Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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.

Chanterelle memory

March 24, 2022

Chanterelle harvest in 2006.

I haven’t shown this photo on my blog because it was taken in 2006, but it deserves some exposure.

This is easily the most mushrooms I found during an outing in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I think it weighed 10 pounds. I had to drive the car for this harvest and recruited the entire family.

We had a wet winter, really wet. I don’t know if this was 2005-2006, but probably.

I think mushrooms are bellwethers for the environment, especially the chanterelle. They spook easily and they’re particular about the weather.

They like wet and cold winters.

I get the feeling that we’ll never see those days again in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s sad, really sad.

I haven’t found chanterelles for several years.

Peter Johnson had a machinist’s soul

January 17, 2022

Jobst Brandt, Olaf Brandt, Peter Johnson, Jan Causey Johnson in Switzerland, 1984. Jobst Brandt photo

When it came to having someone mend my smashed frame in 1981, I immediately thought of Peter Johnson.

I got to know him on Sunday rides with Jobst Brandt, and sharing that kind of toil and strife gave me confidence that he’d do a good job.

Peter warned me that I shouldn’t expect the bike to last forever. When tubes have to be reheated they become more brittle and joints are prone to failure.

I was a starving cyclists at the time and needed a quick fix. So Peter built a new fork, and replaced the toptube, downtube, and headtube.

The bike lasted five more years and got me through a three-week ride in the Alps. I couldn’t complain.

Peter and Jobst complemented each other, like wheels on pavement. Peter the machinist built and maintained Jobst’s bike for more than 25 years.

Peter Johnson negotiates Engsteln Trail near Melchtal, Switzerland, in 1985. Jobst Brandt photo
Peter on Gavia Pass in 1984. Jobst Brandt photo

They toured the Alps six times, 1982-85, 1989, and 1990. That’s a lot of miles and climbing.

Now Peter is gone. I last saw him a few years ago, in the hospital after heart surgery. He died in Bern, Switzerland, a place he loved to visit.

Peter was a regular on Sunday rides well into the 1990s, and his wife Jan joined him on many occasions. Our Wool Jersey Gang had some fun adventures exploring the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I’ll never forget my last visit to Peter’s machine shop in 2006. He owned enough tools and machines to build a car from scratch. Not to mention spare bike equipment.

Peter built obscure parts in his job, things you’ll never see but find their way into vital machinery.

Jobst asked Peter to machine special washers that lodged between a Shimano SPD clipless pedal and a Campagnolo or Shimano crank arm. I had already broken two cranks at the pedal eye, so I jumped at the opportunity to have Peter build me some washers and mill in the crank’s pedal hole opening.

While the washers were tiny and didn’t look like they could do much to prevent a failure, they have worked perfectly for years. The snug fit keeps the pedal from moving.

Machine shop in 2006

Finally, Peter could invent. He built a threadless headset in the early 1970s, well before they were “invented.” It was used by Marc Brandt and Grant Handley in 1976.

Parts wear out with use, and we’re no exception. Now there’s one less machinist to keep the wheels turning. We had some good Sunday rides together, memories that last a lifetime.

Alpine Road’s “muddy” history

September 28, 2021

Upper Alpine Road between Page Mill Road and Portola Valley got its start in the mid 1800s as a trail, then a crude wagon road.

In 1893 San Mateo County declared the road a public right of way and made improvements.

It was all about the economy. The county supervisors thought they could siphon away business going to Santa Clara County by having a better road down the east slope of the coast range.

And so began the road’s tortured history of closures caused by earthquakes and storms that wiped out culverts and bridges.

Look at these photos taken by Jobst Brandt around 1974. The road turned into a muddy mess during wet winters.

Laurence Malone struggles up Alpine Road in the mud.
Dirt bike and cyclists find the mud hard going on Alpine Road. Jobst Brandt photos.

According to Peter Johnson, a cyclist who rode Alpine Road on many occasions, he walked up it faster than half of the cyclocross competitors could ride/walk that day.

The race was hosted by the Palo Alto Bicycle Club, fulfilling a United States Cycling Federation requirement that a club hold one race a year.

I don’t know who won the race, or where it went after reaching Page Mill Road. Maybe someone will read this and post a comment with the information.

For certain, five-time U.S. cyclocross national champion Laurence Malone entered and is shown. Other names mentioned as possibly appearing in the photos are Joe Ryan and Tom Hill, according to Dino Ride on Facebook.

Jobst knew to stay off the road when wet, but we almost always encountered the gooey stuff at “Mud Turn.”

Road Scholar tutorial

August 13, 2021

Over the years I’ve ridden my bike on every kind of surface imaginable. Nothing beats a new coat of asphalt.

My fondest memory of a newly paved road is Hwy 236 through Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

That’s because the old road was badly broken when repaved in 2016, so the new road felt like heaven.

