Archive for the ‘Once Upon a Ride’ Category

Mt. Hamilton backside road stories

March 28, 2016

The old road followed Arroyo Bayo.

The old road followed Arroyo Bayo.


One of the most wild and scenic roads in the Bay Area is Hwy 130, San Antonio Valley Road, on the backside of Mt. Hamilton.

I’ve ridden there since 1980 and it never fails to impress. Over the years I’ve wondered about that dirt road alongside Arroyo Bayo after the hill out of Isabel Creek.

Jobst Brandt, who rode on the backside of Mt. Hamilton more than any cyclist, may have mentioned riding there, but I’ve forgotten.

But Peter Locke has not forgotten, and he rode with Jobst. He told me recently by phone how they rode through the creek. He had fond memories of fording the creek numerous times, as well as crossing a reservoir. Here’s Google Maps after the Isabel Creek climb.

Red line shows where the road went.

Red line shows where the road went.

I looked at a USGS topographic map from 1955 and sure enough the dirt road that you see today along the creek was the main road.

It’s fast disappearing, but it’s still used by landowners in some sections.

I wouldn’t want to try riding there today, but back in 1956-57 when Jobst, Peter and others rode it, the road was maintained.

The road enters a narrow section.

The road enters a narrow section.


Here's where the first section of road returns to present Hwy 130.

Here’s where the first section of road returns to present Hwy 130.

USGS topo map from 1955.

USGS topo map from 1955.

Remember Alpine Road!

March 4, 2016

Alpine Road from Portola Valley to Skyline used to be a nice ride. I'll never forget.

Alpine Road from Portola Valley to Skyline used to be a nice ride. I’ll never forget.


Just a friendly reminder, this is how Alpine Road looked in 1990. Fabulous!

It was the best way to Skyline Boulevard.

Who can forget the pumpkin tree?

October 29, 2015

Jobst Brandt and Mike Higgins pass by the pumpkin tree on Pescadero Road in 1984.

Jobst Brandt and Mike Higgins pass by the pumpkin tree on Pescadero Road in 1984.


I know I can’t. In the early 1980s the residents of a house on Pescadero Road hung pumpkins from their apple tree starting in late October.

We enjoyed passing by and admiring the tree every Halloween.

The owners of the house are long-since gone, along with the tree, but the memories remain.

Pumpkin tree location today.

Pumpkin tree location today.

Jobst Brandt leaves behind memories to last a lifetime

May 6, 2015

Jobst Brandt rides up Gavia Pass, Italy. Made into a poster.(Rick Lyman photo, 1978)

Jobst Brandt rides up Gavia Pass, Italy. Made into a poster (Rick Lyman photo, 1978).


Behold the wise Jobst Rider,
Whose unfettered mind
Sees God in dirt
And hears him in the spokes.

(Adapted from a quote by Alexander Pope)

Jobst Brandt, a cyclist who in so many ways influenced the bicycle industry during its glory days of the 1980s, died on Tuesday, May 5, 2015, after a long illness. He was 80.

The day after his 76th birthday, Jobst crashed his bike at the Sand Hill Road and Whiskey Hill Road intersection near Woodside during an early morning ride in a dense fog. It was his last bike ride. His serious injuries added to the burden of other health liabilities.

Jobst exerted considerable influence over those he knew in the bike industry, but he was not an industry insider. Because he never worked in the bike business, he could offer his opinions about the industry without reservation.

His passing is a personal loss for me. I met Jobst in 1979 while working at Palo Alto Bicycles. I’ll never forget seeing Jobst wheel into the store on his huge bike, which he always rode into the shop while deftly opening the door.

He immediately bound upstairs to the Avocet headquarters where he would engage owner Bud Hoffacker in lively discussions (browbeat) about everything under the sun involving bike technology.

Jobst was like that. He believed with 100 percent certainty that his way was the right way. If you disagreed and didn’t have the facts to support your argument, you were just another crackpot.

Consummate engineer
Most of the time Jobst was right. He had that rare skill in a mechanical engineer — he not only understood engineering principles, he could translate theory into meaningful product improvements, whether it be a bicycle shoe, a floor pump or a cyclometer.

Jobst received seven patents (3 cycling), testimony to his abilities.

