Magic In The Mountains

Roads in the Santa Monica Mountains are twisted strings of steep ascents and descents, a handful made of dirt. There's no straight shots. No easy gradients. And no shortage of variety. They carve through brown desert mountains down to blue coastal waters, past million-dollar homes and llama farms, and on them roll pristine Ferrari's and rusted VW Buses, leather-clad bikers and lycra-clad cyclists.

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On a recent day of mixed California weather — spotted clouds, a touch of rain, a peak of sun — six cyclists took to the mountains for a group ride at Cannondale's Athlete Summit. It was a rolling cadre of former pros and rising stars, friends and new acquaintances, mentors and mentees. "I ride because I love to ride," former UCI pro Ted King said, summing up the spirit of the day. "I ride a lot because I love to ride a lot."

A Seasoned Crew: Shop rats. Bicycle advocates. International racers. National champions. The cast brought a bit of everything.

Brooklyn-bred Ayesha McGowan is laser-focused on being the first African-American female professional cyclist. "A Quick Brown Fox," as she refers to herself, is a force for advocacy and awareness regarding cycling's disparity of diversity. As she rises to the top, she's encouraging all to join her on the bicycle. Amber Pierce started in the pool, but after swimming at Stanford, she hopped on the bike and didn't look back. "Cycling has been a second chance for me in sport," she said. The Connecticut resident and former pro is now a full-time advocate and spokeswoman for the sport. Hunter Grove, shop rat and continental racer with the Los Angeles Bicycle Club (LABC) is a rising star on the tarmac. Hunter's the local guide to these hills. Ted King is a recent retiree from a decade of professional cycling, six racing a Cannondale. On retirement: "It's a lot fewer intervals and a lot more beer." Ted also spends plenty of saddle time sharing his Vermont maple syrup and spreading cycling good will. Tim Johnson is a six-time US Cyclocross National Champion. Tim's post-pro resume includes: helping develop and iterate on Cannondale bicycles (Slate + SuperX), doing major advocacy work with People for Bikes, and discovering unconventional places to ride a bike. And finally, Phil Gaimon, recent pro retiree, cookie aficionado, master of climbing, best-selling author and YouTube star. Phil needs no introduction.

The Route and the Bicycle A winding, rising, falling traipse through the mountains. 80+ miles. 10,000+ feet of elevation. Dirt. Pavement. Gravel. Exhaustion. Fatigue. Exhilaration. "It had a bit of everything," Pierce noted. "Which the Synapse makes possible." All riders mounted the Cannondale Synapse, completing their builds differently, but all beginning from the pure performance platform. "The Synapse is the bike that 99% of people need," King said. "It's an Audi SQ5 — a turbo-charged V6 that's a rocket off the start line, fast as hell, and up for anything from blasting through canyons to backroad exploring.”

Rough pavement and rocky gravel, hairpin turns on lightning fast descents, double-digit gradients, and flat-out sprints among this group of competitive friends — the Synapse took it all in stride. With wide gear ratios, wide tires (up to 32mm), dual thru axles, disc brakes, an intelligent endurance race geometry, and a few touches of SAVE Micro-Suspension, the Synapse is a one-bike wonder. "You can do anything on this bike. Uphill; downhill; sprint," King — who raced his Synapse in the Spring Classics — said. "There is no compromise."

"You can create a whole new repertoire of rides," Pierce noted. In the Northeast, Pierce has been spotted riding dirt roads on her Synapse, exploring new terrain, building new training loops. "You go skid off road, hit the berm," King added. "You treat it like a BMX bike for a few seconds, and then you're straight back on the pavement." Have your fun, then get back to the business.

Spirit of Self-Discovery "When you push yourself hard on a bike and you're willing and able to suffer, you have to have a good sense of humor," Pierce said. Perhaps this is the best summation of the nature of this band of riders. Attacks spawned counterattacks. Riders dropped on a descent reunited with the group as they all tailed a slow Prius. The best line on a section of dirt was never revealed without a nudge and a wink. Everything was conveyed with a smile. "You feel you are in a mentor role," King said. "Without telling people explicitly what to do."

Good humor. Big efforts. Long hours. Wide smiles. Tired legs. Lasting memories. The day was all-inclusive. It was, as Pierce said, "a crucible of character-building." A good group ride always dispenses a few choice bits of knowledge — of you, your limits, the world around you, your fellow riders. There are always things to be learned. There are always new people to meet. New routes to ride. Long days to be had. Hard laughs. Bumpy roads. Steep climbs. Long, curvy descents. You learn something of yourself out there. You find the joys that only come on a bicycle, in good company, in a place of austere beauty. You learn something, as you always do.

"We are all tied into a core journey of self-discovery through the bike," Pierce said. "And that's not something that you let go of when you retire from the professional ranks. That's something you can take with you for the rest of your life. And it was really fun to share that with all of them."

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