Here are the main types of road construction methods:

Dirt – Needs no explanation. Without maintenance, dirt roads degrade faster than any other surface. They can be muddy in the wet, and dusty when dry.

Alpine Road in 1990 after grading.

Gravel – Nothing more than a dirt road with a layer of gravel. Thick gravel is bad news for bikes. Gravel reduces erosion and improves traction in wet, versus mud.

Gravel road at Col de Tende in 1986. It’s still unpaved
on the French side.

Roman, Stone, Brick – I categorize these types as one. Roman roads are renowned for lasting millennia, although not without maintenance. Bumpy as hell. Think Paris-Roubaix.

Roman road near Naples.
Brick road in Switzerland.

Macadam – Named after John McAdam, a Scottish road builder. It’s basically different sizes of gravel, finest grade at the top. McAdam added compression to make the road last longer. Heavy cast-iron rollers were used to compress gravel, sand, and rock beginning in the 1800s. The U.S. completed its first macadam road in 1830 in Maryland, the Boonsborough Turnpike.

I know macadam roads were built in the Bay Area, but I’m not sure if there are any today.

You might say the improved Bay Trail between Santa Clara and Mountain View is a macadam road, using gravel and fine-grain sand. It’s well compacted and resists water better than any dirt or gravel road.

Tarmac – This is an early form of pavement, patented by Edgar Hooley in 1902, but McAdam made a similar material in the 1830s. Tar is mixed with gravel. It wasn’t used widely until the advent of the automobile.

I suppose some the old Bay Area’s roads paved today started as tarmac. I associate tarmac with chunky gravel. You see it on many old roads around here that have been abandoned.

Tarmac on Montebello Road.

Asphalt – It’s the most popular road surface in the world. Modern petrochemicals are mixed with sand, rubber, and all sorts of other materials, such as glass, to create a smooth surface. It dates back to 1870, with improvements in 1900 and 1907, when refined petroleum was used — modern asphalt.

Concrete – This material was all the rage for road building starting in the 1920s. It’s still popular today. It consists of Portland cement (clay and limestone binding agent), sand, and water, which hardens into concrete.

One of the best examples of a concrete road, about 100 years old and still in use, is Old Santa Cruz Highway.

Old Santa Cruz Hwy south of Summit Road.

Greg LeMond’s first pro bike

August 1, 2021

The image below shows LeMond’s first pro bike, bought by his father in 1975(?). What’s amazing about this image is that it’s a painting!

Greg liked the painter’s work so much that he commissioned Nickalas Blades to paint his yellow Cinelli.


While we’re on the topic of Greg LeMond, I found a recent interview with the Tour de France champion, available on YouTube. JT Frank is the interviewer. He lets Greg give an in-depth summary of his introduction to cycling and early family life.

Fatigue Limit – 15

June 27, 2021

Dunlop’s first pneumatic bicycle tire, circa 1887. (Wikipedia)

“Why not buy here?” I asked. Carl discounted my comment. “Frame size for one. Unavailable. This bike will be one-of-a-kind.”

Carl lifted his glass and toasted Paul. Engineering principles called for a triangular configuration. “My frame is elegant, clean, simple, and will last. A bike is no more than a top tube, down tube, head tube, seat tube, and rear stays. I only want essentials. These Rover, McCarthy, Rambler, and Cogent frames with the crazy curves are an awful idea. I wouldn’t be seen on one.”

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Fatigue Limit – 14

June 20, 2021

Bicycle patent from 1890.

I returned to sit next to Carl, who engaged Paul Johansen in a hushed conversation away from the other riders.

“Tab, Paul and I are working on a project. Keep it to yourself. Understand?”

“Sure. Off the record.”

“Paul is building a frame using the latest in structural engineering and metallurgy. I’m reviewing the details now. What do you think Paul?”

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Fatigue Limit – 12

June 6, 2021

Freddy Maertens races horse at Amiens, July 1977. Notice the broken wrist. He was supposed to be racing in the Tour de France. Cyclist vs. Horse Duel

I rode north on El Camino Real, quiet as always on a weekday morning. As I passed Mr. Olson’s home I saw him entering the road in his carriage, pulled by Jenny, his faithful mare. She had a healthy-looking chestnut coat offset by a long blonde mane. I stopped to greet Jake Olson, who owned the county’s largest cherry orchard. “Good to see you, Mr. Olson.”

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Fatigue Limit – 11

May 30, 2021

Same location since 1852, Alpine Road and Arastradero Road.

The view inspired, and gave me peace of mind after the near miss. Puffy white clouds and blue sky made this experience an occasion upon which dreams are made. As much as the rides hurt during the climbs, seeing the valley’s sprawling fruit groves erased those thoughts on the way down. This road offered serenity to cyclists who mastered descending.

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