Santa Cruz ride puts a spring in my day

March 28, 2015
Isn't it time to take down these signs? Seen on Cloverdale Road and Alpine Road.

Isn’t it time to take down these signs? Seen on Cloverdale Road and Alpine Road.

There’s nothing better than a spring ride down the coast to Santa Cruz because in all likelihood you’ll have a nice tailwind. Thursday was no exception.

I don’t recall ever riding this loop on a weekday. It’s almost always on Sunday or Saturday. Now that it’s over, I can tell you Sunday is probably the best day for riding.

On Thursday I saw enough Santa Cruz Mountain commuters to last me a while. Because they drive roads like Page Mill daily, they’re aggressive and fast. They don’t anticipate seeing cyclists.

On Moody Road I missed being run over by inches. A Chevy Volt came up from behind while a Tesla came down the hill and I immediately knew that, according to the Law of Confluence, we would all meet at the same place in the road.

I was so far to the right that my front wheel ran off the pavement into the gravel. Just another close call in the life of a cyclist.

But I digress. Things got more civilized on west Alpine Road where I saw only a car or two.

At the Portola State Park Road junction I saw a sign warning cyclists not to ride on Alpine Road due to gravel.

San Mateo County road maintenance might want to include cars in their warning. Loose gravel can be equally hazardous for cars, especially ones in a hurry like those daily commuters.

The sign has been there for many months and the loose gravel is long since gone.

Loma Mar Store under repair. Lots of memories here.

Loma Mar Store under repair. Lots of memories here.

As I passed the Loma Mar store, a place full of memories of past Jobst Rides, I noticed it was jacked up. Erik Garfinkel informs me it’s receiving a new foundation and will be back in business.

I got my tailwind on Hwy 1 and enjoyed the ride into Santa Cruz. I took the usual route through the city via the San Lorenzo River path, over the bridge to Felker Street, Plymouth, Fernside, Emeline Avenue, El Rancho Drive.

Riding up Mountain Charlie Road I noticed about the same amount of traffic I would see on a Sunday afternoon. Nothing to speak of. Even a few cyclists rode by.

Nice bike bridge over San Lorenzo River. There's also a path under Hwy 1 to Hwy 9.

Nice bike bridge over San Lorenzo River. There’s also a path under Hwy 1 to Hwy 9.

New life for old Avocet Gelflex saddle

March 25, 2015

Avocet Gelflex saddle gets a new life with a marine vinyl cover.

Avocet Gelflex saddle gets a new life with a marine vinyl cover.

One of the best bike saddles ever made, the Avocet Gelflex, had one drawback: its flimsy nylon cover didn’t last long.

Today it’s difficult to find a plain nylon saddle cover to go over the Gelflex, so I checked around and found instructions for using marine vinyl to recover a saddle.

The Instructables website “how to” article took me through step by step. It’s a great description, even if I did botch the job.

I’ll share my experience here and give some hard-learned advice.

First, I purchased the marine vinyl at a local fabric shop. It comes in a set width, which was wide enough for a saddle cover, so all you need to do is buy as much as you need in terms of length. I bought a half-yard in anticipation of doing several saddles. The salesperson knew exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned the vinyl. It’s not expensive.

Second, I used a 3M spray glue called Scotch Super 77. It’s an all-purpose adhesive, but maybe isn’t the best spray glue for the job. On reflection I would use a spray that’s meant for “headliner” jobs.

Headliner is a car’s ceiling fabric. Glues made for headliners hold up well in heat and adhere better to the kind of fabrics we’re talking about here.

Third, follow the directions to the letter. I only sprayed one coat on the second spray session, where the sides are glued down the saddle, when two were called for. The result was that the adhesion wasn’t good where your inner thigh touches the saddle.

Fourth, try to make the template as close as possible to the actual size you need. That was a problem with the Gelflex because the saddle cover was almost completely worn away. I had to eyeball it and use the saddle to get an estimate.

However, you don’t want to cut the cover too small, because there is no recovery from such a mistake.

Fifth, the stapling is difficult. I used a hand stapler that usually only works half the time. Sometimes the staple pierced the saddle, other times it didn’t go far enough. I used a different adhesive to glue down the small sections beneath the saddle.

