Our tax dollars at work

August 8, 2022

Nice new bridge over Burns Creek. I think it was a culvert before.

I shudder to think how much money our governments spent so I could do today’s ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I am forever grateful, and this column is dedicated to all who made the ride possible.

As you know, in the wet 2016-17 winter Redwood Lodge Road and Schulties Road, located near Summit Road, took a pounding. A bridge was wiped out and two slides blocked the roads.

I managed to get through in 2019 (see column) despite these problems, but then I learned the roads were fixed recently.

I had to see for myself.

Sure enough, the roads are open again. There are repairs being made even now on Schulties Road.

The handful of people who live on Schulties must be so thankful that anyone would even think of them. The road has turned to dirt after being paved in the 1930s or so.

The bridge over Burns Creek looks top-notch. Once upon a time I walked up that creek to find the south portal of Wrights train tunnel. Today the creek is so low there’s no need to be concerned about wet feet.

While I’d never recommend trying these roads, unless you have a true sense of adventure, their existence truly amazes me, only miles from the crowded and high-tech Silicon Valley.

Slide fixed after crossing Burns Creek.
Schulties Road repaired. Had to walk on a narrow plank across a chasm before fix.

Cupertino Bike Shop closing…more devastation

July 28, 2022

Cupertino Bike Shop from the early 2000s on S. DeAnza Blvd.

When you’ve been around for a while, you start to realize nothing is forever, including bike shops. I read on their Facebook page that the Cupertino Bike Shop is closing at the end of August.

Their website page confirms it.

Vance Sprock took over the shop more than 30 years ago, which was founded out of the Cupertino home of Spence Wolfe in 1953. His shop was one of the first in the Bay Area to sell European imports like the venerable Cinelli.

Vance still has the original receipts from back then, with prices that make your head spin. $150 for a complete bike with the latest Campagnolo components.

Vance says he’s closing because rents have skyrocketed. No surprise there. Bike shops can’t charge high prices, as such a high rent would require.

So they’re going out of business all over the country, especially in the expensive Bay Area.

That’s bad news for cyclists. Sure, you can buy your parts online, but what if you need someone to assemble your bike, or fix something? Good luck with that.

I occasionally have to visit a bike shop for an intricate repair, or to buy a hard-to-find part. Pretty soon that task will become problematic.

I don’t know what the future holds, but cyclists will adapt. Maybe mechanics will freelance. There are a handful of mobile mechanics eeking out a living.

I haven’t been to a bike shop in two years, mostly because my bike riding days are winding down.

One aspiration in my youth was to work at a bike shop. That dream came true, so at least I have fond memories.

Best wishes to Vance and his staff.

Recent video on YouTube:

Devastation! …and rebirth

July 25, 2022

Redwoods are recovering in Big Basin.

It was everything I feared, and then some. Big Basin Redwoods State Park has reopened for all to see the catastrophic destruction wrought by a freak lightning storm in August 2020.

In the span of 12 hours, 95 percent of the park burned (as well as Butano State Park), killing thousands upon thousands of trees, mostly Douglas fir, tanoak, madrone, and more. Not to mention wildlife.

View entering the park from Boulder Creek.
Headquarters a memory.

Redwoods have found ways to survive fires, and most of them will recover. Signs of new growth are evident everywhere you look.

Approaching from Boulder Creek on Hwy 236, I started noticing scorched trees a couple miles out of town. The Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club was spared, but some surrounding neighborhoods were not. Fire is fickle.

The old park headquarters and general store were completely destroyed. All that’s left, ironically, is concrete and pavement. It looks just as it did when I last visited.

Parking remains the same.

Cars need to make a reservation, but cyclists can visit without a reservation.

Most of Gazos Creek Road is open, but the North Escape Road is closed. Hwy 236 is open, but China Grade, going north, is closed.

Some popular trails near the old headquarters are open.

I visited on a Monday, so traffic was light.

It’s worth a visit to see the forest and how it’s recovering. The views, which were few before the fire, show the landscape in all its tragic glory.

View from 236 toward North Escape Road.

Hwy 236 was spared from about 1.5 miles before the Hwy 9 intersection. It’s a noticeable contrast in shade compared to the burned sections. I always appreciated the road for the abundant shade.

