Archive for the ‘News’ Category

More than you want to know about the science of bells

August 17, 2013

Bicycle bells come in all shapes and sizes. Bell science can leave your head ringing.

Bicycle bells come in all shapes and sizes. Bell science can leave your head ringing.


After a bit of research about bicycle bells, I think Spurcycle is on to something with their custom-built bell.

There are THOUSANDS of bike bells — bells shaped like a teapot, ladybug bells, soccer bells, cartoon character bells, turtle bells, on and on. Mostly they’re dirt cheap.

So what is it about the bell that we find so alluring? I knew just where to go – the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics on Arastradero Road.

After a few phone calls I found a world-renowned authority who would talk to me. He’s Dr. Gotthis Bellrung, a Finnish acoustics researcher who has spent his life studying bells and the sounds they make.

Q. What is it about the sound a bell makes that people find so compelling?
A. It’s primordial, no doubt. We are bathed in sound from birth. Sound is analog, carried on waves of energy much like waves in the sea. Over the eons humans have evolved to appreciate sound waves with pleasing acoustic qualities, and there is nothing more sonorous than the sound of a ringing bell.

Bell sounds are predominantly associated with happy occasions or situations – church bells, jingle bells, door bells, even cow bells. Is it any wonder Blue Oyster Cult needed more cowbell in their famous song “Don’t Fear the Reaper?”

Q. Dr. Bellrung, a bicycle bell has a unique sound about it. Why is that?
A. You would have to ask John Richard Dedicoat, inventor of the bicycle bell in 1877. He had a knack for designing with springs and a keen ear. His pencil-sharpening machine wasn’t half bad either.

It’s the clarity of the bell ring that makes bike bells so distinctive. There’s octave equivalency, which happens to appeal to the neurons in your auditory thalamus. Our brain’s neural network enjoys pitched notes.

Q. Can the bell sound be changed based on its contour?
A. Sure. Bells have distinctive sounds based on their shape. We refer to bell science as campanology. It’s really quite complicated. Bell sounds can be altered by the kind of material, the shape of the bell, the size and shape of the clapper and the depth of the bowl.

There’s an in-depth article on the acoustics of bells you can read online.

If you’re in India you can take a course at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur on the bicycle bell.

There is no shortage of interest in this fascinating subject.

San Tomas widening a plus for cars, bikes, pedestrians

August 13, 2013

Here’s the plan for the next stretch of the San Tomas Aquino Creek Spur Trail, according to the City of Santa Clara. It will extend from El Camino Real to Homestead Road along the San Tomas Expressway.

The County of Santa Clara will be in charge of this roadwork, as it will be widening the expressway from three to four lanes each direction. The trail continues on the west side of the expressway.

A sidewalk will be constructed on the east side of the expressway, which explains why trees here are signed for removal. Trees will be removed on both sides of the expressway for the widening.

Those trees have been a headache, dropping needles and pine cones and plugging drains during heavy rain. I’ve also seen them fall into the road.

Construction starts next year around June-July.

San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail inching to completion

August 12, 2013

The new stretch of San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail south of Cabrillo is done except for the lights and intersection work.

The new stretch of San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail south of Cabrillo is done except for the lights and intersection work.


When will the new stretch of San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail be done? Will it open in time for school?

There’s still plenty of work to do at Cabrillo Avenue and San Tomas Expressway.

I hope they include a left-turn signal at this intersection, especially since we have school children crossing San Tomas.

I saw signs posted on trees slated for removal along the EAST side of San Tomas Expressway south of El Camino Real, saying they would be cut down for a multi-use trail. I have asked the city of Santa Clara if that’s the plan.

World’s best bicycle bell in the works

August 11, 2013

A problem with bike bells is today's wider handlebars. This one no longer fits.

A problem with bike bells is today’s wider handlebars. This one no longer fits.


