MTB Trail: Angel Island – The Jewel of the Bay

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Everyone that comes to San Francisco knows the most famous island in San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, but only a few know about the Jewel of the Bay, Angel Island.

Angel Island State Park, the largest island in the San Francisco Bay offers some of the best views of the surrounding Bay Area.  It has been a cattle farm, a military barracks, a quarantine station, immigration station and now a nature conservatory.

This was our first endeavor in mountain biking and makes a great introduction for everyone.

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Distance: 9.1 mile (one loop around the top and bottom trails)

Elevation Gain: 1017 feet (310 m)

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Difficulty: Although you can ride your road bike along the lower paved path, the real fun comes when you hit the trails.  This is a great beginner’s trail and gives you an amazing introduction to mountain biking without too much difficulty.

Getting to Angel Island

There are two ways to get to Angel Island.  The easiest way to get there is to take the Blue & Gold Ferry from Pier 41.  This ferry leaves at 9:45 am every day.  You can buy tickets at the box office at Pier 41 or onlineScreen Shot 2015-01-26 at 10.26.30 PM Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 10.26.48 PM

The second way to get to Angel Island is to take the Angel Island Ferry from Tiburon.  This ferry runs at a less regular schedule which varies throughout the year.

You can return to San Francisco either by taking the Blue & Gold Ferry directly back, or your can return to Tiburon, and return on a later ferry back from Tiburon.

When you arrive at Angel Island, you dock at Ayala Cove. This route is a set of loops, so you begin and end at Ayala Cove. This is the dock where you catch the ferry to both Tiburon and San Francisco.


From Ayala Cove, follow the trail to the Visitor’s Center. Bikes are not allowed on the pavement for a few hundred feet, so make a left onto the trial and follow it to the lower, paved route around the island.






Approximately a mile and a half down the path, you encounter the trail to Camp Reynolds. Camp Reynolds includes the brick barracks you see from Sausalito and the ferry.


This is an unpaved trail leads down to the Camp and the water’s edge if you turn right at the fork. At the Camp, you can experience a civil war cannon shot around 1 pm each day.

We prefer to continue along the path and turn left at the fork. This unpaved trail leads back to the main loop shortly ahead.


Back on the path, once you crest the hill you get amazing sweeping views of San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge.  Make sure to stop and take a few pictures, this is really one of the best spots on the island.



Continuing along the path, you can get your next round of trail riding on your way up to Battery Drew.  To get there, take the left fork and head up the hill.


Keep climbing and you’ll get some more great views.


Your next taste of an off-raod downhill is next up.  Its got some loose gravel, some dirt and an nice fast slope.


A short ride back along the the path and your entrance to the upper off-road trail is on the left.


The entrance is a steep path with loose rock, so get a head of steam and power your way to the top, where you’ll immediately turn right.



Follow the upper path as it rolls along with eastern shore of the island with many of the island’s buildings below.


About halfway along the eastern side, the path makes a sharp left up the hill, away from the picnic area.


Climb past the water housing area, and watch for deer here. Just past then fence the path takes another left.


Continue along the gently rolling path and enjoy the gorgeous scenery as you traverse the northern side with Tiburon across the channel.


As you approach the western side of the island, you’ll see Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge.


The path rolls downhill as it leads you back to the return to the lower main road.


You can ride the upper path again if you are up for it, or you can turn right and go back to complete the lower path.

When you are ready to head back to the lower path, turn right down the hill and continue straight at the intersection. You’ll get more sweeping views of San Francisco from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate Bridge.


A short way down the path is the best paved downhill of the day. It’s a quick descent with a curve to the left at the bottom where the road forks.


Quarry Point is down the road on the right. You’ll see housing barracks on the left of the main path and a dock lower down the hill to the right. This part of the island was a rock quarry from 1850 through 1922 and used to construction buildings from Alcatraz to Fort Point and even the California Bank building in the Financial District of San Francisco.


Further along the path you’ll pass by the Immigration Station. You can go for a stroll or take a tour of the Immigration Station. This immigration station was in use from 1910 thought 1940.


The rest of the route is another 1.5 miles of rolling path back to Ayala Cove. Watch for the entrance back to the bike route, it is a sharp right after a quick downhill.


If you miss the turn, no big, just continue on and turn around.


Follow the path and return back to the docks at Ayala Cove where you can pick up a ride back to Tiburon or San Francisco.