1 – 6,583,524 Micro-mover with balanced dynamics (Hewlett Packard)
2 – 6,134,508 Simplified system for displaying user-selected functions in a bicycle computer or similar device (for Avocet)
3 – 5,834,864 Magnetic micro-mover (Hewlett Packard, and Bob Walmsley, Victor Hesterman)
4 – 5,058,427 Accumulating altimeter with ascent/descent accumulation thresholds (for Avocet)
5 – 4,547,983 Bicycle shoe (for Avocet)
6 – 4,369,453 Plotter having a concave platen (Hewlett Packard)
7 – 3,317,186 Alignment and support hydraulic jack (SLAC)

He received his first U.S. patent while working at the two-mile long Stanford Linear Accelerator in 1966; he was recognized for his work on suspension for the particle accelerator. There’s a plaque with his name on it in one of the lobbies.

At Porsche he designed race-car suspensions, after quickly moving through the ranks. The way he got his job is classic Jobst. The young Stanford University graduate (his father was an economics professor at Stanford), who spent time in the U.S. Army in Germany as a reserve officer — lieutenant, then captain — in the 9th Engineer Battalion, approached Porsche and told them that their English translations lacked polish. Porsche agreed and he was hired.

Cycling legacy
Jobst blazed trails beyond bike product development. His freewheeling way of thinking led him to do things most people would never dream of — like riding a racing bike with tubular tires on rugged trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It’s not that big a deal, but other cyclists thought it was, so Jobst quickly gained a reputation that drew elite cyclists from the Bay Area to join him on his Sunday rides, starting promptly at 8 a.m. from his house on Middlefield Road in Palo Alto.

By the mid-1970s, Jobst had such a large following that some rides counted up to 20 riders. Most would not complete the ride, mainly because it lasted all day and went through creeks, over rocky trails lined with poison oak (Jobst was immune) and through private property.

While Jobst had an entourage of bike racers, he never had anything kind to say about the sport. I think the only good he saw in it was a test of a person’s mettle (a bike’s metal too) and the ability to overcome obstacles. That’s what Jobst was all about.

He never showed fear or got rattled in difficult situations. These √úbermensch qualities came to the forefront when he fell and broke his leg at the hip in 1986 on the rain-slick pavement of Col de Tende. He got up, cursed himself for not recognizing the foam on the road, and ordered me to lift his leg over the top tube so he could coast to the next town.

In Tende, Jobst dismounted and crawled on hands and knees up the steps to the doctor’s office.

On another occasion he was trying to help a snake off Calaveras Road; it bit him and only then did he realize the young reptile was a rattlesnake. He didn’t panic, but rode back to his car in Milpitas and drove to Stanford Hospital for the antidote. The venom mangled his thumb.

One beautiful spring day in 1982 we were bound for Gazos Creek Road when we came upon a scene of absolute devastation. The road had been obliterated by torrential rains that downed redwoods and dislodged boulders the size of cars. Instead of turning around, Jobst urged us on.

So we clambered over trees and followed the creek downhill, eventually reaching a recognizable road after a mile of walking.

The Bicycle Wheel
Jobst wrote a lot (check out rec.bike or Sheldon Brown’s website), but nothing was more important to him than his book on the bicycle wheel. He spent more than a decade writing the book with the intention of producing a tome that would stand the test of time.

I learned to build my first set of wheels using his book when it was still in manuscript form. It was the first time I read a description so well done that I could follow along and build wheels that would last for many years.

Jobst let many people edit the manuscript, but it was Jim Westby, Jobst’s friend and manager of the Palo Alto Bicycles mail order catalog, who did the heavy lifting. Jobst also published a German edition.

The book has sold well since being published by Avocet and is still in print. It could be in print 100 years from now because the principles of wheel building are never going to change. Sure, thanks to new materials we now have 16-spoke wheels, but it’s a number that made Jobst cringe.

Love for the Alps
Although Jobst rode most of his miles in the U.S., he always made time for the Alps. For 50 years he rode there annually, riding many of the same passes year after year, with some variation. He almost always went with another rider.

Riding with Jobst in the Alps tested friendships. He became obsessive about riding all day, every day, and I don’t mean until 5 p.m. He liked to ride until 8 p.m. after starting around 8 a.m., when he could coax the hotel owner to get up that early.

If you rode in the Alps with Jobst, you knew you were going to cover a lot of ground and you could expect some adventure riding, sometimes sliding down snow-covered slopes when crossing high passes on hiking trails. Of course, Jobst rode all but the rockiest trails.

