Fatigue Limit – 5

April 19, 2021

Coventry Rotary in 1879. Chain driven.

I had no regrets about missing out on the highwheeler. I started with a safety bike only a year ago, my father paying a king’s ransom for the machine. Still, I admired the local racers who suffered through their formative days riding highwheelers. They were modern-day essedarii, riding high out of the saddle where a tumble could mean a trip to the infirmary. They made the switch to safeties in a heartbeat once Carl changed over. The mechanical engineer always berated the beastly highwheelers, declaring them an engineering travesty. He pointed out the advantages a chain afforded the Coventry Rotary tricycle and called for a two-wheeler of similar design. It took ten years, but the bicycle industry finally came around to Carl’s way of thinking. Only a handful of professional racers still rode highwheelers. We assumed it was because their sponsors required it of them. They weren’t fools, but they were beholden.

Everyone’s attention turned from Carl to Gary when he rolled up, riding a custom-made Harry S. Roberts, imported from England with the latest lightweight tubing and iron rims, drivetrain on the left. Its new coat of pearlescent paint glistened in the sun. Gary’s blond hair complemented the bike color. He greeted the riders with an expressive smile, slapping hands and wheeling a circle before planting his feet. The riders crowded around, anxious to share a brief moment with the new cycling phenom. Racers worshiped anyone who could outride the pack. The personality wasn’t what mattered, just the leg muscles, the lungs, and the winning spirit. Gary had all of it and the riders wanted a piece of it. They hoped that some of his magic would rub off by following his draft. If only it were that simple. Bike racers need guile to win. Those talents weren’t necessarily God-given. Gary had quick reflexes, feared nothing, and had that unassailable confidence, but he also had cunning. He knew when to strike, when to stay back in the pack. Few racers could do what he did with the same proficiency.

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Jobst Brandt’s bike in the US Bicycling Hall of Fame

April 16, 2021

Jobst Brandt’s bike shortly after restoration in late 2011.

Jobst Brandt’s last bike, built by Peter Johnson, is on display at the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame in Davis, Calif.

It was faithfully restored in 2011: Dave Prion, assembly and parts; Peter Johnson, frame alignment and other visual blemishes, parts; Painting, D&D Cycles.

Everything on it is original to what Jobst used on trips through the Alps, especially the Carradice saddlebag with the custom-built seat mount. It has an Avocet 50 cyclometer.

I’m happy to see that the bike has found a good home where people can check it out along with many other bicycle artifacts on display at the 8,000 square foot building located in Central Park.

Hall of Fame Facebook page

Misery on a mountain

April 15, 2021

Mt. Hamilton Road has long delays for road work. Avoid until work is finished.

Update (4/21): I filed a request for Caltrans to post an electronic sign at Alum Rock Avenue and Mt. Hamilton Road. They said they did so.

I didn’t see the flashing sign as I rode by Grant Ranch Park on Mount Hamilton Road. Am I blind?

It said “Expect one hour delays.”

They weren’t kidding. Caltran is repaving the entire road at one time. Thus the long delays.

The road was badly damaged by heavy equipment used to douse the Mt. Hamilton fire last August. The fire started north of Mt. Hamilton and spread south, enveloping the summit, but fire fighters kept it from damaging Lick Observatory.

I don’t know if work is continuing on the weekend.

From what I understand, they’re quite a ways down the mountain, so they might not have much more work to do.

Use extreme caution on the road. Dozens of dump trucks are driving up and down the mountain. They take up the ENTIRE ROAD on the curved sections.

I turned around, not wanting to wait two hours. Quimby Road let me avoid the trucks on the way down, but it’s no joy ride. Avoid this road going up or down.

My understanding is that Hwy 236 between Hwy 9 and Big Basin Redwoods State Park is also closed for the same reason. Let me know, if you can confirm.

Fatigue Limit – 4

April 12, 2021

Solo ride on the new pneumatics at Niagara Falls, N.Y. in 1890.

“What about Dunlop’s pneumatic tire? Have you seen it? Is it as good as they say?”

