Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Big-city cycling is the pits — even in Paris

July 6, 2013

Tavistock Place bike lane in Camden London. Dense residential area north of London.

Tavistock Place bike lane in Camden London. Dense residential area north of London.

I recently visited London and Paris long enough to get a sense of what cycling is like there. In a word — sucky. But where is cycling pleasant in any big city?

I give the edge to London for accommodating cycling, as well as the number of cyclists. I didn’t see many cyclists on the busy Paris streets, although I saw quite a few in London, despite the traffic.

Paris had its share of women riders, strictly for getting around. London women seemed to be more committed based on the gear they were wearing.

Both cities offer bikes for rent, but London seems to have more bikes available, and they do get rented. I stayed near a London university and on weekdays most of the bikes were taken during the day.

I didn’t see any bike lanes in Paris, but I mostly visited the congested tourist areas. I stayed in Camden London where there’s a substantial residential contingent and bike lanes can be found.

London cyclists have access to local trains on the weekend and quite a few trains had riders heading out for a weekend tour southwest of London on the South West line. Designated cars can take a couple of bikes each, typically near the bathroom. Bikes on the subway? Laughable! Way too crowded.

From what I saw, there’s a fair amount of cycling activity around Portsmouth near the English Channel. Bike rental companies will be found here next to train stations. I visited the area around Wool west of Portsmouth and found some charming country roads.

It’s gently rolling hills at best, no steep stuff. If you like greenery, the rides here can’t be beat in summer months. This area is usually foggy but when I visited we had sunshine and puffy clouds, perfect riding weather.

Given the choice, I would take San Francisco over London or Paris any day. From San Francisco you’re minutes away from some world-class roads that beg to be ridden. You can even take BART. Around Paris and London you’re stuck with miles and miles of flat land and suburbs. Consider yourself lucky if you live in SF.

Typical rental bike in Paris. They're a similar style in London.

Typical rental bike in Paris. They’re a similar style in London.

Elevated bike roundabout: Only in the Netherlands

June 21, 2013

Mary Avenue bridge over Hwy 280 reminds me of the new bike roundabout in Eindhoven.

Mary Avenue bridge over Hwy 280 reminds me of the new bike roundabout in Eindhoven.

As did many, I saw the jaw-dropping Eindhoven, Netherlands, bike roundabout in a recent edition of National Geographic. I will link to a video here so you can take it all in.

You would expect to see something of this grandeur in the Netherlands where cycling is a means of transportation rather than weekend exercise.

It reminds me of our Taj Mahal Sunnyvale-Cupertino bike bridge over Hwy 280. I don’t mind beautiful structures, but sadly beautiful translates to expensive even in bridge building (our new Bay Bridge for example).

Reading the account of why the bridge was built, it comes off sounding defensive. Children living in the area and dangerous intersections to negotiate it says, although the intersections are all on nice bike paths so it doesn’t look that bad.

Still, I’m impressed with the design, especially seeing it at night. If we look at the money wasted by government on truly senseless projects, bike conveniences like this are money well spent.

Railroad trestle reveals a dark side of Los Gatos Creek

May 11, 2013

A railroad trestle on a part of the  Los Gatos Creek Trail is slated for removal.

A railroad trestle on a part of the Los Gatos Creek Trail is slated for removal.

In a rough-and-ready industrial area near Willow Glen in San Jose there’s a 90-year-old railroad trestle begging for mercy. Its passing is in many ways a metaphor for life.

Doing the begging are a handful of concerned local residents who have come to know the bridge and who see history. City officials see only charred timbers and liability.

The bridge spanning Los Gatos Creek is slated for removal so a new metal bridge can be installed — another advance for the popular Los Gatos Creek Trail. Or that’s the plan supported by the San Jose City Council at a recent meeting.

On a warm, sunny Saturday morning I rode over to see the bridge for the first time and learn more about the ins and outs of deciding its timbered fate.

Larry Ames invited us to join him for a tour. A study indicates it’s in fairly good shape. It needs repair, but it’s mostly superficial.

What stuck with me was the encampments. People live next to the bridge in tents. Call them homeless, but they wouldn’t see it that way. The wooded creek is their home.

