Riding in Napa: Howell Mountain

This is where Steve and I rode yesterday, except in color:

Howell Mountain, from My Climbs.
Howell Mountain, from My Climbs.

We were in Calistoga to hang out, etc. (Though, I suppose, we could have saved the drive since we didn’t actually go to any vineyards, but just to wine shops and wine bars. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of benefit to wine being fresh…)

Then, we rode Howell Mountain yesterday. You should check out all the pictures and descriptions this guy has of the long Howell Mountain climb. Up until now, I had always been relatively unimpressed with Napa riding. Or, rather, everyone kept going on about the Silverado Trail and I kept staring at them like ‘you know it’s just a flat-ish, rolling, pretty heavily-trafficked road that you have to bike in the shoulder, which is often filled with crap?’ But, the climbs out of the valley are actually pretty cool.

It took me about 29′ stop sign to stop sign, which was me going quite moderately hard with Steve. And, if we had kept going, we could have gone all the way up, over to Pope Canyon, etc, etc. So, there’s more to riding in Napa than going up and down Silverado and stopping at wineries. Fyi.

Why Is It Easier to Go Harder Uphill?


It sounds stupid, but anyone who has biked uphill knows that it is easier to bike hard uphill than it is to bike hard on a flat surface. My best power (the effort I put out when pedaling my bike) is typically just under 200 watts for an hour — ie. my threshold. This is hard, you know, since it’s my threshold and the best I can hold for an hour. It’s not easy. But, it’s a lot easier to hold 200 watts going up a hill. It’s still the same effort, the same wattage, but it just feels easier. Steve says it has something to do with muscle recruitment and that the muscles you engage going uphill are more similar to our natural movement. Or something.

All I know is yesterday I had planned on doing 4 x 5′ threshold efforts on my time trial bike. Since I’m a triathlete again — at least in my head — this sounded like a good idea. But, my time trial bike doesn’t have a PowerTap computer on it to measure my wattage and I didn’t feel like putting it on and also that sounded really hard as my first hard workout back. So, instead, I decided to do 4 x 5′ threshold efforts uphill on my road bike. I thought it would be a good easing back into hard bike workouts.

It felt a lot easier than I expected it to. Still hard. But easier.

I did the repeats up and down the Lucas Valley hill to Big Rock, which I have done hill repeats on dozens of times and biked up probably more than 100 times. Typically, it takes me just under 8′ to get all the way to the top if I’m going hard. Once, I think I did it in like 7:45 or so. Yesterday, I was making it nearly all the way in 5′. That seemed weird. And, I wasn’t wasted. So, on the last one I just went all the way to see how fast I could do the whole hill. 6:35!?! (According to the Strava, if I was into that kind of thing and, you know, on Strava, I’d have gotten the QOM.)

It’s a little weird to set a bike PR, even if it’s an informal one. Because I know I’m getting fitter, but I wouldn’t have thought I was that much fitter. There may have been less wind than usual and I was riding Steve’s PowerTap wheel, instead of my shitty one that needs to be sold for scrap metal, and in the past I probably rode my time trial bike more, which doesn’t climb quite as well as the road bike. But, still. If the difference in bikes really accounts for over a minute difference in an 8′ effort, then I need to re-evaluate riding my time trial bike for Alcatraz.