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

What, no weekly ride report?

August 4, 2013

While I’m not going to stop posting articles, you won’t be seeing a weekly ride report. I’ve already shown and written about every ride route, several times. However, I am posting panorama photos on my personal website (link found at “Blogroll” in right-side navigation of this page).

I will dedicate more time to writing about bicycling and attending events in the years ahead (not far off), so stay tuned…

Mag trainers a safe way to go

August 1, 2013

Mag trainers offer a safe form of exercise.

Mag trainers offer a safe form of exercise.


I’ve given up hope that we’ll ever go on bike rides, but I managed to get my wife on a bike, even if it is a mag trainer. It’s safe exercise that gives her a workout in privacy.

At 5 feet she has issues with bikes that fit. Her bike with 24-inch wheels makes it a challenge to find a trainer. I found two brands: CycleOps, which requires an adapter for 20- and 24-inch wheels, and Redline Minoura 2024. Both will set you back more than $200.

Fortunately she can ride my mountain bike with the seat bottomed out, so I spent only $90, tax included, for a new trainer. Used ones can be found for about $45 on Craigslist. Most trainers handle 26-inch mountain bike wheels and 700c/27-inch, as well as the newer 29-inch mountain bike wheel.

How loud are they?
I’ve read a lot of complaints about noise. Wind trainers are louder than mag(net) trainers, which make no noise other than the whir of the tire on the metal bar. Be advised knobby tires are much noisier than smooth tires. Outdoors you can hardly notice the mag trainer while pedaling.

In a confined space indoors there’s going to be more noise, but it’s not bad. Many people listen to music or watch TV while riding, which easily drowns out the noise. If your mag trainer is so noisy it’s bothersome, consider buying a different brand.

New mag trainers are easy to set up, especially if you have a bike with a quick-release rear wheel. Most collapse to a small size for easy storage. Some mag trainers supply a quick release skewer that’s especially designed to fit the mag trainer. Just be sure you have the wheel clamped down snug so there’s no wobbling back and forth.

Another doo-dad you’ll want is a front-wheel riser block. It levels the bike, although it’s not essential. I couldn’t make my wireless bike computer work on the rear. You may need to buy one that’s designed for the rear, if you want to record mileage.

No hills here

Some buyers complained about the lack of variable resistance, beyond shifting into a higher gear. It’s not much of a change in resistance compared to actual riding. If you’re serious about training, you may want to look for a trainer with a cable adjustment for variable resistance.

For the hard-core rider, there are rollers. If you want to know what that’s like, just enter “Eddy Merckx on rollers” (12:30) into a YouTube search. He takes his for a quick spin.

Now that reminds me of a roller race held at a San Francisco bike shop back in the 1980s. I’ll recount that story in an upcoming blog.

Coast Ride avoids headwinds

July 28, 2013

Gary Westby rides toward the coast on Cloverdale Road.

Gary Westby rides toward the coast on Cloverdale Road.


Would we have headwinds on the Coast Ride to Santa Cruz? Lately the wind has been out of the south on the coast, which I think is a not unusual pattern in the depth of the summer.

We knew there would be the usual gloomy fog, but it keeps the temps down, so you can’t really complain.

Gary Westby met me at the base of Old LaHonda Road where, as fate would have it, along comes Ted Mock and Joe Terhar, veteran riders I’ve known forever.

We chatted about the latest events, and it was good to see that they’re still riding strong.

Gary, 39, is the champagne buyer at K&L Wine Merchants, an upscale store in Redwood City that’s known far and wide for its outstanding collection of wine, beer and spirits.

Gary often travels to France to select fine champagne, meeting vintners and trying their latest vintage. It’s a thankless job but someone has to do it.

We rode up Old LaHonda at a friendly pace and greeted the fog at Skyline. After descending Hwy 84 we hung a left on Pescadero Road and continued over to the coast via Cloverdale Road and Gazos Creek Road.

The much feared headwinds did not materialize on the coast. It was pretty much calm the whole way to Santa Cruz.

Dogged by the all too frequent leg cramps, I couldn’t make much speed, but Advil, coffee and a banana kept me in the saddle.

I showed Gary the best route out of Santa Cruz, taking El Rancho Drive parallel to the south side of Hwy 17. We took Bean Creek Road from Scotts Valley, a nice route to Glenwood Highway.

Of course, we took Mtn. Charlie Road to reach Summit Road, where Gary headed home via Skyline and I rode down Old Santa Cruz Hwy. My ride totaled 108 miles.

Sometimes summer rides down the Coast can be uncomfortable, but this one turned out to be a delight, worthy of a champagne toast. Gary…

Gary rides past the blue silo house on Mtn. Charlie Road. You've got to love the owner's creativity.

Gary rides past the blue silo house on Mtn. Charlie Road. You’ve got to love the owner’s creativity.

Skyline Boulevard gives perspective

July 21, 2013

Skyline Boulevard view overlooking Old La Honda Road west.

Skyline Boulevard view overlooking Old La Honda Road west.


After several weeks away from the bike, making it to Skyline Boulevard becomes the goal. Today’s ride up Hwy 9 reminded me why living here is the cyclist’s paradise.

As I rolled through Saratoga I saw lots of gleaming vehicles gathered for a car show, including my favorite — the Jaguar XKE.

Mild temperatures brought out the crowd as I had plenty of company on the 7-mile climb. While it felt a bit warm on 9, a cool breeze greeted me at Saratoga Gap, 2550 feet. I continued north on Skyline Boulevard, where lots of motorists enjoyed a drive on the scenic route.

Skyline views never fail to impress. Look left and there’s the fogged in Pacific. Look right and you see Silicon Valley. What a way to spend a Sunday morning.

Eucalyptus trees burn brightly

July 14, 2013

Large eucalyptus trees lined Arastradero Road until a 1985 fire.

Large eucalyptus trees lined Arastradero Road until a 1985 fire.


Thanks to the Australian gold miners in the 1850s, we have eucalyptus trees in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some residents of Los Altos Hills and Oakland may take a dim view of these highly flammable trees.

When they catch fire they act as an accelerant. In 1985 a stand of giant eucalyptus lining Arastradero Road were engulfed in flames from a grass fire. Nine homes burned on Liddicoat Lane.

After the fire, the trees were cut down. They might have recovered, but would you want eucalyptus trees in your back yard?

Over the years in Portola Valley and elsewhere large eucalyptus are gradually being removed.

Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the trees back in the 80s, although there are still quite a few on Portola Road cutoff. Even these are disappearing though.


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