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.

Ultimate minimalist’s flashlight mount

August 24, 2013

Cause bracelets work well for mounting a flashlight on handlebars.

Cause bracelets work well for mounting a flashlight on handlebars.


I don’t know about you, but today’s LED flashlights seem to offer more bang for the buck than dedicated bike lights. I will delve into that further when I review the EagleTac D25LC2.

But for now the issue is how to attach the flashlight to your bike. I’ve come across some ingenious methods, but the one shown here (seen online) appeals to the minimalist in me. It’s nothing more than a Save the Rainforest rubber bracelet. Other “cause bracelets” will work. (There is risk though of bracelet failure.)

I test-rode it on city streets for a 7-mile ride and there was no movement. It’s easy to attach and remove, although those with weak hands may have difficulty.

I use tapered Ritchey bars that expand to 32 mm near the stem. You’ll want to wrap some grippy material around the bar where the flashlight is mounted. In my case I used some ancient Cycle Pro cloth handlebar tape. I would not suggest using NOS Cycle Pro tape, which will cost you a wallet-piercing $28 or so off eBay.

Other clever mounting methods include using tee PVC pipe or hose clamps, but they have their drawbacks and look dorky.

You can also buy flashlight mounts designed for bikes, some which look like they would work well, such as the velcro mount.

After a brief ride using the EagleTac flashlight, I was amazed by how well it lit the road. However, I need to do further testing. More to come…


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