After a day of adventure on Angel Island, you really get a sense of how much fun mountain biking can be. While most of the route is pretty tame, there is some loose terrain and quick descents that give you a sense of trail riding.

While accessing this park is a bit more complicated than just hopping in your car, it is totally worth while. The views, the experience and the fun you will have both on the island and on the boat to the island are memories waiting to be made.


Tips & Tricks: Keep it Clean – Pre- & Post-Ride Rituals

Bike maintenance doesn’t just happen when you take your bike to the shop, it’s what you do before and after every ride.  To keep our bikes working their best all of the time, we have these pre- and post-ride rituals.


Because of our post-ride rituals, our pre-ride check takes only a few minutes.  All that is required is to pump your tires to the desired pressure. We use 95 – 100 psi for normal rides, or 100 – 110 psi for races. Once the tires are pumped, we are ready to roll with the clean, bright and shiny frames!


After a ride is when your bike needs the most care.  Putting your bike away dirty is one of the ways to make your bike and components wear out more quickly.  To keep your bike working better longer, our post-ride ritual requires lube, a couple of rags, a paper bag, steel wool and alcohol pads.
Start by lubing the chain with Rock-n-Roll lube. On days with dry roads, we use the red, Absolute Dry lube. When the roads are wet, or it’s foggy out, we use the Gold lube for a bit more waxiness to keep the chain from getting wet.  There’s a third option which is great for your mountain bike, the blue Rock-n-Roll Extreme lube.
Set up the rags behind the the chain and apply the lube to the lower part of the chain behind the chain ring. Rotate the pedals ten times while applying the lube. Next apply the lube to both upper and lower rear derailleur sprockets. Then rotate the pedals another ten times.
With a clean rag, wipe the excess lube off the chain and derailleur sprockets. Start with the lower sprocket and then the upper sprocket. Then the chain where it meets the lower sprocket and repeat where the chain meets the upper sprocket.
Then wipe the excess lube off the top and bottom of the chain by gripping the top and bottom of the lower part of the chain with your thumb and forefingers and rotating the pedals twenty times. Then do the same for the sides of the chain an rotate the pedals thirty times. Finally, repeat wiping the top and bottom of the chain another ten rotations. When you are done, your clean rag will have much of the dirt, grime and excess lube from your chain.
After lubing the chain, we use an isopropyl alcohol pad to wipe off the aluminum breaking surfaces of the rims in order to remove any brake dust and ensure proper brake power.
If you have a nick or other surface imperfection in your braking surface, you can also use steel wool to smooth out the surface. We use copper, as it leaves less residue on the aluminum braking surfaces as your are smoothing it out.

Tips & Tricks: Keep it Clean – Wax On, Wax Off

A wash is just the beginning of keeping your ride clean.  In order to make it shine and keep it clean longer, it needs a coat of wax.  This tip always raises an eyebrow. Most riders have never thought about applying wax to their bike. Waxing your car is one thing, but waxing your bike?  Not only does the wax make your ride shine, it also protects the finish from the elements and helps keep dirt, dust and mud off the frame.
If you have a dark colored, glossy frame and have never waxed your bike, you may notice streaking or a cloudiness to the finish. Waxing your bike helps eliminate the streaking and cloudy finish.
Bikes typically come in two types of finishes, glossy and matte.  The different types of finishes require the application of different protectant coatings.


Although most bikes are made from either aluminum or carbon fiber frames, the wax we use comes from the car detailing industry and our friends at Detailed Image. This same wax can be used on your steel or titanium frame as well.
Your first step is to apply the Optima No Rinse to the frame. you can do this either through a spray bottle or by applying the No Rinse onto a rag and using the rag to wipe down the frame, using enough to make the frame look wet. With a clean rag, dry the frame completely.
Next, apply the Meguiar’s M205 polish to the polishing pad. Dab a small amount of polish onto the various parts of the frame. Then use the pad to work the polish onto the entire frame. Use a circular motion to work the polish in. The polish is fully applied once you no longer see any obtuse coating or streaking from the application. The finish will feel a bit rough and waxy to the touch.
Now wipe off the polish with another clean cotton rag. Use circular motions again to remove the wax. You have removed all of the wax when the finish is smooth to the touch.
Although it seems repetitive, the next step is to use the Meguiar’s Final Inspection Spray to remove any missed wax. Again, you can either apply the spray directly to the frame or to a rag. Either way, use a clean rag to apply the Spray to the entire frame. Then wipe it down with another clean, dry rag.
The last step is to apply the Blackfire Wet Diamond to get the final shine and protection. Apply the Blackfire to another clean rag and wipe down the entire frame. Then use a second rag as a final way to remove any residue from the frame. Finally, use a microfiber cloth to wipe down the entire frame.
If you take a picture of your frame before and after the waxing, you’ll notice a huge difference in the shine of your bike. You’ll also notice your bike stays cleaner, longer as you continue to ride throughout the season.