Carl reattached his wheel, picked up his knapsack and headed for the door. “Not Dunlop! He re-invented the pneumatic tire conceived by Robert Thomson. Mr. Thomson should sue, but I’m quite sure he thinks like me. He wants to see technology advance. Come on. We’re going to be late. We don’t want to miss a ride with Velo Master Mandrel. I’ll tell you about Dunlop’s tire on the way. All I’ll say right now is they’re better than the Victor’s cushion tires.”

We mounted our safety bikes with hard-rubber wheels and rode north on the El Camino to the bike shop and hardware store on University Avenue. Windy Hill’s patch of pastoral greenery marked the distant hills and reminded us adventure awaited. We overtook a water truck spraying the road. The wagon shot a thin stream my way. It mixed water and dirt that splashed, coating my shirt in a veil of mud. I cursed to the heavens. The driver saw us coming, knew he might spray us, but kept at it. It was the kind of insult we cyclists got used to. We were punching bags for the horse riders and other transportation.

“At least it didn’t include a horse’s Eau de Cologne,” Carl replied after a laugh.

“He saw us coming,” I fumed.

“Get over it kid. Find a way to get back at him.”

Carl turned down Lytton, one of the new streets in Palo Alto where a land rush ensued when Timothy Hopkins put lots up for sale months earlier. I had written several articles about the new town and its role in supporting Stanford University.

“I think I know where we’re headed Carl.”

“My house is almost finished.” Carl dismounted near the intersection of Middlefield Road. “They’ve got the roof done. Nice work. In a few more weeks I’ll have something more to my liking.”

We rolled up to Orr & Peterson’s where cyclists congregated. I recognized a few of the riders, but Carl knew everyone. He mingled and exchanged words with the wheelmen, always appraising riders’ bikes. “Those wheels aren’t going to last,” he griped. “You’ve got to build them with three-cross lacing. Didn’t you read my article? That frame looks like a giant grasshopper! Who built that? Oh! An Ordain-ary. Blessed by the Pope!”

Most riders who knew Carl had grown accustomed to his constant browbeating. They shrugged and paid him no attention, but a few listened intently, mostly the young, impressionable riders like myself. Another rider showed up on his penny-farthing. I stifled a laugh. He would not be joining us on the long climb that was sure to come.

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Alpine “Road” improvement in progress

April 9, 2021

CalFire maintains a fountain at its station on Skyline Boulevard at Hwy 9.

A mountain biker I came across at Page Mill Road and Alpine Road told me that Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) is making improvements to Alpine Road.

From his description the gnarly single-track section has not yet been improved, so I will wait before trying. He said the “road” is much wider now from brush being removed.

Beyond that, my ride up Hwy 9 went well enough. The main reason I avoid the road these days, besides old age, is the traffic. It’s none too pleasant even on a weekday. Too many drivers buzz by. Same with Skyline Boulevard.

Skyline Boulevard played host to a side show recently, near Horseshoe Lake. Maybe it was the same ones who laid down donuts on Cañada Road.

Today was one of those sunny spring days that looked warm, but wasn’t on Skyline. A cold wind blew off the ocean. I brought along a trash bag and stuffed it in my jersey for the descent to Page Mill Road.

Page Mill Road is without a doubt in the best condition I’ve seen it since 1977.

More Alpine Road trivia: In 1907, Peter Faber discovered a coal vein on his property while fixing a landslide on Alpine Road. The road had been closed for two years.

Fatigue Limit – 3

April 5, 2021

Start of a race in the 1890s.

That was an understatement. The young rider’s reputation spread like a raging wildfire across Northern California. His exploits on the bike rewrote the record books, overshadowing the accomplishments of the best riders. He proved in every race he entered that he could beat the best cyclists. Carl made adjustments with his spoke wrench while I watched. Carl knew everything about cycling, but his knowledge was worldly. In his travels to the East Coast and Europe he met the great minds of engineering, knew some by first name. He corresponded so frequently that it took the postmaster extra time to gather up all the letters.