Finally, I had difficulty pulling the vinyl tight so there were no ridges or bumps around the sides. Commercial saddle makers use machines for this step, so don’t expect your saddle will ever come out looking that good.

I’ll give it another try with my second Gelflex saddle and hope for better results. The one I have is functional, but it’s hard to say how long it will last.

Squeaky wheels of democracy turning at the Santa Clara Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee

March 23, 2015

Bike and pedestrian committee information is found on the Santa Clara website.

Bike and pedestrian committee information is found on the Santa Clara website.

I’ve attended a couple meetings of the Santa Clara Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and witnessed the democratic process in action. Meetings are open to the public.

What I like about democracy is that everyone has a voice , even if you’re a tiny minority, which is true for bicycle commuters, who make up only about 2 percent of the population.

As I sat through the meetings, I remembered why I left the committee as a member back in the early 1990s. Government moves at its own pace.

I’m not complaining. It’s just the way things are. There needs to be consensus and that takes time.

Back in the early 1990s the grand plan in Santa Clara was to build a recreation path along San Tomas Aquino Creek. I’m happy to say that reach 3 to Monroe Street opened in 2009. That’s about a 20-year wait.

There’s more coming as the path inches its way south on San Tomas Expressway, ending at Stevens Creek Boulevard. It’s a huge improvement for pedestrians who live near the expressway and useful for cyclists who don’t want to ride on the expressway.

I’m not seeing any grand plans on par with San Tomas, but there’s only so much you can do in a city filled with cars.

Now here’s the rub. We all can agree on one thing: traffic gets worse every year and something needs to be done about it. Assuming we continue to see growth — that’s always the plan — something has to give.

Try finding a parking spot at Valley Fair on the weekend, any weekend. Apple is building a massive office in Cupertino right next to Santa Clara. I’m seeing office complexes mushrooming everywhere in Santa Clara, mostly north of Central Expressway.

Bicycle organizations are trying their best to work with local governments to develop a network of bicycle-friendly streets. They call it a “road diet” or “traffic calming” but the bottom line is that it means restricting the flow of traffic, typically from two lanes one direction to one lane and the addition of bike lanes with restricted parking.

Gary Richards, Mr. Roadshow, wrote about the trend in the San Jose Mercury News in 2011, about the time Santa Clara re-striped Pruneridge Avenue for a short distance either side of Lawrence Expressway.

Councilmember Teresa O’Neill, who chairs the committee (and who actually commuted to work by bike), said the Pruneridge re-striping brought a wave of complaints to the city.

I’ve driven that section of Pruneridge numerous times at rush hour and I’m not seeing any change in traffic patterns. If anything, the Lawrence/Pruneridge intersection is less chaotic.

I think the city should take all of Pruneridge from four lanes to two because it’s really just a continuation of Hedding Street in San Jose, and Hedding was changed from four lanes to two in 2013. It’s a great start to having a bike-friendly boulevard across Santa Clara Valley. The obvious continuation would be Homestead Road.

In addition, put every road next to a school on a road diet where bicycle traffic is heaviest.

I’m not under any illusions about the bicycle and its popularity as a transportation option. It will never be as popular as other transportation methods because it requires physical skills and some level of fitness.

However, when it comes to finding ways to reduce traffic, accommodating bicycles by creating a network of bike-friendly streets will increase the number of people who choose to bike commute.

That’s good for the environment and good for transportation in the Valley. With fewer people driving, the road diet won’t be such a bad idea after all.

I’ll share more about what’s happening with the committee down the road. Basically, this is where the cyclist’s agenda meets political reality, but at least our voice is being heard.

New Idria’s siren call leads to new adventures in San Benito County

March 21, 2015

John climbs back to Hwy 25 from Willow Creek Road

John climbs back to Hwy 25 from Willow Creek Road

John Woodfill and I headed south to Paicines on Thursday morning for the second New Idria ride in as many years. It became a tradition in 2003, but a closure of Clear Creek Road by the BLM shut down the ride until 2014 when they re-opened the road with restrictions.