Having a bike with a matte finish requires different treatment than a gloss finish.  Matte finishes scratch more easily and tend to trap dirt more readily.  To keep your ride looking its best and get it ready to accept the matte wax, we recommend using Chemical Guys Meticulous Matte from our friends at Detailed Image.
Working with a matte finish requires the softest cloths to ensure you don’t scratch the finish as you clean, wax or dry your bike.  Always use a microfiber cloth to dry or detail your bike.
After your bike is clean, or in-between washes, use Chemical Guy’s Meticulous Matte Detail Spray.
Spray the detail sealant onto a microfiber cloth and wipe the entire bike down.  This gets any remaining dirt and grime off of your bike’s frame and gets it ready to accept the sealant.
Once you’ve wiped down the entire frame, its time to seal the finish.  Sealing the finish keeps the mud and dust from collecting on the finish. To seal the finish, we recommend Chemical Guys Jetseal Matte.
Again, place a dab on a second microfiber cloth and work it into the finish.  Let the wax sit for 20 minutes.  Then use another microfiber cloth to wipe the wax off to finish.
That’s it, you’re done.  It’s now time to get out there and get it dirty again!


This wash and wax is also a great final wash of the season if you are putting your bike away for winter. When you pull it back out in the spring, all you will need to do is wipe it of with the microfiber cloth and apply a new round of lube to the chain. The T-9 applied above does a great job at protecting your chain from rusting or seizing while in storage.


Whether you just got a new bike, or have been riding the same steed for years, a good wash and wax can make your ride look brand new and sparkle in the sun!

Muir Beach / Muir Woods Closure Information – December 2014 – March 2015

Rainstorms on December 11, 2014 caused a section of CA-1 (SR-1) to collapse between Muir Beach and Panoramic Drive.

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This section of road is featured in our trail and video “The Three Amigos“.

As this route of return is no longer available, this closure affects the ride back to Sausalito from Muir Woods and Stinson Beach.

From Muir Woods, you have the option of climbing back up Muir Woods Road or heading to Stinson Beach and climbing back via Panoramic Highway, the opposite direction of our Dog Days trail.

Your other options are to continue North on CA-1 and 1) attempt the climb up Fairfax Bolinas Road to West Ridgecrest and return via the latter half of Alpine Damn Loop

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Or 2) go toward Point Reyes and return via Sir Francis Drake Blvd to Fairfax.

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Construction is expected to continue through March 2015. See for the most up-to-date information on the closure and construction.

At this time we do not advise going to Muir Woods or Stinson Beach unless you are a very strong climber or are prepared for a 60+ mile ride.

Tips & Tricks: Bike Rental on Vacation: Destination San Francisco


Miko on Angel Island with her rental mountain bike.

Cycling runs deep in the San Francisco Bay Area culture.  It has  been in the blood of Bay Area residents since the 1960’s.  The first mountain bikes were even designed and rode in Marin County, on Mt. Tam by Gary Fisher and other mountain bike pioneers in the 1970’s.

With all this cycling fever, it makes sense the first bicycle rentals for tourists have been available in San Francisco since the mid-80’s.  However, it wasn’t until the closing of the Presidio Army Base and takeover of the land by the National Park Service in 1998 that tourist cycling took off.

Once the Presidio bike trails opened in 1998, riding across the Golden Gate Bridge by bike not only became easier, but accessible to almost anyone.   Since then, biking has become an integral part of the San Francisco tourist experience.

Not everyone has a folding bike, or wants the hassle of bring their own when on vacation.  We sympathize. We’ve brought a bike on the plane to various triathlons, we’ve rented bikes while on vacation, and even done the whole “borrow a bike” from a hotel. Some of these were good experiences, others, not much.

