Meeting Willy – Nothing Plain About this Vanilla

Willy and his amazing Vanilla tourer gallery

You reach a certain age and your circle of friends starts to narrow. Oh, its not that they're dieing off yet, but life's crosswinds spread out the field and pretty soon you're riding in ones and twos. The pace is comfortable, the scenery familiar and the stories grow better with each retelling. You could ride like this until the wheels fell off but something still pushes you to raise the tempo, close the gap to the group ahead or join the train that's about to pass. It's good for the legs and the spirit to get out the saddle occasionally.

That's been the best thing about writing Velodramatic; I've got to join up with all kinds of cyclists on all kinds of roads in the last 18 months. Saturday, Brendan and I met up with Tim and his son Rupert for a rendezvous in Woodside. We'd arranged to cross paths with Willy (a Velodramatic regular) and his team of randonneurs early in their 24-hour Easter Fleche (minimum 225 miles).

As usual the Woodside intersection was buzzing with cyclists heading out or heading for home. The parade of bikes was impressive, but it was the hydro-formed alloy thighs of a female Sugar CRM rider that had us at a complete loss for words. You wouldn't stand a chance on or off the bike with those legs.

We'd pretty much recovered when Brendan spotted Willy in his orange Stowaway coming in for a landing on the far side of Roberts Market.

Representing Portland Oregon in style

Tim rode round to grab him and after a round of hellos and introductions which immediately established an easy rapport we fixed our attention on the bicycle... and what a nice bike it is... though I'd need more time and a better rig to do it justice in pictures, check out the gallery. This is a bicycle that works for a living, day and night. Till now, I don't think I've given touring bikes their due, but every facet of the Sacha White Vanilla was customized per Willy's purpose to ride long distances in safety and style.

Kitted out with the best of Chris King, Gilles Berthoud luggage, generator hub and lights, disc brakes, Record levers, triple crankset, taillights, fenders and leather saddle, Willy's Vanilla is an understated, classy beauty. Even the valve stems have matching tangerine caps that complement the anodized Chris King finery.

Willy needed to eat and get a receipt validating the stop, so we cut short the photography and let him get back to his friends and their bikes. One of his companions rode a lovely white Steve Rex and another a red Bruce Gordon. All three bikes designed to look good while going the distance. I grabbed a few quick shots of the other bikes while they readied themselves for the next leg.

Willy and Brendan lead the way

We saddled up and rode with Willy's group towards Sand Hill Road where they'd turn right towards Old La Honda and the shaded climb to Skyline, we'd turn left and head back to Los Altos and home. We'd be showered and having lunch in a couple of hours, and the randonneurs would just be getting warmed up with about 18 hours to go on their journey.

But I'll let Willy give us a ride report in the comments. I don't know whether I could hack that kind of distance but I'm thinking it might be fun to try. Whatever the outcome it will surely make for a good story. Thanks Willy.

Willy has indeed provided a great ride report in the comments, explaining the Fleche and giving us a glimpse of what's involved in riding well over 200 miles in 24 hours. Most remarkably he still made it to his church for Easter service.

17 Responses to Meeting Willy – Nothing Plain About this Vanilla

  1. I’ve actually found that my social circle has grown because of cycling (maybe I’m not at that age yet?). I’ve made some of my best friends thanks to this sport. I see what you’re saying though. The wonderful thing about cycling is that it gives us all a reason to get together and do something we enjoy. It’s very social and everyone gets something out of it. Some very interesting people in cycling. It’s very egalitarian so it’s very easy to randomly have a great conversation with someone you normally wouldn’t engage with.

  2. jorgen says:

    love the green taillight! very consistent look on that green vanilla.

    got my misty blue stowaway the other day and it sure looks great. put a greater smile on my face than the lightweight softshell I got last year and that sure says a lot. now I’m eagerly (!) anticipating some rain…
    I’m beginning to understand why you bought two!

  3. LeoW says:

    Ooh, I have that saddle! A Mcmwin Selle An-atomica. They’re excellent, really comfortable and not just for touring, but for any bike (I have four; one on each of my bikes, including my trackie).

    • willy in pacifica says:

      I have three of these saddles which are on the bikes I take out for long rides. I had this Vanilla built for Paris Brest Paris in 2007 which was to be my longest ride at 760+ miles. It rained probably 30%-40% of the time but I was constantly wet. I had no saddle issues and really no fit issues at all. Prior to the An Atomica I had a Brooks but could not get past 300 miles without having an issue.

