Archive for the ‘News’ Category

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.

Yet another bicycle helmet law heads our way

February 20, 2015

Sen. Bill 192 takes away personal choice.

Sen. Bill 192 takes away personal choice.


California Senate Bill 192, submitted on Feb. 10 by Carol Liu (D, 25th District Southern California), amends the California vehicle code to make it mandatory that everyone riding a bicycle wear a helmet, as well as reflective clothing when riding at night.

As it stands now, anyone under age 18 must wear a helmet when riding a bike on public roads. So this bill extends the law to include adults. There is currently no law about wearing reflective clothing while riding a bike at night.

Require helmets while driving
The senator, who happens to be the wife of Michael Peevey, recently retired president of the Public Utilities Commission, mentions safety as the main reason for the law in her press release.

If she’s so concerned about bicycle safety, why not ban cars? In the U.S. they kill more than 30,000 people annually, about 3.5 million people in total.

While we’re at it, let’s have a law requiring drivers wear helmets, as NASCAR racers do. Consider the facts: Among all age groups, motor vehicle crashes were the third overall leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI) (14%). When looking at just TBI-related deaths, motor vehicle crashes were the second leading cause of TBI-related deaths (26%) for 2006–2010. CDC

Of course we won’t see any such laws. Why? Because it would inconvenience millions of people who drive to get around.

Bicycles. That’s a different story. They’re toys and they can be regulated with little opposition. The bike lobby, after all, has almost no visibility. How much does the bike industry donate to political coffers? Don’t forget: We have the best government money can buy.

Meanwhile, Sen. Liu comes across as a politician who’s only concerned about the public safety. “Motherhood and apple pie” is hard to oppose.

The inconvenience of wearing a helmet is not an issue for most well-to-do cyclists, who only ride for sport.

It’s a different story for minimum-wage workers who only ride a bike because it’s all they can afford. Reflective jackets? How about a jacket that doesn’t have holes in it.

I for one look forward to the day when we legislate private car ownership out of existence. Believe me that day is coming. The autonomous car will change our lives, for the better.

If you don’t believe it, read my novel, Skidders.

Sign the petition opposing Sen. Bill 192.

Note: Today I rode in “God is my helmet” mode, and will continue to do so until the bill is withdrawn.

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.

Wurr Road bridge a sign of the times

November 18, 2014

Wurr Road's Pescadero Creek bridge makes it pretty clear you need to cross with caution.

Wurr Road’s Pescadero Creek bridge makes it pretty clear you need to cross with caution.


While I can’t deny Pescadero Creek bridge on Wurr Road in San Mateo County has seen its share of bike crashes, do we really need a sign suggesting that we walk our bikes across?

I first rode over the bridge with Jobst Brandt in 1980. He occasionally spoke of a huge crash here in the mid-1970s. Jobst and friends came flying down the road one frigid winter morning and the result was chaos as they skidded on the icy bridge.

Several riders crashed, broke bones, or were knocked out.

Today the bridge could use a little work, but better yet, replace it with something modern.

The good news is that few cyclists venture onto Wurr Road near the sleepy town of Loma Mar. Instead they stay on the busy Pescadero Road.

The fact that these signs just went up makes me wonder if there wasn’t another bike wreck here recently.

A road too narrow

November 1, 2014

Scene of the bike accident on McCllellan Road. Images taken from Google maps. Yellow speck represents a cyclist. (Click on image for larger size)

Scene of the bike accident on McCllellan Road. Images taken from Google maps. Yellow speck represents a cyclist (Click on image for larger size).

The death of a 15-year old cyclist on Monday, October 27, on McClellan Road in Cupertino bothered me. I’ve ridden that stretch of road many times, mostly during weekend rides.

The fact that a double-trailer big rig was involved didn’t surprise me, although the location did. I’m sure those trucks are not supposed to be on McClellan.

I’m guessing the driver was shuttling between a construction site and the Permanente Quarry on Stevens Canyon Road and got lost or tried to take a shortcut.

I took a screen capture (to scale) of a similar truck and overlaid it onto the scene of the accident. It’s immediately obvious what could have happened. There’s just not enough room for bike and truck on that stretch of McClellan. The driver was turning right onto Bubb and was probably moving right after passing the cyclist.

What happened next is what has happened on more than one occasion. The second trailer struck the cyclist.

From what I’ve read, the Monta Vista High School student who died was an avid cyclist. No doubt that’s why he rode his bike to school.

If you think a double-trailer truck is bad, imagine a triple-trailer. They’re allowed on highways in 10 states, fortunately not California, although the truck industry has lobbied for it. Let’s keep them out of California.

While Cupertino has a great reputation for accommodating bikes on its streets, every community can do better. What happened Monday morning on McClellan shouldn’t happen again.

If you want change at MROSD, you’ve got to vote

October 13, 2014

Are you frustrated with the way things are over at the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD)? If you’re someone who feels shut out from the district’s “open” space, you should be. Now you can do something about it.

Two candidates, Mike Buncic (Ward 1) and Brandon Lewke (Ward 6) have made their positions clear: They want more open space opened and they’re proud to say they ride bikes.

If there’s ever a time when your vote matters, it’s here and now. MROSD board elections for four of seven wards are on the Nov. 4 ballot. Unfortunately, two are uncontested.

I’ve seen what a grassroots campaign for change can do. No entrenched elected official is safe. I was one of a small group of local residents in Menlo Park who banned together to vote out the city council incumbents in the mid-1980s elections.

One evening we showed up at a city council meeting, upset by a plan to increase traffic on our local streets. It was all a misunderstanding, but that wasn’t what mattered that evening. We were told by several entrenched city council members to take a hike. Big mistake.

