Archive for the ‘Once Upon a Ride’ Category

Once Upon a Ride: Wheels over muddied waters

May 18, 2015
Ted Mock recovers after taking a spill on Richards Road.

Ted Mock recovers after taking a spill on Richards Road.

March 30, 1981
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Jim Westby, Ted Mock, John McDonnell, Ray Hosler, Tom Holmes,
Weather: Cloudy and dry, then cloudy and rainy, back to cloudy and dry
Route: Up Kings Mountain Road, down Richards Road through Huddart Park
Tire/Mechanical Failure: Ray – minor tire casing issue; John – chain fell off

Midway in the Jobst Ride on this Sunday in March each of us was seriously questioning our raison d’etre.

The latest Pacific cold front, moving through like a speeding freight train, dumped a load of water on our group and the surrounding hills, already spongy from the early spring rains.

We were getting soaked and I couldn’t help but remember Jobst’s hallowed words, “I never ride in the rain.” [not intentionally, except maybe in Europe]

As we made our way along Manzanita Way in Woodside where it was already wet, Ted quipped: “I know it’s getting wet when my jersey starts shrinking.” [inside joke for wool jerseys]

But this was a Jobst Ride and we were intent on going out here in the rain to escape civilization and discover yet another dirt road. Sometimes we just had to suck it up.

Before beginning the climb up Kings Mountain Road, John asked me if I could see without the glasses I had just removed. “Sure I can see without them…Jim.” We hustled up Kings Mountain Road passing a few tourists on the way.

At Skyline Boulevard we milled about wondering where to go next. Jobst mentioned that it might be drier on the coast, but nobody was buying that. So Jobst recommended a little-known trail through Huddart Park. [Later I found out it was Richards Road, a former skid road for hauling logs.]

We headed north on Skyline for about a half-mile before turning off at a chain barrier. Our modern-day Davy Crockett charged blindly into the forest and it was all we could do to stay with Jobst on the muddy road that led inevitably downward. At one point we took a side path but discovered it went nowhere.

It was Greek philosopher Plato who said, “Man is declared to be that creature who is constantly in search for himself, a creature who at every moment must examine and scrutinize the conditions of his existence. He is a being in search of meaning.”

Plato would have been hard-pressed to find any rational meaning for this ride as we continued down the muddy spoor. We struggled with our bikes through gooey yellow mud that clung to tires and clogged brakes.

It was on one difficult stretch, in mud like quicksand, that Ted met his soiled fate. He did an endo and fell into the ooze. I had to take his photo to capture the memory.

Once into the lower reaches of the park the trail improved and we picked up the pace. Jobst said, “Now if Ritchey could have ridden down that on his mountain bike, he’d be going a lot faster than us.”

We finally reached Greer Road and made our way back to civilization. We headed back over Sand Hill Road where two small foreign cars with smashed windows looked like victims of a UFO attack.

On the way, Jobst pointed out the hill-creep on Sharon Heights where famed chemist Linus Pauling had an office. “They never should have put that building there,” Jobst declared. “When I was a boy that hill was just a marsh. There was a horse stable right where that building sits now.”

Horses and Jobst Riders had something in common this day. Put a Jobst Rider against a good mudder and you’ve got a race on your hands.

Jobst Brandt leaves behind memories to last a lifetime

May 6, 2015

Jobst Brandt riding up Gavia Pass, Italy. Made into a poster.

Jobst Brandt riding up Gavia Pass, Italy. Made into a poster.


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.

On 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.

Once Upon a Ride: Flats, Flats, Flats in Marin County

May 5, 2015

Ridgecrest Boulevard overlooking Stinson Beach. John Pinaglia, Jobst Brandt, Parker McComas, Tom Ritchey.

Ridgecrest Boulevard overlooking Stinson Beach. John Pinaglia, Jobst Brandt, Parker McComas, Tom Ritchey.


At a recent bike event talk, Tom Ritchey, owner of Ritchey Bicycle Components USA, mentioned a ride where the group had a dozen flats between them. Close enough. It was nine flats. Now for the rest of the story:

May 17, 1981
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Tom Ritchey, Parker McComas, Strange John, Ray Hosler
Route: Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, Mill Valley, Mt. Tam railroad grade, Hwy 1 to Olema, Pt. Reyes National Park, Stinson Beach, home via Mt. Tam.
Weather: Overcast, fog on coast, then cool
Tire/Mechanical Failures: Tom – 4 flats; Jobst – 1 flat; Ray – 1 flat; John – 1 flat; Parker – 2 flats

It is sad to say that our clinchers failed us on this Jobst Ride. [we had just switched over to clinchers] They not only failed, they turned a potentially enjoyable ride into a trying experience. However, a good time was still had by all.

