Open Space District gets the message – increase public access

October 29, 2013

By chance I sat at the table with Linda George, foreground left, Silicon Valley Mountain Bikers (formerly ROMP) president.

By chance I sat at the table with Linda George, foreground left, Silicon Valley Mountain Bikers (formerly ROMP) president.


On Monday night some 65 of us spent three hours participating in a democratic process orchestrated by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD). We expressed our opinion, but will they listen?

Out of the district’s five priorities — healthy nature, enriched experience, viable working lands, outdoor recreation and healthy living (public access), natural cultural and scenic landscapes — increased access topped the list. I’m not surprised, not when only 58 percent of MROSD land is open to the public.

This was the second of five public meetings hosted by the district. District Manager Steve Abbors closed by saying the district is on a mission to redefine itself and our input will be key to future management decisions. He made this point, no doubt, because the score on how much we trust the district to listen to our input left a lot to be desired. It was way less than the charitable 8 I gave it.

How much of this is public distrust of government in general or a problem with MROSD is difficult to say. It’s probably a combination. The district will never satisfy everyone in its effort to preserve open space, that’s for sure.

I attended this session because it addressed the Sierra Azul area, the district’s largest preserve located in the South Bay, including Mt. Umunhum and Loma Prieta peaks.

Ironically, about half of the attendees raised their hands when asked if they were from San Jose, which is not in the MROSD’s purview. The district boundary ends in Sunnyvale. San Jose residents enjoy the preserves but pay no parcel tax for the benefit. The cash-strapped district may one day charge for access to some preserves, but it would be impractical to restrict use to district residents. Palo Alto does that with its Foothills Park.

Electronic voting gave instant feedback at the MROSD meeting.

Electronic voting gave instant feedback at the MROSD meeting.

Sierra Azul

While I was there for Sierra Azul, the voting exercise included South Bay Foothills — Bear Creek Redwoods, El Sereno Saratoga-to-Sea, Fremont Older, Picchetti Ranch. The questions focused on preferred uses in each preserve (or potential preserve), such as dogs on leashes, preserving historic buildings, family nature opportunities, etc.

Sierra Azul offers the most cycling opportunities for riders, especially those who enjoy remote areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I’ll go into this more in my next post.

The district asked us to rank on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 most desirable): Loma Prieta public access, Mt. Umunhum public access and interpretation, Rancho de Guadalupe family recreation, Fire management, Kennedy-Limekiln area, Cathedral Oaks access.

I would be willing to wager most people voting have no clue about Loma Prieta Road, but nevertheless they want public access and that’s what matters.

Thanks to electronics, the district and those voting saw the results in real time. This is Silicon Valley after all. It comes at a price. The district budgeted $851,000 (Vision Plan/Strategic Plan) for outreach efforts.

It boils down to money

How much the district can do to expand access to its lands may come down to money. Taken from its revenue projection report:

  • At the end of March 2013, the District will have bonded indebtedness equal to approximately 55% of its statutory debt limit. Projected future cash flows would allow issuance of no more than $20 million of additional debt…
  • Operating Expenses are budgeted at $17.2 million, or 57% of projected tax revenue.
  • The budget assumes acquiring $7.25 million of land in fiscal 2014. These acquisitions would generate an estimated $1.50 million land donations, leaving cash expenditures of $5.75 million for Land Acquisition.

So there you have it. I enjoyed the opportunity to express my support for expanding access to Sierra Azul preserve, but I’m skeptical that will ever come to pass. More on that next.

The district is supposed to post results on its website.

Vote result for the five priorities. Public access ranks first. Male and female were split out, but they were close.

Vote result for the five priorities. Public access ranks first. Male and female were split out, but they were close.

Sierra Azul results indicate a strong interest in more access.

Sierra Azul results indicate a strong interest in more access.

Saddled with a pain in the rear

October 27, 2013

Montebello summit had plenty of sun today. Not so north of Page Mill. Fog socked in Skyline.

Montebello summit had plenty of sun today. Not so north of Page Mill. Fog socked in Skyline.


As we age, saddle comfort becomes more of an issue. Muscles weaken and can no longer provide the padding that protects the ischium from getting sore. The same goes to the hands. I used to never wear gloves. Now I have to.

