Climbing stands apart in cycling. Super-charged group rides are exhilarating, but for us, the unifying theme running through the most epic days on a bicycle is elevation gain. Simply put, riding up mountain passes offers a personal challenge, and sense of accomplishment, like no other aspect of our beloved sport.
Sometimes we struggle to turn over the cranks; sometimes we dance around switchbacks. Good days, bad days, they’re all part of the experience. And making it to the top never ceases to be a satisfying reward.
Local climbs provide a familiar trial and a natural benchmark for personal growth. While we forget what happened on our regular lunch loop shortly after completing it for the umpteenth time, we remember vivid details from nearly every trip up a beloved climb. Like a good movie, each attempt of a climb reveals new details. There are new angles of breathtaking vistas waiting to be viewed, different vegetation to notice and diverse wildlife to encounter.
Today we’re riding a familiar climb, Rose Valley. Rising out of the Ojai Valley in Southern California and into the Los Padres National Forest, this road holds its own with the famous name-brand climbs of the world and is plenty challenging for the most seasoned climbers. Each time we ride it is a treat. But today is ever so slightly different. We’re accompanied by a wheelset that looks set to make the experience one to remember all the more. At 1,325 grams, the Aeolus RSL 37 is Bontrager’s lightest aero wheelset ever. Rolling as fast as hoops measuring 10mm deeper, these 37mm wheels are making us rethink the “all-around” category. They’re just begging to tackle some switchbacks.
The climb starts out steady enough, and we’re accompanied by the occasional hiker scrambling down to the Matilija Creek, still babbling along at a respectable pace, to cool off. But once we pass through a pair of tunnels, carved nearly a century earlier, the gradient starts to pick up, and we find ourselves alone. Just us and the mountain. As we rise higher, exposed roads cut into the side of the mountain provide nowhere to hide against the elements. Tree cover is few and far between in this chaparral vegetation. We’re at the mercy of the winds up here. But the wheels don’t seem to notice. We roll along almost oblivious to crosswinds rushing across the tarmac. Soon we reach the steepest pitch of the climb, and instead of struggling to push power through the pedals, we feel like we’ve found an extra gear. There’s no denying the liveliness of a wheelset this light.
Longer days bring warmer weather and mark the end of the rainy season, but the Southern California chaparral vegetation hasn’t yet surrendered its annual color—green grass splotched yellow and lavender by wildflowers. Sweltering days and brown fields are around the corner, but for now we enjoy climbing our way to the top of Rose Valley and deeper into remote National Forest territory on these featherweight wheels.