      I have another road Vanilla and a Speedvagen both with this saddle. Had to get a red one for the SV.

    • Thanks for the identificaiton Leonara, I couldn’t quite make out the lettering from my images. It does give the Brooks a run for the money in the looks department, and as Willy says later is more comfortable for him.

      • LeoW says:

        Yes, sorry, I did mean “not just for touring”. I’ve tried many saddles, including a Brooks B17, but all caused me injury. I got the Selle An-atomica for PBP 2007, which I didn’t do after all, but I did ride the saddle on a 600km event without any pain. I can’t ride injury-free on anything else. It’s the only saddle that works for me!

  4. Dan says:

    I think the orange stowaway is one of the next things on the shopping list. Will it be too much with the Holland country jersey I bought last week?!

    I think touring/randonneur/audax bikes are a different world again, and if done properly they can be as much of a piece of jewelery/work of art as our Titanium & Carbon steeds. Willy’s Vanilla looks fantastic, aesthetics and functionality coming together perfectly.

    Now daydreaming of yet another bike build begins……..

    • willy in pacifica says:

      Robins Bruce Gordon bike was a show bike a few years ago. It has the titanium front and rear racks as well as the Ti canti brakes and carbon “honjo” type fenders. I saw a lot of that rear fender last weekend.

  5. willy in pacifica says:

    On Easter Saturday I rode with a group of riders on this years Fleche.

    For those who do not know what a Fleche is here are the bullet points.
    Must be a 24 hour ride
    Must be at least 360k or 225 miles
    Not allowed to ride on the same road twice
    Not allowed to stop for more than 2 hours at a time
    The 22 hour point must be at least 25k or 15 miles from the finish
    Must have between 3 and 5 bikes on a team. 2 riders on a tandem only count as one bike.

    I was the captain of team Fleche Eating Virus with the following teammates all riding singles
    Robins who rode the 2007 PBP with his wife on a tandem.
    Alex whose longest ride was a 400k the previous weekend.
    Greg who I believe is new to brevets and whose longest ride was a double.
    Lisa who I have ridden a few 200k and 300k rides with but this will be both her longest ride and first overnighter. I feel like she thinks she is going to a slumber party : )
    Me, Willy in Pacifica, who rode PBP in 2007 and my first Fleche in 2006 was in very wet conditions.

    Our route had us starting very close to where we would be finishing near the panhandle in Golden Gate Park. We traveled south hugging the Pacifica as we crossed from San Francisco County into San Mateo County and along Chrystal Springs toward Woodside. This is a very popular area for road cyclists and we enjoyed lots of company from Hwy 92 south along Canada Rd. I was expecting Michael of Velodramatic fame to meet us along this stretch and ride back to Roberts Deli in Woodside. I have been in contact with Velo over the past few months thru his website that probably has more Rapha info on it than the Rapha website. Plus he has some beautiful cycling photography on his site. I am a bit of a Rapha hound myself and recently received my new orange stowaway jacket just in time for this ride. I have a black Stowaway but with all the night and early riding I do I just felt that an orange one made more sense. Some of the photography on Velos site pushed me off the fence and got me to pull the trigger on more than one item. That and I found a 10% off code thru Google. I tell you if Rapha would send out more 10% codes to return customers they would get quite a few more sales. Anyways I had on my new orange jacket so he would recognize me from say 47 miles away.

    We never did find Velo out on the road but rather he was waiting for us at Roberts with a couple of his Rapha clad riding buddies. We looked like a sorry excuse for a mini Continental Team but I am sure with all the pictures Velo took we will come out looking fantastic. Maybe we can get together for a Rapha County Team ride if I get a few dozen tattoos and a lot more fitness.

    The day was really turning beautiful. The sun was up but still there was a nip in the air. We all grabbed a snack as this stop was schedule at 30 minutes. I had to come up with a time table to be OK’d by Bruce who was in charge of OK’ing our route. Riding ~225 miles in 24 hours is actually a very casual pace so for my calculation I had us traveling between checkpoints at only 12.5 MPH with 30 minute breaks for our first three controls. For our forth control at the Denny’s in Santa Cruz I had us staying for the maximum 2 hours and then another 1.5 hours in Pacifica at our 22 hour control with about 17 miles to go. We were right on schedule most of our ride and if we got ahead we were able to hang out a bit longer if we liked or move a bit slower. Remember we can only ride as fast as our slowest rider which may fluctuate during the ride as team members go thru highs and lows at different times.