I’ve been experimenting with saddles, but I keep coming back to the Avocet Gelflex. Even though my saddle is 25 years old, it’s more comfortable than anything else I’ve used. I think it’s the gel, which is similar to silicone rubber. It seems to last forever.

So what hasn’t worked? I gave up on the Avocet Racing II by Sella Italia. It has the same shape and size as the Gelflex, but it didn’t have the silicone. It’s fairly comfortable, but caused minor pain on long rides.

WTB’s Pure V looked promising, but it’s a little too wide and after a 60-mile ride both ischium were more sore than any saddle I had tried.

Bike saddle comfort is an individual decision. Everyone is built differently.

I think gel is the way to go. Selle Italia makes a gel saddle that look promising. The problem is that you really need to test a saddle on a long ride before you’ll know if it’s for you. Does anyone want a WTB Pure V?

Santa Clara Valley from Montebello Road. I haven't seen fog this thick in late October.

Santa Clara Valley from Montebello Road. I haven’t seen fog this thick in late October.

Hearst Castle by Bike – Dream On

October 15, 2013

About 17 miles north of San Simeon the climb begins on Hwy 1.

About 17 miles north of San Simeon the climb begins on Hwy 1.


Unfortunately cyclists will never experience Hearst Castle by bike, and what a ride it would be. It’s five miles from park headquarters to the footsteps of La Cuesta Encantada at 490 meters (1,600 feet) overlooking the rugged Santa Lucia Range. The first mile climbs gently but after that it’s a lung-buster with sections of 15 percent or more.

Well there’s always the coast highway. Highway 1 offers some spectacular views of the rugged Pacific coast, but that would not be a 20-mile stretch heading north from Cambria. It’s mostly flat. On a gloomy cool day with the hills shrouded in fog, the ride does not inspire. You’ll have to visit Hearst Castle for that; you will not be disappointed.

Not to be missed are the elephant seals that reside on the beach five miles north of San Simeon. Nearly hunted to extinction for their oil, they’ve made a healthy comeback. Now at least 10,000 seals live in the vicinity. They don’t seem to mind humans behind fences peering down.

Elephant seals like to sleep on the beach a few miles north of San Simeon.

Elephant seals like to sleep on the beach a few miles north of San Simeon.

Kickstarter gives small bike businesses a push-start

October 11, 2013

By now you’ve heard of Kickstarter and how it’s helping individuals launch businesses with a grassroots appeal.

It’s a perfect fit for bicycle products because the bike industry has always been about the little guy. Sure, we have large bike factories around the world, but they pale in comparison to the car or other more complex products.

Bikes are simple machines, as much as we try our hardest to make them complicated and futuristic. On Kickstarter, for example, there’s a lighting system you can have, turn signals, etc., along with bike computer functions, built into the handlebar. While that’s cool, I’ll pass.

After wading through the selections, I found two I like.

Rideye “Black Box”

Rideye's black box video recorder is built to last.

Rideye’s black box video recorder is built to last.

Cedric Bosch, who built this video black box after a friend was hurt in a hit-and-run accident, has a passion for technology. The recently graduated mechanical engineer knows his way around a machine shop as well as electronics.

While you can buy a Go-Pro or other video recorder, Cedric’s will cost you less and it’s exclusively built for recording and capturing video footage in the event of an accident. An accelerometer activates and stops recording when there’s a sudden event.

The small box mounts on your helmet, handlebar, seatpost, pretty much anywhere you want it. It records for up to a month, assuming a daily one-hour commute, before needing a charge.

You can download up to 2.5 hours of video via a USB cable.

I have no doubt Cedric’s camera will work as advertised, so I made a commitment to purchase one. Once a project meets its funding goal, your credit card is charged. Only in a few instances has a project failed to produce the goods. Whether or not you’ll like what you buy is a different matter. That’s the risk you take.

Bikes vs. Cars offers a compelling look at what cyclists are up against.

Bikes vs. Cars offers a compelling look at what cyclists are up against.

Bikes vs. Cars – We are Many

I’m not a big fan of bike documentaries because I’ve seen it all. However, Swedish director and journalist Fredrik Gertten offers something compelling in his movie teaser.

It’s a first-class effort and one that compelled me to make a donation in hopes he’ll raise enough money to make a full-length documentary.

The video footage of Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford bashing bicycles had a galvanizing effect when I watched it. His message needs to be seen and heard. It exposes the unvarnished truth about how much some people hate bikes. For that reason alone, I hope Gertten’s movie is made and seen around the world.

