Archive for the ‘Commute Adviser’ Category

Electric bicycles, mushrooms and solid tires

December 7, 2014

Skyline Boulevard looking at Old La Honda Road.

Skyline Boulevard looking at Old La Honda Road.

Saturday I tried out an electric bicycle at Bicycle Outfitter (BO) and had a chance to discuss its prospects with the staff.

At BO, as with most bike shops, electric bikes are greeted with mixed feelings. I can relate to that. When a rider goes blasting by on an electric bike, I’m none to happy, then wish I had one.

However, electric bikes are already well established in China and are gaining a following in Europe. They have their place for commuting, the market they’re going after.

The bike I rode Saturday is a commuter with a top speed of 20 mph, if you’re just running on battery power and not pedaling. It looks like the typical commuter bike with a long wheel base, solid frame, motor in the rear hub. The battery is removable and sits over the rear wheel.

While the bike had heavy, durable tires, I wouldn’t ever want to have a rear flat. Were I to own one, I’d mount the new Tannus solid tire out of Korea. Solid tires have been around for decades, but this latest version looks promising. (One user’s experience.)

Tannus solid tires eliminate flats. (Tannus photo)

Tannus solid tires eliminate flats. (Tannus photo)

It’s lightweight and has decent rolling resistance, not as good as a pneumatic tire of course, but close enough. From what I’ve read, the only drawback is that it’s a bear to mount on a standard rim. It’s rated for 6,000 miles. That means it will probably last at least several years for a commuter.

So what about the performance rider who still wants go to electric? I’ve found two wheels that hold promise — the FlyKly and the Copenhagen. They’re similar in design and both have something else in common that has many buyers frustrated. The wheels were supposed to be available months ago.

As with any new product, production delays can be expected, and because there’s electronics involved, it gets more complicated. The product has to work flawlessly. If it doesn’t, someone could be injured and lawsuits would quickly shut down the companies.

While I won’t go into the details, I would be torn between which one to buy. The FlyKly appeals to the minimalist in me. It’s unobtrusive and weighs only 6.6 pounds. The drawback is that it only works with a single speed.

The Copenhagen is painted a garish red, weighs 13 pounds, but works with any standard road bike. Just swap wheels and you’re all set. Both wheels are wireless and require an app running on a smartphone, iOS or Android.

Once they come out, I’ll be interested to read the reviews. At about $700, they’re relatively affordable. For someone who commutes longer distances, they could pay for themselves in short order.

Meanwhile, with the recent rains my chanterelle friends have finally returned after a two-year absence. They’ll join me and spaghetti for dinner in the coming days.

Chanterelles are back after a long absence. They like rain.

Chanterelles are back after a long absence. They like rain.

Here’s the recommended “Hedding” to cross Santa Clara Valley

June 20, 2014

Hedding Street offers the best cross-valley route through downtown San Jose.

Hedding Street offers the best cross-valley route through downtown San Jose.

If you’re crossing Santa Clara Valley, it might seem daunting. It’s about 16 miles of suburban sprawl with a stoplight every quarter-mile. Lovely.

In my years of doing the crossing, typically on rides up Mt. Hamilton, I’ve found the best route: Homestead Road, Tantau Avenue, Pruneridge Avenue, Hedding Street, Mabury Road, White Road, McKee Road.

That’s a straight shot with the least amount of traffic, avoiding freeway intersections with exit ramps. It’s the route to take if you’re heading up Mt. Hamilton or visiting Alum Rock Park.

If you read the Roadshow in the Mercury News, you know that some commuters have complained about the Hedding Street restriping in the downtown area. It went from four lanes to two, with a wider, green-stripe bike lane.

I rode there this morning about 7:30 a.m. and again at 12:15 p.m. I didn’t see any traffic. The most cars at a light was nine at First Street and they easily cleared the intersection at the light change.

Granted, I wasn’t there at 5 p.m. on a Tuesday, which is probably the worst time, but I can’t imagine it’s the horror show motorists claim.

