Local business owner seeks new heights

Aug 12, 2019 by

In Mt. Washington Bike Climb

SINCE JANUARY, Bob Sardella, owner of Sardella Sign Shop on North Avenue, has been preparing for the annual Mt. Washington Bike Climb set this year for Saturday, Aug. 17. Sardella will ride a total of 7.6 miles to the summit along with more than 400 other cyclists. (Maureen Keegan Photo)

Published in the August 12, 2019 edition.


WAKEFIELD — If you knock on the door at Sardella Sign Shop on North Avenue during the morning of Saturday, Aug. 17, you won’t find owner Bob Sardella there. He has other weekend plans.

Starting at 8 a.m. on that day, Sardella will be heading up Mt. Washington on a Bontrager mountain bike he bought from a neighbor — a fellow avid cyclist — for the annual Bike Climb, a total of 7.6 miles. Most cyclists are using road racing models that are much lighter than Sardella’s bike, but he found a fix around this by replacing his tires with thin racing types.

“I’m more comfortable riding a mountain bike with straight handle bars,” he said. “Believe it or not, there are a few people who will be riding unicycles in the race, and some cyclists are in their eighties.”

The maximum number of cyclists allowed to race is around 600 and the last Sardella checked, there were more than 400 registered.

During Saturday’s race, the road will be closed until noon, but before the cyclists start pedaling all observers, race support teams and drivers who will take the riders down the mountain will be sent up first.

Training and getting into shape for the race, along with managing his business, has been Sardella’s focus since last winter. He has attended weekly spin classes at a local gym and has walked between five and six miles daily to prepare for the bike ride to end all bike rides.

Once the weather turned warmer, he started riding trails in the woods and eventually started hill climbing in June. He has been riding up and down a three-and-a-half-mile mountain road at Mt. Wachusett in Worcester County three times every workout session. This regular training ground doesn’t simulate the 7.6 miles of Mt. Washington; in fact, nothing in the country compares.

In addition, Sardella has been following a strict diet and working with a doctor at a chiropractic and wellness center to prepare for the ride. Just recently, he traveled to Mt. Ascutney in Vermont for his final hard-core climb before the big event.

Borrowing a quote from Neale Donald Walsch, Sardella firmly believes that “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Based on the grueling training alone, he has certainly stepped outside of his own comfort zone.

According to Sardella, the moment a bike rider crosses the starting line, the uphill 12 percent grade begins with extended sections at 18 percent. The final 50 yards has a 22 percent grade. Cyclists will ride on pavement until the tree line at approximately mile five. At this point, the road becomes crushed stone.

“You feel the difference in the surface after pushing those pedals for the first five miles up hill on asphalt,” he said. “It feels like you’re dragging a cinder block once you leave the paved surface. The last 50 yards are a killer,” he said.

Sardella is hoping for favorable weather on Saturday, as its unpredictability can be a hindrance. In 2004 when he participated in the Bike Climb, for example, it was pouring rain at the base of the mountain and the temperature was 70 degrees. Once the riders were above the tree line, the mercury began to plummet, the cross winds picked up and the temperature hovered in the 40-degree range at the summit, making the climb more challenging.

“It was a challenge to see if I could even do it,” he said about his first experience.

Some members of Sardella’s family will be there on Saturday to watch and cheer him on. And a few will be waiting at the top to give him a ride down.

The Mt. Washington Bike Climb has been rated the toughest in the world, and this time around his intention is to challenge his body, which is now 15 years older. He said he is grateful that he can even attempt such a climb.

His inspiration came from watching too many friends and classmates suffer from life-changing injuries that would not allow them to even attempt participating in this kind of event.

Sardella said that his first ascent took just under two hours. He hopes to beat that time but will not know until the day of the climb.

“The weather above the tree line at Mt. Washington might be ugly,” he said. “Head winds, cross winds or just bad weather in general might slow everyone down.”

At the close of the race, there will be an awards ceremony and a BBQ lunch for all participants and guests.

In addition to the Mt. Washington Bike Climb in 2004, he also ran the 100th Boston Marathon as well as the Disney World Marathon.

Asked if other races are in his future, Sardella said there would be some smaller ones — until he decides to do the big climb again. And it’s likely that he will.

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