I shuffled through a pile of missives strewn across his dining room table. The names read like a Who’s Who — John Dunlop, Pierre Lallement, John Kemp Starley, Albert Overman, Henry Sturmey, Eugene Meyer, Hans Renold, Alfred Reynolds, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Sigmund Freud, and Friedrich Nietzsche. His Renaissance man attributes shown through.

“You do know some influential people,” I said, my mouth agape at the names I had perused.

Carl continued turning spokes, listening for the right pitch when they pinged and settled into place. At moments like these he was more piano tuner than wheelbuilder. After each wheel tightening, he carefully stress-relieved the spokes by grabbing pairs and squeezing them. Was there anything this man could not do? Here he was, a piano repairman one minute, a dairy farmer with the right “squeeze” the next.

“Certainly. These fellows understand scientific principles.”

“Including Sigmund Freud? Isn’t he a psychologist?”

“He’s a blowhard. I don’t buy what he’s selling, but he has a few good ideas. Besides, he’s German. I understand his writing.”

“And what about Friedrich Nietzsche? I learned about him in school. He’s a nihilist.”

“Don’t say that. It’s a highfalutin word for a realist. He doesn’t believe in prophets or fairy tales, nor do I.”

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Santa Cruz Mountains in a blizzard

April 2, 2021

Jobst Brandt enjoyed riding to Santa Cruz up until his last days on the bike in January 2011. Nothing seemed to bother him when it came to cold weather. Here’s a brief account of a ride that started out nice, but ended up being less than nice. The date was March 31, 2010. His ride started in Palo Alto. From personal email correspondence:

————————-Jobst Brandt on Mt. Hamilton summit, 2001.

“So today I rode over to the coast and down to Santa Cruz in wonderful sunshine and a slight headwind of about 5 mph, but beautiful surf.  In Pescadero waves were smashing in through the tunnel parallel to ones coming in the main inlet. These swells went far inland like surf in the reeds.

Anyway, the wind became a tailwind up HWY 9 and was fun up past Waterman Gap.  However it clouded over and began raining intermittent large drops after the dip a mile above HWY 236.  THEN when I reached the Monterey Bay overlook parking lot the big drops turned to snow and when I reached Saratoga Gap, it was a blizzard. 

I went down HWY 9 to Redwood Lodge where it was still snowing but more lightly.  It just kept getting colder and even had some snow at Stevens Creek Reservoir.

I rode to the BO [Bicycle Outfitter] and Dave [Prion] trucked me home after warming my hands over a hand warmer heater.  That was an amazing change from warm sunshine to snow.  Now I’m dry and comfortable after a shower, dinner, and wash clothes that got a bit dirty splashing through all that water on the road.”

Fatigue Limit – 2

March 29, 2021

Bike race in London, 1889 (Wikipedia)

I  rode north from my place to Carl Koenig’s house in Mayfield, a short distance from the train depot, and found him waiting outside. A year ago I came to know this disputatious crank of a rider who lived the hermit’s life, except when it came to cycling. He had his pulse on the biking community. Bicycle knowledge, not blood, coursed through his veins. The forty-five-year-old cyclist stood well over one fathom, and that left an immediate impression. He had not an ounce of fat on his large, sturdy frame. His legs looked like the drive rods of a locomotive. Upon further scrutiny, he had a nose shaped like an eagle’s, large hands and long fingers, like talons, and deep-set eyes that could spot wildlife at extreme range. His uncanny ability to see and interpret what lay ahead while riding made him prescient. He identified birds by their song when he could not see them high in the trees. Carl was much more than a cyclist. He was a savant, a coach, Darwin in the wilds, and a walking encyclopedia rolled into one. The mechanical engineer showed a deep tan, having just returned from Hawaii where he worked for Dillingham Construction building a railroad through swampland. His passion for railroads almost equaled his love for cycling. He jumped at the opportunity to visit Hawaii, not for the pristine beaches and palm trees, but to build a railroad.

I joined his devoted band of followers on weekend rides into the Santa Cruz Mountains. They were racers, by and large, and it wasn’t long before I wanted to be just like them.

