Gibraltar is the very suiggely blue line rising up 3000 feet in elevation from the red line.
It is not often that I have the opportunity to participate in what I would term an “epic ride”, so I jumped on the chance at scaling the switchbacks, curves and steep climbs of Gibraltar Road outside of Santa Barbara on a recent visit with my brother (and fellow Team Eddie Member) Dan. I had read about Gibraltar in a past issue of Bicycling Magazine, noting that Lance Armstrong rides here when he is town. Having lived in the relatively flat state of Georgia for the past 15 years, I was not certain what to expect but I was not disappointed!
Rolling out from right in front of the the old spanish mission, we ambled through the verdant streets and Spanish style architecture unique to Santa Barbara. Dan, having been gracious enough to loan me his classic 1991 Bridgestone RB-1 for the ride, was riding his Van Dessel Cyclocross Fixie. Yes, that’s right, Dan planned to ride a fixie up Gibraltar! After turning onto Gibraltar from Mountain Road, we were soon greeted it’s signature pot-holes, shoddy patches and loose grit.
My legs protested a little bit at the first switchback due to the abbreviated warm-up, but soon got into a nice rhythm. The old steel Bridgestone is a graceful workhorse of a bicycle and even after 20 years has only grown more spry with age. I have not climbed this hill before, but knowing it is a potential man-eater and not knowing definitively that I would make it all the way up, we took several breaks on the way up. The views of the Santa Barbara Channel and town below kept growing more rewarding with each turn of the cranks as we worked our way up the nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain over the 8 mile section of road. Dan cranked happily along on his fixie- damn him!
This is the second ride which I have followed in Lance Armstrong’s wheel- the first being in North Georgia along the route of the mountain stage of the now defunct Tour de Georgia. Gibraltar is an another animal entirely, and the pros consider it comparable to some of the easier climbs on the Tour de France. At one turnout I was startled to hear voices coming from directly above. I looked to find rock-climbers staking their way up a route over our heads. We were truly in billy-goat country.
Dan, needing to ride faster in order keep his lower gearing rolling near the steeper top section of the ride, sped off with a semi-pro rider who I am sure was surprised to find a fat tired fixie on his wheel! I eventually rounded the final bend to find Dan and the pro chatting and emptying their water bottles in preparation for the decent. After taking in the sweeping vistas and making a note to myself that I had just climbed one of the most difficult road ascents in North America, I took one more look over my shoulder before heading back down from whence we came.
While the chuck holes and gravel were tolerable on the slow climb, they now posed a real danger of jarring me off my bike on the way down. Again the steel Bike took these challenges in stride- carreening down the switchbacks like I was on a rail. The nearly two hour climb took only twenty minutes to descend- reaching speeds of 46 miles an hour on one of the straight(er) sections as we rolled back toward the Old Mission. Dan and I treated ourselves to a tall coffee in Santa Barbara before heading back to Toro Canyon where I did a test drive in the afternoon sun on his hammock. About a perfect day!
I hope that riding with my brother becomes more than a once-a-year thing.
I was tooling around on YouTube and came across this incredible computer/gps “flyover” of the rout up Gibraltar that Dan and I took. It is really impressive with in-ride video, landmarks and a great expression of the pain that Gibraltar delivers so well. Click image to view.
Click the image to watch this impressive demonstration.
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