We started from the Golden Gate Bridge south side around 9:30 a.m., fortunately missing runners in the Bay to Breakers, as feared. We piled out of Tom’s VW bus and prepared our bikes for a ride that wouldn’t end until 5 p.m.

As we made our way on the bike path between Sausalito and Mill Valley, Jobst pioneered a route through a bed of gravel that appeared to be a jogging path. Once on the other side onto pavement, Parker and I discovered we had rear flats.

While fixing our flats, several riders went past and yelled, “That’s what you get for using sewups!” Jobst rejoined, “These aren’t sewups, they’re clinchers!” The argument over the advantages of clinchers vs. sewups had raged for years and this day wouldn’t do anything to quell the controversy.

The Jobst Riders entered the peaceful town of Mill Valley and headed up the traditional one-way road, past the sign that says “Do Not Enter.” We passed the quiet splendor of homes overlooked by giant redwoods.

Tom drinks from a spring midway up Mt. Tamalpais on the railroad grade.

Tom drinks from a spring midway up Mt. Tamalpais on the railroad grade.


At the railroad grade entrance we noted the ground was dry and firm. Sharp rocks menacingly pointed toward our tires.

Along the way we spotted several Rufous-sided towhees and the remnants of a railroad station’s concrete platform. We stopped for water at the one-time watering station where there is now a moss-covered waterfall. The cold water tasted delicious.

[While this is a railroad grade, it’s a Shay locomotive railroad grade with an 8 percent inclination.]

At the top of the climb on Mt. Tam we noted a poster warning not to travel alone, although the Mt. Tam trail killer had been captured several days earlier.

We stopped for the traditional photo at the Stinson Beach overlook, clearly visible below. The fog had not yet moved close to shore.

On the descent of Ridgecrest Boulevard, Parker flatted again and it was determined his rubber rim strip was at fault. John and Jobst had ridden ahead to wait at the gate. From here you can ride a trail all the way to Olema, but today Jobst had other plans, so we took the Fairfax-Bolinas Road down to Hwy 1.

In Olema Parker purchased some elastic strapping tape for his rear rim.

Jobst typically rode up Mt. Wittenberg Trail, but today we headed straight into Pt. Reyes National Park down Bear Valley Trail [off limits to bikes]. We passed many backpackers who were returning from their overnight stays.

Then Jobst flatted and patched his tube while the rest of us checked out the giant ferns and wildflowers growing next to the trail.

From here we had a long uphill to a ridge that overlooked the Pacific. The steep trail had us straining on the cranks. At the summit Jobst pointed to the Coast Trail sign and recalled an earlier ride. “The hikers told us not to go that direction because it was too steep. Pretty soon we were rappelling down this cliff. We were lucky to get down that one.”

We had a fast descent to the ocean on a trail littered with sharp rocks composed of shale, and more backpackers. We passed speechless hikers, kicking up a trail of dust as we went.

At a corner Tom flatted. As we made repairs, some equestrians ambled by heading the opposite direction.

I noticed Tom was riding Avocet Mod III pedals, which he just as quickly noticed did not have their dust caps. With no spare tube, he had to patch the flat. We looked around and listened to the crashing surf below where a couple of tents were still pitched near the shore.

Tom fixes another flat, this one on the Coast Trail in Marin County.

Tom fixes another flat, this one on the Coast Trail in Marin County.

Jobst pointed out all sorts of birds flitting about and then noticed an Allen’s hummingbird. We watched it as it flew up in the air and then dive-bombed us. Jobst figured a female was hiding in the bushes and the male was showing off.

No sooner had Tom fixed his rear flat than he discovered a front flat! Back to work patching tubes.

Back on the road, we faced a particularly steep section that had once been paved. Jobst and Tom rode all the way but the rest of us had to walk.

We continued to pass equestrians on the Coast Trail, which is lined with some beautiful small lakes where ducks can be seen swimming around.

Jobst lost control on a section of off-camber trail and crashed on his right arm, blood flowing freely. However, he was otherwise unhurt and the bike was fine. Jobst found a mud puddle with green slime and washed off his wound.

We continued on the gnarly trail that at times came within inches of a cliff and the Pacific Ocean below. At one point Jobst found a side path and disappeared into pampas grass.

Back on Hwy 1 via Mesa Road, we made good progress into Stinson Beach. We had to make a four-mile detour around Bolinas Lagoon, at which point Tom started talking about his idea for a bike with pontoons. “They could be folded down when in use and small paddles attached to the cranks for locomotion.”