The only question is, which rental company do you choose?

That question is answered by determining what type of bike you want to rent: Hybrid comfort bike? Mountain bike? Road bike? Electric bike? City bike?


Miko’s rental hybrid bike on our first ride to Sausalito.

Hybrid Bike

The most popular option when renting is the hybrid comfort bike.  These bikes typically have flat pedals, larger tires, larger saddles, flat handlebars, disk brakes and can even come with front shocks.  The hybrid is your general purpose bike good for the road, paved trail or even a smooth dirt road.  The bikes typically feature 27 gears with a triple chainring up front and a 9-speed cassette in the rear for maximum flexibility while one a ride.  Shifting is done by rotating the handles forward or backwards.

One of the drawbacks of these bikes is their weight.  Hybrid comfort bikes tend to be very heavy, weighing from 27 to 35 pounds.  You will see people pushing hybrid comfort bikes up some of the hills on your way to Sausalito.  As they are the most popular bikes, they are also the most used, so maintenance is not always the best.  This can result in a bike where the gears do not change easily, the chain can come off the chainring while riding and squeaks in either the chain or frame can be heard.

An advantage of hybrid bikes is that they can be taken on any of the ferries back from Marin County, so no worries about having to pedal back to the city if you are tired by the time you reach Sausalito or Tiburon.

Hybrids are available from most of the bike rental companies in San Francisco.  Typically, there will be at least one rental company with hybrid bikes available with a location close to where you are staying or wandering around the city.  Just make sure you know what time you have to return the bike by and whether or not the company you rent from has a separate “after hours” return location.

Hybrid bikes range from $24 – $40 dollars per day to rent.


Miko’s rental mountain bike.

Mountain Bike

Mountain bikes are similar to hybrids in that they have wide tires, shocks and flat handlebars.  Mountain bikes can either be “hard tails” or “dual suspension” bikes.  A hard tail mountain bike has a front fork shock and a solid frame.  Dual suspension mountain bikes have both a front fork shock and a rear shock which allows the seat tube and rear assembly to flex while riding.

Mountain bikes have either flat pedals or can be fitted with clips, disk brakes, thumb shifters and 16 to 20 gears.  Rental mountain bikes have a double chainring up front with a medium size (~34 tooth) chainring and a smaller (~22 tooth) chainring for climbing.  They also have an 8 to 10 speed cassette.  Mountain bikes have tire sizes which range from the smaller 26-inch tires, to 27.5-inch to the big 29ers.  These bikes are meant for use on unpaved trails, dirt roads and can even be used to climb Mt. Tam or go exploring on Angel Island.

While mountain bikes are not rented as often as hybrids, the nature of a mountain bike will lead to some of the same shifting and squeaking issues if the bikes are not constantly maintained.

Mountain bikes are available from many of the same companies that offer hybrid rentals, however, they are not available at every rental location.  Mountain bikes are also ferry-friendly.

Mountain bikes range from $25/day for a low-end aluminum hard tail to $175/day for a dual suspension, carbon-fiber frame bike.  There’s a lot of variety between these two extremes, so it’s best to check out all your options before renting.


Miko loved this rental road bike so much, she bought the exact same bike!

Road Bike

Road bikes are your skinny-tire, bent-handlebar, rim break, lever-shift Tour de France-style bikes.  They are light, fast and can cost as much as a new car.  A few of the bike rental companies are offering high-end aluminum and carbon fiber road and time trial bikes for rent.  These bikes are meant for a specific market segment.  These are renters which typically own, or are looking to own, their own road bike, but did not want to deal with bringing the bike with them on vacation.  As a result, these bikes are the best-maintained rental bikes available.  You can either get flat pedals or bring your own clips and shoes to use while riding.  These bikes require some experience with skinny-tire bikes just for your own safety and comfort.  The road bikes can be used on any road trail and are great for really exploring the Bay Area, from San Francisco to Paradise Loop, Marin Headlands, Muir WoodsMt. Tam or Stinson Beach and beyond!

These bikes are also ferry-friendly and the friendliest on you when carrying them up the stairs when exiting the ferry.

Road bikes are not available at all rental locations and range from $40/day for an aluminum frame to $175/day for a carbon fiber frame.  Again, there is a wide-range in the rental prices depending on the components and bikes available.  Because road bikes are very size-dependent, it’s best to make sure you know your size, or go to a company with a large range of sizes for rent.

