Archive for the ‘History’ Category
I’ll get to the history part in a second, but first a little about Shiny Side Up. Like car collecting, bike collecting is a niche activity.
If you’re into the old Schwinn balloon tire bikes and “chopper” bikes, southsydecycles is the place for you.
Schwinn made millions of single-speed town bikes, and it looked like every one that’s left was on display in the park. My parents couldn’t afford a name-brand like Schwinn so we kids got the J.C. Higgins Flightliner, circa 1960, sold by Montgomery Ward.
Now let’s take a look inside the Arbuckle Gallery and see what’s in store for cycling history aficionados.
There’s a lot of history packed into a small area, starting with the earliest bike on display, a velocipede (a name coined by the French) built in the mid-1800s. These bikes with steel rims were aptly nicknamed boneshakers.
In my mind, bicycle design took a step backwards with the big-wheel penny farthing in later years, mainly because they were so difficult to ride, mount and dismount.
The first safety bikes that looked and worked like today’s bikes are also on display, including one of my favorites — the bike without a chain. Instead of a chain, it has rear-stay direct-drive geared shaft. (Check out the wood rims.) There’s a modern version of this bike. I don’t imagine it sells all that well, but if you really don’t like chains, it’s a decent option.
There’s a display case devoted to Clyde Arbuckle, who by all accounts was a walking encyclopedia of San Jose history in later life (1903-1998). He was, in fact, the city historian. But more importantly, he was a cyclist and winning bike racer in his youth. Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet him, or his son Jim, who died while cycling, age 72.
There’s also tribute paid to Spence Wolf (Cupertino Bicycles), Ellen Fletcher (Palo Alto City Council), and John Forester (bicycle transportation engineer). I did a two-hour video interview with Ellen about her life a few years ago that I hope to post.
You’ll see some interesting bikes from the past, including a classic Cinelli track bike in pristine condition, and of course some mountain bikes, which were popularized by cyclists in Marin County and, to some extent, by South Bay riders.
The real reward for showing up on opening weekend was encountering cycling acquaintances who have seen their passion evolve over the past four or five decades.
I talked with Chris Dresden about his recovery from a heart operation, and Ken Kratz, retired Santa Clara traffic engineer who helped design the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail. Our paths had crossed years ago at work and while I was on the Santa Clara bike committee.
Finally, one of the co-curators of the bike display, Terry Shaw, walked around chatting with attendees. The retired owner of Shaw’s Lightweight Cycles in San Jose (1976) and Santa Clara (1984) had a heart transplant in 2011, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News, and says he is back riding and feeling great. He sure looks it!
Among pro bike shops, I could depend on Terry to have those rare parts that riders need for older bikes. But unlike some, Terry also catered to the regular bike crowd. One time he sold me a set of nice alloy rims for a beater 3-speed. He was the only shop owner that had alloy as opposed to the standard steel rim. Now there’s someone who appreciates all bikes.
Terry said that this display is just the beginning. He hopes that it can find a permanent home and continue to grow. That’s a worthy goal, considering the rich history of cycling in the Bay Area. Many of the bicycle inventions and trends of the 1970s-2000s have been here. The riding isn’t half-bad either.
He rode a bike since childhood, but I figure he had 50 years riding 10,000 miles a year, and that is a number he has used in correspondence. I have no doubt it’s true.
For a while in the 1970s, Jobst rode from his home in Palo Alto to the HP facility at Homestead and Wolfe Road in Cupertino. For a time I also worked nearby on Tantau and it was about 14 miles one way via Foothill Boulevard. Jobst rode both ways on most days, and on Sundays anywhere from 50 to 130 miles.
When he worked at HP Labs in Palo Alto, he always rode the Loop — Sand Hill Road, Portola Road, Alpine Road, Arastradero Road. He often complained about merging onto Page Mill Road at the I-280 exit. I hear ya.
For those of you who received the annual woodblock Christmas card, here’s one of my favorites, the avocet. It looks like he started doing these in 1965 and stopped in 2007, from what I could see.
Among its many benefits, the Avocet cyclometer took the BS out of cycling. You couldn’t exaggerate how fast you sped down steep hills. I used to routinely hear Tour de France TV announcers talk about racers reaching 60-70 mph as though it were an everday occurrence. Hardly.
I don’t hear that kind of talk as much now, so to impress the uninitiated they go metric on us. “They’re descending at amazing speeds, 80-90 kph.” That’s more like it.
One of the best descenders I’ve known is Jobst Brandt. Not only was he a skilled rider, he was fearless, a pre-requisite for going 60 mph and beyond. At 180 pounds he had a weight advantage over the elite riders who took his draft, racers like Tom Ritchey, Sterling McBride, Peter Johnson, Keith Vierra and others.
