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.

Bike art comes in many forms

June 16, 2013

I'm not sure what it all means, but I still prefer bike art over modern art.

I’m not sure what it all means, but I still prefer bike art over modern art.

On a perfect 10 weather day I rode up Hwy 9, where I met a couple of riders willing to slow down enough to hold a conversation. Eric Gray and his brother duked it out. Turns out Eric had recently ridden down Hwy 17 with Fast Freddy Markham. “We hit 58 mph at the Lexington Reservoir descent,” he said. I believe it.

According to Wikipedia, in 2006 Fred set a one-hour record distance of 85.99 km (53.43 mi) on the track at the Nissan Technical Center, near Casa Grande in Arizona. He’s a rocket on the bike.

I continued down Hwy 9 to Boulder Creek, one of those rare days when you won’t freeze while wearing a short-sleeve jersey. I continued up Bear Creek Road. Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to the climb. It’s on the verge of being annoying at 8 percent for long stretches and traffic is more like moderate than light.

At least the first four miles is mellow and the road has a wide shoulder here. There’s even some bike art at the side of the road. It’s not really clear to me what it symbolizes, but what the heck. It’s a bike.

I continued up Summit Road to Skyline and enjoyed delightfully refreshing cool air under sunny skies. We have a fair amount of weather like today’s, but when you’re only riding on weekends, you learn to appreciate them.

David Bruce knows how to make a fine wine. End of the climb on Bear Creek Road.

David Bruce knows how to make a fine wine. End of the climb on Bear Creek Road.

Guadalupe River path paves the way to Alviso

June 9, 2013

Wow, talk about a great ride: be sure you do the Guadalupe River Trail from San Jose to Alviso now that it’s paved the entire way.

I’ve been waiting years to see it happen and today was my chance to do the ride. I started using the river’s unpaved levee in 2006, and watched as short sections were paved, anticipating the big day when it was paved beginning to end — downtown San Jose to Alviso.

Guadalupe River Trail near Hwy 237 is newly paved.

Guadalupe River Trail near Hwy 237 is newly paved.

The paved path runs on the river’s east/north bank starting at the San Jose Airport. I’ve always ridden the path’s western/southern side, which is still open and still dirt.

Lots of people already use the path, which runs under just about every road along the way, the one exception being Airport Parkway where you ride over the bridge to stay on the path.

The only negative that will take some time to fix is that there’s flooding at low spots during heavy rain: Hwy 101, Trimble Road, Montague Expressway, Tasman Drive, Hwy 237.

Signs of the times
You’ll enjoy the interpretive signs as you ride past interesting landmarks. There’s Lupe the Columbian mammoth at Trimble Road. In 2005, Roger Castillo found the juvenile’s bones sticking out of the riverbank. Its remains were exhumed and given to the San Jose Discovery Museum a couple miles away. Also, a ramp was cut at Trimble Road for easy access. It was probably in the plan all along, but when I saw it the ramp hadn’t been added.

I learned a lot at the interpretive sign in front of the airport. Did you know the first flight took place in 1949? Pacific Southwest Airlines carried seven passengers and 2,550 chickens. How times have changed.

I’ll be riding this trail often in the years ahead. Now on to Coyote Creek Trail. Once that’s complete to the Bay, we’ll have a top-notch creek-trail network.

Progress is being made on the San Tomas Aqunio Creek path extension from Cabrillo Avenue to El Camino Real. The concrete barrier is done and the sound walls are about halfway complete. The sign says mid-July for completion.

Lupe the mammoth has an interpretive sign at Trimble Road.

Lupe the mammoth has an interpretive sign at Trimble Road.

Cyclometers keep us honest

June 5, 2013

Jobst Brandt descends Haskins Hill on Pescadero Road, promoting Avocet tires.

Jobst Brandt descends Haskins Hill on Pescadero Road, promoting Avocet tires.

Among its many benefits, the Avocet cyclometer took the BS out of cycling. You couldn’t exaggerate how fast you sped down steep hills. I used to routinely hear Tour de France TV announcers talk about racers reaching 60-70 mph as though it were an everday occurrence. Hardly.

I don’t hear that kind of talk as much now, so to impress the uninitiated they go metric on us. “They’re descending at amazing speeds, 80-90 kph.” That’s more like it.

One of the best descenders I’ve known is Jobst Brandt. Not only was he a skilled rider, he was fearless, a pre-requisite for going 60 mph and beyond. At 180 pounds he had a weight advantage over the elite riders who took his draft, racers like Tom Ritchey, Sterling McBride, Peter Johnson, Keith Vierra and others.

Jobst had a key role in designing the Avocet cyclometer (bike computer). As an engineer and a cyclist he was a stickler for accuracy, which is why the Avocet cyclometer was the most accurate computer of its time.

