John Forester and Kittie Knox fought for cyclists to have a place on the road

November 24, 2020

Kittie Knox, shown here in 1895, battled racist elements of the League of American Wheelmen.

It is only now that I learn of the passing of John Forester in April, an influential cyclist in the 1970-80s for his insistence that cyclists adhere to the same rules of the road as cars.

I met Forester when he lived in Palo Alto in the 1980s. I bought his nylon bike bag that mounted behind the saddle, using it on my trips through the Alps.

I knew Forester’s reputation and background when I met him, so I was not taken aback by his quirky personality and abrasive manner.

His strident views about cycling were both his strength and his downfall. He couldn’t compromise and in politics that’s a recipe for disaster.

Forester wrote and advocated the principles of Effective Cycling. I bought his self-published book mainly to show my support for cyclists’ rights to the road.

I agree with pretty much everything he advocated, but where we part ways is when it comes to bicycle facilities.

Forester disparaged bike lanes, bike paths, and other amenities for the bike.

Over the years I’ve gradually shifted my thinking from battling cars on equal footing to supporting a bike network separate from cars.

The deal is, we need both.

Bike advocate Ellen Fletcher, who served on the Palo Alto City Council when Forester was living in Palo Alto, didn’t always see eye to eye with the outspoken bike advocate. She was a politician who understood the importance of compromise.

Their political rivalry came to a head at an organization called the League of American Wheelmen. I won’t go into the details here because I was not privy to the situation. However, there is an outstanding article written by Joe Biel that delves into their differences that came to the forefront within this organization.

All of this is irrelevant today. The American Wheelmen was a seriously influential group in the 1880s, but not much more than a mouthpiece for disenfranchised cyclists in the 1980s.

The dark history of the League of American Wheelmen and its racist past is exposed by Biel in his story about a young black woman from Boston who could ride circles around most men — Kittie Knox.

Biel’s story is an eye-opener and one that everyone should read to understand that racial prejudice runs deep in this country.

Thanks to the Internet, I can share some excellent writing about cycling matters from the past. Still relevant today:

How Kittie Knox changed bicycling forever by Joe Biel

Bicycling magazine interview with John Forester by Peter Flax

Mt. Hamilton ride for Garden City Wheelmen — July 1888

November 19, 2020

Cyclists were rapidly moving to the safety bike in 1888.


From The San Jose Mercury News, July 18, 1888

Last Sunday the Garden City Wheelmen had a run to Mt. Hamilton and return.

“The following members took part in the run: A. C. McK, David Render, Yousta Hensill, Joseph Desimone [Desimone family owned a bike shop in San Jose], Alex. Gamosett, and D. L. Thornton.

Notwithstanding the excessive heat the long grade was climbed with comparative ease. Arriving at Smiths Creek in due time, the wheelmen repaired to the hotel where a substantial repast was awaiting them, to which each did exact justice. [A telephone was installed at Smith Creek hotel as early as 1884]

The ensuing seven miles proved a hard climb, but the Observatory was soon reached. Professor Keeler took the party in charge, and showed them through the observatory and described the various instruments in a manner not only courteous but entertaining.

The return trip in the afternoon was decidedly exciting, and compensated for the labor in the fore part of the day. The long miles were quickly covered at a rate of speed of ten to twenty miles per hour.

San Jose was reached at 7 o’clock, and all expressed themselves well pleased with one of the longest runs of the season. The Garden City Wheelmen have purchased an elegant gold medal to be competed for in a series of road races, the first race to occur in the near future.”

Vintage Rover safety bike reconditioned in all its glory.

Mt. Hamilton Ride description from April 1888

November 17, 2020

A map of a ride from Alameda to Mt. Hamilton by Joseph Bliss.


I stumbled across a detailed description of a ride by Joseph J. Bliss of Alameda that took him to the Mt. Hamilton summit on Sunday, April 21, 1888.

It’s in the January 1889 issue of The Wheelmen’s Gazette. My link takes you directly to the article. I think it’s being displayed by the Internet Archive, which may be different from the original location of the Smithsonian.

The tragedy is that I can’t find the second installment, which must have been in a later issue. Sigh.