The 114-mile loop, going through Panoche Valley, was pioneered by Bruce Hildenbrand.

We headed into a mild breeze with temps in the mid-40s at 7:50 a.m. and a brilliant sunshine that strained the eyes on this last day of winter. We seem to be doing this ride earlier in the year, mainly due to the drought. Even with the early departure date this would be our warmest ride, temps in the high 70s.

At mile 10.8 we crossed Willow Creek bridge on Highway 25 and took an immediate left onto Willow Creek Road, 112 in the San Benito County registrar of roads. Whether or not it’s still public remains to be seen (I have a question in to the county).

The pavement ended after a mile as we continued on a good dirt road, passing a ranch and several barns next to the road, nobody around.

The sun highlighted brilliant green hillsides and a flat valley where cattle grazed behind barbed-wire fences. Wildflowers put on a show in some locations, but it’s still early. As I looked down I found a clam shell fossil, evidence that this land was once under the ocean.

Willow Creek Road deadend
After about three miles of riding on the undulating dirt road, which varied from smooth to a bit bumpy, we arrived at a fork, the well-used left going steeply uphill at about a 20 percent grade. We saw a road going straight, overgrown with grass, and then noticed a barbed-wire fence across the road.

We didn’t want to risk a potentially long walk ahead, assuming this was Willow Creek Road, probably washed out years ago in the narrow canyon ahead, so we turned around. John noticed a well-worn dirt road going uphill and figured that would take us back to Hwy 25, which it did.

A mile of some fairly steep climbing took us to a ranger station where we saw a parked helicopter, about two miles south from where we turned off at Willow Creek Road. We burned 45 precious minutes on a ride that usually ends just before dark (10 years ago we finished at 6:30 p.m. and left at 8 a.m., so age is catching up).

I thanked my lucky stars I brought a headlight and tail light, as did John.

Rush hour traffic over, we saw only the occasional car. We motored along the relatively flat road, passing Pinnacles National Park and after a mile climb coasted downhill to Old Hernandez Road and hung a left. In a mile we came to the junction with Willow Creek Road, where we had hoped to come out.

San Benito River crossing
Passing private property signs, obviously put there by the land owner, we headed onto the dirt road that follows an alluvial plain created by the once mighty San Benito River, now a healthy creek.

Once again we had to figure a way across the river without getting our feet wet. Using the skills of cave men, we tossed large rocks into the water hoping we could create a stepping-stone path. It worked, sort of.

We continued south on the fine dirt road that follows the San Benito River for another four miles before finding more pavement and riding another four miles or so to Coalinga Road.

From here the road continued through a wide canyon cut by the San Benito River, reminding me of the backside of Mt. Hamilton.

We passed a shuttered ranger station as I began wondering if two water bottles would be enough for this long ride. It wasn’t, but fortunately John brought plenty of GatorAde.

After the climb to the Sweetwater Spring camp with a 14 percent grade, we plunged down and climbed steeply again before the final descent and flat ride to Clear Creek Road, marked as always by the American flag. Nearby Hernandez Reservoir was nowhere to be seen, a victim of the drought.

BLM permits for Clear Creek Road
We had excellent traction on Clear Creek Road, a big improvement over last year when a road grader had just plowed the muddy, wet road.

Clear Creek Road cuts through BLM land in San Benito County.

Clear Creek Road cuts through BLM land in San Benito County.

Last year we saw a couple of off-road motorbikes, but this year we saw nothing. The only sounds we heard were chirping crickets and the trickling Clear Creek.

The road is gated about three miles up. Motorists who pre-register are given a combination to open the gate. After checking with the BLM, I learned that there is no charge for bicycles to use the road. A $5 fee applies only to motorized vehicles. Anyone using the road, cyclists included, must register online.

Summit at 4,450 feet. It's all downhill from here.

Summit at 4,450 feet. It’s all downhill from here.

To break the routine of a long climb up a narrow canyon lined with mine tailings, we rode through Clear Creek at least eight times. At a junction where the road turns steeply uphill to the left we began the challenging 2.6-mile climb to the 4,450-foot summit, with a grade of 10-12 percent and loose dirt.