So how fast did Jobst go? He clocked himself just over 60 mph descending the east slope of Tioga Pass. Jobst repeated that effort on Italy’s Fedaia Pass with Peter Johnson. Dave McLaughlin, past winner of the Mt. Hamilton road race, says he reached a similar speed on Tioga Pass, according his to friends following in a car.

You can’t appreciate how fast that is until you’re up around 50 mph. The slightest error means catastrophe — a rock, a gust of wind, a pothole.

I’ve read anecdotal reports of racers reaching speeds of 75 mph, but I’m skeptical. It would have to be under perfect conditions and with a tailwind. Few racers carry as much weight as Jobst, who also lugged a 20-pound saddle bag on his Alps rides.

Ted Mock takes photos for an Avocet tire ad with Jobst Brandt.

Ted Mock takes photos for an Avocet tire ad with Jobst Brandt in the mid-1980s.

Purisima Creek Trail – a culvert gone bad

June 2, 2013


Trail washout on Purisima Creek Trail. About halfway point.

When a culvert is blocked on a rainy day, watch out! Roads and bridges don’t stand a chance against rushing waters. Just check out the damage on Purisima Creek Trail.

I’ve been riding this “trail” since 1980, so I have some knowledge of its history, its good times and bad. This was a well used logging road up until the late 1970s. The canyon has been logged many times.

The road was better maintained then than it ever has been since falling into government hands. It all comes down to money. The logging companies had a vested interest in keeping the road serviceable. Today, not so much. It is, after all, a trail now.

But on with the ride. I left early to avoid the heat, although it wasn’t nearly as hot today as Saturday. On the ride up Kings Mountain Road, I joined participants in the Sequoia Century. Yesterday’s baking heat had hardly dissipated from the road, despite the fog that moved in overnight. I noticed temps climb into the upper 60s from the cooler valley.

After a short ride north on Skyline it was time for a left turn onto Purisima Creek Trail, where I saw a parked hydraulic excavator, and a sign next to it saying a bridge was out.

The first half-mile of steep descending had the usual layer of unpleasant rock ballast to hinder the ride. Heavy use, especially from riding in the wet, hasn’t done the trail any favors. At least I can say I took this road when it offered unspeakable pleasure — smooth and fast with a layer of redwood needles — that’s how I like my dirt roads.

Before the area of devastation, I came upon a couple of roadies making good time up the steep grade (17% in places). It’s nice to see the Jobst Rider creed hasn’t entirely disappeared.

At the last sweeping bend that marks the end of the steep stuff, I came across the blocked culvert. It’s so sad to see.

Farther down on the usually smooth flat section I noticed quite a bit of rutting. It wasn’t all that wet this winter, so it’s hard to fathom a cause.

Back on pavement I continued on Purisima Creek Road (53 F) through a wide valley marked by the occasional ranch house. One rancher has a pumpjack running. Water or oil? Next time I’ll stop and ask. He lives near a rusting oil well that sits forlornly on a hill overlooking the road. This is part of the Purisima Formation and Half Moon Bay oil field, which has yielded 58,000 barrels over 100 years.

On Hwy 1, heading south, I picked up a cavalcade of pedalers on their way from San Francisco to Los Angeles, raising money for AIDS research.

I decided to check out Lobitos Creek Cutoff as an alternate route to Tunitas Creek Road. It has a little extra gratuitous climbing, and the scenery is nothing appealing, but it offers variety.

Tunitas Creek Road gave me a chance to warm up and leave the fog-shrouded coast behind. Quite a few riders joined me and I cursed my bike as each one passed by. “If only I had bought a Trek, a Specialized, a Klein…”

I sped back down Kings Mountain Road and headed home on Foothill Boulevard to call it a day.

big oil

A little bit of extra income from Big Oil at the ranch on Purisima Creek Road?

Drippy days a welcome occasion

May 26, 2013

A brief break in the clouds allowed in some filtered sun on Tunitas Creek Road.

A brief break in the clouds allowed in some filtered sun on Tunitas Creek Road.

If you think cold, drippy days on Skyline are something to bemoan in late May, consider the alternatives: tornadoes, hurricanes, furnace heat, etc.

I took the back entrance to Huddart Park on Greer Road. It’s too bad the signs say no bikes here, when they really refer to the trails in the park, not the paved road.

By the time I got within a half-mile of the Kings Mountain Road summit, the road turned wet and the redwoods cried their hearts out with joy. They love this stuff.

I headed down Tunitas Creek Road into more wetness as the temperature dropped to 50 degrees, but things warmed up on the Coast. Parked next to a farm was a Tesla model S sedan, and I saw another one later on Page Mill Road. I’m all for battery-powered cars. If only solar panels had higher efficiency, they could be mounted on the car and there would be no more worries about charging.

I took the tsunami evacuation route (Hwy 84). Halfway to La Honda a sad and frightening scene played out as a rancher tried to move some cattle across the busy road. Something for drivers to think about when taking 84.

