Archive for the ‘History’ Category

From Repack to Rwanda

August 23, 2012

Mountain bike history is on display at the San Francisco Airport, international departure terminal. Worth a trip.


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.

Project Rwanda receives some well-deserved publicity at SFO.

Avocet: more than just a shorebird

July 4, 2012

A new Avocet Road 30 tire. Outstanding ride in the mid 1980s, and it still matches the best tires made today.


To celebrate the 4th of July I mounted my one and only Avocet FasGrip 30 Kevlar-bead tire. And as fate would have it, I stumbled across a new Avocet racing II saddle at the Bicycle Outfitter, the place to go if you’re looking for Avocet products of yore. I rode Avocet Road 20 tires for years, but I never tried the Road 30.

I aged this tire like a fine wine, buying it in 1986 and carrying it as a spare on my ride through the Alps. I never mounted the tire and it just sat there in my travel bag for the past 26 years. While aging rubber is not a good thing, as it is for wine, the tire looks as good as new. An interesting discovery: the 700×28 tire is only 24 mm wide, one of the most egregious width discrepancies I’ve ever seen in a tire, or it’s a mislabeled 700×25.

Avocet made its reputation in saddles, and deservedly so. This one was manufactured by Selle Italia, but Avocet made saddles in the U.S. for a time, including the comfortable Gelflex.

I checked eBay and you can buy a pair of new wire-bead Avocet tires for $92. Road 20s sold for $12.98 each in 1987. My Road 30 tire went for $18.98.

After a trip on the Racing II I can tell you it’s a comfortable ride, but if you have prostate issues, use the newer saddles shaped to relieve pressure in that area.

Bike Photos Capture Life Before Cars

June 13, 2012

This Baker’s Bridge photo is available as a poster from the Animas Museum in Durango, Colorado. Click on image for larger size.


When I saw the 1895 photo of the Durango Wheel Club on Baker’s Bridge overlooking the Animas River, I had to have it. It was hanging up in the Amsterdam Bike Shop in Santa Cruz. Sadly owner Tom Sullivan closed his shop on May 31, but that’s another story.

I took the information on the poster and traced it to the Animas Museum in Durango. Sure enough, they sell a print for $10. It’s only 23″ x 19″ but I think they sell a larger version for a higher price. I would also prefer that the print be true black and white rather than a sepia tone.

Here’s a link to the original image, taken in June 1895. By this time the highwheeler was history and the safety bike reigned supreme. Thank goodness!

Baker’s bridge used to be located 12 miles north of Durango. The bridge was swept away eons ago, but it’s still a wild and scenic area.

Many outstanding black and white photos of cycling in the late 1800s exist. This is one of them, worthy of a wall mounting.

Mt. Hamilton by Bike in 1914 – Don’t Forget the Fying Pan

May 17, 2012

Charles Fuller sets out from his house in Sunnyvale for a ride up Mt. Hamilton on March 5, 1914.


Imagine riding up Mt. Hamilton on a single-speed, wearing cowboy boots and lugging a frying pan! Do you think you’d have to walk? You bet, and that’s just what Charles Fuller did on a hot spring day – Friday, March 5, 1914. But he made it.

Fuller must have been an interesting character. At various times in his life he was a realtor, a Baptist preacher and then Sunnyvale postmaster, 1915-32. Fortunately he was interested in photography, and left behind photos of his high adventure on Mt. Hamilton.

I can’t say with certainty that Charles Fuller the cyclist and postmaster are one in the same. A Charles R. Fuller lived at 693 W. McKinley Ave. in Sunnyvale in 1940 with his wife Anita, according to the census. He was 56 years old, which sounds about right. He would have been 30 in 1914.

But I digress. Fuller planned leaving Sunnyvale at 1 p.m., but preacher Thomas M. Patterson insisted he do some duplicating and typewriting for him in preparation for an upcoming musical program.

Stopping at a bike shop to buy a new tire, Fuller didn’t get started until 5 p.m.; instead of taking the train to San Jose, he decided to ride and enjoy the evening. In my research I’ve noticed many accounts of night riding at the turn of the century. Night riding has a certain allure (I rode down Mt. Hamilton under a full moon) and without traffic I can imagine it’s something cyclists of the day did with gusto.

His load was heavy
Fuller was a real Boy Scout. His bike was loaded down: oil cloth tent, poncho sleeping bag, heavy overcoat, small pillow, hair rope, 2 gunny sacks, and wool socks all in a white canvas duck clothing bag. In a leather bag on his handlebars he placed a broiler, frying pan, kettle, “granite” (enameled) pan, knife, fork, spoon, cup, and a salt and pepper shaker.

His food consisted of 6 potatoes, bacon, butter, bread, cookies, graham crackers, a tin of Nabiscos, can of sardines, 6 oranges, walnuts, almonds, and milk chocolate. Even Fuller admitted it “proved to be more than a sufficiency.”