It wouldn’t be so bad if not for the garbage and residents using the creek as their private toilet. It’s not right and it needs to stop.

In a way the trestle fits with the neighborhood. It’s a piece of rough-hewn history and there’s plenty of that here: industry, warehouses, car repair shops. It’s the stuff we’d like to hide, but can’t because it’s part of who we are.

Here’s where elected officials come in. They decide the bridge’s fate, taking the facts into consideration. An outpouring of protest might sway them.

I think San Jose residents are in good hands with their elected officials, especially Mayor Chuck Reed.

Only two bridges of this kind remain in the area, the other being near Kelley Park. See them while you can.

China’s engine of prosperity forsakes the bicycle

February 12, 2013

Cyclists in Beijing (photo taken last week) still manage to find their way among cars. More electric bikes are sold in China than anywhere else. But donkey carts are banned. Photo courtesy of Kim Farrell.

Cyclists in Beijing (photo taken last week) still manage to find their way among cars. More electric bikes are sold in China than anywhere else. But donkey carts are banned. Photo courtesy of Kim Farrell.

In the mid-1980s when bike shop owner Bud Hoffacker visited China he said he was nearly run over by bikes. Thousands of bikes, tens of thousands, millions. More bikes than you could imagine plied the streets of Beijing and other mega-cities in this ancient civilization that has weathered more than its share of change.

Today Beijing is choked with cars. Traffic jams can last for days! Smog is so bad in some cities you need a compass to navigate. Bikes have been banned from many streets to make way for cars.

But that may be changing. China is at a tipping point in its rush to embrace all things modern. The Atlantic takes an intriguing look at what’s happening in China as it relates to bikes. The news isn’t all bad. Millions still ride bikes to work and to run errands. Even with all the car traffic, bikes are way more prevalent in their streets than ours. I’ve been criss-crossing Silicon Valley for decades and I rarely see other bikes in any numbers.

Bike share programs are catching on in China. They have enough potential users that bike sharing makes sense. Bike sharing has been tried here with some success in cities already big on bikes, but has failed elsewhere. It’s going to take more than a toe in the water to bring Americans into the fold.

In China there are glimmers of hope as youth see the bike as chic, cool, the in thing to do. I see it among some youth here, especially with the fixy crowd. It may be that economics plays a bigger role in the years ahead as easy dollars fade away in our uncertain future. Whatever the outcome, more people riding bikes will be good for our world, good for the heart, good for the spirit. And for that reason I remain hopeful.

Official update on San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail extension

January 28, 2013

I received this note from the city of Santa Clara today. Work on the trail is well underway.

“Thank you for your inquiry regarding the San Tomas Aquino Creek Spur Trail Project. This Project will be an extension to the existing San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek Trail, adding approximately 2,000 feet of trail southerly from Cabrillo Avenue to El Camino Real along the westerly side of San Tomas Expressway.

“The Project includes construction of the trail (10 ft to 12 ft wide), 10-foot-high sound wall, concrete barrier between the trail and the expressway, landscaping, and modification to the traffic signal at San Tomas Expressway and Cabrillo Avenue intersection.”

Reach 4 of San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail moving ahead?

January 13, 2013
This could be Reach 4 work on San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail at Cabrillo Avenue.

This could be Reach 4 work on San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail at Cabrillo Avenue.

UPDATE 1-20-2013: Trees are falling left and right as work progresses. Reach 4 from Monroe is officially closed and sealed off.

I couldn’t help but notice there’s something happening at San Tomas Expressway and Cabrillo Avenue in Santa Clara. Could it be Reach 4 of San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail moving ahead?

I’ve looked all over the City of Santa Clara website and elsewhere but found nothing. I wish our city governments would be a little more transparent about what’s happening. I only found a single entry for the Santa Clara Bicycle Committee from June 2012. It says:

Spur Trail Update
“PWD/CE Rajeev updated members about the current status and schedule for planned San Tomas Aquino Creek Spur Trail along the west side of San Tomas Expressway from Cabrillo Avenue to El
Camino Real.” The plan, by the way, is to extend a “bike lane” to Pruneridge Avenue, which is where the city of Santa Clara ends and San Jose begins.

