Archive for the ‘History’ Category

An Appeal for Help

January 14, 2011

At the Mt. Hamilton summit overlook, about 1970, from left: John Hiatt, Anwil McDonald, Dave Lucas, George Varian, Jobst Brandt (Photo courtesy Jobst Brandt)

This photo is the oldest I can find of cyclists on Mt. Hamilton. I hope someone out there can direct me to much older photos for my upcoming “Mt. Hamilton by Bike” magazine. I’ve tried all the obvious sources and came up empty.

Cyclists have probably been riding up Mt. Hamilton since the 1920s, or even earlier. If you have a solid lead, let me know. Even an account or a remembrance would be nice. The oldest account I have is 1955.

Mt. Hamilton by Bike

December 19, 2010

Coming soon on

Here now, an exhaustive (what else for this ride?) look at Mt. Hamilton from the cyclist’s perspective. Historical facts about the road, past and current rides, and a detailed map of my updated century route over Mt. Hamilton and through Livermore are included.

Mt. Hamilton Road in 1900-10

December 17, 2010
Mt. Hamilton Road

Mt. Hamilton road around 1900. Much better than the 1876 photo I posted, but still not the place to ride in the summer. Note the dust. (Alice Hare photo, 1859-1942)

Once Upon a Ride… A Mt. Hamilton Ride of Olympic Caliber

May 10, 2010

We stopped for some food in Livermore on the Mt. Hamilton ride.

April 29, 1984

Riders: Jobst Brandt, Eric Heiden, Tom Ritchey, Steve Potts, Ted Mock
Route: Milpitas, over Mt. Hamilton to Livermore, Hwy 84, Calaveras Road.

What would have been just another Mt. Hamilton ride turned into a star-studded affair with the arrival of speedskater Eric Heiden (winner of 5 gold medals at the 1980 winter Olympics) at the summit. Eric drove up the mountain with his grandparents, who were visiting from Wisconsin. He had to attend a bike function in Santa Clara Valley and was unable to start the ride with the Jobst riders.

Tom said he was out of shape, having spent 10 days in Japan arranging for products to be made, including a mountain bike tire he designed. Steve Potts, a mountain biker and frame builder from Marin County, was visiting Tom.

Ted made a rare appearance. He just moved his photography shop across the street from Palo Alto Bicycles, having taken over another photographer’s business. Ted was going to visit friends in Danville, so he would turn off at Livermore and take Tassajara Road.

As was typical with Jobst rides, the climb had its moments when people went off the front and made others suffer trying to keep up. As always, Jobst’s eagle eyes started spotting birds, this time a Lazuli Bunting. At first, I thought it was a bluebird, but Jobst corrected me. Along the way, I looked for cracks in the road after the recent 6.2 magnitude earthquake in nearby Morgan Hill, but none were found.

At the summit (4,200 feet), Eric passed us and tooted his horn. Jobst and I raced to the top and, like a fool, I tried a 52-17 combination, but couldn’t push such a big gear. Leave the big gears to Jobst.

Eric changed into his cycling clothes as Jobst and I talked with Eric’s grandfather, who lives in Wisconsin and said he was a hockey coach at one time. They live on a lake and this past winter they had 200 inches of snow. They couldn’t get over the beauty of Santa Clara Valley and Mt. Hamilton.

Jobst went on about the problems he had with painting distance-to-go markers for the Mt. Hamilton road race. The sheriff painted over Jobst’s handiwork. This year Jobst said he would fool the sheriff and paint the markers the day of the race.

On the descent, Jobst led us down the steep side. We regrouped and rode together to San Antonio Junction store. Jobst spotted a Horned Lark, Western Kingbird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and a Roadrunner. Wildflowers covered San Antonio Valley, but not as much as two springs ago when we had heavy rains.

We had our usual bite to eat at the store and rubbed shoulders with the motorcycle crowd.

On the first climb after leaving the store, Jobst, Ted, and Eric blasted off the front, but slowed down on the second climb –- the Double S — so I could catch up. On Mines Road we had the usual headwind.

Just before reaching Livermore, Eric had a front tubular flat [Jobst quit using sewups around 1981]. A rider caught up to us a joined our group into town.

In Livermore, we stopped at Safeway for food. We then headed west on Highway 84 [we quit taking that route around 1987-88]. We had a nice ride up Calaveras Road in the late afternoon, enjoying the green valleys and hills sprinkled with yellow and orange California poppies.

Back in Milpitas, we loaded our bikes into our cars and headed home, 102 miles, and 8,600 feet of climbing, behind us.

Once Upon a Ride… An Epic Ride to the Big Basin Waterfalls

March 31, 2010

The fun begins on Whitehouse Canyon Road. More photos available in the Coast Range slide show on my website.