It went much more smoothly than last year when my rear wheel constantly jammed with mud at the brake bridge (had the brake bridge raised). We reached the summit around 3 p.m., barely halfway into the ride.

The steep road down to New Idria, with some sections of 20 percent, gets worse every year, to the point that I had to walk in numerous sections. We reached the toxic holding pond in one piece and took a left at the junction. Now the road became more civilized, but some sections have become so rutted that more walking was called for.

Panoche hills as seen from high above New Idria.

Panoche hills as seen from high above New Idria.

The hard riding doesn’t end at New Idria, where the lonely rusted out town has only a few buildings standing. No water or facilities of any kind here. Even the friendly pig and its owner are gone.

The next mile of steep descending has become a real test of bike and rider, with insanely deep ruts to negotiate. It was with welcome relief that we reached the better paved road and continued the long ride to Panoche Valley and our one stop at Panoche Inn.

The ride complexion changed dramatically with New Idria behind us. Spectacular views of the distant Panoche hills were replaced by broad vistas of ranchland and grazing cattle. The occasional windmill interrupted the otherwise featureless countryside.

We made good speed with only gentle headwinds on occasion. The road is a patch-quilt of repairs, except one stretch of signed experimental county road. The county tried out a machine that grinds up the old road and immediately uses that material to create the new roadbed. I have no idea about the fate of the project, but it sounds like a great idea.

With about 10 miles to Panoche Inn my inner thigh started cramping. A quick stop to take some Advil and stretch staved off further cramping, and we even picked up the pace with a nice tailwind.

Panoche Inn ice cream treat
Once onto Panoche Valley Road it’s only about four miles of mostly flat riding to the inn. Larry, the owner, who used to live in Menlo Park, served us some cold drinks and we purchased one of their specialties — ice cream in a big sugar cone served by Larry’s wife. It hit the spot!

While we would have liked to hang out at the friendly bar and hear more stories about the area, we had to leave. It was already 5:30 p.m. and we still had 28 miles of riding ahead. A quick calculation told me we would be riding in the dark since the sun set at 7:15 p.m.

Even after 90 miles or hard riding, the last 28 miles has to be the most enjoyable in my years of cycling. There is almost no traffic on a weekday evening and the road winds up and down through oak-covered hills. There’s nothing like riding through cool air and seeing the hills turn hues of gold and brown as the sun sets in the west.

We kept a strong pace back to Paicines riding in darkness on the empty road, arriving at the car at 7:50 p.m. with 119 miles behind us.

Past New Idria ride reports

Route for the New Idria ride

Route for the New Idria ride

Mt. Hamilton a tale of two climbs

March 13, 2015

Wednesday rain cleared the air. By Thursday morning the clouds burned off in Halls Valley.

Wednesday rain cleared the air. By Thursday morning the clouds burned off in Halls Valley.

We usually think of climbing Mt. Hamilton as one long grind to the observatory, an 18-mile celebration of breathtaking scenery, gears and lightweight equipment.

But there’s a dark side to Mt. Hamilton, the eastern climb, which was not designed with horses and telescope equipment in mind.

It’s a serious four-mile grind from Isabel Creek with the last half-mile the hardest at about 11 percent.

Thursday I decided to leave from home and ride to The Junction, the only store between Livermore and San Jose, located at Del Puerto Canyon Road where Hwy 130 meets Mines Road. Then I rode back via Mt. Hamilton.

The only downside is that the wildflowers were not yet ready to show themselves. I saw a sprinkling, but nothing to write home about.

The good news is that from Mt. Hamilton summit the snow-capped Sierra stood out, which is always a sight to behold.

Weather couldn’t have been nicer, with temperatures ranging from the low 50s to the low 70s by the end of the day.

While at The Junction I joined another Ritchey Break Away owner for a mini convention of sorts. As it turned out he and his friends were also headed back my way, and we happened to leave at the same time. They had started at Halls Valley Lake in Grant Ranch park.

As I started the last climb before the big one to the Mt. Hamilton summit I came across one of the riders I saw at the store. I stopped and asked what was up. He had a front flat, but not just any flat because he was riding those fancy tubeless tires.