“Come inside Tab. I need to adjust this wheel. I see you got my telephone message. The ‘snooze-paper’ in San Jose is one of the few businesses that has this modern voice box. It’s a good thing because I just got word Gary Mandrel is passing through. We’re meeting at Orr & Peterson.”

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Fatigue Limit begins to take shape

March 10, 2021

Beautiful painting from the 1890s.

In the throes of writing my next novel (it’s painful), I’ve got the introduction I’m looking for. The story takes place in 1889, culminating in the seven-day bike race held at the Mechanics’ Pavilion in San Francisco.

1  . Origins

Halfway through the twentieth century my time on life’s stage nears the final act. It is for that reason I, Tab Huntsman, have an imperative — tell a story that cannot wait any longer. What follows commemorates in words the cyclist’s life at the turn of the century when everything about transportation revolved around the bicycle. I will describe the technology, the people, our motivations, and the racing. But my recounting of bicycle lore is much more than that. It’s a revelation and a warning: Life is not fair. The more noble aspects of humanity do battle with dark, sinister forces in our thoughts. We lie, cheat, steal, and fight one another to get what we want, to make our dreams whole. In the course of these activities people suffer; their hopes are trampled, and reputations ruined. There is no fairy-tale ending to my story. I lied and cheated and fought for my place in the world. I was no different. Now I harbor regrets that weigh me down. Given the opportunity, I would turn back the clock to change the course of events as they transpired. I often dream about discovering a time machine and making things right: Conjure up a happy ending. Perhaps by reading my story you can avoid repeating my mistakes, free yourself of a guilty conscience. My actions dashed hopes that once filled me with breathless anticipation for a future only I could imagine.

At the very least, as you read you can revel in an age without cars when the bicycle reigned supreme. Oh what a time it was! We rode through the Bay Area hills with nary a care, full of life, the wind at our backs, and the fragrant aroma of fruit orchards blossoming in the spring. We rode over mountains with abandon. No distance was too far. If you find an inner-tube’s-worth of enjoyment from this brief interlude, my work is not in vain.

As it did for so many then, cycling changed my life, steering me to a career in journalism. At least that was my dream. The road to that high plateau of accomplishment had its share of potholes. I started peddling small-town newspapers, including the Mayfield Enterprise, with hopes of one day reporting for the San Francisco newspapers. I faced fierce competition for a seat at the editor’s desk. I had little chance of making it. I was not the best student, nor the best writer. I had no connections, nor the wizard’s wand, that would magically open doors of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Examiner, or The Morning Call. I needed something remarkable on my job application to make an impression. This is a tale of how I embellished my resume to become a writer for the San Francisco Examiner. Everything is true as I remember it, and I can confirm everything that is written.

Little did I realize such a break would come thanks to my passion for cycling. The sport kept me on the narrow path and, even though I knew it might not lead to a better life, it became my Gibraltar, a reliable way to feel good when times got tough. My saga starts on a warm spring day in the bucolic farming community of Mayfield (Palo Alto) in the year 1889…

Trail memories keep coming

March 3, 2021

Here’s a trail off Alpine Road that brings back memories.

As I climbed Alpine Road one sunny day I recalled a ride or two in which Jobst Brandt and I took a trail to our left about a half mile from the end of the pavement, just after the Rapley Road junction.

Back in the mid 1980s it was marked by a gate, but today there’s a trail sign.

I don’t recall any of the details, but I’m sure we followed Toyon Trail all the way to Willowbrook Drive and a little extra to Corte Madera School.

Back then we were alone on the trail, but times have changed.

We took many trails and roads off Alpine Road, but even in those days landowners were none too happy to see us.

There is some good news here. “Alpine Road” East beyond the green gate is finally going to be improved to a six-foot-wide trail with appropriate culverts and that nasty steep single-track obliterated, I’m looking forward again to riding to Page Mill Road, maybe by 2023.

Alpine Road hasn’t changed much since being paved way back when, probably in stages starting in the 1940s.

It’s still a narrow, winding road that caresses the mind as it climbs gently along Corte Madera Creek under the shade of trees. It’s my favorite gateway into the Santa Cruz Mountains.