Other items:

Summit Road from Black Road to Bear Creek Road has been repaved and has new fog lines. Fabulous.

Bear Creek Road is good for descending in the AM, when most traffic is headed to the Valley.

A new Big Basin Redwoods HQ is planned at Saddle Mountain near Little Basin Road.

North Escape Road still a mess.

Donner Summit an open-air railroad museum

July 14, 2022

Donner Lake view at Rainbow Bridge

Just off the busy Interstate 80 at Donner Summit there’s a quiet two-lane road that winds precipitously down to Donner Lake and the town of Truckee. Not so obvious is an old railroad grade that parallels the road.

These days a handful of drivers pull off the freeway to explore the railroad grade, which keeps a gentle slope thanks to a series of tunnels carved in granite by industrious Chinese laborers in 1867.

It’s difficult to appreciate the obstacles they had to overcome, and there were many: altitude, cold, snow, unyielding rock, discrimination, explosives. But they persevered and the transcontinental railroad united the country in 1869.

We stopped by for a second look in late June, only to find that the road past the scenic Donner Memorial Bridge was under construction. That turned out to be a godsend.

We turned around and searched for the entrance to tunnel 6 — at 1659 feet, the longest of several tunnels at the summit. I missed it last time and wanted to see if it was still open.

After a brief search we found the west portal, which is conveniently located in a wide, flat dirt area off Sugar Bowl Road. Of course, it will be snowed in most winters.

We walked inside the tunnel, which looks much like it did when completed in 1868, except for the annoying graffiti. Water drips from above at a steady rate, keeping the floor wet year around. The railroad ties and rails were removed when Union Pacific abandoned this route in 1993.

A short distance farther east at the Summit Haus you’ll find some artifacts from the railroad days. Midway between the east and west portal of tunnel 6, a vertical shaft was dug so that workers could attack the tunnel from four points.

It was no easy task to dig the shaft. Engineers converted a railroad steam engine into a “donkey” for hauling rock to the surface.

The shaft is still there, covered by a rusty steel plate, close by some interpretive signs.

Seeing the tunnels and walking through them gives you a better appreciation of the engineering challenge workers faced.

I also had the good fortune of taking Amtrak through the tunnels in the mid 1980s. At the time, I had no knowledge of their history.

China wall at tunnel 8 west portal
Tunnel 6 memorial plaque
Tunnels 6, 7, and 8 looking east
Tunnel 6 vertical shaft
Tunnel 6 west portal

Tire levers for tight fittings

July 8, 2022

Avocet tire with Kool Stop tire lever

Today’s super-sized tire levers take advantage of leverage for installing stubborn tires. I bought the Kool Stop Tire Bead Jack, and it works well. Made in the USA.

They’re excellent, but there’s more to installing a tire than leverage. Technique matters.

I was trained to install a tire on the rim starting at the valve stem. That’s not always the best way.

Sometimes it’s best to start opposite the valve stem and work your way around to the stem. The tube seats much better this way in some situations.

Recently I had difficulty installing a 26-inch tire. I tried starting with the valve stem, but was nowhere near pulling the bead over the rim, even using a Kool Stop lever.

I started pulling the bead from opposite the valve; it worked so well that I didn’t even need a tire lever. It took some force, but I could manage by hand.

Another tire I installed required the use of the Kool Stop lever. Pull over the bead in increments rather than going for a single pull. Lots of YouTube videos show the best technique.

Here’s the rub though. You really don’t want to ride a tire that’s hard to install. If you need a powerful tire lever like the Kool Stop, you’re going to have to lug it around on rides.

My advice is to find a tire/rim combination that you can fit by hand. Unfortunately, I know of no way to find that combination other than asking around. Wider rims seem to be more compliant.

My best rim/tire combination is Mavic Open Pro and Continental folding tires.

Kool Stop tire bead jack in use

Bicycle tires have “r-evolved”

June 25, 2022

Two new tires for my mountain bike. Tired of riding nobbies on pavement. Schwalbe (394 gm) is smooth! Protek heavy at 686 gm, for rear wheel to reduce chance of flat.

There’s nothing sexy about a bicycle tire, as much as the manufacturers would like you to think so.

They make the tread with flashy bumps and dimples, for what? Better traction? No, looks matter even when it comes to tires. At least that was the opinion of one cyclist in 1985. Jobst Brandt had the ear of Avocet and they listened to his argument for a smooth tire, or a “slick.”