July 31, 1988

After the go-go days of Jobst Rides in the 1970s, it was sometimes just me and Jobst out for a ride. Jobst Brandt always had a way to make things interesting. This one is high on the list for adventure.

Route: Up Alpine Road, south on Skyline to Hwy 9, 236 to Big Basin Park, Gazos Creek Road to Whitehouse Canyon Road, down to Sunset Trail, Berry Creek Trail to Golden Falls, Cascade, Silver, and Berry Creek Falls, Skyline to the Sea Trail to the Pacific; Highway 1 north to Bean Hollow Road, up Pescadero Road to Loma Mar, Wurr Road to Haul Road, up Bridge Trail and Tarwater Trail, Alpine Road to Skyline, down Page Mill.
Weather: Warm and sunny after morning fog
Tire/Mechanical failure: Ray, flat.

One of the major attractions deep in the redwoods of Big Basin Park is a series of waterfalls: Golden, Cascade, Silver, Berry Creek. Reaching them calls for a long hiker over a high ridge from park headquarters or a gradual climb from the ocean on an old railroad grade now used as a park service road.

On this day, Jobst and I set off to explore a less traveled route, descending from above on Whitehouse Canyon Road and down a narrow, steep trail. We left under foggy skies toward the Santa Cruz Mountains as Jobst has done for the past 30 years. On the way we saw a procession of cars with bicycles attached, going to the event called Women on a Roll.

We passed a regular customer of Palo Alto Bicycles riding slowly up Alpine Road, moving about as fast as a snake on a cold rock. He wore heavy clothing and bulky hiking boots, the stuff of slow riders. His sweaty beard dripped like a leaky faucet. I waved and said hi. He recognized me from the shop.

On the way up Alpine Road we noticed the sign “All Must Walk” had been ripped down. We’re not the only ones who objected. Jobst pointed to a bush he said did not belong on the road. Next spring he’ll return and cut it down without prejudice. This is Jobst’s road now. He cares for it. It is his path to adventure in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a trail to Sunday celebrations.

At Big Basin we grabbed a bite to eat (don’t forget to turn in your cans for the nickel deposit) as we’ve done so many times in the past.

Gazos Creek Road started out in good shape, a bit loose but nothing to slow us down. However, conditions took a turn for the worse at the county maintained portion of road. All those thoughts about my life being on fire, sinking in the quicksand of sorrow, were replaced by a struggle of a different sort.

The dust was at least several inches deep – fine dust through which our tires sank and sucked us down until we could barely move. A tractor had plowed the road and Jobst complained bitterly about such a foolish act. After our bikes had turned to dust, we finally arrived at the aptly named Sandy Point Ranger Station where we met two men dressed like Sunday golfers, white T shirts and shorts. They had inexpensive mountain bikes and looked to be out of shape. They had ridden up Gazos Creek Road and were contemplating their next move. We suggested Whitehouse Canyon Road. They followed.

About 0.3 miles down Whitehouse Canyon we turned off at a service road with a gate and trail sign. It took us steeply down to Sunset Trail Camp, where we discovered the trail was closed. We turned around and headed up a short distance to the main camp where I noticed I had a flat. After making a quick repair, we headed back up the trail to a wood structure.

The trail took off from behind the building – loose and steep. Quickly, we entered the bowels of the canyon. Vegetation changed from chaparral and pine to redwoods. After a few switchbacks we arrived at a massive rusty, golden-hued rock over which the waters of Berry Creek cascaded into a liquid pool. Two men sat at the edge of the pool studying the park map.

Jobst dismounted and walked to get a drink from the cool waters splashing down the rock’s smooth face. This was the stuff of fairy tales, a fern-covered redwood forest, golden waterfalls, a burbling creek and waterfalls – mystical, magical.

We headed down the trail over a series of log steps cut into the narrow, rocky canyon. Huge logs, the remnants of the flood of 82-83, lay across the narrow, rocky canyon like so many matchsticks. To reach Silver Falls we rappelled down a steep, rocky cliff. With our slippery plastic-soled shoes and bike in hand it wasn’t easy. We hung grimly onto the wire cable for support and made our way down.

At Silver Falls I took a photo. We rode the rest of the way down to Berry Creek Falls, passing about a half-dozen hikers. Berry Creek Falls is a 30-foot drop with an observation platform. From here it was a short distance to the Skyline to the Sea Trail. The road to the ocean had been repaired since the floods of 82-83.

We passed dozens of hikers and cyclists on the old railroad grade. One cyclist, a young boy on a small bike, pedaled merrily along. Jobst said, “He has to come back you know. Will he make it?”

We reached Highway 1 after four miles and headed north with a strong tailwind. How unusual. Heading south, into the wind, was none other than Erik Garfinkel.