After stopping to buy film, Fuller started climbing around 6 p.m. but in just 15 minutes he found himself walking. Can you blame him? That’s a mighty heavy load with no gears.

He soldiered on until midnight before stopping next to a creek off the road and pitching his tent. He was 9 miles from the summit so that would place him overlooking the southern end of Halls Valley. Only a wagon and a car passed him during his six-hour walk and ride.

Occupy Wall Street? No it’s occupy Mt. Hamilton Road after a long walk and ride in the dark.

After rising at 7 a.m. and eating breakfast, Fuller met two teens who were hiking up the mountain and they exchanged pleasantries before continuing. He left around 9:45 and reached Smith Creek an hour later. Back then a stately mansion near the creek served as a wagon stop and hotel.

Lunch at Smith Creek
After lunch at the hostelry, Fuller began the long climb, but instead of following the road he headed straight up, following the telephone poles! It was one of those hot spring days with temperatures in the mid-80s. Lovely.

He reached the summit at 3:30 p.m. and proceeded to tour Lick Observatory until well into the evening before taking his bike back down the way he came, avoiding the road once again. He camped at Smith Creek.

Descent to Smith Creek with Lick Observatory in the background. It looks much the same today, but trees have grown back.


Next day early in the morning Fuller was awakened by hundreds of motorcycles making their way up the mountain. This parade went on for hours. Fuller had a chance to ride most of the way back to Sunnyvale, but fell twice during the harrowing descent. Remember, the road wasn’t paved and his bike must have been hell to steer.

Fuller ended his diary on a high note, and you would expect nothing less from a preacher. “The weather again broke the record of many years for excessive heat for the time of year, never-the-less it was a delightful experience. Hope I can go on a similar excursion soon.”

Thanks goes to Don Axtell for doing the research and finding Fuller’s photos preserved at DeAnza College, now in the Online Archive of California. Don is known for maintaining the spring on the steep backside of Mt. Hamilton about three miles from the summit.

Mt. Hamilton by Bike: 1888

May 14, 2012

Bay City Wheelmen in 1894. Cycling has been huge in the Bay Area forever.


When I published Mt. Hamilton by Bike (update coming soon) I said it was only a matter of time before I found information on early rides to the summit. Now I have one from 1888.

As reported in the San Jose Evening News on Oct. 3, A.A. Bouton rode his bike from San Francisco to Mt. Hamilton summit and back in less than 24 hours! He made it in 20 hours. Considering road conditions and the bikes of the day, that’s a blistering pace.

Bouton left San Francisco at 3 a.m., reaching Lick Observatory at 1:50 p.m. That’s 74 miles in just under 11 hours, 6.7 mph. He made it back in 9 hours. There is no mention of the type of bike ridden — highwheeler or one of the early safety bikes, which were introduced in 1885. I’m going to wager it was a safety bike.

In 1914 a Sunnyvale rider rode to the summit and back, in cowboy boots. He documented his trip with photos and a written account. More on that later.

Sonora Pass when it was Dirt

May 13, 2012

John Finley Scott at the summit around 1959. Judging by all the gear, he must have camped out. He was about 25 years old in this photo. (Photo courtesy of Vance Sprock)

Sonora Pass summit ca. 1959. That’s John Finley Scott’s bike. Clearly, the summit is dirt.


Thanks to Vance Sprock, owner of Cupertino Bike Shop, we have photos of Sonora Pass before it was paved. Vance retains most of the late John Finley Scott’s personal photo collection.

I was surprised Sonora Pass wasn’t entirely paved until around 1960. I thought it was much earlier. My guess is the upper pass was the last section to be paved.

John was a colorful character who pioneered long-distance touring in the 1950s around the Bay Area and throughout the West. He didn’t ride a fancy bike, and it looks like he mostly camped, judging by photos.

The UC Davis sociology professor “invented” the modern mountain bike in 1953, using a Sturmey Archer geared hub, flat handlebars, cantilever brakes, and fat tires tacked on to a heavy around-town bike frame. He later bought Cupertino Bike Shop (1980-1989). John was murdered in 2006.

His creativity was recognized by induction to the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame.

I added this photo to my publication Adventure Rides in the High Sierra.

Alps Memories as Fresh as Newly Fallen Snow

April 27, 2012

Rick Bronson, Jobst Brandt, and Steve Smith recall their first tour of the Alps in 1960 during a gathering of friends and family to see slides of that epic ride. Klaus Brandt photo.


Last Saturday I met up with Jobst Riders from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s to have a first look at digitized slides of the earliest (1959 and on) legendary Alps tours led by Jobst Brandt. As a special tribute, two friends who accompanied this indomitable rider in 1960 traveled some considerable distance for the occasion.