I headed up Alpine Road and enjoyed the company of other riders on the way.

BART allows bikes always

BART is allowing bikes full-time for a five-month trial starting in July. I support bikes on public transit. Caltrain has special cars for bikes and BART needs to do the same. I understand they’re moving in that direction but it’s not fast enough. Ridership would go up, as it has for Caltrain. I remember the days when you couldn’t even bring a bike on Caltrain, then they only allowed folding bikes in a bag. BART has the same history.

We’ve seen progress, but with way too much foot-dragging.

WD-40 quells the last creak

May 20, 2013

WD-40 silenced my creaking shoes.

WD-40 silenced my creaking shoes.

This weekend was a milestone celebrated in silence. Nothing squeaked or creaked on my ride. That means my shoes didn’t creak the way they often do, especially when I ride in dirt.

I had tried oiling the cleats, but that didn’t work. It may have made it worse.

What happens is microscopic grit gets between the metal holding plate, shoe sole and cleat. You can clean out the grit but it comes right back.

I decided to try WD-40. WD-40 is strange stuff. It’s mostly a solvent of hydrocarbons that work by transporting a little Vaseline and mineral oil into tiny crevasses.

So unlike a heavy oil, which gums up the cleat and attracts dirt, the WD-40 penetrates inside the shoe cleat and works where it’s needed. No residue and no creaking. At least that’s my experience.

One of the perks from buying WD-40 — it’s made in San Diego.

Forest of Nisene Marks Park reveals a lost memory

May 19, 2013

Back in the 1980s we had to ride through the creek. Now there's a nice bridge.

Back in the 1980s we had to ride through the creek. Now there’s a nice bridge.

After my 2011 mountain bike ride on Aptos Creek Fire Road through the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, I wondered if I would ever take my road bike here again. I had difficulty negotiating a stretch of road leading up to the green gate marking entrance to the park on the high ridge overlooking Aptos and the Pacific.

I decided to give it a try. As expected there’s a short section that’s not rideable — for me at least — leading to the green gate. It’s not much walking though so it shouldn’t dissuade anyone from trying it.

On my way heading east on Summit Road (note that Summit Road runs east-west, not north-south as many, myself included, have believed) I saw dozens and dozens of riders going west as part of the Strawberry Fields Forever century ride. If only they would ride to work. We could save the planet from global warming.

Perfect weather made the ride go smoothly as I turned right at the summit of Eureka Canyon Road onto the dirt Buzzard Lagoon Road. It climbs steadily through madrone, oak and redwoods. The road was at one time paved based on the bits of pavement I saw along the way.

I took the crucial right turn (Buzzard Lagoon heads downhill steeply from here and it’s no fun to ride) uphill where soon enough the road became a boulder-strewn stretch that will test even the best mountain bike rider. Over the past 30+ year I’ve been riding here, I’ve seen the road deteriorate. It used to be graded, but that’s something I figure we’ll never see happen again.

Once I reached the summit, where a series of trails from Soquel Creek and Demonstration Forest connect, I came across a mountain bike convention. A dozen riders were contemplating their next move. I continued on Aptos Creek Fire Road and soon started the long, long descent to Aptos.

It was here in 1995 on the last small climb before the descent that a mountain bike rider slammed into me head-on. I was knocked out; he separated his shoulder. I rode home while he waited four hours for the ranger and a ride to his car.

But I digress. I continued on to a small bridge over Aptos Creek. Around 1982 Jobst Brandt took a photo of me and Peter Johnson, as well as Jim Westby and Tim Louis. I didn’t understand the location until I walked down to the creek to investigate. Then I realized this was the spot. The bridge over the creek wasn’t installed until the mid 1990s. According to my ride report at the time, the bridge was wiped out by heavy rains in the winter of 1981-82.

A couple miles farther along I rode by a small event commemorating the park’s 50th anniversary.

On San Jose-Soquel Road I made my traditional stop at the Casalegno Store. This ancient house turned store has a nice selection of snacks. I took a photo of four Strawberry century riders and continued on my way.

While riding on San Tomas Aquino Expressway I got into a conversation with a rider wearing a 7-Eleven jersey (you can still buy them) and he told me a sad story about his bikes being stolen off his apartment porch, 30 feet off the ground. The brazen thieves struck in the middle of the night, taking his Ritchey Break Away cross bike and a mountain bike, as well as his cycling clothing hanging out to dry.

How ironic that the first person I met who also owned a Break Away had his stolen (I know 2 others but they’re friends). And so ended a glorious ride through the Santa Cruz Mountains on a fine day in May.

Ray Hosler walks his bike through Aptos Creek on June 21, 1982. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Ray Hosler walks his bike through Aptos Creek on June 21, 1982. (Jobst Brandt photo)

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.


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