If they think traffic in San Jose is bad, they need to get out more. Try Hong Kong or Manila or even Milan at rush hour. San Jose is a ghost town by comparison.

Wall of Shame

January 15, 2014

Sometimes we do silly things we later regret and we’re none the worse off for it. However, other times we do dumb things and pay a price.

I’m recording what I see on my daily commute. I’ll call out cars, bikes and peds.

Mar. 6, 7:15 a.m., San Tomas Expwy northbound before El Camino Real. Cyclist texting while riding no-hands. It was no fun passing him.

Feb. 14, 7:05 a.m., Forbes Ave. and San Tomas Expwy. Cyclist runs red light westbound on Forbes. He takes his time about it.

Feb. 12, 4:45 p.m., Monroe Street near San Tomas Expwy. Bike crossing. Car runs red light. I’ve seen this 4 times now. It’s a confusing place for cars.

Feb. 10, 7:05 a.m. Forbes Ave. and San Tomas Expwy. Cyclist riding south on San Tomas runs red light.

Jan. 30, 7:20 a.m. Walsh Ave. and Bowers Ave., W on Walsh. Cyclist runs red light. Same rider as Jan. 14-15, so I won’t mention again. Free-radical cycling make sense for one person, but falls apart when every commuter tries it. Pavement sensor detects bikes fine here.

Jan. 17, 4:45 p.m., San Tomas Expwy and El Camino Real. The San Tomas Expwy multi-use path between Cabrillo Ave. and El Camino Real is open. I rode it and enjoyed the experience. Southbound on the path, a polite driver yielded so I could take the right-turn crosswalk at El Camino. I would have done the same as a driver. If you don’t have eye contact with the driver, assume he won’t stop.

Jan 16, 7:25 a.m. Benton St. and San Tomas Expwy. Five boys on BMX bikes race across San Tomas westbound on Benton, several taking the pedestrian crosswalk against traffic, no helmets. The ones going with traffic sprint across Benton in front of approaching cars, joining the wrong-way riders continuing to school. I don’t mind the lack of helmets, but who taught them to ride against traffic and dodge in front of cars? I see them daily, so this will be my last mention.

Riding against traffic can be fatal.

Jan. 30, 7:20 a.m., Walsh Ave. and Bowers Ave., W on Walsh. Cyclist runs red light. Same rider as Jan. 14, 15. I won’t mention this one anymore. The pavement sensor detects bikes fine at this intersection. Free-radical cycling can make sense to an individual, but falls apart when every commuter adopts the same philosophy.

Jan. 16, 7:15 a.m. Forbes Ave. and San Tomas Expwy. A youth about age 10 rides his BMX bike west on Forbes across San Tomas running a red light. No lights, no helmet, dark clothes in the pre-dawn light. Did his parents teach that behavior?

Jan. 15, 7:30 a.m. Walsh Ave. and Bowers Ave., W on Walsh. Cyclist runs red light. Same cyclist as Jan. 14. He REALLY knows what he’s doing.

Jan. 14, 7:30 a.m., Walsh Ave. and Bowers Ave., W on Walsh. Cyclist runs red light. Aren’t bikes supposed to stop at red lights? This cyclist had other ideas as he slowly worked his way across the busy intersection. He looks like a highly skilled rider.

Jan. 14, 7:40 a.m., Kifer Rd. and Semiconductor Drive. Riding while on phone. The cyclist gets a call, pulls onto the side walk while riding, wobbles around and takes a call as he rides back into the street. Unbelievable.

Pedestrian lights are for pedestrians

January 1, 2014

Don't go punching pedestrian lights while on a bike, unless you're walking or it's designated for bikes. (Google maps photo)

Don’t go punching pedestrian lights while on a bike, unless you’re walking or it’s designated for bikes. (Google maps photo)

Being predictable on a bike could save your life and being unpredictable could cost you your life.

Recently I saw one of the most bizarre cycling behaviors, one that could have easily caused an accident. Fortunately it didn’t, but the cyclist should know why his action was so dangerous. Unfortunately he’ll probably never read this.