Farther up Highway 1 we saw a Dusty Roads Tour van and then the two mountain bike riders we had seen earlier. We stopped and talked. They said some loggers had told them they were trespassing on Whitehouse Canyon Road, but let them pass. The riders looked beat and they still had to ride back to park headquarters.

We continued north with the tailwind and stopped at the newly renovated Beach House restaurant. We looked around inside and checked out a painting of old Pescadero.

Next we turned right on Bean Hollow Road (old Coast Highway) and headed into Pescadero, where we encountered a heavily loaded British tourist. His red hair gleamed in the afternoon sun. He was heading north to Half Moon Bay on a tour of California. We chatted before he headed off.

In Loma Mar we said hello to Roger [former store owner and postmaster] and had a bit to eat before taking the Haul Road. We met a couple of mountain bike riders on the road. As we headed up Tarwater Trail, I showed Jobst the former mill site and boiler.

Tarwater Trail isn’t so bad, but the paved road up to Alpine Road is something else: with some sections as steep as 20 percent. After that grunt work, Alpine Road seemed tame.

Near the Tulgey Woods we joined a cyclist walking his bike. Jobst urged him to remount and ride. “It’s not any easier walking. You can do it.” The rider finally got started. In the woods Jobst, as is his custom, began reciting Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.

After a fast downhill on Page Mill we finished the ride with 100.5 miles on our cyclometers. An epic Jobst Ride had ended at 5:30 p.m.

Bike technology: More than the Ordinary

February 15, 2010

Albert Pope introduced chainless bikes in 1897, but they were expensive and had other issues. Now they're back.

In my last column I asked “is bike innovation chasing its tail?” Probably so, but that doesn’t mean engineers have given up trying to make improvements. New materials and technologies will continue to be discovered and benefit cycling.

Here’s my technology wish list, and some that were invented, then abandoned.

Flat-free tires. OK, they’re already here (also tubeless) but the rub is reduced performance. I’m not sacrificing rolling resistance for flat-free riding, at least not on my performance bike. I once met an elderly fellow retracing the route of Thomas Stevens and he had his tires filled with expanding foam. No flats, but a bumpy ride.

36-spoke rims. Wait, didn’t we used to have these? And weren’t they so reliable that if you broke a spoke it was no big deal? And didn’t Mavic make the reliable MA2? (a rim that I still ride and has 100,000 miles). Leave those 16-spoke wheels for the pros.

Direct drive. Chains are a filthy nuisance. We have the elegant direct drive today, popular for a short time in the 1890s. Belt drive is another option, from Trek. These technologies have their issues, but they work reasonably well for around-town riding.

Biometric handlebars. I’m thinking of monitoring heart rate, oxygen uptake, etc. I’d also like to see speed, distance, grade, etc., built into the handlebar.

Safe cranks. They break all too often at the pedal eye. A tapered pedal opening (like car lug nuts) will fix this.

Light, strong frame. Of course I want my frame to be supple, as strong as steel, and to weigh two pounds. That would be unobtanium. Carbon fiber comes close but doesn’t last.

We all want our bikes to work flawlessly and without maintenance. It’s a pipe dream, like unobtanium, so enjoy your rides with what’s available now.

Bike innovation: Chasing its tail?

February 5, 2010

Campagnolo index shift lever

When we talk about innovation, what does it mean for the bike? I wonder. How much innovation has there been in the past 20 years? 30 years?

Not much, beyond frame materials. Index shifting came along in 1984, and so did clipless pedals. I think they’re the last two meaningful innovations in recent history.

Headsets have come a long way from threaded to internal. It’s one of those hidden improvements. If pressed to name the most innovative change in the past decade, I’d say it’s the internal headset.

Let’s face it, the bike hasn’t changed much since the diamond frame and gears. You can ride a bike from the 1960s and get the same enjoyment as a bike made yesterday. You sure can’t say that about electronics.

This isn’t a bad thing. The bike’s simplicity is a blessing, not a curse. Marketing does its best to put the “new” into bike equipment, but I don’t think it helps sell bikes. Marketing would do better promoting the joy of riding.

Next time I’ll give my wish list for what engineers can work on. There’s always room for improvement.

Machinists Turn Wheels of Progress

December 24, 2009

Brian Spitz works with a block of aluminum

Brian Spitz is a machinist, an increasingly rare job skill in the U.S., and certainly in Silicon Valley. It’s rewarding work, but global economics comes into play here.

As with many machinists, Brian has a close connection to cycling. A bike is a relatively simple machine. With the exception of the chain, the aspiring machinist could fashion an entire bicycle. Today there’s a modest industry of U.S. built bike components.

I’ve known Brian since his days as an eager teen working at Palo Alto Bicycles. As a mechanic, he quickly took an interest in frame building. It wasn’t long before he found out about Peter Johnson, a well known machinist and frame builder in Redwood City. “I would hang around Peter’s shop and watch him work,” says Brian. “He never tried to hide what he was doing. He’s why I’m a machinist today.”