I’ll summarize his trip, which is well worth reading in detail.

Bliss emigrated from Britain in 1865, from what I’ve gathered. He had three children. Based on his story, he was a clerk of some kind. His ride didn’t start until Saturday evening because back in those days the only rest day was Sunday. That’s true for some parts of the world even today.

He rode alone. I can well imagine he would have a hard time finding a companion for such a difficult ride. His bike was a 51-inch New Mail ordinary. Safety bikes were just becoming popular, most of them manufactured in England.

He stopped for dinner in Centerville, today’s Fremont. He continued on in darkness to downtown San Jose where he got a hotel room.

Next morning he left as early as possible, trying to finish the ride on Sunday so he could be back to work on Monday morning. He stopped at a restaurant and stage stop, today’s Grandview Restaurant, about five miles into the climb.

From his description, the road was in good shape, but despite that he had to walk, ride, walk, ride. No surprise on an ordinary. It’s not the gear that was the problem, but being high on the wheel made control a challenge.

He dismounted to let a stagecoach pass. The road was even narrower than it is today.

Based on his conversation with a boy he met on the road, cyclists rode up Mt. Hamilton regularly.

Previously, I wrote about Al Bouton’s ride in January 1888, the earliest documented ride I can find. I suspect that there were riders before Bouton, after reading this account.

If anyone knows where I can find the second part of Bliss’ story, let me know!

Here’s a Jobst Ride from 1898

November 10, 2020

Taking the plunge. Ride down Windy Hill, Sept. 13, 1987, after exploring Doherty Ridge. There’s water gushing from the pipe.


Jobst Brandt led the way over rugged logging roads and trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains from the early 1950s-2010, but he was not the first.

Back in the 1890s with the advent of pneumatic tires and “safety” frames, riders sought out new roads and trails like never before.

Here’s one account from The Palo Alto Times in 1898. [Palo Alto newspapers are viewable online at the Palo Alto library.] An analysis of the ride follows:

Route for an Outing Trip
(contributed)

“The following route is a pleasant ride for experienced bicyclists.

It is very difficult for wheels in some places but there is not more than three miles of walking necessary. The total distance is about 25 miles.

Start out early in the morning, before it grows too warm, on the road past the stock farm to Portola and go to the foot of the “new road.”

Here you climb the “goat trail.” This trail is in reality a woodcutters road and is in many places suitable for bicycle riding.

Near the summit is a spring. This is the only water to be had until you reach a farm house.

On arriving at the summit you have a choice of three roads. One to the right goes to the regular stage road to La Honda.

Start of logging road, Old La Honda and Skyline.


On reaching the junction of these two roads you can return on the regular road, or else go through Mr. Hallidies’ ranch by a steep private road.

If you turn to the left you will have a fairly level road along the crest of the mountains.

On one side is the Santa Clara valley with its green orchards, glittering bay, and bare hills.

On the other side is the ocean and ranges of mountains covered with redwoods. This road passes a farm house and just beyond that it forks.

Take the left road which will pass through a hayfield. In case the hay is not cut turn to the right and follow the fence around to the other side.

About two miles beyond this place is another farm house and here you also reach the Page mill road. Turn to the left and you can return by the new road or by the Page mill road.

The latter seems to be longer but as it is all downhill and takes you to Mayfield it is shorter than the former.

The third road which a person can take from the summit of the goat trail is open only to pedestrians. It is an old haying road and soon ends.

But by continuing to go along the ridge, a person will come to the La Honda road about half a mile from the Weeks Brothers saw mill.

This trail is very much shorter than the road and is far better than walking through deep dust.”

Analysis:

USGS map of the 1890s showing new and old road titles.Link to online maps.

I’m not sure exactly where the ride starts, but it’s somewhere near downtown or from Stanford University. The stock farm mentioned was part of Stanford just north of Lake Lagunita near the intersection of Junipero Serra and Alpine Road.

The “new road” must be Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s (MROSD) Spring Ridge Trail on Windy Hill. [Brian Cox made that observation. As he points out, today’s Old La Honda Road was the main road to La Honda then. The current Hwy 84 route came later. And there’s the spring, shown in the photo.]