I was driving south on Saratoga Avenue in the right-turn only lane to enter the Interstate 280 on-ramp around 6 p.m. A cyclist was ahead with lights on and wearing a helmet. He looked like he knew what he was doing. I stayed behind him because the intersection was only 50 yards ahead. What really ticks me off is when a right-turning motorist pulls in front then stops so you can pass. I make a point of going left when I can. Treat bikes as you would a car and everything will be fine.

The light was green. The rider then slowed and pulled off the road. He punched the pedestrian light to make the orange hand turn white for go! At this point I slowed, not knowing his intentions. It’s a good thing I wasn’t rear-ended.

All he had to do was keep straight and everything would have been fine. Even if the light were red, he shouldn’t have pulled off the road to punch the light. In some situations where the button is within arm’s reach, that’s OK, but not when you have to pull off the road.

If you’re going to push a pedestrian light like that, you’d best be off your bike walking.

Ride like a motorist and you’ll be treated like one (usually).

Predictable riding, and traffic planning, essential for safety

December 29, 2013

Confusion on Calabazas. Do we want bike lanes crossing traffic lanes?

Confusion on Calabazas. Do we want bike lanes crossing traffic lanes?

A co-worker complained about the bike lanes on Calabazas Boulevard, Santa Clara, so I checked it out, and he was right.

I’m not a traffic engineer, but one of the cardinal rules of road design has been violated here: bikes keep right. Why oh why were the bike lanes put on the far left? Confusion reigns.

As I was stopped at Calabazas northbound at the El Camino Real light a motorist pulled up next to me in his convertible and engaged me in a conversation. He said I was the first rider he had seen using the bike lane on the left. I told him this was an unusual setup, to be sure.

I proceeded on Calabazas, a tree-lined one-way road divided by Calabazas Creek. It felt weird riding on the far left. At intersections I felt uncomfortable, wondering if cars on my left crossing Calabazas would be looking for bikes in this location. On top of this, there’s a weird sign with a car and a red-stripe through it. No cars in this lane. What’s that all about?

The El Camino Real intersections are equally confusing. The green paint shows up in two locations. Am I supposed to be in the far left lane when turning left or the one farther right? And where do cars go?

I made the mistake of being in the left side going south crossing El Camino. The small sign said “bikes left on green only.” I was kind of taking a left to get across to Calabazas, but when the car turning left from Calabazas nearly ran me over, I realized my mistake. Could have been fatal. This is an unusual left turn to begin with. Now it’s downright confusing.

Another oddity is the bike lane crossing Calabazas at an angle as it approaches Pomeroy. What if I’m turning left? It’s all wrong.

The old road alignment (two lanes one way both directions) was fine. The bike lanes were on the right. Now technically they weren’t perfect bike lanes because cars parked on the street take up too much of the lane (open door a hazard), but they could easily have taken out a lane and had parking as well as a bike lane.

Unfortunately the vehicle code (21208) says bikes must use the bike lane, with a few exceptions.

No doubt this street has a fair amount of traffic on weekdays with Wilcox High School nearby.

The city of Santa Clara, which has a bike committee, needs to revisit this road design and get it right: bikes keep right.

Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers

February 27, 2013

What do you do when you find a wallet or something of value? It's something to think about.

What do you do when you find a wallet or something of value? Think about it.

Cyclists, more than motorists, find things while riding. The questions is, what do you do when you find something of value? Keep it?

We all know the old saying, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” I think most of us would rather do the right thing though. But just a minute here. I have a story to tell.

Jobst Brandt and Brian Cox were out for a Sunday ride on Skyline Boulevard when Jobst spied a wallet. He stopped, found the owner’s address, and realized it was just a short distance away on Las Cumbres Road.

I could tell you a story about some rides down Las Cumbres and beyond, but that’s one of those Once Upon a Ride events.

The riders pedaled over to the owner’s fancy house and knocked on the door. The occupant answered and Jobst explained how he found the wallet on Skyline.