What got Jobst going on this rant was the early 80s Specialized touring tire with a raised center ridge. He hated the ridge.

The U.S. bicycle company enlisted the Japanese to build FasGrip tires in 1985. Jobst posed for an advertising photo — riding down Pescadero Creek Road (Haskins Hill) doing 35 mph, his six-foot-five body and massive yellow frame banked over at a perilous angle.

The howls of protest and arguments in the cycling community against treadless tires could not be quelled by Jobst, no matter how logical or scientific his answers. People like to believe myths: “slick tires reduce traction, especially in the wet.”

Here are two exchanges Jobst had on Bike.rec:

From: jbrandt@hpl.hp.com (Jobst Brandt)
Subject: Re: “Slicks” tyres advice needed
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 1996

Roger Marquis writes:

There is really only one drawback to slick tires on pavement and that’s
wet traction. Even fat slicks can be very slippery compared to treaded
tires on wet roads. Knobby tires on the other hand have little
traction on wet or dry pavement.

“Unless the words “can be very slippery” are a dodge, this statement is
without foundation and reeks of bicycling myth and lore. It took
decades for smooth tires to migrate from dragsters to racing cars, and
more decades after that to make the transition to motorcycles. Today,
bicycles are the last holdout even though theirs are the least water
affected tire of the vehicles mentioned.

“For the bicycle, the width of the contact patch, its shape, and the
inflation pressure, combined with the bicycle’s relatively low speed,
make water on the road no more a hazard than a light film of moisture.
All the water that can be made to escape from between tire and road,
does this better without tread features than with. Water on slick
surfaces, such as paint stripes, manhole covers, or railway tracks
cannot be removed by tread patterns, just as a sharp-edged squeegee
glides over a wet window.

“The contact patch of a bicycle tire is a sharply pointed canoe-shape
that first makes contact in the center and spreads as the contact area
increases toward the center of pressure. Similar to aircraft tires
that are also smooth except for tread-depth gauging grooves, the round
cross section prevents water entrapment as that makes hydroplaning
possible with automobile tires with their rectangular contact patch
having a broad front. Road bicycles need tread about as much as a
garden wheelbarrow. Of course the wheelbarrow has tread for the same
spurious reasons.

“It is evident that the tread on current motorcycles is essentially
smooth except for some widely spaced artistic lines. The flat and
smooth areas between them are many times as large as bicycle tire
contact patches. These tires are neither directional nor do they have
micro sipes or any “drainage” grooves. When I read bicycle tire
advertisements today, they remind me of motorcycle tire ads from
magazines of 40 years ago. I think that is the fare to which Roger is
treating us.”

From: jbrandt@hpl.hp.com (Jobst Brandt)
Subject: Re: bicycle tire science (was “Re: drifting”)
Date: Wed, 20 Mar 1996

Matt O’Toole writes:

This has been conclusively established on tire testing equipment
both at the joint tire testing facility in Japan (IRC) and on
equipment that I designed for Avocet to measure rolling resistance (RR) and breakout
lean angle of various tire designs.

“If such testing facilities actually exist, why do they keep selling
tires that go against all common sense design principles? Why does
IRC keep selling road racing tires with tread, and mountain bike
tires with squishy, useless knobs?

“It is easier to pander to the fears of the customer than to try to
reverse commonly held beliefs. Since cornering is not a primary demand
in racing, and most racers are not ones to press that facet of racing,
tires with fine profiles will continue to be the choice of riders.
Motorcycles, until recently, had deep tread patterns on road machines.
Today, from imitating racing tires, they generally ride slicks that
have enough tread lines in them to pass the law that states that motor
vehicles shall not operate with slick tires, a law based on automobile
tires that have a cylindrical surface instead of a toroid.”

Bicycle tire technology has improved over the decades, no doubt about it. Better materials and rubber types and combinations speak to the enhancements, not tread type.