As the story mentions, there’s three miles of walking. They certainly walked up Spring Ridge Trail in many places.

The summit is Skyline Boulevard. Back then it must have been a ranch road and still private in sections. That didn’t stop cyclists in those days.

Going right leads to today’s Old La Honda Road. It must have been darn dusty in the summer.

I believe the road through Hallidie’s ranch refers to the old road that starts from Old La Honda and Skyline. It’s still visible and parallels Old La Honda to the southeast. I rode down it a couple of times back in the 1980s. That was Hallidie’s property and where he built his aerial tramway in 1894.

This ride continues left on Skyline past Windy Hill where there must have been hayfields and a homestead.

Riders continued on Skyline to Page Mill Road where they could turn down Alpine Road or continue on Page Mill to Mayfield, today’s California Avenue. Page Mill Road didn’t have such a large switchback to Skyline back then.

The third road mentioned from the goat trail was a stub road that didn’t go anywhere except to a ranch house. It mentions the Weeks Brothers mill, which was about a mile up Hwy 84 from La Honda. There may have been a road that could be ridden from the mill for some distance. Many trails lead off of Langley Hill.

What a great adventure ride. Jobst would have approved.

Downtown San Jose bicycle race banner

November 7, 2020

Bike race sign in downtown San Jose, probably 1889. I’m not sure about the track location since it was a cement track.


Bike racing boomed in the late 1880s. Check out this sign from the Garden City Cyclers.

In the heart of downtown San Jose people go about their business on a fine day in September, probably 1889. There was a Native Sons’ event and race on the ninth.

The race may have been at the Agricultural Park, which was at today’s Race Street. Bike races took place there, but it was dirt. Maybe concrete was put down later.

That strange tower soared 200 feet high and brought light to the city at night. It looks bizarre, and it was.

Original photo at the San Jose Library. John C. Gordon photo collection, although he didn’t take the photo.

San Jose to Yosemite in 1890 – by bike!

November 7, 2020

Buffalo soldiers touring in 1896.

“John Clayton and Fred Black returned last evening from a bicycle trip to Yosemite Valley. They had a very delightful time.

They made the run on bicycles into the valley by way of Stockton, 250 miles, in four and one-half days.

They spent six days in the valley, taking in all the points of interest.

On their homeward trip they came by way of Merced.”

San Jose Herald, July 2, 1890

Highway 9 in 1939 when it was still dirt

November 5, 2020

Highway 9 in 1939 before paving. Taken from Skyline Boulevard or higher on 9.


An amazing photo taken by John C. Gordon in April 1939 showing Highway 9, or Big Basin Way, looking east.

That bare spot on the right is about a mile up from where Redwood Gulch Road joins Hwy 9. Today it’s still there, but draped with netting to prevent erosion.

The drainage you see is Stevens Canyon.

Unpaved in April 1939! That’s a surprise. The description says photo taken on Skyline Boulevard. I’m not so sure. Maybe higher up on Hwy 9.

Link to San Jose Library collection:

Panoramic view from Skyline Boulevard

Mount Hamilton Road in 1940

November 5, 2020

Start of Mt. Hamilton Road in 1940, looking west.


Santa Clara Valley in 1940 still retained its rural character. In a decade all that would change.

Here’s what it looked like from Mt. Hamilton Road looking west. Alum Rock Avenue intersection is just to the right at a hard-to-see stop sign. (Click on image for full size.)

John C. Gordon (1887-1967) panorama, available at the San Jose Library. Click here to see image with magnify option.

It’s all about leverage

November 4, 2020

Square-tapered BBs that became popular in the early 2000s can be a challenge to overhaul.

Nothing is more frustrating during bike maintenance than a stuck bolt.

Recently I came up against a frozen bolt in my square-tapered bottom bracket (BB), vintage 2000. It’s a sealed cartridge on a Trek mountain bike.

The square-tapered bottom bracket on my mountain bike is not what we all knew and loved in the 1960-80s. It has a sealed cartridge and internal cups. It doesn’t have a lock ring on the left side.

I’ve looked on YouTube quite a bit and this BB has more than its share of issues, especially when it comes to removing stuck bolts.

