Rooting around in the Palo Alto Historical Association online archive, I found this image taken by Kenneth Merckx (Eddy’s distant cousin) in 1930.
Here’s the same location, exactly, today using Google Maps.
It’s a lot more civilized these days.
Here’s the same location, exactly, today using Google Maps.
It’s a lot more civilized these days.
The big ride called for a day-trip over Pearl Pass to Aspen on a gnarly road. It was more than I could handle, but many do it annually.
I ventured out there in spanking-new Amtrak cars in September 1985 and had a great time with photographer David Epperson (Mountain Bike Hall of Fame) and friends of triathlete Sally Edwards.
It was a chance to ride my new Ritchey mountain bike, one of the most advanced at the time. While I enjoyed the experience, it didn’t take me long to realize mountain biking wasn’t my strong suit and I sold the bike shortly thereafter.
While the event has been moved to June, the Rockies in September can’t be beat for scenic beauty with the turning aspen.
In my travels around the world, I’ve noticed that nowhere else is the concept of “private property” so zealously defended by landowners than the US of A.
I attribute some of that, especially in the Western U.S., to the persistent Old West mentality where a man defends his homestead from real threats with his trusty gun.
Times have changed and I wish our laws would change to keep up with the times.
In Europe the “Freedom to Roam” operates in many jurisdictions when it comes to allowing people to use others’ lands. As long as you’re just passing through, say on foot or on bike, not hunting, fishing or in any way defacing the land, public access is granted.
Civilized Europe has been around for millennia, which I believe is the reason for this enlightened approach. Likewise, some areas in Asia follow the same “Freedom to Roam” principle. For example, on Malaysia’s millions of acres of rubber tree farms, mountain bikes are allowed in many sections.
In the Western U.S., native Americans did nothing but roam, but this way of life came to a screeching halt with the arrival of settlers from back East and the introduction of barbed wire in the 1870s.
In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Freedom to Roam principle could be applied in many locations, especially private logging roads. I’ve ridden these private roads, and others, for decades and never had any issues. It’s a different story today. Back in the early 1980s we didn’t have many mountain bikes, so seeing a bike was an oddity.
Lumber companies will claim liability issues, but the “Freedom to Roam” takes that into account. The land user accepts liability, not the landowner.
Public parks and agencies need to be more proactive about gaining easements on these roads, which often border their parks.
I’m not optimistic such an enlightened approach will happen in my lifetime, but it will happen, eventually.
Qualifier – it has to be a public road used by cars. Any road north of Blossom Hill Road in San Jose and south of Palo Alto.
Do you know where it is? Distance? Send me your guess.
Answer: Central Expressway between Mary Avenue and Bowers Avenue – 3.8 miles. There are only three stoplights (counting Owens Corning) continuing on to De La Cruz Blvd., 5.8 miles.
Uvas Reservoir is at 3 percent, Guadalupe 4 percent.
Chesbro is so low that a bridge over the old road is clearly visible. Why are all these old roads at the bottom of reservoirs?
Horse and wagon needed easy access to water, so they followed the creeks. It wasn’t until the advent of more reliable car radiators in the 1930s that easy access to water wasn’t a big deal.
In the 1950s when the local reservoirs were built, the were roads moved to higher ground.
It bridges Skyline and 84, looking a lot like Old La Honda Road, but a bit steeper and straighter.
Surrounded by redwoods and a canopy of madrone and tan oak, it passes by the California Water Service watershed to the north and Wunderlich County Park to the south. As with many roads in the area, it was built for logging redwoods in the mid-1800s, before being purchased by San Mateo County in 1899.
As local cyclists know all too well, it’s closed to the public. Electronic gates block both ends to keep out all but occupants of about 25 residences near the road, tucked between watershed and parkland.
Here’s the rub
The county spent $350,000 in public monies to help pave the road. In fact, ever since 1964, San Mateo County has done more than its share to help landowners build their dream homes on Bear Gulch Road. Residents got together to form an assessment district back in 1964 and over the years the county approved it and finally paved the road in November 1979 at a cost of $1.2 million, with residents chipping in about two-thirds of the cost.
But like several roads up and down the Peninsula, it is partially owned by the county — and remains exclusively private.
Before the road was closed, the county seemed eager to keep the area open to the public and provide a road for residents as well. It hired a Redwood City engineering firm to design a road 22 feet wide, broad enough for two fire trucks to safely pass one another.
The public didn’t go for it. Who needed a road as wide as Highway 84? And besides, it was too costly.
Residents continued to pursue the idea until 1974, when Martin Wunderlich made a generous offer to sell Wunderlich Ranch (now Wunderlich Park) bordering Bear Gulch Road at an extremely low price. If taxpayers didn’t want a huge road before, now, with this classy land addition, they would never approve.
Bill Royer, chairman of the county board of supervisors at the time, and himself a former real estate developer, helped find a solution.
The county said that the area was a headache, that it was impassable during winter rains and sometimes closed in the summer from fire danger. Residents complained about people shooting guns and raising a ruckus.