I was so upset I took out an ad in the local paper and endorsed a candidate over the incumbent, who happened to be a cyclist. Didn’t matter. It was out with the old and in with the new. I could not have been happier that election evening. We said goodbye to the old guard and welcomed in the new.

If you want to learn more about Buncic and Lewke, check out their Facebook sites and read an article by San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold.

Lewke wants to preserve the Mt. Umunhum concrete silo. I’m all for that, just as long as we can get the road open to the summit, ASAP. None of us is getting any younger. I’ve been waiting nearly 30 years. It’s time for a change at MROSD. Go and vote!

Be sure to vote Nov. 4, especially if you're in a MROSD Ward with elections.

Be sure to vote Nov. 4, especially if you’re in a MROSD Ward with elections.

MROSD Elections
Ward 1
Pete Siemens (Incumbent)
Mike Buncic (I endorse)

Ward 2
Yoriko Kishimoto (Incumbent)

Ward 5
Nonette Hanko (Incumbent)

Ward 6
Larry Hassett (Incumbent)
Brandon Lewke (I endorse)

The Force Who Rides

September 30, 2014

Laurence Malone hustles during a cyclocross race in Santa Cruz in December 1985. (Ray Hosler photo)

Laurence Malone hustles during a cyclocross race in Santa Cruz in December 1985. (Ray Hosler photo)

It was only fitting: Back in May 1980, Laurence Malone wrote the definitive article about Jobst Brandt for Bicycling Magazine.

He never rode with Jobst, but as the country’s best cyclocross rider (6-time national champion, counting his Masters 35+ win), he knew exactly what it was all about.

It is offered here in its original wording as The Force Who Rides.

Laurence lives in Chimayo, New Mexico, where he rides on the area’s miles and miles of dirt roads. You can learn more about him by reading Cyclocross Magazine.

Three Feet for Safety Act goes into effect on September 16

August 20, 2014

Central Expressway in Santa Clara at rush hour from the Mobius perspective. Plenty of shoulder here.

Central Expressway in Santa Clara at rush hour from the Mobius perspective. Plenty of shoulder here.


After eight years of trying, California cyclists have an added measure of legal protection from motorists who take pleasure in buzzing cyclists, starting September 16. Don’t think for a minute that these buzz jobs are innocent oversights. They’re mostly intentional and they send a clear message: “Get the hell off my road!”

It’s a daily occurrence and one veteran cyclists live with, knowing there’s little they can do about it. That may change with this law, combined with actioncams like the popular GoPro used by riders in growing numbers.

I’ve had more than a few encounters that were so close the gap could be measured in inches, including several Santa Clara VTA buses. Now I ride with a Mobius actioncam, and while it won’t save my life, it could be used as persuasive evidence before a judge.

But back to the bill, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. In essence it says, “A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.”

SB 1464 by Alan Lowenthal was vetoed by the governor in 2012 because it authorized drivers to cross over double yellow or double white pavement markings in order to provide the minimum three-foot clearance when overtaking a bicyclist. In his veto message, Gov. Brown noted that the bill could increase the incidence of head-on collisions for which the California Department of Transportation could be liable. That provision was removed.

Ironically, the city of Los Angeles sponsored Assembly Bill 1371 put forth by Steven Bradford, State Assembly district 62, which includes Gardena and surrounding communities.

I don’t think this law will change behaviors, but if it saves one life, it was worth the eight-year journey through the California state legislature.

Zoox has the right idea – no steering wheel

August 3, 2014

Skidders on Amazon.com. Kindle.

Skidders on Amazon.com. Kindle.


As I was writing Skidders, I imagined an autonomous car without a steering wheel. Not that it’s an original idea, but reality is just around the corner with the Zoox mobile. Meanwhile, Skidders is always available on Kindle, Amazon.com. Fewer typos than before.

Rocking and rolling at the Tour de France

July 10, 2014

RockShox would have come in handy at the Tour de France yesterday. Los Altos History Museum display.

RockShox would have come in handy at the Tour de France yesterday. Los Altos History Museum display.


While riding cobbles of the famed Paris-Roubaix route in stage 6 of the Tour de France may make for good TV, the participants were none too pleased.

Lots of racers crashed and we know the rest of the story. The course got cut short to reduce the carnage. So why didn’t the riders use front suspension or even full suspension?

It turns out they could and they have since 1991 when the original RockShox suspension was put to the test at Paris-Roubaix.

Greg LeMond used it and his French teammate Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle (Team Z) rode to victory on RockShox front suspension in 1992. After that lots of teams used them on the cobbles, but then they disappeared, later to return.

Bike Radar does a great job detailing the history.

Today they’re not used. I suspect the reason is that there’s not enough of an advantage with today’s carbon fiber bikes absorbing a lot of vibration compared to steel bikes. Not all of the Paris-Roubaix covers cobblestones. The extra weight and spongy suspension (some suspensions can be locked) slows riders down on the long sections of smooth road.

If you want to see the original bike used in the Paris-Roubaix and live in the South Bay, you’re in luck. It’s on display at the Los Altos History Museum, located right behind the library on San Antonio Road.

Bay Area natives Paul Turner and Steve Simons get credit for starting RockShox, now owned by Sram.

The bike exhibit “Pedal Power: From Wacky to Workhorse” runs through October 5. No charge.

Thanks to all who donated bikes. Several came from Vance Sprock, Cupertino Bike Shop owner.

Original RockShox suspension used in the Paris-Roubaix

Original RockShox suspension used in the Paris-Roubaix


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