Bicycle bells aren’t exactly essential gear, but they do come in handy on multi-use trails, which is why I read with interest about a new bell in development on Kickstarter.

Spurcycle may have its second Kickstarter hit in a year following on its successful GripRings. I haven’t tried the uniquely personalized handlebar grips (they come in a variety of colors), but they look interesting.

Now their custom-built bicycle bell has arrived and it already met its funding goal of $20,000, now at $67,000 with 40 days to go. San Francisco residents and brothers Nick and Clint Slone own Spurcycle. They look like smart, up-and-coming entrepreneurs in the bicycle industry.

I signed up for the bell (cost $35 for silver, $45 for black) for two reasons: I admire well-crafted products and the bell is advertised to fit my handlebar (we’ll see). Most bells don’t accommodate the new generation of wider bars, which expand to 32 mm at the stem where most bells would be mounted. The Spurcycle bell accommodates bars up to 32 mm. These bells are currently hand-built in San Francisco.

It’s always nice to support manufacturing in the local economy. San Francisco is one of the most expensive places on Earth to manufacture, but that hasn’t stopped companies like Timbuk2 messenger bag maker from finding success.

You can buy a bell for $10, even less, that will meet your needs, if you’re on a budget. Even better, there’s a nice bell/compass combo on Ebay for a mere $1.79 (free shipping). I can’t vouch for the product, but if you have standard-width bars, you might want to check it out.

Multi-use trail etiquette is mostly unwritten, but I like the sound of the bicycle bell because it’s non-threatening, almost soothing in a way. The almost universal reaction from trail users is favorable. I’ll either use a bell or say nothing as I pass. “On your left” has always been a big turn-off for me. But that’s just me.

Roller racing has a following — in Europe

August 6, 2013

Maybe it’s why British riders have won the past two Tour de France races or, more likely, why they have so many great track racers. There’s a roller racing business out of England called Rollapaluza.

They hold 250 events annually in Great Britain, France, Germany and Belgium. Sir Chris Hoy even showed up to take a spin on the rollers.

But wait, let’s not forget Pacific Bicycle in San Francisco. They held roller races in the late 1980s using traditional rollers. I was there and filed this report:

It’s part game show, part bike racing and definitely part insanity. I’m talking about roller racing. No not Rollerball, roller racing.

While the 49ers were sending the Bears into hibernation last Monday night, San Francisco bike racing dueled head to head at Pacific Bicycle.

Reaching speeds in excess of 45 mph, they were going nowhere fast while mounted on rollers, a platform of three steel free-turning drums on which wheels spin in place. Rollers are popular among bike racers for winter training.

Two competitors faced a big square board with a face like a clock. The clock had a large blue hand and a large red hand. Each hand was connected by cable to the rollers. The cable transmitted each rider’s crank revolutions to the clock hand, so the faster a rider went, the faster the clock hand moved.

The winner was the first rider to make his hand turn twice around the clock. That double revolution indicated the equivalent of about one kilometer of frantic pedaling: the record stands at 47.6 seconds.

So fast and furious was the racing, “spotters” (willing victims…I mean volunteers from the audience) were used to keep contestants from bouncing off the rollers and being launched through the nearest brick wall.

After six races the championship came down to a match between two teammates on the Golden Gate Cycling Club, Jeff Clark and John Suarez. Preliminary race times indicated the contest would be close.

Suarez, 31, a San Francisco architect who races in his spare time, said he got involved in roller racing to get Clark to stay in shape over the winter. “The guy’s lazy you know.”

But Clark looked like the type that can take a lot of pain. The 27-year-old biologist fell off his bike after winning his first heat, gasped for breath and staggered out of the building like he had just swallowed a hot pepper.

Race official Colin Powers started the event with stop watches in hand. Then both riders began spinning for their lives. The showroom filled with the rumble of ancient steel drums turning on worn out bearings.