Jobst took many photos of his exploits over the decades, probably more than 10,000 slides. He had a unique ability to capture great photos with his Rollei 35. A few of his photos were made into posters and sold by Palo Alto Bicycles.

He could be obsessive about getting just the right shot, as when we were on the section of road supported by concrete beams looming over Bedretto Valley, Switzerland. Given the right cropping, the road appears to be suspended in mid-air, the village of Fontana 1,000 feet below. Possessed with taking the perfect photo, Jobst hacked away, limb for limb, at a sapling growing next to the road.

Wheel suckers
Although Jobst sometimes had a harsh demeanor, he had his fun side too. He loved to pull pranks and make puns while out on the road. We passed the day telling stories, jokes, and commenting on world affairs.

That was when we weren’t struggling to stay on Jobst’s wheel in his younger days. It was especially true with Tom Ritchey along for the ride. The accomplished racer and frame builder had a way about him that caused Jobst to push the pace; maybe Jobst did it to prove a point or just because he knew he could have some serious competition with Tom.

Whatever the reason, we had some hard and fast riding ahead of us on many a Sunday. It got even worse when other racers showed up, like Keith Vierra, Sterling McBride, Dave McLaughlin, Peter Johnson, Bill Robertson, the list is lengthy.

It got so competitive that we sprinted for city limits signs.

I could go on about Jobst, but it would require a book-length blog. I’ve published some accounts of past rides here (Once Upon a Ride) and they’ll have to do for now.

As Jobst was always fond of saying, “Ride bike!”

Excellent read: The Force Who Rides by Laurence Malone.

Filoli Estate visit brings back cycling memories

April 7, 2015

Filoli gardens, one of the few local places where you'll see imported tulips in blossom.

Filoli gardens, one of the few local places where you’ll see imported tulips in blossom.


Today I visited the Filoli Estate off Cañada Road on a day heaven-sent for touring the surrounding gardens — partly cloudy with intermittent showers.

It brought back distant memories of bike rides on Old Cañada Road, which goes for about four to five miles when adding Runnymede Road, Crystal Springs Trail, then Old Cañada Road to Hwy 92. I think parts of the road are still paved, but otherwise it’s a fine dirt road, well maintained by the San Francisco Water Department.

Of course it’s illegal to ride on and has been probably since the 1930s when the area was closed to the public. That’s a crying shame because it’s some of the most beautiful countryside in the Coast Range.

Not even William Bowers Bourn, who built Filoli in 1915, could catch a break when it came to the public watershed. The Bourns wanted to have an estate built along Crystal Springs Lake, on land owned by the Spring Valley Water Company. Even though Bourn was the president of the company, a law forbade private ownership of the public domain property that supplied water to the city of San Francisco.

We can credit Bourn for the modern Cañada Road alignment. He asked that the road be moved to its current location when he built his estate.

I mention this now because this would be a natural extension of the Fifield-Cahill Trail north of Hwy 92. In fact, the roads were one in the same back in the 1930s. You can see them on either side of Hwy 92 at the old rock quarry.

It’s an obvious multi-use trail since it’s wide and there are many local equestrians, cyclists and joggers who would love to use it with minimal restrictions. Maybe one of these days…

Old Canada Road (shown in red) would make a great multi-use trail. (Google map image)

Old Canada Road (shown in red) would make a great multi-use trail. (Google map image)

Been there done that: San Francisco Watershed inches closer to public access

February 12, 2015

San Francisco watershed. Imagine the possibilities.

San Francisco watershed. Imagine the possibilities.


If you believe what you read in the newspaper, there’s a move afoot to open roads in the San Francisco watershed, but don’t hold your breath. It will be years, maybe decades, before it happens.

The 23,000 acre parcel bordered by Hwy 92 and Interstate 280 is managed by the San Francisco water department, but the federal government and San Mateo County have a say in any move toward public access.

Currently the only way you can go there is on a docent-led tour, legally that is.

Back in 1980 I rode through the watershed with Dave McLaughlin, an indiscretion I will long remember not for getting away with it, but for the beauty of Fifield-Cahill Road and the original Pilarcitos stone dam.

Note that the map says it’s a trail, but don’t be fooled. It’s a fine dirt road and it’s used by maintenance vehicles all the time.

