Real Advice: An Intro to Climbing

climbing_3Real Advice is a new series here on our blog. To answer some of the questions we get from customers, we’re turning to the employees here at our home office for some answers. Just like anyone else, they need to balance time on the bike with full time jobs and families. Over the years they’ve gotten pretty good at getting the most out of their rides. Let us know what you think in the comments.

This week we asked Robert, one of our copywriters and dedicated lover of the road ride, to give us some tips on how to get better at climbing.

climbing_brianI learned a hard lesson about climbing a few years ago after moving to North Carolina from a certain Midwestern city known for ferocious winds and two-dimensional topography. I thought I was in pretty good shape—until I decided to join the Thursday night group ride my first week of work at Performance Bicycle. I doubt I had actually ridden a bicycle up a hill before (unless bridges count), but I didn’t think it could be too hard. After 5 miles of rolling hills, I was utterly exhausted, and had long since been dropped. My ego was deflated, but thankfully there’s nothing like a reality check to get you motivated. Here are some of the tips and tricks I used to improve my climbing:

  1. PRACTICE. This seems obvious, but there are no silver bullets here. The only way to get better is to go out and find hills to ride up. Don’t overdo it, but adding challenging vertical mileage to your rides will do wonders.
  2. BUDDY RIDES. After my embarrassment on the group ride, I found a strong climber at the office and rode with him a few times a week. It was painful, but forcing myself to match his faster pace helped me make huge gains in a short amount of time.
  3. YOUR FRONT DERAILLEUR. Use it. You’re not going to impress anybody by big-ringing it up the local hardman hill, and you may even hurt yourself. If you find yourself struggling and out of the saddle from the start of the climb, you need to get into the habit of shifting to the little ring sooner. Since it’s almost impossible to shift the front derailleur once you’re actually climbing, it’s better to shift five minutes too early than five seconds too late.
  4. STANDING vs. SITTING. This one is divisive, but it honestly depends on the type of climb. If the climb is, say, 2 miles at a 6% grade, you’re better off staying in the saddle and pedaling at a higher cadence. If it’s a short, steep climb you can probably just stand up and stomp on the pedals to power up it. In general standing makes you work harder than sitting and pedaling at a higher cadence. If you do need to stand, make sure to shift to a harder gear to compensate for the extra force on the pedals.
  5. RELAX. Climbing is hard, but we subconsciously make it harder than it needs to be. Next time you head uphill, pay attention to your upper body. I bet you’re clenching your abs, tensing your shoulders and white knuckling your handlebars. All this saps your energy and makes it harder to breath. Next time, try to keep things loose and relaxed, control your breathing, and let your legs do the work.
  6. EQUIPMENT. Yes, nothing can really take the place of saddle time—but there are some equipment upgrades that can make climbing a little easier. If you’re really struggling on the hills, consider changing your cassette to a 12-28T, or switching to a compact crankset—both of which can make things a little easier. But the most important upgrade you can make for climbing is your wheelset. Wheels add both raw weight and rotational weight to your bike, making climbing more difficult. Finding a good pair of lightweight wheels is a very personal matter, and much can depend on budget and personal preference, but here are some of my favorites.

Race Day: Zipp 202 Firecrest Carbon Tubulars

Training Ride: Easton EA90 LTD Road Clinchers

Workhorse:  FSA Gossamer Road Clinchers

If you already have a pair of wheels you love but still want to go lighter, then take a look at your cranks, seatpost or saddle. There are many places on a bicycle where grams can hide. For more ideas on how to improve your performance or shave some weight from the bike, check out the “Upgrade Yourself” article in the Performance Bicycle Learning Center.

Scattante Stories Grand Prize Winner – Gil

So without further adieu, it’s finally time to share our Scattante Stories Giveaway Grand Prize winner.  As we said before, we were thoroughly impressed by all of the funny, heartfelt, and inspiring Scattante Stories that we received.  It made for a very difficult process to pick our winner, but we had to pick one story to win our Grand Prize of a 2010 Scattante CFR Comp Road Bike, Scattante Spyder Road Helmet, Scattante Team Short Sleeve Jersey, Scattante Airfino Bib Short, Scattante Matrix Multi-Lens Eyewear, Scattante Race Gloves, and Scattante Race Socks, and our winner was Gil!