    We rolled out of Woodside with a few added riders as Velo and his buddies tagged along for the next 3 or so miles along Mountain House road. Mountain House Road is where you live if you have hit it rich. I cannot believe there is any property along this road worth less than $5M. This is where Larry Ellison lives. You can tell the difference between the simply filthy rich and the extremely filthy rich by the length of their driveways. If you can actually see the house from the road they are only filthy rich. Some of the barns are nicer and bigger than your typical home anywhere else. Needless to say you cannot see Larry’s house from the road but I do know which guard house is his.

    As Velo turns left we head the other way toward Old La Honda Rd (OLH). This will be our biggest climb at 3.3 miles and probably a bit over 1,000 feet of climbing. A few years ago when I rode my other Fleche we had five strong guys. Since the ride was only 225 miles the team captain decided we should hit as many pain-in-the-ass hills as we could. We hit a tough one in San Jose but the real tough one was Trinity Grade in the pouring rain at 2 am after 160 mile in your legs. This year my goal was to try to keep it as simple as possible while still riding on scenic roads. OLH is a very nice road and this early in the ride it was a pleasure to ride to Skyline (Hwy 35) at the top. From here we turn south and we will ride the ridge of Skyline as far south as possible. Skyline is the top of the ridge that separates the Pacific from The Bay and at most times you can look West or East and see a beautiful view. The few times you did not have a stunning view was because all those pesky tall redwood trees got in the way. We were hitting small hill after small hill for a good 15 miles. We were gradually climbing what I called big rollers with slight downhills thrown in so we could continue climbing some more. I think we were all ready for this to come to an end when I noticed mile marker 12. Not sure why I happened to notice it now but that was where the road finally tipped downward. From here I believed we had 12 miles to Hwy 17 with an additional 3-4 miles to our next control and a great deli up in these Redwoods. Well, I have to tell you the next 12 miles were like an “E” ticket ride. It was perfect as there were no steep downhills. Someone who rides a bike must have designed this section as it bled out the 12 miles fairly evenly down the thousand or so feet. We crossed over Hwy 17 and hit the deli where the sun was a bit warmer and the food was great. And we still have about 1,000 feet to go.

    After the 30 minute stop we headed in what appears to be the opposite direction of where all the local riders are coming from. It appears that most local cyclist ride up the portion that we are headed down. This is not always a good thing as some roads (Tunitas Creek comes to mind) are not meant to be ridden down. Well we have our route sheet and that is where we must go. I have ridden this section a couple of times on a 200k out of Santa Cruz but of course it was in the uphill direction. We descend for 10-15 miles and although it had its bad sections all-in-all not a bad road to ride down. The surroundings were again beautiful and we were eventually dumped out on Freedom Blvd at the very southern section of Santa Cruz County. From this point to our next control 25 miles away is all new to me. Since we needed to find a control 110-115 miles out, Salinas was the only town in that range. So off we rode thru Watsonville and Castroville which is farm country. Nothing to write home about but it was very flat and we had a slight tailwind. As a brevet rider this is not the time you are looking for a tailwind. When you are about to turn around and head in the opposite direction for the next…..oh……120 miles, you are not looking to fight the Mother of all Headwinds. After a wrong turn here and there, that added about 5 miles, we finally turn into the Safeway parking lot in Salinas maybe 30 minutes behind schedule. 99.9% of folks could care less that Safeway has a self serve soup bar and a padded seating area with tables where you can sit down and enjoy your soup. But to folks like us it is the equivalent of 5 star dining. Ok, 3 star dining. I got a full cup of Cream of Potato soup that turns out to be the Soup of the Day on Thursday. Well today is Saturday and it should be cream of tomato but it taste great and went down well chased by a large, or rather a Venti, Mocha from the mini Starbucks.