Peter Johnson -- racer, frame builder, machinist

The machinist is crucial for building the things that make the world go round. Every part starts with the machinist, who fabricates from raw materials the prototype, which will be duplicated hundreds, thousands, or millions of times over. He works with expensive, computerized machinery that control the machine to drill or cut with incredible precision.

I visited Brian in a San Jose industrial area, a mishmash of warehouses filled with machinery and raw materials. Brian and co-worker Harold Wheeler, also a cyclist, were working on blocks of black acrylic. Jets of water cooled the drill bit as it cut the hard resin. A lot of the work machinists do in Silicon Valley is done for companies in biomedical, solar, computer, and other technology industries.

When he built frames, he lived at home and worked out of the garage. Frame building has never been a way to get rich, but machining is in strong demand in the markets he serves. He loves his work and the freedom it brings, something cyclists know only too well.

Brian still rides his bike to and from work, an easy two-mile commute. He fondly recalls the days when he could ride up Old La Honda Road with the best of them. In one memorable ride, he raced Dave Faust, an accomplished Category 1 racer, and won handily in 16:20. “I thought Dave was saving himself so I rode as hard as I could the whole way,” Brian recalls.

That was then. Today, Brian’s Spitz Design & Machine is building the parts that will make the world a better place to live. We wish him well.

He Made a Business Out of Bikes

December 11, 2009

Bernie Hoffacker talks with Jim Sullivan. Craig Maynard, center, hired me in 1979.

I consider the 1980s the Golden Age of modern cycling. While it’s true I was at the peak of my game, consider this: Greg LeMond became the first American to win the Tour de France. Campagnolo reached its zenith as the manufacturer of the best bike parts in the world. Shimano was coming on strong. Mavic introduced the MA2 clincher rim, the best ever. The mountain bike became a household name.

And, Palo Alto Bicycles thrived. I had the privilege of working there. I can’t tell you I got rich: nobody does in the bike business. I had fun and adventures to last a lifetime. That’s the payoff.

Palo Alto Bicycles isn’t any bike shop. It has been around since 1930 (moving to University Avenue in 1973). That’s a long time for a business much less a bike shop. It’s family-run, which has its good and bad points. Do your job well and they treat you like family. It’s an intangible job benefit that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

Bernie Hoffacker – The Owner
The driving force behind the shop was Bernie Hoffacker. He was well into his 60s when I started working there in 1979 as a fumbling “mechanic.”

Bernie had a way about him that left an impression. Nothing escaped his attention. A child of the Great Depression, he never let you forget every penny counts and no job is too insignificant or unworthy of being done just right.

One of my jobs was taking out the trash. Every night Bernie made the rounds and he always asked me if I had emptied all the cans. “Make sure you press it down real good,” he’d say. We had only one dumpster and sometimes it was a chore cramming in all the discarded bike boxes.

Bernie didn’t ride a bike, but he was athletic. I’d watch in amazement as he headed up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. In his youth he played baseball for the San Francisco Seals. One day we had a company picnic and Bernie showed up to play shortstop. When a hard-hit ball came his way he scooped it up like a pro. He had the moves!

Bike shops draw all kinds of people to work there and shop owners can tell you it’s a challenge keeping everyone in line, maintaining a professional manner, handling the dark side of owning a retail business. Bernie had that down in spades. His commitment and drive made Palo Alto Bicycles what it was and is to this day — a thriving business. Now Bernie is gone, age 92. He lived not just a good life, but a great life. I’ll miss him.

GM Architect of Light Rail’s Dismantling

November 3, 2009

Light rail tracks on The Alameda in 1984 near Santa Clara University

As GM gets its multi-billion-dollar government bailout using taxpayer dollars, let’s take a look back in time and see what this goliath did to assure its climb to power at the cost of public transportation.

GM began by funding a company called National City Lines (NCL), which by 1946 controlled streetcar operations in 80 American cities, including San Francisco.

“Despite public opinion polls that showed 88 percent of the public favoring expansion of the rail lines after World War II, NCL systematically closed its streetcars down until, by 1955, only a few remained,” writes author Jim Motavalli in his 2001 book, Forward Drive.

They went on to back a powerful lobby for an interstate highway system. The money we poured into building freeways could have gone toward bullet trains crisscrossing the country.

The freeway-building madness finally ground to a halt in the late 1960s when the cost became too high and the environmental movement got underway. Let’s not forget:

Freeways were slated for Highway 84 from Woodside to San Gregorio, Highway 17, San Francisco (several), Highway 1, Highway 29 Napa Valley, Highway 121 Sonoma Valley, Highway 35 Skyline Boulevard, San Tomas Expressway, Lawrence Expressway, Capitol Expressway, and that’s not all.


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