Electric Bike

Electric bikes are similar in design to hybrid bikes.  The major difference is that the electric bikes have an electric motor which powers the rear hub.  While these are not as powerful as a motor scooter, they will assist you in getting up hills and going along a flat path.  The battery is an “assistance” to your pedaling.  Pedaling is still required to make these bikes move and they have governor to limit their top speed.

The major drawback to electric bikes are that they are NOT ferry-friendly.  The Golden Gate Ferry system does not allow these bikes on their boats.  If you ride your electric bike across the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ll be riding back as well!  However,  the Blue & Gold Fleet will allow electric bikes on its ferries back to Pier 41 from Sausalito or Tiburon.

Electric bikes are also not available at all rental locations and range from $25/day to $88/day.

City Bike

City bikes are the latest development in bike rentals.  Although these bikes were originally meant to be “shared” bikes for city residents, they are quickly becoming another popular rental options for tourists.  The city bikes have frames which are able to be stepped through and a seven-speed internal rear hub.  These bikes are heavy and best used for trips that are dead pan flat, although some people are able to make it across the Bridge.

These bikes are not electric, so they are allowed on the ferry.

City bike rentals require a membership, which starts at $9 for 24 hours and then a rental fee of $4 for the first hour and $7 per 1/2 hour thereafter.

Renting a Bike

If you are looking for a hybrid, city bike or electric bike, simply walking out of your hotel or a search of the internet will show you where to rent.

However, we’d like to concentrate on where you can rent high-end road and mountain bikes.

Bike Rental Companies

1. Blazing Saddles – San Francisco


Blazing Saddles is one of the oldest bike rental companies in San Francisco.  It offers a wide variety of bikes and a number of locations throughout San Francisco including their high-end rental located at 1095 Columbus Avenue.


We have rented both high-end road bikes and high-end mountain bikes from the Columbus Street location.  Don’t forget your pedals and shoes if you want something other than flat pedals.

2. Sports Basement – San Francisco


Sports Basement is not only a great place to buy sports equipment, clothing and bikes, it’s also a great place to rent a road bike.  Bike rentals are only available at the Presidio location.

3. The Sausalito Bike Company – Sausalito


The Sausalito Bike Company is the sister store of A Bicycle Odyssey, and is located in downtown Sausalito at 1417 Bridgeway.  It’s a ten minute walk or less from the Sausalito Ferry Terminal.

This company specializes in renting high-end road, mountain and time-trial/tri bikes.




Although they are located in Sausalito, when you make a reservation you can ask them about brining your bike to your hotel in San Francisco and giving you a top-notch bike fitting.  Make sure to bring your own pedals shoes.


Our Stories: Downhill Cycling: A Metaphor for Life

Marin Headlands-60For some of us, cycling is a chance to distance ourselves from our daily lives. Jon and I are exceptionally lucky to cycle in one of the most beautiful places in America which we’ve taken pride in sharing.

As cyclists we connect to the beauty of our surroundings, attend to the obstacles in our path, absorb the bumps in the road, feel the burn of each pedal stroke pushing us forward, and hear our breath get harder and deeper. We become more present and I think that’s one of the reasons we chose to clip in for the day to tune out the rest of the world. (Words of advice: don’t check your email, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter on a ride. You don’t need to hear from your boss or see what your college roommate is having for brunch. It CAN wait.)


Not every moment of cycling is a blissful. Nothing makes my life more miserable than CLIMBING. All I think about is how pained, exhausted and out of breath I feel. My thoughts turn to doubts of whether I can make it up the hill, or worse, make it home before dark. I am always focused on getting to the top, the finish, the future. (Or I’m saying to myself “What the heck was I thinking when I agreed to do this in the first place!”) If this was my metaphor for life, it would be a recipe for misery: completely immersed in my unpleasant thoughts and only living in the past – for my choices and the future – for my expectations. It’s only when I’m aided by my hybrid of a motivational speaker, athletic coach and cheerleading squad inside my head championing me to get up the hill that I can do it. I need to be told constantly that the effort alone makes me a “Rockstar”, even as the elderly man or tourist on a creaky comfort bike passes me like I’m standing still.

I do it all for the downhill.