    When our 30 minutes were up we all donned our night riding gear as it would be dark before we pulled into Denny’s in Santa Cruz. Sure enough as we back-tracked our route out toward Castroville we had a decent headwind. If these headwinds remain for any length of time it could really jeopardize our down time at Denny’s which I have been looking forward to all day. After about 15 miles we make a turn onto smaller farm roads and the wind starts to give in. We are still riding next to strawberry and artichoke fields but with the sun setting the wind is becoming less of an issue. We wander a bit more until we hit the southern end of Santa Cruz again and head north paralleling Hwy 1 / 101 for about 10 miles before turning onto Ocean St and rolling into Denny’s. We all place our various breakfast orders and try to clean up a bit in the restroom. We are spread out amongst a few tables but I do not expect anyone wanted to get that close to us. Not that we smelled all the bad but we sure did look funny with our helmets covered with various front and rear lights and reflective leg and body armor.

    Our schedule had us at Denny’s until midnight and right on cue we were rolling 5 minutes early. Up to now everything is really working as scheduled and I believe everyone is feeling good. However, neither Greg not Lisa have done an all-nighter and Alex’s only all-nighter was one week ago when he and I rode a tough and very cold SF 400k.

    Within a couple of miles we are headed north on Hwy 1 with no services for 45 miles. This is not a big deal as long as no one has an emergency. We have plenty on board for calories and fluids and we have plenty of tubes as no one has flatted all day. The first 10 miles out to Davenport go very well and the wind is not an issue. However, as we pass Davenport the weather turns a bit misty and gloomy. As we continue north the mist turns into a light rain then turns into a really heavy………….mist. I want to say it is raining but just can’t get there in my mind. But it is so much mist we are getting soaked on the outside. My Stowaway is not a rain jacket and I am worried that since we have 35 more miles to Half Moon Bay (HMB) we might get soaked all the way thru. In addition to my Stowaway I have on my new Rapha Winter jersey, a Rapha Country jersey and a LS base layer. Plenty warm and it proved itself on a very cold 400k the weekend prior. But I am a bit worried that eventually the rain will soak thru all of them. If it gets thru all that I have on then there is no hope for the others as none of us thought to bring a true rain jacket. We have 35 miles before the next time we see civilization in Half Moon Bay. Also, around now Lisa is starting to get tired and she is probably moving along at 10-12 MPH. This speed will keep us on schedule but will eat into any sit down time in Pacifica, 15 miles north of HMB. Robins and Alex are a bit ahead of us. Robins being a strong rider probably feels better moving at a faster pace. Alex has followed him but I think it might catch up to him if he is not careful as it did last weekend. I get in front of Lisa and move along at a pace where she can just sit on my wheel. With the rain hitting us right from the front I know this is keeping a bit of wind off of her. But more importantly I think it helps that there is someone right in front of her to keep her moving. I have a feeling if she were on her own she may take a few breaks here and there and those add up. Over the next 30 miles or so I will lead her then trade off and lead Alex for a while as they both go thru what appears to be highs and low along here. I have a feeling it is mostly just due to being tired. Not really physically tired but just plain up-all-day tired. I am tired as well but know what the power of a sunrise can do so keep reminding them to hang in there until the sun comes up.

    Along Hwy1 at this time of the morning it is DEAD. I cannot think of any road I have ridden on where there are so few cars especially since this is a hwy. We can ride over 5 miles without a car from either direction. We eventually arrive in HMB and hit the 7-11 for a receipt. I grab a hot coco as I am still OD’ing on Denny’s coffee. We hang out until we finish our drinks then head off for a decent climb over Devils Slide and drop down into my home town of Pacifica. Devils Slide is not a long hill but it is nasty if there is traffic on it. No shoulder and the last .25 miles is semi steep so drivers get bent out of shape having to slow down for cyclist on the curvy road. But this time of morning we climb the 1 mile of gradual approach, where Alex now finds enough energy to drop me, hit the steep section where Alex now pays for his burst and I fly by him, and then descend the 1.5 miles into Pacifica and hit our 22 hour control at Denny’s. We were supposed to hang out for 90 minutes but have used up all our cushion and leave after half an hour. We are now on our final 16 miles and the sun is coming up. In two miles we will pass within a stones throw from my house and then I will be on my twice weekly commute route. This takes up three more miles north on flat streets then the final climb out of Pacifica. Pacifica is the first beach town south of SF and there is no way out except up. I chose the shortest, least painful, way out. It also happens to be the steepest. There are four long residential blocks of about as steep as you can manage with 22 plus hours and 215 miles in your legs. I am riding with Lisa and watch Alex paperboy it up these four blocks. But the payoff is the sun coming out and about 5 miles of downhill before crossing the SF County line and hit the Great Hwy on the Pacifica Ocean. We finally pull into Golden Gate Park and Lisa looks like she is running on fumes. I do not think I have ever ridden with anyone who is so out of gas. The slight uphills heading east from the ocean are really taking its toll on her. We manage to get thru the park and after another couple of wrong turns we literally pull in after 24 hours and zero minutes.