Rick Bronson and Steve Smith were pioneers, joining Jobst on a new kind of touring. Lightly equipped with no more than a Carradice saddle bag, they rode long and hard all day and into the early evening, ticking off the grand passes one by one as they rolled through Switzerland, France, and northern Italy. They spent the night in hotels, consuming a healthy meal and plenty of lager for a peaceful night’s rest before the next day’s journey. A tourist’s Tour de France you might call it.

On their 1960 tour (captured here)they saw the last of the dirt roads. A post WW II Europe bent on putting those nightmare years behind it found the perfect remedy: packing the family into the car and driving into the mountains for holiday. And so the roads were paved.

You had to believe these were some wistful and at times painful private moments for Rick and Steve as they looked back at the days of their youth…and Dan Jones. A tall, strong rider, Dan died in a car wreck during a blinding thunderstorm outside Albuquerque while driving his vintage VW bug — hit from behind and pushed down a ravine. “I warned him to get larger tail lights, but he wouldn’t listen,” Steve recalled.

All in attendance who accompanied Jobst on his 50 tours of the Alps from one decade to the next were struck by the scenery and the poses of the riders. It all looked so familiar, the choice places to take photos unchanged over 50 years.

There was more — Jobst on a frozen Zurich lake riding his bike in sub-zero weather, Jobst riding over the Stelvio in early spring’s snow walls, the Cinelli factory when it actually made bikes — the bikes these intrepid riders owned and rode through the Alps on wooden rims. They would settle for nothing less. And Eddy Merckx battling demons in perhaps his first race in the Giro ‘d Italia. He looked none to happy.

It was a great day for reminiscing with Jobst and friends, reliving the days of our youth.

Naming Roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains

March 18, 2012

Mtn. Charlie Road plaque, located where the road joins Summit Road at the Hwy 17 exit.

How did government agencies name roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains? A road might be named for a physical feature or location (Skyline Boulevard, Big Basin Highway – Hwy 9), or a person.

Quite a few roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains are named after people. Here are a few and some details:

Mountain Charlie Road. This narrow, twisty road straddling Hwy 17 is named after Charles Henry McKiernan. The toll road was purchased by Santa Cruz County in 1878. This earliest immigrant settler of the Santa Cruz Mountains survived a grizzly bear attack in 1854.

Schultheis Road. Named for John Martin Schultheis. I ride this mostly dirt road regularly between Redwood Lodge Road and Summit Road.

Page Mill Road. Named after William Page, who established a sawmill on Peters Creek in 1867.

Haskins Hill (Pescadero Road at Sam McDonald County Park). Named after Aaron Haskins, who built a shingle mill nearby in 1875.

Graham Hill Road (between Felton and Santa Cruz) was named for Isaac Graham, who owned this toll road in the 1860s-70s until it became a public thoroughfare.

Wurr Road (at Loma Mar). Named for Henry Wurr, a shingle mill operator originally from Germany.

Highland Way. Extending from the end of Summit Road to Eureka Canyon Road, I don’t know exactly how it came to be named, but there is an interesting coincidence here. It could be called Highland because the road is in high country. It could also be named for one M.C. Hyland.

He was the foreman on the ill-fated night of Feb. 12, 1877, when a terrific explosion killed at least a dozen workers who were building the Wrights tunnel on the South Pacific Coast Railroad. It’s just off Summit Road near Highland Way.

Photos of the Week

February 26, 2012

Here's the South Pacific Coast rail line (now Union Pacific) looking south on Thornton Avenue in Newark. The branch line on the left went to the machine shop back in 1878.

By 1913, when this photo was taken, the machine shop was history. It closed around 1908. From South Pacific Coast by Bruce MacGregor.

Looking north on Carter Avenue is where the machine shop stood for more than 30 years. Carter Avenue is named for the Carter brothers, whose company built most of the narrow-gauge rail cars in California.

San Jose Track Racing Has History

January 4, 2012

Greg LeMond and George Mount win the district Madison in 1979 at the Hellyer Park Velodrome. (Jobst Brandt photo)


While we all know about the Hellyer Park Velodrome in San Jose, there’s a lot more to the history of track racing here than you’d ever know.

Thanks to Tracy Delphia, we have a fairly good history of track racing. Tracy wrote about the sport for her master’s degree as San Jose State. It’s our good fortune to have this excellent paper available online.

It’s no surprise Tracy talked to Clyde Arbuckle, a walking encyclopedia about San Jose history in his day. He’s no longer with us, nor is his son. It’s too bad because they were both cycling authorities.

Most of her paper focuses on the short-lived but popular Garden City Velodrome (1936-1940) located at Wabash and Olive avenues, next to present-day Abraham Lincoln High School and the Rose Garden.

I’ve watched a few races at the Hellyer track. It’s a blast to see the riders speed around the concrete oval but the location in south San Jose doesn’t lend itself to drawing a crowd. I wish it were closer.


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