Now there’s a cautionary tale. I’ve never been a fan of tubeless tires. I asked if he had a spare tube and he said he did, but that it was a major hassle to install it.

I don’t know the reasons, but from what I’ve read about tubeless tires, they’re not easy to mount and they rely on sealant to plug holes. He said he didn’t see any sealant coming out and couldn’t understand what was the problem.

I couldn’t help, so I said I would ride ahead and let the other riders know his situation, which I did. I don’t know the outcome because I made it back to the park before they did.

I do think airless tires have a future, just not the kind he was riding. The ones that look more promising, like Tannus, don’t rely on air pressure, just air gaps in rubber.

However, the lowly tube and tire may remain the best, most reliable way to go until new materials come along. I can fix most anything that goes wrong with a tube/tire: blowouts, puncture vine, glass, etc.

Another cautionary note about the backside of Mt. Hamilton. Your fancy smartphone won’t do much good because there isn’t any cell coverage. There isn’t much traffic either. At least most people driving by will be happy to help.

Rideye offers “black box” evidence video

March 10, 2015
Rideye fits easily on a handlebar or seatpost.

Rideye fits easily on a handlebar or seatpost.

While there are already video cameras suitable for bikes (GoPro, Mobius, Sony), the recently available Rideye, a Kickstarter project, offers “black box” features not found in other cameras.

Is it worth the $200 asking price for the 8GB version? It all depends on what you’re looking for in a camera. If your primary concern is to have evidence video in the event of an accident — the Rideye (pronounced “ride eye”) is the obvious choice.

It’s built like a tank. We’re talking about a CNC 6061-T5 aerospace-grade aluminum body, which can withstand some serious pounding in the event of a crash.

The built-in accelerometer insures that the video up to and including impact will be captured.

Battery life is about 10 hours. While that’s way better than the Mobius (1 hour) or GoPro (2-5 hours), it’s still not long enough for an all-day ride. Battery technology has room for improvement. Electronics can be designed to use less power, but the bigger issue is lithium-ion battery chemistry.

I’ve been using the Rideye and I don’t have any major complaints, just minor ones. First, this is not a light camera. It weighs in at 200 grams (mount included). You’ll notice it has some heft when you pick it up.

Second, the rubber band that wraps around the handlebar may stretch with use. Only time will tell. It’s a clean, simple design, but it may sacrifice durability for convenience. There is some jiggling on the handlebar, but it doesn’t affect the still image, which is sharp and clear 1080p quality.

At 170 degrees, the wide-angle perspective captures everything you need to see.

One feature I really like is ease of use. There is only one button, on top. Press it to start. You’ll see a small red LED start blinking every second when it’s on.

If you want to capture a moment, press the button down. It will capture the current 5-minute segment, as well as the previous and next five minutes.

Otherwise, the video works in an infinite loop, overwriting after 1.5 hours for the 8GB version, every 6 hours for the 32GB model ($250).

Files (.mov) are accessible through a standard MicroUSB cable. You will need to set the date/time in a TXT file, which is easy.

Check out the video sample in hi-res, and you’ll see that parked car license plates are easy to read. It’s a different story with a passing car. License plates in the far left lane can’t be read. Car plates in the same lane to your left may or may not be legible. A lot depends on the lighting and vehicle speed.

Bottom line is that if you’re a daily commuter (ideally 1 hour total daily) you will find the Rideye a useful addition that will only need charging once a week. Owning a Rideye is a lot like wearing a helmet. You won’t need it often, but when you do, it could prove useful in court.

Rideye brings to the forefront another issue with today’s well-equipped cyclist. We have too many doo-dads: camera, bike computer, bell, light. It’s hard to fit everything onto the handlebars.

I’d like to see a device more like a smartphone that serves multiple roles. It’s something for the next inventor to conjure up.

A tree house worth millions

March 8, 2015

Luxury tree house on Granite Creek Road.

Luxury tree house on Granite Creek Road.

What kid doesn’t dream about hanging out in a tree house on a nice summer day? Well, there’s a luxury tree house on Granite Creek Road that takes the cake.

I don’t know who uses it, but they must be privileged souls. Nice work.