    There are 3-4 other teams loading up on Crêpes and I put in my order as I am much hungrier than usual after a long ride. Other Fleche teams come up to congratulate us as we congratulate them back. We have taken the place over and it looks to be about 25 bikes piled up outside with a couple teams to come. After turning in all of the paperwork we relax and eat.

    One of the reasons I was able to ride this years Fleche is that it finished near home. Last time it ended in Davis and my wife did not appreciate me missing church on Easter. So after my meal and saying my good-buys I rode the final 3 miles back to my van and drove off (at more than 10 MPH) toward home. Once home I jumped in the shower and got out of the house by 10am. The girls have a presentation my wife is putting on so would not hear the end of it if I did not make it on time. I snuck in and sat in the back where the girls saw me and ran over to give me a hug. There is nothing like getting a hug from little 5 year old arms. Or 9 year old or 11 year old arms. I sat in the back and closed my eyes. Thank goodness I was in church as I could pass it off for just an unusual amount of praying. Our Pastor always gives me a hard time for missing church and kiddingly says that he prays for rain on Sundays as that is the only time he sees me. After the service I knew it was time to go when I woke from one of my many one minute naps drooling.

    Anyways that is our story and I cannot wait until the next Fleche. They seem like they should be easy on paper but are not. But they are by far the most fun if you like that all night, no sleep, headwind, rainy, steep kind of thing.

  6. Tim says:

    Fantastic story Willy! It really had me on the edge of my seat; you are quite the raconteur. Bravo to you and the Flechettes – especially Lisa for bringing it over the line. It was super to see you and your fabulous bikes and, yes, count me in for a (shorter) ride with you.

    Michael – lovely photos and commentary, as always. Rupert will be tickled pink to see his name and photo on the internets.

    What a great way to start a Thursday! I’m gonna head out for a ride right now.


    • Richard says:

      Yep – I’m in total agreement with Tim. Great article, fantastic gallery and magical story from Willy. Simply superb.

      That’s me out for a ride with a big smile on my face right NOW!

  7. BR says:

    I am not worthy…..I am not worthy…..I am not worthy…..I am not worthy…..

    Great report Willy and I am glad you all met your goals safely. I know well the ride from Old La Honda to 17 and then down Eureka Canyon and Highland Way. San Jose/Soquel Road is also a good option. Anyway, my respect and applause to you and the road warriors. I did stop and think of you all many times that day, evening, and the next morning as I rolled out of bed at 8am. Good job!

    • willy in pacifica says:

      Nice to finally meet you as well. I would love to ride back to that deli as it is very similar to Roberts with a great deli. We had to take Highland further south otherwise we would have come out on a road we were going to ride on later that night. The rules state that we are not allowed to ride the aame road twice and I think that would have dropped us out on Soquel.

      I think a great ride would be to ride from Woodside up OLH then south to Summit. Then cut down to Santa Cruz and back up the coast and over the hill at Pescadero/Alpine.

  8. ljump says:

    I love the Fleche Eating Virus story—not only because I have heard of the legendary Willy (I know one of his riding partners, Jim)—but I like reading about wonderful and familiar roads. Sounds like a great time and thank you for sharing! And I want that Rapha jacket!!

    • willy in pacifica says:

      Jim was going to be on our team but decided to concentrate on racing this year rather than long rides. Last year he rode the Davis 24 hour Time Tiral and a 600k with me then topped it off by completing the Furnace Creek 508. He and I relayed it in 2006 and I crewed for him last year. So this year it is his turn to crew for me while I drag my butt around Death Valley. At least I will not have to carry everything I need as I will have a support crew and van to do that for me.

  9. Eric says:

    Another great one Velodramatic! -Beautiful bikes and great story. Thanks for posting it Willy.
    BTW, nice touch having the Bruce Gordon light painted to match.