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They (namely my endlessly fascinated husband who records these endeavors – see videos – and his friend – see Three Amigos) call me the “Pink Bomber”: after my hot pink helmet and propensity to leave the men behind, pass Porsches (true story) and the genuine euphoria I get from attacking the downhill that eludes most cyclists. My husband calls it “intestinal fortitude” but I know it be the one time in my life that I feel entirely immersed in “The Moment.”

The most natural reaction to downhill cycling is fear. The instinct that tells us “Don’t crash!” is what has kept our ancestors alive throughout evolution. As is often the case in life, people want to grab the brakes to stop the bike from going down to ease their fears, but using your bike handling skills to attend to your brakes is not only less enjoyable, but is a less effective, more dangerous way to get down the hill. When all your attention is paid to your fears and all your your efforts devoted to braking, where is your concentration for the car coming in the opposite direction that’s swerving into your lane? (Or as I like to call them: Sunday Drivers.) Your bike was designed to handle the downhill and coast through corners, not deal with your emotional baggage.

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The key to downhill cycling is looking forward. From moment to moment I must evaluate what my needs are and what the appropriate response is: when to angle my knee, aim for the apex of a corner, get down into my drops, tip, and always look towards where I’m going. And yes, my brakes are there to serve me, like thoughts: not to hold me back but move me forward to the perfect speed for attacking the corner ahead. I touch them gently, like holding the hand of a good friend, I don’t arm wrestle them! Making an enemy of your brakes is your worst mistake on a downhill. They press against your rims, heating up your tires which explode in anger! That’s how I envision it – your fears make your otherwise happy bike have a nervous breakdown. Just like ruminating will make a mess of your mind.


Conquering the downhill necessitates freeing up your mind to make one judgement call after another. Yes, there will be scary moments. The “Oh crap, I almost became roadkill.” But there’s no time to think about that last hairy corner when the next corner is rapidly approaching because you need to attend to “What’s next?” And you can NEVER turn and look back to admire the horror of what might have been. You would most certainly crash. Instead, with every moment you glide with a sense of confidence, forget that your are not crashing, let go of everything except the sensations you need to let your bike do what it was designed to. For every descent you feared, you experience a sense of mastery for handling that complex and fearsome task, the willingness to embrace what you can versus what you cannot do.

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At the end of a descent my mind feels cleansed and all that’s left is the adrenaline and a sense of pride. If only we could go through life attending to each situation as it arises, tackling each problem with the information in front of us and honoring our solution before moving directly on to the next. And if at the end of each day, before we went to sleep, could feel a deep sense of satisfaction for having survived our day’s struggles and for accomplishing so much. To feel that same sense of joy for having lived our lives.

When you figure out how to do this please email me at I will send you a sweet bike jersey.

In the meantime, attack the downhill with the wisdom we wish we could apply to every part of our lives, as we strive to get there, one corner at a time.

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Author and cyclist, Miko Laube, was a psychology major at Brown University that decided not to become a shrink. She is a published fashion, beauty and men’s magazine photographer (check out her work here) and editor of the photo-fashion-art publication Gleam Magazine which features cycling photography in its November 2014 issue. She has, and always will, hate the uphill. Follow Miko on Instagram @MikoPhotoFashion.

Tips & Tricks: It’s Not Bonking, It’s Dehydration


**Kinda scientific article, not meant to be medical advice, nor has it been reviewed by a doctor or other medical professional.  It is however, based on research of published articles in medical journals and other sports related articles linked below so you can look for yourself.**

Riding a bike has a lot of different dangers and obstacles, many of which are out of your control.  Whether biking across across town or taking on a double century, the first major obstacle your body will encounter is dehydration.

Dehydration peaks its ugly head in many different ways.  Among those are: dry mouth, reduced aerobic capacity, muscle cramps, decrease in sweating, eyes drying, reduced fine motor skills, decreased urine, lightheadedness, and eventually weakness, heart palpitations, nausea and vomiting.

I personally had a sever case of dehydration at a Half Ironman triathlon in the US Virgin Islands.  I got out of the water to start my next leg on the bike and my muscles just felt heavy. I could not get going and at first though it was the headwind.  Then I realized my power was gone and I just felt weak, and it just continued through the run and to the end of the race.  It was one of those days when most of the racers were not only done, but were also out of the transition area and clapped as I and the last 25 racers came to the finish line.  It was a very tough and humbling day.  But it was also a great lesson how dehydration affects your body.