Bayland trails fall victim to government shutdown

October 6, 2013

Our San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is closed from the Federal shutdown.

Our San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is closed from the Federal shutdown.


I thought I had nothing to worry about from the government shutdown when it comes to bike rides. Wrong. It turns out the bay is one giant Federal national wildlife refuge.

I knew that, but it’s easy to forget with so many government agencies in play around here.

I arrived in Alviso ready to ride around the outer levee only to see the closure sign. The same goes for the trail around Moffett Field. Where possible, the Feds closed gates to keep people out and that seems to be the only thing that’s keeping people from enjoying a walk, jog, or bike ride on the levees even with the signs.

Now that I know what’s up, I’ll stay away until the trails re-open. Let’s hope that’s soon. Last I heard governments exist to serve the needs of the people.

Since we’re all caught up in the government shutdown, and my cycling enjoyment took a hit, I’ll weigh in with my opinion.

Tea Party Republicans, the train has left the station on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It was voted into law and confirmed as constitutionally legal by the Supreme Court.

We need auto insurance to drive. We should have mandatory health insurance. Let’s give it a try and see how it works out. I had a catastrophic accident when I was 28, but I had Blue Shield health insurance. The bill came to $40,000 in 1981 (it would be about $500,000 now). I paid almost zero — just the ambulance ride for $250. Today the same accident under the new insurance plan would wind up costing someone $6,500. That’s not as good as zero, but those days are behind us.

Republicans should move on to helping balance the budget. You’ve got a little more sympathy from me here. We can start by making personal economics a mandatory class in high school. Let’s teach kids that living within one’s means is the right thing to do. An economy built on credit cards and IOUs is doomed to collapse. Too many people live like there’s no tomorrow. Our government spends too much. Do we need 10 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers?

Finally, Social Security needs fixing. Many proposals have already been made by bi-partisan committees, all of them ignored. I’d start with this: You only get back what you put in, with interest of course.

By law bikes are not vehicles

October 2, 2013

Flashing lights are OK to use on bikes.

Flashing lights are OK to use on bikes.


I didn’t know this until today: According to California’s vehicle code, bicycles are not vehicles, at least when it comes to certain sections of the code.

That caused me to make a mistake in a previous blog when I said flashing lights are not technically legal on bicycles. I went back and fixed that comment, but it’s important to call it out here since it has major implications.

Here’s what VC Section 670 says: A “vehicle” is a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.

Flashing lights are only allowed on emergency vehicles, but since a bike is not a vehicle, they’re OK to use.

My only objection to flashing lights is front lights that emit a blinding white flash. You want to be seen, not be a visual distraction that blinds drivers.

Mt. Hamilton never fails to impress

September 24, 2013

Arnold Ranch on Mt. Hamilton Road. The shack in the background is an old outhouse. The food stand was removed eons ago.

Arnold Ranch on Mt. Hamilton Road. The shack in the background is an old outhouse. The food stand was removed eons ago.


In my 33 years riding the Mt. Hamilton loop I have always found something to make my day, whether it be wildflowers, elk or maybe the occasional tarantula ambling across the road.

Last Sunday it was the tarantula. The hairy brown arachnid paid me no attention as I took its picture and some video footage. I’m sure he didn’t appreciate the flash as he made his way to the other side of the road looking for someone to share a web with.

And then there’s the history. One of the high points riding with Jobst Brandt was when we went past Arnold Ranch. He could let out a cry that would make a peacock blush. They usually responded with a cry of their own.

When I stopped at the Junction store I inquired about the ranch and its long-forgotten food stand, which closed in the mid to late 1970s. Jobst often mentioned it on our rides. It turns out one of rancher Tom Arnold’s granddaughters runs the Junction store. Tom, who is long since past, did indeed have a store alongside the road, along with a campground. However, he did not sell hamburgers, only chips, soda and cookies.

The previous day’s soaking cleared the air and made for yet another beautiful ride on the backside of Mt. Hamilton where you can lose yourself in open space. I took the Hwy 84 shortcut just to be sure it was a shortcut. It is, lopping about 3 miles off the usual route along Stanley Boulevard through Pleasanton. 99 miles, which is enough to call it a day.

Grape harvest underway

September 15, 2013

Grapes ready for harvest at Kirgin Cellars near Gilroy.