Clark took the early lead, his blue clock hand barely ahead of Suarez’s red hand. At one turn of the clock, 500 meters, Clark still had a 25-meter lead. A small crowd, sensing a close race, started cheering wildly over the defeaning roar of the rollers.

At 800 meters the lead was down to 10 meters. Suarez gave it everything he had. The red hand crept closer, closer. He nipped Clark’s blue hand at the line. The time was 50.75 seconds.

Roller racing hasn’t caught on in the Bay Area, what with all the great winter weather, but maybe there’s a roller race tournament in our future. Stay tuned…

Roller racing in San Francisco was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 17, 1987

Roller racing in San Francisco was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 21, 1987

Big-city cycling is the pits — even in Paris

July 6, 2013

Tavistock Place bike lane in Camden London. Dense residential area north of London.

Tavistock Place bike lane in Camden London. Dense residential area north of London.


I recently visited London and Paris long enough to get a sense of what cycling is like there. In a word — sucky. But where is cycling pleasant in any big city?

I give the edge to London for accommodating cycling, as well as the number of cyclists. I didn’t see many cyclists on the busy Paris streets, although I saw quite a few in London, despite the traffic.

Paris had its share of women riders, strictly for getting around. London women seemed to be more committed based on the gear they were wearing.

Both cities offer bikes for rent, but London seems to have more bikes available, and they do get rented. I stayed near a London university and on weekdays most of the bikes were taken during the day.

I didn’t see any bike lanes in Paris, but I mostly visited the congested tourist areas. I stayed in Camden London where there’s a substantial residential contingent and bike lanes can be found.

London cyclists have access to local trains on the weekend and quite a few trains had riders heading out for a weekend tour southwest of London on the South West line. Designated cars can take a couple of bikes each, typically near the bathroom. Bikes on the subway? Laughable! Way too crowded.

From what I saw, there’s a fair amount of cycling activity around Portsmouth near the English Channel. Bike rental companies will be found here next to train stations. I visited the area around Wool west of Portsmouth and found some charming country roads.

It’s gently rolling hills at best, no steep stuff. If you like greenery, the rides here can’t be beat in summer months. This area is usually foggy but when I visited we had sunshine and puffy clouds, perfect riding weather.

Given the choice, I would take San Francisco over London or Paris any day. From San Francisco you’re minutes away from some world-class roads that beg to be ridden. You can even take BART. Around Paris and London you’re stuck with miles and miles of flat land and suburbs. Consider yourself lucky if you live in SF.

Typical rental bike in Paris. They're a similar style in London.

Typical rental bike in Paris. They’re a similar style in London.

Elevated bike roundabout: Only in the Netherlands

June 21, 2013

Mary Avenue bridge over Hwy 280 reminds me of the new bike roundabout in Eindhoven.

Mary Avenue bridge over Hwy 280 reminds me of the new bike roundabout in Eindhoven.


As did many, I saw the jaw-dropping Eindhoven, Netherlands, bike roundabout in a recent edition of National Geographic. I will link to a video here so you can take it all in.

You would expect to see something of this grandeur in the Netherlands where cycling is a means of transportation rather than weekend exercise.

It reminds me of our Taj Mahal Sunnyvale-Cupertino bike bridge over Hwy 280. I don’t mind beautiful structures, but sadly beautiful translates to expensive even in bridge building (our new Bay Bridge for example).

Reading the account of why the bridge was built, it comes off sounding defensive. Children living in the area and dangerous intersections to negotiate it says, although the intersections are all on nice bike paths so it doesn’t look that bad.

Still, I’m impressed with the design, especially seeing it at night. If we look at the money wasted by government on truly senseless projects, bike conveniences like this are money well spent.

Railroad trestle reveals a dark side of Los Gatos Creek

May 11, 2013

A railroad trestle on a part of the  Los Gatos Creek Trail is slated for removal.

A railroad trestle on a part of the Los Gatos Creek Trail is slated for removal.


In a rough-and-ready industrial area near Willow Glen in San Jose there’s a 90-year-old railroad trestle begging for mercy. Its passing is in many ways a metaphor for life.