Immediately the ungrateful owner started accusing Jobst and Brian of stealing money from the wallet. It was a ugly scene, one that caused Jobst to re-think what he would do the next time he found something of value.

From what I can find online, many people put wallets into mail boxes and let the postal service handle it. Or they give it to the police.

You can never free yourself from the potential accusation that you’ve stolen something, so maybe the postal drop is the best way to go, although it may be illegal, technically speaking, to put anything in a mailbox other than postmarked materials.

I’ve never found a wallet, but I found a cell phone on two occasions. I called the owners and both times they got their phones back. One owner worked just a mile from where I live.

We’ve all found money. I keep it but it’s small change. If you found money in a store and handed it over to the clerk, do you really think the owner would stop by looking for it? Or that the clerk would return it?

That’s a dilemma and one that I’ve never entirely resolved. Since the amount of money isn’t going to change your life, I think the best thing to do is donate it to charity and have a clear conscience.

Of course most of what I find on the road is the random tool and work gloves. Those go into my garage where they have a home and will be put to good use.

Trail Work Moves Ahead in South Bay

January 12, 2012

A dodgy section of trail from Zanker Road to Coyote Creek next to Hwy 237 is being paved in 2012. The sheep stay.

We have lots of good trail news in the South Bay to start the new year. First, the unpaved portion of the Guadalupe River Trail from I-880 at the San Jose airport extending to Alviso at Gold Avenue will be paved starting later this year.

The bad news is the trail will be closed for up to a year.

On another bright note, the notoriously bad section of trail (0.6 miles) paralleling the north side of Hwy 237 from Zanker Road to Coyote Creek will be paved in 2012. It’s actually not bad if you like a funky mix of old pavement and firm gravel. I will miss it in a way.

Now if only we could see the Coyote Creek Trail opened under Hwy 237. That one has always been a mystery to me.

Finally, it took millions of dollars to buy the land from Union Pacific, but we now have the land needed to build a trail linking Los Gatos Creek Trail with Guadalupe River Trail. It’s called the 3 Creeks Trail extension.

I didn’t see any projected opening dates, so I imagine it will be a few more years before we have a place to ride.

A Mad Max Future One Road at a Time

July 28, 2011

A short stretch of Pruneridge Avenue in Santa Clara has been re-striped from two lanes to one.

As we move at glacial speed to a sustainable future (everyone rides a bike), note that the first step on that long and uncertain journey began at Santa Clara’s Pruneridge Avenue this June.

On Thursday, Gary Richards, aka Mr. Roadshow, writes in the San Jose Mercury News about the move to reduce lanes on some streets to better accommodate bikes and pedestrians, including a tiny stretch of Pruneridge. It’s happening all over the San Francisco Bay Area, although it’s really only a few streets at this point.

I can comment with authority on Pruneridge because I’ve been riding and driving on that street almost daily for more than 20 years.

The re-striped section of Pruneridge is between Pomeroy Avenue and Lawrence Expressway, maybe a quarter mile. My understanding is that this stretch of road is being changed because it’s part of a network of inter-city bike routes. The plan is to extend the re-striping to Tantau Avenue. I don’t know that it’s part of some grand plan.

Of course, as a cyclist I have no complaints. As a motorist, I also have no complaints. In fact, it’s a blessing in disguise. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving in peak traffic on Pruneridge when someone signals a left turn. I dread the left turn signal.

Invariably, there’s traffic to my right, and I know of no better way to get into an accident than moving quickly into the right lane. That’s no longer a problem because there’s a turn-only lane in place of the second lane. I’d like to see all of Pruneridge re-striped this way.

Commute Bill Creates Bureaucracy We Can’t Afford

July 24, 2011

California state legislature chambers.

As a daily bike commuter it pains me to oppose California SB 582, a commute benefits bill proposed by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco.)

If you read the bill it comes across as bureaucratic entanglement that companies and our state can’t afford.