We’ve all experienced some degree of dehydration while exercising, but what’s really happening inside your body? Dehydration is the body’s loss of water such that it contains an insufficient volume of water for normal functioning.

The volume of water in your body is directly related to the volume of blood in your body.  As we all know, blood carries oxygen to your muscles to keep them functioning during aerobic exercise, but another core competency of your circulatory system is to maintain your core temperature (at ~37 degrees C) to help prevent overheating which can lead to coma through a process called thermoregulation.

Basically, the circulatory system performs thermoregulation by carrying heat away from your heart and other vital organs using heat transfer.  This type of heat transfer works by pumping blood through the organs and then to the skin.  The blood cells oxygenate the organs while the water in the blood cells absorbs the heat within the organs.  Water has a large heat capacitance (ability to store heat) and is the main part of the blood cell that assists in thermoregulation.  The “hot blood” is then sent to the skin to dissipate the heat through the skin surface.  This process regulates your core temperature.

The amount of blood flow to the skin during rest, or non-exercise periods is typically 4%.  This amount can increase to remove the excess heat from the core up to 48%!  This huge potential fluctuation in blood flow redirection is one of the main reasons maintaing blood volume, via hydration, is so important for cyclists and other endurance athletes.  Muscle tissue needs oxygen to produce power.  If your blood volume decreases, the amount of blood available to oxygenate your muscle tissue reduces, resulting in reduced ability to produce power.  (See Control of skin blood flow during exerciseMed Sci Sports Exerc. 1992 Mar;24(3):303-12; see also Major Functions of the Cardiovascular SystemHydration: Is your sports drink making you dehydrated?; and Skeletal Muscle Blood Flow).


So the solution would be to replace that lost water by drinking a lot of water while working out, right?  Well, no, it’s not that simple.  Research has found water by itself does not work to rehydrate the body.  There’s an element missing in water, that element is sodium.  (See Sodium-free fluid ingestion decreases plasma sodium during exercise in the heatJ Appl Physiol 100: 1847–1851, 1999.)

So then just use a salt tab, right? Wrong.  Salt is sodium chloride (NaCl), what your body actually needs is Sodium Citrate (Na+).  While salt is ok in small doses, increased ingestion leads to gastrointestinal distress, which is neither helpful or fun during a long ride.  Sodium Citrate actually increases water retention resulting in greater hydration.  Hydration: Is your sports drink making you dehydrated?

So the question becomes, what can you drink that has the higher concentration of Na+?  A study at Drake University performed testing to determine the amount of sodium (Na+) was found in various sports drinks and other foods.  The sodium was either in the form of trisodium citrate or sodium bicarbonate, as both are effective in oral rehydration.  (See Citrate can effectively replace bicarbonate in oral rehydration salts for cholera and infantile diarrhea, Bull World Health Organ. 1986; 64(1): 145–150.)  The study looked mainly at sports drinks like Gatorade, Gatorade Endurance, Powerade and Accelerade.  (See Electrolyte (Na+, K+, Cl-) Concentrations in Assorted Sports Drinks and Milk).

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However, as the study was released in 2010, there are some newer kids on the block of rehydration for athletes.  They are Osmo, Nuun, Cytomax and DripDrop.

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Normalizing the results for the amount of Na+ in a 16 fluid ounce (~0.5 L) serving of each, here is the amount of Na+ in each of the major rehydration beverages:



Gatorade: 8-11 (mmol/L)


Powerade: 11.5 (mmol/L)


DripDrop: 30 (mmol/L)


Accelerade: 63.5 (mmol/L)


Gatorade Endurance: 105.5 (mmol/L)


Cytomax: 180 (mmol/L)


Nuun: 360 (mmol/L)


Osmo: 360 (mmol/L)

There’s more to replacing the fluids lost in your body than just the Na+ content, but good rehydration starts there.

We have both had success with Osmo, Nuun and DripDrop, although we have done our best using Osmo on the ride and Nuun as a pre-ride hydration aide. Since my experience in the USVI, I revamped my hydration by adding two more bottles to my bike and starting to us Osmo as my hydration supplement.   Less than a month after my experience at the Half Ironman in the USVI, I competed in the Escape from Alcatraz and had one of my best races ever!  I am a firm believer in the value of hydration.

Get out there, try out the rehydration beverages that look best to you and good luck on your next ride!!!