So, can you still buy smooth tires today? I was asked by a reader. I knew there were a handful of models, so I searched the Web and came up with this list. To be considered, the tire must have no bumps, ridges, or lines of any size anywhere on the rubber. Clincher tire unless noted otherwise:

BrandModelWidth
ContinentalSprinter (tubular), Podium (tubular), Grand Prix TT, Tempo II19, 25, 22 mm
GoodyearEagle F1 Supersport23, 25, 28
IRCNone (have chevrons)
MaxxisHigh Road SL23, 25, 28
MichelinTime Trial, Power Cup (tubular and clincher), Lithion2, Dynamic Sport Access25 mm; 23, 25, 28; 23, 25; 23, 25, 28
PanaracerAgilest, Duro, Closer Plus23, 25, 28 (2); 20, 23, 25
RitcheyRace Slick21, 23, 25
SchwalbeKojak 26 x 1.35, 2.0
Veloflex*Corsa Evo (minor pebble pattern)23, 25, 28
WTBThickslick Comp, Flat Guard23, 25, 28

There are quite a few more brands, but they’re niche or would not have what I’m looking for. Road Bike Rider has a list.

I found one affordable, smooth tire for everyday road riding. I’m giving the WTB Thickslick a try. Most everything here is for time trials, track, racing, and expensive.

Schwalbe has a nice smooth tire for 26 inch wheels, oddly enough, given that this size is for the mountain bike crowd.

Without a durable, long-lasting smooth tire in the lineup, I favor the Continental Gatorskin. It lasts longer than other brands, it’s affordable, and it’s reliable. I can live with their silly dimples.

WTB Thickslick 28 mm. Nice looking tire.
I’ll give it a try.

The Alpine Road story

June 20, 2022

Charlie Krenz, a local mountain biker, has created an excellent video about the history of Alpine Road. It’s must-see viewing.

I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or two about the road’s long history.

Stevens Canyon beats the heat

June 10, 2022

Stevens Canyon on a hot Friday in the South Bay.

There’s no cooler place to ride a bike in the South Bay than Stevens Canyon. My ride ends at the final metal bridge.

Of course you can keep going all the way to Page Mill Road.

It’s odd that the county would spend so much money on new bridges in a remote area when there are bridges farther down that need replacing.

Tailwind up Mt. Hamilton

May 28, 2022
Giant manzanita in 2010 and after the 2020 fire. It was cut down after being consumed by fire.

I picked today to ride up for the 43rd consecutive year because I need every benefit nature can throw my way, including cool temps and a nice tailwind.

My first ride up Mt. Hamilton sent me to the hospital with a broken left wrist. I raced Brian Cooley, CNET Editor at Large, along with other Palo Alto Bicycles shop employees to the top. No doubt, it was the hardest I ever rode up the mountain.

It didn’t take long to crash as I descended. Being a novice rider, I tried to avoid rocks in a turn, rather than ride through, and found myself face to face with an oncoming car. Slamming brakes is always a bad ending.

Today I maintained my usual turtle pace so as not to go into cardiac arrest and guzzled energy drink. That helped avoid leg cramps.

At mile 14.5 in the climb I stopped to locate the giant manzanita destroyed in the 2020 fire that consumed the mountain.

I think I found the stump, although it sure doesn’t look right. It is the exact location though. [I found it after looking at Google Maps. I had the wrong tree. This the correct one farther back from the turn. The stump matches.]

Years from now riders will accept Mt. Hamilton for what it is, a shadeless climb the last several miles to the summit.

Look closely though and you’ll see all the trees cut down after the fire. I’ll never forget that lovely shade. Sigh.

Alpine Road repairs start in June!

May 20, 2022

Alpine Road at the green gate in March 2022.

After 32 years of neglect, Alpine Road/trail is headed for a makeover! From June through October the trail will be closed. MROSD story.

I’ve read several official Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) reports on what’s in store, but they’re conflicting, so it’s going to be “wait and see.”

My expectation is that the entire trail will be improved (ruts removed, culverts repaired, brush cut back), but that’s not certain. The original plan was to do sections at a time. Now it reads like the entire trail from the green gate to Page Mill Road will be worked on.

However, work may not be finished until 2023, says MROSD.

The road was, according to MROSD, closed to cars in 1979. I thought it was earlier in the 1970s. It was definitely closed in 1979 though, based on my experience. I suspect it was closed during the winter for some years due to muddy conditions, so maybe 1979 was the year-round closure date.

That steep section about a mile up from the green gate will be redesigned for an easier grade, according to the plan.

I may live to see the day, and even ride on it. Now that would be nice.