Jobst had a key role in designing the Avocet cyclometer (bike computer). As an engineer and a cyclist he was a stickler for accuracy, which is why the Avocet cyclometer was the most accurate computer of its time.
So how fast did Jobst go? He clocked himself just over 60 mph descending the east slope of Tioga Pass. Jobst repeated that effort on Italy’s Fedaia Pass with Peter Johnson. Dave McLaughlin, past winner of the Mt. Hamilton road race, says he reached a similar speed on Tioga Pass, according his to friends following in a car.
You can’t appreciate how fast that is until you’re up around 50 mph. The slightest error means catastrophe — a rock, a gust of wind, a pothole.
I’ve read anecdotal reports of racers reaching speeds of 75 mph, but I’m skeptical. It would have to be under perfect conditions and with a tailwind. Few racers carry as much weight as Jobst, who also lugged a 20-pound saddle bag on his Alps rides.
Many San Jose residents have fond memories of the shop, which has seen its ups and downs over the years. It’s a part of San Jose’s history, no doubt. To get a real feel for the kind of place it was, watch this beautiful video photo montage by Bernardo Grijalva on Vimeo. His black and white treatment captures the rough-hewn wood-frame interior like nothing else I’ve seen.
Faber’s, located at 702 S. First Street, shared its historic roots with yet another bike shop nearby, Desimone’s Bicycle Store on 83 S. Second Street. It was owned by Joseph Anthony Desimone, who died in 1945. I don’t know when that shop shut its doors, but there’s an interesting article about one of the shop’s senior mechanics, Ed Barnes, in a past issue of Bicycle Journal.
I found a rather embarrassing error in my Mt. Hamilton by Bike publication, so I wanted to set the record straight regarding a fatal plane crash at the Lick Observatory.
I said the plane that crashed was a jet, which would have been impossible on May 21, 1939, when the accident happened. I was also off by a day on the accident. The first jet flight did not take place until August 27, 1939 — the Heinkel He 178.
Someone told me it was a jet and when I did the search online I found the account but did not follow through to identify the plane, which was a Northrop A-17 single-engine Army attack bomber, built around 1935-7. It could also be called a Douglas brand aircraft.
A thorough account of the tragedy was written in The Scientific Monthly, July 1939, and is now available online.
Stevens Canyon Stymies Vierra
November 23, 1980
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Keith Vierra, Rick Humphries, Ray Hosler, Bill Robertson, Bob ?, Matt ?
Weather: Cool, cloudy, rain
Route: Up Old La Honda Road, south on Skyline, down Page Mill Road, down Stevens Canyon, Foothill Expressway, home to Palo Alto.
Tire/Mechanical Failure: Bill – flat; Keith – slow leak; Jobst – chain clunk
After a heavy rain on Saturday, Jobst wisely tailored this ride so we could avoid muddy bikes, just dirty. When he saw a dirt path alongside Sand Hill Road he decided it wasn’t too muddy, so we could find a dirt road somewhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
We headed up Old La Honda Road at a rapid pace. On Skyline we rode through a chilling fog as clouds obscured the Coast, riding past Tom Ritchey’s new house, still under construction.
Predictably Jobst pushed big gears going up 1.2-mile hill on Skyline, which passes the overlook parking area.
About a mile down Page Mill Road we turned right onto Stevens Canyon Road (now called Trail), passing the sag pond on our left and open fields before the plunge into the canyon. At the Indian Creek Trail junction Keith commented, “It’s the steepest road I’ve ever been up.”
Meanwhile, Jobst wheeled up to an impassible ditch. We had to walk our bikes around a narrow, steep hiking trail with a 100-foot drop on one side.
Once at the bottom of the canyon we took a narrow trail to our left and then descended to a tributary that feeds into Stevens Creek. It was here the Keith thought he could ford the creek. Jobst dismounted and walked, but Keith would have nothing of walking. “Out of my way Jobst! I’m riding through.” Keith didn’t have much speed when he hit the water. He bounced among the rocks before his front wheel wedged into a rock and he went flying!
[Keith was an elite cyclist, competing in the Coors Classic stage race. In 1973 he won the Nevada City Bicycle Classic as a junior racer.]
After another short distance riding on the narrow road we came to a huge landslide. Jobst dismounted and walked, while we followed, gingerly picking our way across the steep slope.
Before we knew it we hit pavement on Stevens Canyon Road, but the rain started before we could exit the canyon and Bill flatted. With the flat fixed, we headed home on Foothill Expressway in the rain.
Stevens Canyon 32 years later
That was then, what about now? I rarely ride in Stevens Canyon. I rode up from the bottom to check out the memorable creek crossing. It’s still there but there isn’t much water right now. The slide has been repaired and it’s now rideable — has been for years. Aging wooden bridges in Stevens Canyon are being replaced with splendiferous concrete spans.