Grapes ready for harvest at Kirgin Cellars near Gilroy.


I’m seeing a few vineyards picked, but most still have grapes, big beautiful dark blue grapes. Yum.

I checked out Redwood Retreat Road, one of my favorites. I always take Mt. Madonna Road and climb steeply on dirt, but this time I wanted to check out the road going straight. It ends in another mile, but not really.

The road turns to dirt and, while not signed, I’m sure it’s private and bikes would not be welcome. It can take you up to Summit Road. Back in the day…

Redwood Retreat Road off Watsonville Road doesn't go anywhere, but it's a nice ride for about four miles.

Redwood Retreat Road off Watsonville Road doesn’t go anywhere, but it’s a nice ride for about four miles.

It was NOT hot today

September 7, 2013

Stevens Canyon in September on a hot day can be downright cold.

Stevens Canyon in September on a hot day can be downright cold.


OK, it depends on where you rode and time of day. In Stevens Canyon this morning it was 55 degrees. Chillin…

Empire Grade a cyclist’s Santa Cruz Misery Spot

September 1, 2013

Jamison Creek Road at Empire Grade, a great place to be if you're headed down Jamison.

Jamison Creek Road at Empire Grade, a great place to be if you’re headed down Jamison.


I found a 100-mile route to Santa Cruz and back, something I’ve been searching for quite some time. Unfortunately it involves Empire Grade.

I can’t think of a less appetizing road in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It goes nowhere, it offers no sweeping vistas, it climbs relentlessly and there’s a fair amount of traffic, although nowhere near as bad as Hwy 9.

However, it stands between the coast and the bay, so there’s no way around it.

I headed up Hwy 9 on another humid morning with temps in the low 60s. Lately we’ve been seeing humid days, a reminder of how good we have it in the Bay Area with low humidity.

At Skyline I headed down 9, riding through the the occasional hot pocket of air. I hadn’t ridden between Boulder Creek and Santa Cruz on 9 in quite some time, for good reason. There’s traffic and narrow shoulders. It’s really too bad because there isn’t an alternative.

Tannery and bike saddles
I passed the Tannery Arts Center just before the 9/Hwy 1 junction, which has a little cycling history. Before becoming an arts center, this was the site of the Salz Tannery. Back in the 1980s and up until the tannery closed in 2001, Avocet — famous for its bike saddles — purchased leather saddle covers from Salz. Another claim to fame: Ansel Adams photographed the tanning process here in 1954.

Santa Cruz was world-renowed for leather tanning from the 1860s onward. It had a ready supply of tan oak, which has tannin, a vital ingredient in the tanning process.

I headed north on Hwy 1 into a gentle breeze and took note of the absence of fog, although thin clouds blocked the sun part-way on the 10-mile ride to Bonny Doon Road.

Another reason I haven’t pursued the 100-mile route is Bonny Doon. It’s a steep grind for a couple miles, although it eases up and becomes more civil at the Bonny Doon winery. You can go left, staying on Bonny Doon, but most riders continue straight on Pine Flat Road.

Correctional camp and summit
After 7.5 miles I reached Empire Grade (2,100 feet) and turned left with the Alba Road descent in mind. There’s more climbing to 2,530 feet at the Ben Lemond Conservation Camp, actually a correctional institution of sorts. Low-risk offenders are trained in fire fighting and do community service in the area, such as trail building.

I passed up Alba Road, which is one of those climbs you don’t want to miss — once. It’s unrelentingly steep from Ben Lomond to Empire Grade, about 3.5 miles. I needed more miles, so on to Jamison Creek Road.

Empire Grade dead-ends about a mile farther on, but not really. It’s the site of the Lockheed Martin Santa Cruz Facility. Back in the 1970s-80s Jobst Brandt rode through here and on down a dirt road to Swanton Road. The guards didn’t take kindly to Jobst, but he always managed to talk his way through. I’m told they no longer test rockets, but have moved on to munitions. I don’t doubt they have a few space aliens stashed away as well.

But I digress. I headed down Jamison Creek Road — another lung-buster of a climb — that takes you to Big Basin Highway where you can turn right and ride downhill to Boulder Creek in a few miles.

From there it was all uphill on Hwy 9. Fortunately our funky weather didn’t turn out to be so hot, only in the mid 70s. Mileage came to 101. That’s close enough for government work.


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