Back then I was working at Palo Alto Bicycles and had just started going on Sunday rides with Jobst Brandt, who had a unique riding style that I immediately found appealing. He had a following of bike racers, for the most part, who also enjoyed riding their racing bikes on dirt roads and trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Jobst rode everywhere, public or private; it didn’t matter. He grew up in Palo Alto at a time when the sight of a bike on a dirt road seemed downright crazy. The mountain bike, even in 1980, had yet to become a fixture.

I had been studying topographic maps of the area and had my eye on riding through the SF watershed, something not even Jobst had attempted. I’m not sure why. Maybe he didn’t want to take a pack of riders into harm’s way.

Dave was more than willing. Still a teenager, he had a special talent on the bike that would take him to numerous victories on the racing circuit. We both knew about Old Cañada Road, which ran behind the Filoli estate, and where we rode on occasion.

I noted on my rides on Hwy 92 a rock quarry near where Old Cañada Road meets 92. The topo map showed a road leading into the watershed. Dave and I headed out from Palo Alto on a beautiful fogless day, probably in the early fall after bike racing season.

It was easy to get over the fence, and once inside we quickly found our way onto Cahill Road. How we wound up at the old Pilarcitos dam is lost in the fog of time. Here was a dam made of bricks nestled in a steep canyon, surrounded by dense stands of cypress, Douglas fir and redwoods.

I recall tall trees with lots of hanging moss. It looked like something out of Jurassic Park. We couldn’t get over the pristine condition of the area, with only an incredibly well maintained dirt road to show that people ever visited here.

From the old dam we made our way past the much larger Pilarcitos Reservoir where we saw the water department’s impressive vacation house and other public works.

At some point the dirt turned to pavement. We didn’t have any idea where we were headed, but we continued north, figuring we would come out near Skyline Boulevard eventually.

That’s exactly what happened. We exited at the north end of San Andreas Reservoir on a fast downhill. As fate would have it, water department officials had just opened the pearly gates (they must have known we were coming) and we quickly sped by onto public roads.

I was so jazzed by the experience that I called the SF water department and asked about bike access. I figured it was a hopeless gesture, to take the high road and ask permission, and I was right. The supervisor said, “If I give you access I’ll have to give every cyclist access.”

When you look at it from the perspective of the SF water department, there is nothing but downside to opening the area. Would you want to have to deal with the public and the inevitable hassles? Of course not.

Public agencies have the burden of making things “safe.” In our litigious society though, there is no such thing as safe. Think of all the items that need to be addressed: parking, enforcement, restrooms, signage, on and on.

I have a different take on open space. Open it and don’t provide facilities. Take down the signs and let people roam. Maintenance crews can enforce.

I recently saw a sign on Overlook Road that winds into the hills above Los Gatos, and it made my day. “Private road. Use at your own risk.”

I just want to ride my bike and enjoy the scenery. That sign is what all private property signs should say. The world would be a better place for it.

Further reading:

Open SF Watershed (Facebook)

Once Upon a Ride… Star Hill Road

July 5, 2014

Star Hill Road at Hwy 1. This section of toll road was abandoned by San Mateo County back in the late 1800s upon purchase.

Star Hill Road at Hwy 1. This section of toll road was abandoned by San Mateo County back in the late 1800s upon purchase.

On my many rides with Jobst Brandt, we often took roads that weren’t exactly public, but that didn’t seem to faze Jobst in the least. It wasn’t out of arrogance.

Jobst grew up in Palo Alto in the 1940s-1950s. Life was different then. The community was small and with the exception of Hewlett Packard and Varian, there wasn’t much in the way of a technology industry.

When he started riding in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the late 1950s, the sight of a bicycle was considered an oddity. Jobst rode wherever he pleased, including Star Hill Road.

He got to know the Markegard family and he would stop and chat with Erik Markegard’s father. Erik has gone on to start his own family and sells range-fed beef, chickens and more from his ranch, which is administered by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. You can find out all about the ranch and business on their excellent website.

Back in 1982, I wrote about one of those rides in my personal diary. So let’s turn back the time machine..

July 11, 1982
Riders: Jobst, Ray, Ted Mock, Peter Johnson, Jan Causey, Bob ?, Tom Ritchey, Gary Holmgren
Route: Up Page Mill, down Alpine Road, Pescadero Road to Pescadero, Stage Road to Tunitas Creek Road, up Star Hill Road, down Kings Mountain Road.
Tire/Mechanical Failure: Ray/flat; Jobst/flat; Bob/flat

The Santa Cruz Mountains are home to a good number of wealthy people who like to preserve their privacy on isolated ranches accessible only by private roads.