Gil’s Scattante Story is a simple but touching story of a father and son reconnecting by bike and enjoying their time together out on the road.  So congratulations Gil, we hope you enjoy your new bike and all the adventures you’ll have with your son while riding your new Scattante (we’ve heard a rumor that his son Alec will get to take over Gil’s R330)!

My Scattante story is one about a father trying to stay connected to his 13 year old son.

Alec has gotten into fixed-gear cycling in a big way over the past year and he’s really into his riding track bike. It’s been great watching him get into riding, customizing and maintaining his bike. It reminded me about when I was into road biking when I was a teenager. I often watched him take off with friends with a mixed feeling of pride and a bit of loneliness — yes, loneliness.

Alec’s rides were taking him farther and farther away from home. On weekends he’d be out riding with friends from morning til dark. It felt like a metaphor for a son growing up and asserting his independence. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe this is a bad thing, but sill as a dad, I felt our days of bonding over play were coming to an end. He had no interest in trips to the park, the zoo or bowling — the things we typically did before.

Part of me wanted to join him, but I had no bike that could keep up — I don’t count the ‘delivery bike’ that has been a fixture in our garage for the past 10 years and had become a bit of a family joke. When he came home, Alec would share his adventures with me. I would wax nostalgic about my 1982 Schwinn. Alec would meekly suggest I should get a new road bike. I would respond with a non-committal grunt. A fixed gear bike seemed too hardcore for me. A road bike?… At that point I moved the conversation onto the next subject.

Finally two months ago, I built up enough resolve to go into Performance Bike and walked out with the Scattante R330. I was impressed at the lightness, the smooth shifting Shimano Sora gears and the overall comfort for a road bike. I was amazed at how much bikes have changed since my 1982 Schwinn. After a few trial runs getting used to riding, I was ready. Alec and I went out on a ride together for the first time in years.

We both enjoyed road biking together a ton. We took a ride out to the beach together and cruised up PCH. We had lunch. We raced. We saw snakes along the side of the road. We spotted three Ferraris. It was an awesome day for the two of us.

Well let me tell you — Alec and I are now taking rides together 2-3 times a week. Night rides (with lights of course) beach rides, sprints, you name it. For the first time in years, I feel like we are “playing” together. He’s excited to talk to me about cycling, bikes and about planning our next adventures.

I don’t feel like I got my little boy back — instead I feel like I now have something even better. A rich, dynamic relationship with my teenage son, and ample opportunities to bond over shared adventures. My Scattante R330 has played a big part in bringing my son and I closer together.

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Scattante Stories – Chris

Another favorite Scattante Story entry was this tale from Chris.  For sheer poetic imagery, this story of a ride on the beautiful Skyline Drive was hard to beat, so we couldn’t help sharing it with the rest of you.

We’d thought something was wrong, opening the door to find a park ranger pointing at our vehicle in the nearby parking lot.

“Is that your vehicle?” Ranger Simmons asked my wife.

It turned out Simmons wasn’t so much interested in the SUV as he was my Scattante R650 bolted to the roof rack. In particular, he wanted to know if the owner of the bicycle was, in his words, “as capable as the ride.”

After talking about some of the rides I’d knocked out earlier in the week, he asked if I’d be game for an early morning run along Skyline Drive, the spine of the park and the reason for our visit.

We made a plan to set out at 5 a.m. the following morning, and he said that he’d stop back later with something I needed for a safe ride.

We slipped out of the parking area at 5:15, under a full moon and nearly two hours before sunrise. We each had a nifty bar zip-tied to the handlebars above the stem, featuring two bright LED beams and two things that he described as ‘deer whistles’.

We sprang out onto the drive, banking through turns and running up hills past overlooks and the low stone walls that define Skyline.

With our breathing often the only noise I could hear, Simmons explained during one descent that the purpose of the deer whistles was to emit a high frequency noise that White-Tailed deer in the area would hear. “You don’t want to crash into one of them driving, and you certainly don’t want to hit one without a front bumper and an airbag!” I wasn’t sure if he was joking, insane or serious until we rounded one of the furthest corners approaching a ‘bald’, or clearing that my wife mentioned as a nice picnic location on our drive in to the park.