I wonder who will administer the program? Who will monitor employees to be sure they’re not taking advantage of the bill’s benefits, and who will monitor businesses to be sure they’re honest? A company with only 20 employee may find the bill’s requirements a burden.

While I would like to receive a tax credit for riding my bike to work, isn’t our state government bankrupt? Do we want to add to our financial insolvency? Aren’t we all opposed to big government?

However, there are some situations where such an arrangement could be a win-win for companies and employees. For example, if a company could save on parking costs (all subsidized, unseen costs) because employees mostly commute by public transit, ride a bike, walk, etc., that’s great. Maybe it could be applied to new buildings as they’re built.

Companies can offer incentives without government involvement. The Bay Area is built around the car, so incentives may not be enough.

For now, I say let the free market decide how we commute. As the price of oil rises, people will find cheaper ways to get to work without the car. It may mean changing jobs.

I ride my bike because I enjoy it. Inevitably, that’s how any activity becomes a lifelong pursuit.

Commuting in the Silicon Valley Triangle

November 9, 2010

Silicon Valley triangle

Creek trails in red. From left: San Tomas Aquino, Guadalupe River, Coyote Creek

If you work inside the Silicon Valley triangle – highways 101, 237, 880 — you have quite a few options to use creek trails, which can relieve some pressure from the daily grind on busy city streets in this area.

The Silicon Valley triangle is home to hundreds of technology companies, such as Intel, Cisco, Samsung, Broadcom, BAE, Citrix, Coherent, Cypress Semiconductor, LSI, San Disk, Cadence, Qualcomm, Yahoo, and the list goes on.

I commuted from Santa Clara for four years in this area, taking the De La Cruz/Hwy 101 overpass. In that time I never found a better route of equal distance. Other routes added about a mile each way, so I mostly rode over De La Cruz.

I can’t tell you how many close calls I had, because I lost count. Most of the road angst occurred going north. De La Cruz lanes narrow as they approach the Central Expressway traffic light, beyond which there’s a double-right exit to 101.

My advice is to move left out of the right-turn-only to 101 where the traffic sign says traffic merge left for Trimble Ave. I had too many close calls with trucks when I stayed in the far right lane.

Going north over the De La Cruz 101 overpass, there’s a right lane exit to 101. I usually stayed left of that lane to go straight, but it also works to stay right and look back at cars to indicate you need to move left. Every time, cars slowed to let me head up the overpass.

Creeks, Creeks, Creeks
The big three are: San Tomas Aquino, Guadalupe River, and Coyote Creek. All have levee paths in the triangle, mostly dirt. It’s suitable for all tire sizes.

An alternative to the De La Cruz overpass is to take the frontage road (Ewert) around the San Jose Airport. A bridge over the Guadalupe River for the old car rental parking area provides trail access. The trail goes under Hwy 101, paved for a short stretch.

San Tomas Aquino path is paved north of Monroe Street in Santa Clara, going under all but one street, highway, and train track. Just beyond 237 it links up with the Sunnyvale Baylands 237 frontage road and the paved trail to Alviso.

Coyote Creek is rideable all the way from Fremont (paved to Ranch Road at McCarthy Blvd.) to Montague Expressway. South of Montague you’re on your own. This portion will link to the existing Coyote Creek Trail, eventually.

South of 237 frontage path from McCarthy Blvd. goes to Coyote Creek and ends at Zanker Rd.

Looking at the map, you will start to see possibilities for incorporating the creek trails into your commute. You’ll find the route longer, probably, but more enjoyable and there’s no stopping, no cars, not as much pollution.

Light Rail
Light rail winds through the triangle, adding more options for the bike commuter, especially someone coming from San Jose or Mountain View. However, if you’re coming from the east, you’re out of luck. In my experience, Milpitas and Fremont are not bike friendly. The primary roads have plenty of traffic.

I’d take the Great Mall Parkway 880 overpass, if convenient. The Coyote Creek Trail will provide a suitable route under 880 and Montague Expwy. My guess when — the year 2030.


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