after gingerly descending toward Highway 116.
“Man, what a pack!” Fisher told me the following day. “There were some savvy bike riders doing what I remember so well. And the roads; that was NorCal pride…wicked! The kind of craziness that would make a Midwesterner cry, as we Cali riders in the day delighted in. I’m better than fine after my crash; I’m delighted…”
Despite our ebb and flow, the pace was quick and enjoyable. Not everyone is ripping fit, and just a handful continue to race, although everyone’s bike handling skills were inspiring. The Barb is 80 years old, and Lindsay Crawford turned 72 in early October. Most Dinos are in their late 50s, early 60s, but the conversational pace of the day was the great equalizer. We covered a lot of ground, and after leaving the Barb’s place around 10:30am, returned to his house around 2:00 pm to share a meal.
“I don’t have a cyclometer so I have no idea how far we rode, but my guess is about 65 miles,” Hardy said [close, it was 62.1 miles]. “Tim Nicholson produced a map, but Nik said it wasn’t entirely accurate so we didn’t print any for fear it would steer people the wrong way. So I was desperately hanging on to wheels, hoping to stay with either Nik or Gavin since I knew they’d know how to get back. Luckily it worked.”