Traveling at 25, 27 mph, I didn’t realize at first that we’d startled a grouping of four does that were working their way down the hillside to our left. They were still on the right of way and slightly in front of and to the left of me. Simmons was to my right, and looked over at me with the grin of a shark about to grab a seal. “Ready?” was all he asked.

At that invitation and challenge, I switched gears for a sprint and took a deep breath of clean mountain morning air. I’ve wondered since if the air I was inhaling didn’t contain the exhaled breath of one of the deer, or vice versa, for as the deer broke for the clearing we were on their tails, literally drafting as they approached their peak speeds. Simmons was nearly growling through clenched teeth, urging me on faster, and moments after we overtook the deer, they broke from us, danced over a low stone wall and into the clearing.

Within seconds they were gone, the moment forever burned into my memory.

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Scattante Stories – Joseph

There’s no way to read Joseph’s Scattante Story entry without having the utmost respect for the obstacles he has overcome to ride his bike.  But ride he does, for himself and for others who cannot.  You can read more about Joseph’s adventures by bike at www.happyheart.org, and find out how to sponsor his latest adventure.

Imagine winning the silver skates then wearing them on crystal ice as you skate effortlessly across the frozen canal. Look closer, see the smile, see the glint of wonder in the eyes, feel the joy of new freedom. That’s about as close as I can express what happened when I climbed on my new Scattante outside Fort Collins Performance Bicycle and pedaled across the parking lot heading west up Drake Avenue.

For 21 years I have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Three years ago, I could not even get on a bike. My personal trainer and I worked for months trying to improve walking and trying to jog. Progress was slow because the MS caused numbness in my left leg. This was complicated by being 100 pounds overweight along with balance and coordination issues because of the MS. We tried various machines to stimulate cardio exercise. The treadmills and gliders made me dizzy. Bicycling was a dangerous thought because of balance, numbness and coordination complications.

When I was 12 years old, we lived in Aurora and I was a newspaper boy for the Denver Post. For 2 years, every day I delivered the paper. Every other day, I would pedal across town to the newspaper shack where Mr. Colton would count out the papers for each route. Each boy would take his stack over to the wooden bench, fold and rubber band each newspaper. Once wrapped, the newspapers were loaded into canvas bags clamped to the extra wide handlebars. On a busy news day the bags would come close to dragging on the ground. My first newspaper bike was a hand me down from a previous carrier. I saved for a year to get a new Schwinn Wasp. Today, 50 years later, I remember that first ride.

In 2008, determined to at least try, remembering effortlessly riding as a youth, I found a $3 dollar bicycle at Habitat for Humanity. The tires still held air. My wife, Debra and I went to the neighborhood city park. Debra held her breath while I went 10 feet and fell. I kept trying. A few weeks later, I rode around the block, Debra and Joanna, my daughter, cheering as I circled into the driveway. Something special happened that day. I found the confidence to ride again. Later that summer, I found a old big red 15 speed 27in Citroen at a yard sale for $7. Recycle Cycles helped me clean it up, replacing the tires and brakes. By the end of the summer, I biked 15 miles on Big Red.

During the winter I decided to enter the Colorado MS 150 bike ride. While I had no aspirations to actually ride 150 miles, just the idea of riding in the event drove me to train. After visiting many local bike shops, I chose a Giant FCR because of its upright riding position. I rode this bike to the finish of the Colorado MS 150 in June 29, 2009. By early 2010, my riding techniques, endurance and body positioning prompted me to look for a new class of bike.

I knew I wanted a carbon frame, mostly because of ride vibration absorption. I knew I would be making many changes in equipment to fit the mechanics to my physical particularities. When I saw the Scattante CFR, I knew I found my new bike. It was almost as exciting as that new Schwinn Wasp. I felt comfortable in the Performance Bicycle store and with the staff.

We made a few changes, seat, pedals, adjustments, to the factory configuration. I knew I had my silver skates.  I began to train for the Texas BP MS 150.  I was little nervous about taking the bike apart to put in a case for the flight from Denver to Houston.