Before launching into ways to loosen stuck bolts, I recommend you transition to the Shimano Hollowtech II BB. It’s a technical marvel — stronger than other BB designs, larger ball bearings, and way easier to maintain.

I struggled to remove the anchor bolts located on the ends of the BB axle. They hadn’t been removed for 15 years, so they were on there good. I’m sure bolts are torqued down tight at the factory.

It’s not just BB bolts. A while ago I tried removing the chainwheel bolts on my Shimano Ultegra crankset and stripped out two before finally removing them using a hammer drill.

My recommendations for removing stuck bolts, from mild to severe methods:

1. Oil/lubricant. Penetrating oils, even WD40, can help loosen a bolt. My experience is that it doesn’t work, but it’s worth a try.

2. Heat gun. I’ve had occasional success applying heat.

3. Brute force impact. Banging on bolts seems to work best. There are several approaches. First is to use a hammer and chisel and bang away. More sophisticated — use an impact driver, manual or drill. A manually operated reversible impact driver costs about $15. It works like a screwdriver, but instead of twisting with your hand, you bang on the end with a hammer.

An impact driver drill works the same way, but it’s automated. The drill does all the work. It can generate a lot of torque, but it’s not always enough. I had success with one bolt on my Trek BB, but needed to do something different for the other one.

4. Leverage. You may have heard of a “cheater bar.” It’s just a metal pipe that slips over a ratchet. When using this method, it’s imperative to have a well-seated hex head, screwdriver, etc. Add some grinding paste to the end of the screw head to assure a good grip.

I have a really long cheater bar. It came in handy when I removed the crank arms. A long bar offers so much leverage that it’s guaranteed to work — or shear off the bolt.

Once I got the bolts off, I had a Sugino bottom bracket puller (ancient) that worked for extracting the arms. Be sure that it’s seated tightly against the crank arm. I used a large crescent wrench and cheater bar to remove the crank arms. You could also use two crescent wrenches in tandem — one inserted into the face of the puller and one on the threaded bolt that is turned against the axle.

The final step for removing this BB requires a special tool. I purchased the Park BBT-32 20-spline. It’s fine for occasional use. There’s a better one for shop use (BBT-22C), but costs more.

BBT-32 tool from Park is needed to remove the BB cups.

I had no issues removing the threaded cups. Note that the left side cup may be plastic. Use extreme caution removing and replacing to avoid cross-threading. Another plastic component is small dust caps that cover the bolt bolt threads on each side. Pry them off with a screwdriver. They’re flimsy, so don’t be surprised if they break. Metal threaded caps are sold.

Both sides have to be removed. The right, drive side, is steel and in my case with a sealed cartridge is part of the BB.

The left side of the BB may have a white plastic cap that helps keep out debris. It comes right out. There’s another thin threaded bolt on the axle, but it’s not meant to be removed unless you’re trying to maintain the bearings. Don’t bother.

If you want to learn more, check out the First Components website. They have an excellent tutorial with photos.

Bike commuters a lonely bunch

October 30, 2020

Most of the time I didn’t see other riders during my commute.

When I rode my bike to work, it felt like I was the only pedaler in the office. Not true.

The problem is that most of the workers who rode bikes were located in other buildings. It wasn’t until I moved to their area that I started noticing more bike riders.

The Mineta Transportation Institute’s recent transportation/bike survey confirmed the “lonely rider blues.”

The survey showed that by a 29 percentage point margin, respondents overall indicated that they did not know people like them who routinely rode a bike to travel. However, 88 percent of respondents said that they knew people who drove cars to get around.

The survey respondents also said that they don’t associate riding a bike to work with poverty. Only 10 percent agreed with that sentiment. I’m not so sure these results reflect deep-seated feelings. Car commercials hammer away at the human psyche — the car as a status symbol.

Yes the Tesla is a cool technology and “clean” energy, but I think it’s more than that. It screams out to everyone in Silicon Valley — “I made it big!”

Do you really think it’s “cool” to ride a bike? Around here it’s an acceptable activity and you’re not shunned. I’m not so sure that’s true in many other parts of the country.

Nobody ever looked up to me and started riding a bike to work because I inspired them. It was a lonely pursuit, but I loved it.