Jobst Brandt always preferred riding up Granite Creek Road on return trips from Santa Cruz via Mtn. Charlie Road.

I hadn’t ridden on it in a million years, but I can appreciate why he liked it. It’s a not-too-difficult stair-step climb, with the steepest part coming before the summit, at around 15 percent for a short stretch, but no so long that it’s to be avoided.

Not much traffic and a gurgling creek to listen to on the way up. But where’s the granite?

Hailstones look like snow on Skyline Boulevard

March 2, 2015

Hailstones line a ditch on Skyline Boulevard near Alpine Road.

Hailstones line a ditch on Skyline Boulevard near Alpine Road.

While the East Coast digs out from record snowfalls, here in sunny Silicon Valley we can only offer up some puny hailstones.

I’m glad I missed it Saturday on Skyline Boulevard. Sunday’s weather proved more favorable for riding.

Personal freedom vs. safety obsession

February 26, 2015

A broken crank sent me head-first onto the pavement.

A broken crank sent me head-first onto the pavement.

On the face of it, the bicycle helmet law is a no-brainer. Helmets have saved many lives and prevented concussions, myself included.

I almost always wear a helmet. I say almost because once in a while I like to ride without one, like when I ride a few blocks to the barber shop for a haircut or on an all-day ride over Mt. Hamilton.

There was a time when we didn’t have helmets and those we did have were a joke — the leather hairnets that provided zero protection. Modern materials changed all that in the 1980s.

But it was Jim Gentes and his Giro that really made the helmet “cool” in 1985.

Pretty soon the elite riders started wearing his lightweight, stylish helmet and now the only people who don’t wear helmets are casual cyclists or those who can’t afford them. And…friends of Jobst Brandt.

Jobst famously never wore a helmet and lucky for him he never will. He hated helmets and swore he would never wear one. He didn’t care what others did for their safety. He wanted no part of it.

Jobst argued that helmets make cyclists think they can’t be hurt and thus more prone to taking chances. I’m not sure I buy that notion. He stubbornly believed that his riding skills would keep him safe.

For the most part he was right. It was only later in life when those skills had degraded that Jobst fell and hit his head on Mt. Hamilton. He had other incidents, but they were never serious.

It was Jobst’s choice to not wear a helmet.

Those choices are narrowing. In today’s world the bicycle helmet is one more indication that we have become obsessed with safety. In one Wyoming school an innocent outdoor activity of tag was banned for fear that students would harm themselves. Four-square and tetherball have been eliminated in most school yards.

I can’t tell you how many times people have told me riding a bike is dangerous and I should always wear a helmet. Sure it has its hazards, but so does all outdoor activity. I’m not any more fearful of cycling than I am driving a car, probably less.

While nobody can argue against taking safety precautions, there has to be a limit. Life cannot be lived free of risk.

Old Pedro Mountain Road a recreational gem

February 22, 2015

Old Pedro Mountain Road overlooks the Pacific between Montara and Pacifica.

Old Pedro Mountain Road overlooks the Pacific between Montara and Pacifica.

Old Pedro Mountain Road summit looking north to Pacifica.

Old Pedro Mountain Road summit looking north to Pacifica.

Is it possible that Global Warming has forever changed Pacifica’s weather from foggy and damp to sunny and insanely nice? Sunday’s ride made me think so.

On top of the sunny skies, Frank-Sinatra-blue-eyes Pacific and rugged hills, there’s the Old Pedro Mountain Road rolling over them, one of the finest multi-use trails this side of Paradise.

On today’s ride I set out from the seaside community of Montara and headed across some brief single-track in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area before finding the road and beginning a long but not-so-steep climb to the summit where there’s a view of Pacific and — just barely visible in the distance — the red spires of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’m told there are miles and miles of trails running along the coastal hills between Half Moon Bay and Pacifica.

If access to the San Francisco watershed ever becomes a reality, this slice of the Pacific coast will easily become one of the finest recreation areas on planet Earth. I’m not exaggerating.

Lake Ranch Reservoir in Sanborn Park. It's so, so, so legal for bikes.

Lake Ranch Reservoir in Sanborn Park. It’s so, so, so legal for bikes.


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