“I got the call to drive for Ferrari while I was riding my bike,” Jeff Westphal says, flashing a boyish grin. “Right here on this exact hill. Best ride of my life.” Then the Scuderia Corsa driver leans over his handlebars and flies down the hill, legs churning. He tucks into a long, curving switchback, swooshing over rough pavement and exiting inches away from an enormous redwood tree. I click into a bigger gear and follow, trying to mimic his smoothness, his gait, his speed. Ain’t gonna happen. I’ve got my work cut out for me.
Oftentimes it seems there is a war going on between drivers and bicyclists, but professional drivers such as Westphal have discovered the deep kinship between the two sports. Cycling keeps them fit and ready to race and also reinforces the fluid dynamics needed to negotiate the edge of speed and control. F1 drivers such as Mark Webber often scout out tracks by bike (I saw him do it before last year’s Le Mans), and Fernando Alonso wants to start his own cycling race team. Race-car drivers dig bicycles.
“In conversations, Enzo Ferrari and Ernesto Colnago apparently agreed that carbon fiber was the future for both their companies.”
My own biking affair began three years ago when I bought a Cannondale Synapse and immediately fell in love with fast descents. But it was far trickier than expected. You may never forget how to ride a bike, but piloting a twitchy, carbon-fiber bullet down a spiraling spit of asphalt at 40 mph is something else entirely. It wasn’t until I drove a Jaguar XKR-S on a rainy morning and rode my bike in the wet that afternoon that it clicked for me. Driving and riding demand the same set of skills. You have to look ahead, brake in a straight line, and always be conscious of moving your weight around. Suddenly, I was cycling like a vet. (Well, sort of. The spandex attire takes some getting used to. My advice: Avoid mirrors.)
The V1-r bicycle has a carbon-fiber monocoque and a racing setup. It’s light (835 grams—less than 2 pounds). You can have it with regular mechanical shifters or an electronic shifting system. You can even get disc brakes. (All this sound familiar?) And it’s expensive. The frame alone starts at $4,750. Add nice wheels and the best components, and you’re talking real money.
Westphal is the rare American racing for Ferrari, piloting a 458 for Scuderia Corsa in the GTD class of the Tudor series. The Bay Area native started driving karts at 18, but he went so fast so quickly that he soon moved up the ranks to Grand Am and the 24 Hours of Daytona. And he also likes cycling—a lot. All over these mountains. “Riding keeps me sharp,” he tells me as we begin our ascent of the mountain. I’m on the V1-r, and Westphal is on another Colnago model, the C59.
The Ferrari bike is stiff as hell. As I’m hunched over the handlebars, the front of the bike feels solid and planted. The front of Westphal’s C59, on the other hand, feels twitchy. Not that it’s holding him back at all.
We’ve clicked into the lowest gears for our long ride uphill. The road is narrow, the tarmac crinkled like an unmade bed. Westphal tells me how our path will take us through several micro-climates. As the road writhes through the redwoods, our conversation becomes terser. I try to keep Westphal talking. “Tell me more about the weather,” I say disingenuously. I’ll exploit any advantage I can get. Westphal, no fool, responds with a wan smile.
“I’m noticing that he also drives like he bikes, yet at many times the speed. He places the wheels perfectly at the extreme edges of the road and never brakes too hard.”
We finally level out under a canopy of dense forest—and into thick rain. “Weren’t we in sun 30 minutes ago?” I ask. Wet but unbowed, we burst out of the trees and onto a series of rolling hills blanketed in fog. There’s a tremendous vista over the mountains’ edge, surely, but it’s shrouded. My heart is yammering and my breath raspy. I’d love to take a break but instead pedal harder. I train on rolling hills, and it’s the only advantage I have. Power up in a big gear, and then coast down. I’ve got a good 25 pounds on Westphal, and I don’t need to pedal on the way down. Gravity does the job for me.
I out-bike Westphal on a few hills. Of course he’s soft pedaling and being a total gentleman. Part of the career of a pro driver these days is dealing with clients of lesser talent. I’m reminded of this when we switch bikes and turn around. He dives through curves and barely uses the brakes. There’s a deftness and a lightness of touch that can’t be taught. He rides the Colnago as it’s designed to be ridden.
When we arrive back to the car and stash the bikes nearby, I hand him the red Ferrari key. He puts the roof down, and then we fly. It was quiet biking the road. This is anything but, with the engine behind our heads keening. “You can just drive this car so fast. It’s so easy,” Westphal says. I’m noticing that he also drives like he bikes, yet at many times the speed. He places the wheels perfectly at the extreme edges of the road and never brakes too hard, just enough to keep the nose down. The balance and rhythm are eerily similar.
We top the brow of the hill and I coast, heading up to a parking area at the road’s end. There’s one very steep section just before the parking lot where my lungs had nearly exploded on the bike. The Ferrari’s naturally aspirated V-8 breathes easily and propels us to the summit effortlessly. “Well, there are some advantages to the car, right?” quips Westphal.
I park at the edge of a cliff and turn off the car. The sea of clouds has since parted, revealing the city below. It’s spectacular. “Every time I get all the way up here,” Westphal says, “it’s worth it.” I couldn’t agree more, whether it be on a superbike or in a supercar.