With the help and inspiration of Team Geokinetics and my Scattante I rode my first century and finished the 150. Once back in Colorado, I had to start training for the Colorado MS 150.

The Colorado MS150 has lots of rolling hills, and 3 good climbs. This ride is one of the main reasons I choose the Scattante. I am not a strong rider, my cadence is slow. The store bike came with a compact chain ring and a 12-25 cassette. The first change was to replace the cassette with an 11-28. With this change I could ride a 6% grade. Some parts of the hills were 8% or better. The next change was to put on a Shimano Ultegra Triple Crankset. This change meant new shifters, derailleurs and cables. The mechanics at the Performance shop made the changes.

As another new ride begins, the skates have a new edge. I can climb the hills on my Scattante. Oh, wow, it sure rides smooth downhill!

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Scattante Stories – Lee

We enjoyed reading Lee’s Scattante Story entry because of his commitment to riding and just for his ability to turn a good phrase.  Here’s a picture of Lee back in racing shape, tearing up his local crit, but read on below to learn about Club RAW and the cold winter rides that got him motivated to race once again:

Like many who have come to own a Scattante, my story began online as I tried to find a frame for less than it costs to stuff myself with Sushi and booze.

I was once a cyclist and a bicycle mechanic. But as I looked through craigslist, I was just someone years apart from any athletic accomplishment, looking for a way to get downtown without paying for parking or fighting the bus schedules.

A friend of mine from the college rowing team was the first I knew to own a Scattante. He liked the bike a lot. He was 6-foot-7 and it fit him and held up to all the thrashing – from the sprints between the boathouse to the engineering campus, to the bar scene of Madison, Wis.

His Scattante was black – all black, because he’d gotten some stripper from the boathouse to take off the decals and make it solid and maybe somewhat mysterious.

When I found my Scattante, a cyclocross frame, I kept the decals. “Scattante” was a mystery to me. People here in Wisconsin generally didn’t recognize the word as Italian. I didn’t recognize it as Italian; it’s not one of the words I came across while watching “Breaking Away” or reading “A Farewell to Arms.” And it had some of the same rhythm and feel to it as names around here: Pewaukee, Wauwatosa, Muskego.

My rides on it started in September a few years ago; I’d cover the three miles from my house to the Capitol Square twice each day. That seems like trivial distance to me now, but I recall feeling stronger as the days went on. I got fenders and put on a hat and gloves. My job required me to dress formally, so I typically rode this bike in worsted wool and leather soles.

In November, I had an idea with a friend who was also riding each day to the Square. We called it Club RAW – or Ride All Winter. I learned that studded tires help with ice and hard-pack, but things still got squirrely in the grey, tire-rutted stuff that I called churn. The Scattante cut through the nighttime snow that was fresh, bright and sharp and also bounded over the refrozen treads. I saw how a night I’d assumed to be cold and dark and dismal can be the opposite when passing through it on a bicycle.

After the lakes opened up and the bike was clean of all its briny grit and grime, I started to do longer tours. I raced the bike path hotshots when someone would throw down a sprint. I started to think about the last crit I raced, almost 10 years ago, where I was behind the leader on the final lap and struck my pedal to slide out in the second corner.

So I gave it a go. The Scattante that I rode under those glowing winter nights was the ticket that got me where I am now: riding strong again, racing, reaching for something.

And bicycle racing is the most exhilarating sport I’ve ever known. The feelings from it pour into my mind, unpredictably, in full clarity. All of a sudden, I’ll be back in a corner that turns into the blazing sun, up a climb when the burn doesn’t mean I’ll be dropped, under the spray of a water bottle, feeling the sting of salt.

Bicycling and racing is a permanent experience: I have all the corners, descents, breakaways and crashes here with me, and they got there because of a good deal on a Scattante.

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Scattante Stories – Gabriel

Gabriel’s story stuck with us, as we were reading Scattante Stories entries, because it was just such a straightforward and honest tale.  Gabriel wanted to recapture the fun and freedom he found while riding a bike as a kid, and his Scattante was a practical way to get back on the road.  But now we can safely say that he’s hooked on riding once again:

Last time I rode a bike was in middle school. My parents had more sense than money so I grew up on store brands while those around me rode top dollar “name brand” rigs. For me, it was about riding, not bragging about how much something cost. I cherished my bike and rode it everywhere. Several stolen bikes later, my parents got tired of replacing them and just like that, I could not ride anymore. By the time I was able to purchase my own bike, life had changed and I had no time to ride.