Doing the begging are a handful of concerned local residents who have come to know the bridge and who see history. City officials see only charred timbers and liability.

The bridge spanning Los Gatos Creek is slated for removal so a new metal bridge can be installed — another advance for the popular Los Gatos Creek Trail. Or that’s the plan supported by the San Jose City Council at a recent meeting.

On a warm, sunny Saturday morning I rode over to see the bridge for the first time and learn more about the ins and outs of deciding its timbered fate.

Larry Ames invited us to join him for a tour. A study indicates it’s in fairly good shape. It needs repair, but it’s mostly superficial.

What stuck with me was the encampments. People live next to the bridge in tents. Call them homeless, but they wouldn’t see it that way. The wooded creek is their home.

It wouldn’t be so bad if not for the garbage and residents using the creek as their private toilet. It’s not right and it needs to stop.

In a way the trestle fits with the neighborhood. It’s a piece of rough-hewn history and there’s plenty of that here: industry, warehouses, car repair shops. It’s the stuff we’d like to hide, but can’t because it’s part of who we are.

Here’s where elected officials come in. They decide the bridge’s fate, taking the facts into consideration. An outpouring of protest might sway them.

I think San Jose residents are in good hands with their elected officials, especially Mayor Chuck Reed.

Only two bridges of this kind remain in the area, the other being near Kelley Park. See them while you can.

China’s engine of prosperity forsakes the bicycle

February 12, 2013

Cyclists in Beijing (photo taken last week) still manage to find their way among cars. More electric bikes are sold in China than anywhere else. But donkey carts are banned. Photo courtesy of Kim Farrell.

Cyclists in Beijing (photo taken last week) still manage to find their way among cars. More electric bikes are sold in China than anywhere else. But donkey carts are banned. Photo courtesy of Kim Farrell.


In the mid-1980s when bike shop owner Bud Hoffacker visited China he said he was nearly run over by bikes. Thousands of bikes, tens of thousands, millions. More bikes than you could imagine plied the streets of Beijing and other mega-cities in this ancient civilization that has weathered more than its share of change.

Today Beijing is choked with cars. Traffic jams can last for days! Smog is so bad in some cities you need a compass to navigate. Bikes have been banned from many streets to make way for cars.

But that may be changing. China is at a tipping point in its rush to embrace all things modern. The Atlantic takes an intriguing look at what’s happening in China as it relates to bikes. The news isn’t all bad. Millions still ride bikes to work and to run errands. Even with all the car traffic, bikes are way more prevalent in their streets than ours. I’ve been criss-crossing Silicon Valley for decades and I rarely see other bikes in any numbers.

Bike share programs are catching on in China. They have enough potential users that bike sharing makes sense. Bike sharing has been tried here with some success in cities already big on bikes, but has failed elsewhere. It’s going to take more than a toe in the water to bring Americans into the fold.

In China there are glimmers of hope as youth see the bike as chic, cool, the in thing to do. I see it among some youth here, especially with the fixy crowd. It may be that economics plays a bigger role in the years ahead as easy dollars fade away in our uncertain future. Whatever the outcome, more people riding bikes will be good for our world, good for the heart, good for the spirit. And for that reason I remain hopeful.

Official update on San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail extension

January 28, 2013

I received this note from the city of Santa Clara today. Work on the trail is well underway.

“Thank you for your inquiry regarding the San Tomas Aquino Creek Spur Trail Project. This Project will be an extension to the existing San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek Trail, adding approximately 2,000 feet of trail southerly from Cabrillo Avenue to El Camino Real along the westerly side of San Tomas Expressway.

“The Project includes construction of the trail (10 ft to 12 ft wide), 10-foot-high sound wall, concrete barrier between the trail and the expressway, landscaping, and modification to the traffic signal at San Tomas Expressway and Cabrillo Avenue intersection.”


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