Based on that notation, it would be reasonable to assume that this is what’s happening. However, I wonder exactly what they’re going to do? Will expanding the expressway require removing dozens of trees? Not that I’d be opposed to that, in some respects. Those trees drop tons of debris, enough that I’ve had to request street sweeping by the County of Santa Clara.

I’d really like to see the plan for this stretch of expressway. The last thing we want is something that on the surface is supposed to increase bike traffic but in practice dissuades bike traffic. San Tomas and El Camino is a busy intersection at rush hour and a cyclist has to mix with cars turning right onto El Camino. But even worse would be a walled path all the way to El Camino and the ensuing need to stop for traffic turning right. The loss of lane space would consign cyclists to the walled path.

We have that situation at the San Tomas Aquino bike trail and Cabrillo, and I consider it an accident in the making for bikes as cars exit right onto Cabrillo. Bikes give up the right-of-way here.

If the plan is to widen the shoulder and put up some bike lane signs, that’s fine. Do you know exactly what the “bike lane” will look like? Let me know or provide a link.

San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail will be closed during construction hours near Cabrillo until May 13.

San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail will be closed during construction hours near Cabrillo until May 13.

Share the Road signs sow confusion

January 6, 2013

Share the Road signs can be found on Hwy 9.

Share the Road signs can be found on Hwy 9.

In 2012 the state of California authorized a new sign to replace the one that apparently causes considerable confusion for motorists — Share the Road. I see them everywhere in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Their intent is to allow cyclists to take up the lane or at least ride to the left of the solid white line. A notion held by many motorists, including some law enforcement, is that cyclists should ride to the RIGHT of the white line. Nothing could be more wrong. Nowhere does it say that in the vehicle code.

One time I was riding with a friend in the town of Sonora on a two-lane road and we were accosted by an off-duty cop for “taking up the lane.”

We were just riding left of a vertical drop with no guard rail. Riding to the right of the white line would have led to certain death. Nevertheless, the cop stopped us and read the riot act. Fortunately a younger on-duty officer arrived and diffused the situation.

The new sign reads “Bikes May Use Full Lane.” Now that removes all ambiguity. The first place to replace the Share the Road signs with the new ones is on steep descents. I can’t imagine a situation where I would take up a full lane on a climb.

Martin Delson writes about the sign situation on the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition website.

P.S. Still no chanterelles. We live in a world out of whack. This is mushroom weather, but chanterelles are finicky fungi. They have their reasons for hiding.

A Mudhole No More

October 2, 2012

For many years this stretch of the Guadalupe River path, at the San Jose airport economy parking area (formerly rental), turned into a mudhole when it rained. No more. The path has been paved from the airport all the way to Montague Expressway. However, the path is closed because some concrete needs to be poured at the intersection. I guess these “green zones” are a way to indicate motorbikes are not allowed.

100 Years and Still Pushing Gears

September 29, 2012

Stevens Creek Trail is accessible from Sunnyvale now that the Hwy 85 overpass is complete. It’s a nice design and came in at a reasonable $4.2 million.

Where do I begin? So much is happening in the cycling world. Let’s start with the centenarian who set a record on the bike, 100 km in 4h 17m 27s. Robert Marchand rode around the velodrome at Lyon, France. This guy also put the hammer down on his hour-ride record in Switzerland. When today’s cycling greats turn 100 they’ll be shattering records left and right.

Hwy 85 bike overpass

Finally. Hwy 85 has its bike overpass so now you can link up to the recreation trails at Shoreline Park coming from Sunnyvale. Thanks goes to Charlie Gibson, who managed the Mountain View parks and recreation department for decades. I remember checking out the area in the early 1980s. One idea was to have the path go under the freeway, but that proved impractical, so now we have the overpass, which has a nice long ramp for easy access and climbing.

Note that this gorgeous overpass cost $4.2 million. The Taj Mahal overpass at 280 cost $14 million, but it sure is pretty at night.