At age 38, being a father of 3 and riding a desk for the last 20 years I was overweight, out of shape and happy to be so. I always told myself I would be the dad that will run and play with my kids, not the one that sat on the bench and watched. I realized I had become the latter.

Remembering the good times I had as a kid on my bike, I decided to see if the love was still there. I shopped around at all the name brand stuff. Afterall, I am in a good career with a little disposable income. I deserved to get one of those fancy name brands now! After looking at dozens of bikes, my parents’ virtues kicked in and I was finding it hard to justify the cost of anything over the Scattante 660. It was outfitted well beyond comparably priced bikes and well into the higher priced rigs. It was also reasonably light and was simply a pleasure to behold with its pearly white paint, bold simple graphics and integration of carbon seat stays, fork and seatpost. I figured I could test the waters on this thing and if there was no spark, I wasn’t out gobs of money. I got the bike in April and by November I had put over 1,800 miles on it. I had forgotten how much I love riding! I started riding to work (30 miles round trip, rain or shine) and found routes that were relaxing, exhilerating, and challenging. I’ve explored rural areas I would have never seen otherwise. It was like I was a kid again and even the 30 square miles I ride have become a richer world to me.

Before I knew it I was 18 pounds lighter, my resting heart rate had gone from 68 to 51 BPM and my kids love having their dad playing with them now.

I ride my Scattante with pride knowing what it represents and what I have accomplished on it.

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Scattante Stories – Charlie

One more Stories fave.

An ode to his Scattante.

Read this from Charlie:

To love, Scattante

When my bicycle swears that she is made of carbon, I do believe her, though I know she lies.

That she might think me some novice cyclist, Unlearned in the sport’s false subtleties, Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young.

Although she knows my riding days are past the best, I simply credit her false speaking saddle.

On both pedals thus is simple truth supress’d, But wherefore says she not she is unjust?

And wherefore say not I that I am old?

Oh!, cycling’s best habit is in seeming trust, And age in cyclists not to have years told.

Therefore I hope to race with her and she with me, And with this Scattante, my kit complete’d be.

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Scattante Stories – Tim

Next up in our list of favorite entries from our Scattante Stories Giveaway is this little gem from Tim, where everything is not how it first appears (what can we say, we love hearing a good yarn):

The images are as vivid as the day it happened…I was astride my Scattante spinning the Dura Ace cranks at over a hundred RPM. The climb wasn’t new to me, but the feeling was. It was as if I was riding up one of those “Mystery Spot” tourist traps where water flows and balls roll up hill. I had never climbed or even seen anyone climb so effortlessly and quickly. But it was me and I was on a rocket to the top.

I saw him as I rounded the next curve; The athlete’s athlete. His physique looked like the muscle diagram posters I had studied on the gym walls. But I was rapidly gaining on him. The uber cyclist was moving with the same effortless flow that I felt, but he was riding a much more expensive steed, with parts that had not been in the stores yet.

Could it be? As I got closer I imagined passing him…Lance. To my amazement, I soon realized it was him, and I was about to blow his doors off!

I couldn’t do it. I paused on my pedals in mid stroke, slowing down to say, “Good morning!”

I surprised him so much that he swerved and almost rolled off the pavement.

“Woah,” Armstrong exclaimed. “I almost bought it.”

He gathered his wits and commented, “Great climb for such a flat state.”

“You bet,” I replied.

I then explained how the 1987 Pan Am games used this very climb for the road course. The fans here were asked not to push riders up the hill. They seemed to only be helping the American riders and the UCF officials thought that was unfair.

He chuckled and told me of how he planned this to be his last bike ride ever. I couldn’t understand why since I had watched him improve in the professional ranks and considered him to be the future of cycling in the USA.

Lance confessed that he had been pre-diagnosed with “Cancer of my boys,” as he put it. He was in Indianapolis seeking the best treatment possible.

His voice quivered when he spoke of the uncertainty he was facing. I pedaled alongside, all ears.