Bear Gulch Road property owners met with county supervisors and public works director Sid Cantwell in 1976. County officials decided to abandon the road, then pave it at its current width of 12 to 16 feet, installing gates to keep the public out.
Not only would the landowners have their paved road, it would be private. In return, the county got a bargain on a paved fire road and access to Wunderlich Park for park vehicles in exchange for turning it over to private use.
A month after the road was paved, county supervisors held a public hearing to see if anybody objected to abandoning the road. Since the road width was not up to county standards [are they ever?], the county supervisors declared it as unsafe for public use; the vote for abandonment was unanimous.
Today the road is one of the best-maintained roads in the county, partly because it has so little traffic. Its surface is as smooth as the day it was paved [it was smooth back in 1989].
Even though it is the same width as nearby county roads, it has been declared unsafe, not just for cars but for bicycles, horses and pedestrians.
I’ll get to the history part in a second, but first a little about Shiny Side Up. Like car collecting, bike collecting is a niche activity.
If you’re into the old Schwinn balloon tire bikes and “chopper” bikes, southsydecycles is the place for you.
Schwinn made millions of single-speed town bikes, and it looked like every one that’s left was on display in the park. My parents couldn’t afford a name-brand like Schwinn so we kids got the J.C. Higgins Flightliner, circa 1960, sold by Montgomery Ward.
Now let’s take a look inside the Arbuckle Gallery and see what’s in store for cycling history aficionados.
There’s a lot of history packed into a small area, starting with the earliest bike on display, a velocipede (a name coined by the French) built in the mid-1800s. These bikes with steel rims were aptly nicknamed boneshakers.
The first safety bikes that looked and worked like today’s bikes are also on display, including one of my favorites — the bike without a chain. Instead of a chain, it has rear-stay direct-drive geared shaft. (Check out the wood rims.) There’s a modern version of this bike. I don’t imagine it sells all that well, but if you really don’t like chains, it’s a decent option.
There’s also tribute paid to Spence Wolf (Cupertino Bicycles), Ellen Fletcher (Palo Alto City Council), and John Forester (bicycle transportation engineer). I did a two-hour video interview with Ellen about her life a few years ago that I hope to post.
You’ll see some interesting bikes from the past, including a classic Cinelli track bike in pristine condition, and of course some mountain bikes, which were popularized by cyclists in Marin County and, to some extent, by South Bay riders.
I talked with Chris Dresden about his recovery from a heart operation, and Ken Kratz, retired Santa Clara traffic engineer who helped design the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail. Our paths had crossed years ago at work and while I was on the Santa Clara bike committee.
Among pro bike shops, I could depend on Terry to have those rare parts that riders need for older bikes. But unlike some, Terry also catered to the regular bike crowd. One time he sold me a set of nice alloy rims for a beater 3-speed. He was the only shop owner that had alloy as opposed to the standard steel rim. Now there’s someone who appreciates all bikes.
He rode a bike since childhood, but I figure he had 50 years riding 10,000 miles a year, and that is a number he has used in correspondence. I have no doubt it’s true.
For a while in the 1970s, Jobst rode from his home in Palo Alto to the HP facility at Homestead and Wolfe Road in Cupertino. For a time I also worked nearby on Tantau and it was about 14 miles one way via Foothill Boulevard. Jobst rode both ways on most days, and on Sundays anywhere from 50 to 130 miles.
When he worked at HP Labs in Palo Alto, he always rode the Loop — Sand Hill Road, Portola Road, Alpine Road, Arastradero Road. He often complained about merging onto Page Mill Road at the I-280 exit. I hear ya.
For those of you who received the annual woodblock Christmas card, here’s one of my favorites, the avocet. It looks like he started doing these in 1965 and stopped in 2007, from what I could see.
I don’t hear that kind of talk as much now, so to impress the uninitiated they go metric on us. “They’re descending at amazing speeds, 80-90 kph.” That’s more like it.
One of the best descenders I’ve known is Jobst Brandt. Not only was he a skilled rider, he was fearless, a pre-requisite for going 60 mph and beyond. At 180 pounds he had a weight advantage over the elite riders who took his draft, racers like Tom Ritchey, Sterling McBride, Peter Johnson, Keith Vierra and others.
Jobst had a key role in designing the Avocet cyclometer (bike computer). As an engineer and a cyclist he was a stickler for accuracy, which is why the Avocet cyclometer was the most accurate computer of its time.
So how fast did Jobst go? He clocked himself just over 60 mph descending the east slope of Tioga Pass. Jobst repeated that effort on Italy’s Fedaia Pass with Peter Johnson. Dave McLaughlin, past winner of the Mt. Hamilton road race, says he reached a similar speed on Tioga Pass, according his to friends following in a car.
You can’t appreciate how fast that is until you’re up around 50 mph. The slightest error means catastrophe — a rock, a gust of wind, a pothole.
I’ve read anecdotal reports of racers reaching speeds of 75 mph, but I’m skeptical. It would have to be under perfect conditions and with a tailwind. Few racers carry as much weight as Jobst, who also lugged a 20-pound saddle bag on his Alps rides.