Road-rage driver cited

Two cyclists riding east of Boulder, Colorado, recorded an outraged motorist laying on the horn for five minutes as he drove behind them! What a jerk. Police tracked down the driver (you could clearly see the license plate) and cited him for a raft of infractions. That’s quick thinking by the riders to catch it all on video.

Guadalupe River path paving
Patience. In just a month or so the newly paved Guadalupe River path between Hwy 880 and Montague Expressway will open. There’s pavement in place most of the way, but road crews still need to do some touch-up. You can find the details on the Guadalupe River path construction update page. The most awful stretch of trail near the new airport economy parking area will no longer be a mud hole during winter rains.

Critical Mass 20-year ride goes off peacefully
Has it been 20 years? San Francisco’s Critical Mass “protest” ride held Friday nights monthly rolled off to a peaceful start with thousands of riders turning out, some coming from remote corners of the world just to enjoy the experience of blocking traffic (did I say that?). I’ve never done the ride and I have no plans to do so, but I support any activity that makes people think about the alternatives to the car for getting around, ESPECIALLY in San Francisco.

Rather than hating cyclists, drivers should embrace them, because that’s one less car they have to contend with.

Green bike lanes
San Jose has plans for green bike lanes, but I haven’t seen them yet. I don’t think they’ve been painted, although you can check out Cyclelicious to see how they’d look. Will they be effective? You bet. After a green lane was installed on Washington D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue, bicycling increased 200 percent and 90 percent of users said they felt safer.

Best cycling cities: Boulder, Davis, Portland
The League of American Bicyclists ranked these three cities as tops in cycling amenities, and if you’ve ever been there, you’ll know why. They got the platinum ranking. Our fair state of California ranked 12th, moving up from 20th in 2011.

Around the Bay, other notable cities include Palo Alto, San Francisco, Stanford (gold); Santa Cruz (silver); San Jose, Menlo Park, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Oakland (bronze).

The Guys on the Bikes

September 26, 2012

Bicycle Outfitter hosted an evening with RAAM competitors Jonathan Boyer, Michael Secrest, and Chris Kostman. They showed their 1985 duel as recorded by the Wide World of Sports.

Bicycle Outfitter arranged for a rare reunion of Race Across America (RAAM) competitors from the 1980s on Tuesday night and those who attended left with a new appreciation for the world’s most difficult bike race.

Chris Kostman was 18 when he served as a referee assigned to keep an eye on Jonathan “Jacques” Boyer at the 1985 RAAM. He went on to complete the RAAM and helped officiate for a dozen or so years. He had the pleasure of introducing Boyer, 1985 winner, and 1985 second-place finisher Michael Secrest. Boyer was making a rare visit home to Monterey from Rwanda where he spends most of his time coaching bike racers. Secrest lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Kostman showed Wide World of Sports excerpts from the 1985 race when Boyer and Secrest battled it out most of the way. I had never seen ABC’s coverage with announcer Jim Lampley. I got tired just watching the riders suffer through the endless hours of riding without sleep. It takes a special dedication to do this race. Secrest finished RAAM five times, won in 1987, and went on to do a solo cross-country ride in 1990 in 7 days 23 hours, a record that still stands. Boyer rode RAAM in 2006 in a category that required 4 hours sleep per day.

These guys aren’t young in years, but they look like they could go out and complete RAAM tomorrow. I rode with Boyer and other hard-core racers on a super-hot day back in 2003 through the Santa Cruz Mountains and I don’t think Boyer broke a sweat.

Boyer has made a decent living from his professional racing career, as the first American to compete in the Tour de France. He didn’t do RAAM to make money. Quite the opposite. Secrest spent his last dime racing RAAM and going after 24-hour track records. He’s a purist athlete to the core, emphasizing on more than one occasion that he never did drugs, other than the allowed asthma medication.

Wide World of Sports stopped following the race after 1986 and since then it has continued in obscurity. Wikipedia has good coverage of the event. If you’re interested in entering, just go to the RAAM website. Average cost – $20,000.

On my next 100-mile ride I’ll think about this memorable evening and tell myself 100 miles is a walk in the park compared to RAAM.


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