Soon we were near the top. I thought I would give a little challenge and started to hammer. I dropped him, probably because he didn’t expect it. I looked back and he was out of the saddle and hammering himself right behind me. I could hear him as he breathed down my jersey.

Finally the climb was over I turned ready to high-five the Texas star, but he was nowhere to be seen. I was left with my gloved hand hanging in thin air. I know he was right there, but suddenly vanished from the Hoosier Hill.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I laid my two-wheeler down and took a seat on a fallen log next to the road. I was suddenly out of breath myself as I struggled to make sense out of what just happened.

Drained physically and mentally, I collapsed on the leaves and pine needles. Laying there I kept replaying the scenario in my head. When did he leave, drop off or pass me? Or was he even actually there?

The next thing I know, my wife has her hand on my shoulder as she stirs me awake, “I thought you were going to ride your Scattante today, sleepyhead.”

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Scattante Stories – Aaron

Before we reveal the winning story in our Scattante Stories Giveaway, we wanted to share a few of the other stories that we thought were great.  It was a really hard task to pick a winner from all of the fantastic entries that were submitted, so we just have to share a few of the very best with all of you.  First up is Aaron, who wrote about that feeling of having a perfect day in the saddle:

The day started well before dawn. I drove into the elementary school parking lot greeted by volunteers holding flashlights waving me to my parking destination.

I could see the excitement in the faces of my fellow riders despite their bloodshot eyes. We walked into the school auditorium and had more volunteers pin our bibs to our jerseys. After eating my fill of muffins and bagels I took my bike to the starting line.

It’s best to ride with a group in these events. Not only do you have the opportunity make new friends, but you go a lot faster in a pace line. I found a group leaving at the same time as myself and tagged onto the rear of their line.

The route took us uphill almost immediately and I was please to see that my level of fitness would soon leave my pace group behind. After a few miles I had left them and found myself playing mind games as I struggled to catch another group that was some distance ahead of me. The weather started to change as we ventured toward the coast and I was grateful for my arm warmers.

I finally reached the group that was led by some skilled riders. I settled into the back of this line only to find about 5 rider just behind me that were unnoticed yet had the same intention of myself. I guess I had been leading a group for a short while and didn’t realize it.

Now I was in the middle of a large pace line and I suddenly remember why I love this sport so much. My cadence was perfect and settled into a rhythm that was not too soft or too hard on my legs. I looked down at my computer and found I was going 25 mph while expelling relatively little effort. The roads were wet with the pre-dawn dew while drops of water fell from the eucalyptus trees on all sides of us. Our group, now led by what must surely be accomplished racers, rounded a number of corners while maintaining their speed and cadence.

The less experienced riders in the group, myself included, slowed down in fears of crashing on the apex of each corner, only to quickly play catchup realizing that our caution was unwarranted. As we continued forward I could feel the gentle sting of the dew in the air slap against my skin. I looked down and saw I was covered in beads of water.

We pushed through a number of corners now in perfect cadence to the rest of group and found ourselves in the second large climb of the route. Like a well choreographed dance troupe we jumped off our seats as the syncopated clicking and popping of gears gave our intent to overcome gravity and fly up this hill with the power of muscle and our will alone.

I was forced to hide my shameful juvenile grin as I found myself passing other riders racing for the top. My heart raced from the effort and excitement as I realized this hill had nearly killed me just 1 year before. Near the top, I took stock of condition and found I was saturated with water and sweat. Then, on cue, the sun opened up and revealed itself and the blue sky. Very few times in my life have I felt so great. Today is a good day.

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Scattante Stories Giveaway Winner

We just wanted to say thanks to everyone who participated in the Scattante Stories Giveaway!  We received an amazing array of stories of people enjoying their Scattante bikes, from the funny to the inspiring.  We were humbled that our bikes have made a difference for so many of you, and choosing just one winner was an agonizing decision.

But there could only be one winner in this contest, so we had to choose one of these great stories to win our grand prize.  So congratulations to our winner, Gil from California!

We’ll share Gil’s simple but touching story with you next week, along with a few of the other entries that were almost picked to be the winner.  Thanks again for sharing your Scattante Stories with us, and keep on riding and creating brand new stories!

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