Long ago cars drove the length of Stevens Canyon Road up to Page Mill Road. I don’t know if the road was paved all the way. I doubt it. At some point the road slid out and that was the end of it. It’s ground zero for the San Andreas Fault. When the earth moves here again the landscape will change. Enjoy it while you can.
Back in the 1980s Alpine Road started its slow decline into oblivion as San Mateo County abandoned the road. The last maintenance occurred in December 1989 when it was graded. However, the county never cleared culverts, so around 1994 a culvert plugged and a massive slide took out the road. That’s why there’s a steep, gnarly trail that has to be negotiated.
The 2013 calendar captures what it was like in its heyday. The calendar marks major U.S. holidays and area road races, although some dates are tentative. Enjoy.
Peter Rich, a Bay Area cycling legend, stopped by to see Jobst Brandt in Palo Alto last night and share some memories among cycling friends.
Peter recently shut down his iconic bike shop Velo Sport in Berkeley, Calif., after nearly 50 years of business. In many ways, Velo Sport Bicycles and Palo Alto Bicycles, where Jobst frequently visited, have a lot in common, including both stores being located at a University Avenue address and next to famous universities!
They hosted bike racing teams and races over the decades. I asked Peter about the 1971 Tour of California, the first international stage race held in the U.S. Track racing ruled the sport leading up to the 1950s when road racing came on the scene.
Peter organized and funded the tour at a time when U.S. stage racing was still a closet sport. The Greg LeMonds and Lance Armstrongs of the world would not arrive for another 15-20 years.
First Peter had to secure permission from the California Highway Patrol (CHP). He sent seven letters to the districts that they were riding through. “I got a range of responses from ‘good luck’ to ‘you’ll be arrested,’” he said.
Bear Valley start
The racers took off on Saturday, Aug. 28, from Bear Valley, a ski resort located at 7,000 feet in the Sierra. Some 80 racers would cover 885 miles in 10 stages, which included some hard climbing over Carson, Ebbetts and Pacific Grade passes.
On stage 1 racers sped down Hwy 108 to Stockton and on the way dozens and dozens of cars piled up behind the peloton. This was an open course race with no CHP directing traffic on the two-lane road. At one point a CHP officer pulled ahead, got out of his car and started waving riders over to stop the race.
“The pack just rode around him and kept going,” Peter recalled. Fortunately, the race continued without CHP intervention. “We agreed to limit the number of follow cars,” Peter said.
The official follow cars were yellow Ford Pintos donated by the car maker. You can see them in the videos posted on YouTube.
Competitors came from all over, including Canada and Mexico. For the first time, Peter saw evidence of doping among racers. A Mexican rider who appeared to be high on speed was so disoriented he lined up at the starting line pointed in the wrong direction!
Our most notable U.S. racer, John Howard, had a rough go, crashing into a truck coming over a hill. Howard managed to continue the race.
So why wasn’t there a second Tour of California? “I lost $50,000,” Peter said. Raleigh, Ford and other sponsors failed to pay out money promised before the race. “They complained there was a recession,” Peter said.
All that’s left now is the memories and grainy video. Laurie Schmidtke gives an excellent blow-by-blow account of his Tour of California experience from the peloton. Check it out.
SFO is more than an airport. It’s also a museum. On display now is the history of the mountain bike, “From Repack to Rwanda.” What better place? Our international airport hard by San Francisco Bay is overlooked by Mount Tamalpais where the mountain bike sprouted wings in the 1970s and soared into a thriving industry by the early 1980s.
Three display cases house a wealth of mountain bike history from the balloon-tire Schwinns of the early 1940s to the audaciously futuristic Fisher Superfly. We follow the growth of the sport chronologically through words, pictures, maps, even video. Most is familiar to anyone who has been part of the mountain bike movement. But there are surprises.
I learned about one Erik Koski whose work on dropouts and forks (the now familiar U-shaped lugless design) blazed a trail to the modern bike with a better, more reliable ride. His innovations earned him a place in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, 1989.
All the more satisfying is the Project Rwanda display contrasting the modern and oh-so-primitive wooden mountain “bike.” We see Tom Ritchey surrounded by children who may one day be elite bike racers or successful farmers helped by the modern mountain bike. Adrien Niyonshuti raced for his country in the London Olympics. He survived the country’s ethnic cleansing in 1994, but lost six brothers.
Joe Breeze is credited with helping gather information for the display. Smart move. Joe’s early mountain bike frames deserve their reputation for workmanship and it’s only fitting that one of them would be on display in the Smithsonian.
While the mountain bike can’t lay claim to being the first at anything (lest we forget cyclo-cross and those early “steeplechase” off-road races at the turn of the century) it changed the game and made cycling off-road something for everyone. More photos.