Some of those people have made their fortune in entertainment. As much as they love their followers, they still like to enjoy some alone time. Star Hill Road crosses one of those entertainer’s property and rest assured, you are not welcome. The last thing they want to see is some grimy bike riders using their roads.

The morning started with the usual fog, but it was warm and humid. By the time we started up Page Mill Road, it was already warm and everyone dripped with sweat. We met a bunch of riders and Jobst engaged them in conversation during the climb.

At Shotgun Bend I went ahead. Jobst said as I departed, and he said it often, “Ritchey is always stronger than the rest of the riders because he doesn’t have to climb this hill to Skyline.”

Ritchey met us at Skyline, having just returned from a Super Tour in Canada. He wasn’t impressed. “There’s nothing but pine trees. You can’t see through them, they’re so thick.” [I had the same experience on my trip to Vancouver Island.]

Jan followed us down Alpine Road at high speed, showing her excellent descending skills. She headed up 84 to finish her ride.

On Haskins Hill Jobst and Ritchey rode hard, although they would never admit to being competitive about it. We stopped at Loma Mar store for food and drink. We enjoyed the descent to Pescadero but as we arrived at the city limits, one of the town’s upstanding citizens took it upon himself to give us a warm welcome: “Get the hell off the road!”

Before hammering up the climbs on Stage Roads, a bit of levity ensued. Fresh with thoughts of “Sexercise,” a term coined by the Runner’s World publisher for a new book, I blurted out, “Sexerride.” Then Peter added, “This is what you call erotic cycling.” And Jobst, just ahead, chimed in, “What, do I have a hole in my shorts?”

Never one to pass up the opportunity to use his alluring peacock call, Jobst bellowed in his most convincing voice to the denizens of Willowside Ranch, “Aaarrrrr! Aaaaarrrr!”

I commented, “Better watch out Jobst, they’re after you now.” To which Jobst replied, “They know who their master is.”

At San Gregorio, Gary turned up Hwy 84, having done one too many rides up Tunitas Creek Road in recent weeks.

We started up Star Hill Road, me with some foreboding because I heard it was hideously steep and rutted. Not true.

Tom Ritchey, Peter Johnson and Jobst Brandt discuss the meaning of life. Note that Jobst was riding a Ritchey bike at this time. Later bikes were made by Peter.

Tom Ritchey, Peter Johnson and Jobst Brandt discuss the meaning of life. Note that Jobst was riding a Ritchey bike at this time. Later bikes were made by Peter.


After the long climb we had a short downhill to a farmhouse, but the only residents appeared to be some lonely peacocks strutting their stuff. We stopped at the beautiful concrete fountain and watched the goldfish swimming around. Jobst began telling some stories of past rides, one of those reflective moments when all seems right with the world.

After Jobst fooled me by pointing to some clay pigeons, we headed off on the steep road, which was paved for a mile.

For unknown reasons everyone started flatting, Bob first. Peter noted, with complete accuracy, “It seems like this road goes forever.” Star Hill Road is a long climb, made the more so coming off Tunitas Creek Road. It’s no shortcut.

The pavement ended and we began the long climb on dirt Star Hill Road past the last gate. [The road has since been paved.] Then Jobst and I noticed we had flatted. Jobst fixed his tire at a drainage trough.

The descent of Kings Mountain Road went without incident, but Peter had one more trick up his sleeve. While riding behind me he clicked his brakes as hard as he could. It sounded just like someone crashing. Then Peter sped by and yelled, “Fooled you!”

[I never took private Star Hill Road again without Jobst present. Not recommended. The story has more interesting twists and turns, but I’ve left out details out of respect for privacy, if that’s even possible in this day and age.]

Star Hill Ranch flat repair. A later ride. The Peter Johnson (Ritchey decal) bike is yellow here.

Star Hill Ranch flat repair. A later ride. The Peter Johnson (Ritchey decal) bike is yellow here.

Gavia Pass memory

April 27, 2014
Jobst Brandt on Gavia Pass, in the late 1980s. A tunnel was built about 1991 and this part of the road abandoned. This perspective does not compare to the one made into a poster, but still nice.

Jobst Brandt on Gavia Pass, in the late 1980s. A tunnel was built about 1991 and this part of the road abandoned. This perspective does not compare to the one made into a poster, but still nice. Photo by whomever was with him on that ride.


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