As we battled unusual headwinds Tom flatted once again. By now it was becoming routine. After fixing the flat Tom looked sadly at his other tire and said, “Oh no, this one is flat too!” Then he smiled and laughed. “Just kidding.”

We stopped at a corner grocery store where Jobst always visited on his Marin County rides. While inside he inquired about some keys left behind on a previous ride by Rick Humphreys. Lo and behold, Jobst’s Volvo keys were in a lost-and-found jar kept by the owner.

We headed back up Panoramic Highway for a long climb to the ridge overlooking the Pacific. It was here that Tom flatted for the fourth time. Tom borrowed my leaky tube, which was better off than his. Along the way Tom had to stop several times to pump his tire.

Back at the Golden Gate Bridge we faced a thick blanket of bone-chilling fog as we rode across the drippy wet bridge path, ships’ foghorns bellowing their warning.

That VW van never looked so good after a long ride.

Another Coast Trail ride later in 1981. Nice views. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Another Coast Trail ride later in 1981. Nice views. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Once Upon a Ride: Big Basin Blowout

April 9, 2015

June 7, 1981, Corn Roast ride through Big Basin State Park. Just after Jobst abandoned sew-ups. From left: Roger ?, Jim Westby, Parker McComas, Rick Humphreys, Ray Hosler, Dan Green, Tom Ritchey, Tom Holmes.

June 7, 1981, Corn Roast ride through Big Basin State Park. Just after Jobst abandoned sew-ups. From left: Roger ?, Jim Westby, Parker McComas, Rick Humphreys, Ray Hosler, Dan Green, Tom Ritchey, Tom Holmes.


May 24, 1981
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Tom Ritchey, Ted Mock, Ray Hosler, Strange John, Rick Humphreys
Route: Up Alpine Road, Skyline to 9, 9 to 236, service road to Big Basin State Park, Gazos Creek Road, Cloverdale Road, Stage Roads, Hwy 1, Purisima Creek Road, Kings Mountain Road
Weather: Warm, partly cloudy, humid
Tire/Mechanical: None

As the Indianapolis car racers revved their engines this Memorial Day weekend, the Jobst Riders rode their machines through the Santa Cruz Mountains, talking about the upcoming Corn Roast in Swanton and the Sierra ride the second weekend in June.

On this Sunday morning Ted Mock showed up. The professional photographer is a veteran bike racer who now just rides with Jobst. In his mid-30s, Ted rents a house with bicycle frame builder Peter Johnson on College Avenue in midtown Palo Alto.

As we rode on Alpine Road we came across a motley crew of Palo Alto Bike Shop riders — Ron Hoffacker, Don McBride, Kathy Williams, Dave Prion and Brian Cooley. Then we passed triathlete Mark Sisson as he changed a flat tire.

At the green gate where the two-mile dirt section of Alpine Road begins, Jobst observed a Hutton’s Vireo feeding its young in a nest. We carried on with the shop riders and talked about all topics under the sun, the chance of rain, etc.

The riders rolled south on Skyline with an incomparable view of fog hugging the nearby mountains, all the while being followed by a telephone company van. Jobst figured the driver was looking for a particular power pole on the roadside.

At the Cal fire station water fountain we tanked up our water bottles, except Jobst, who never carries one. As we swatted horse flies, Jobst recalled an incident in France: “I was riding along when I felt this sting under my neck, so I took a swat and thought I had rid myself of the pest. Well, a few minutes later I noticed a stinging sensation again and took another swat at the same spot. This time I felt a big splat and saw blood all over my hand when I drew it away.”

The ride down 9 went at its usual high speed. Rick turned off at Waterman Gap to head back for a wedding. This left Jobst, Ted, Ray and Tom. On the North Escape Road into Big Basin park, Tom noticed a sign, and when they stopped for water at a stream Tom said, “They put that sign there because of what happened to me in Yosemite Park.”

Know park regulations
Tom said that he was cited by a ranger for riding his bicycle on the trails in Yosemite. The park had a rule against riding any mechanized vehicle on trails in the park. The sign Tom referred to said: “You are responsible for knowing park regulations.”

We stopped at the park store and purchased some expensive food while Jobst told the clerk where they were headed. “That sounds like a spine-jarring experience,” she replied. As we sat eating we talked about Peter’s sleeping habits, the amazing ability of John Howard to recall names, distinguishing marks over the eyes of Steller’s Jays and the disappearance of Strange John.

We decided to head up Gazos Creek Road, one of Jobst’s favorite rides through the redwoods. We rode by several deer next to the road, which didn’t move a muscle as we passed within inches. “They know where they are!” Jobst said.

After about five miles of moderate ups and downs on the dirt road we reached a junction and the Sandy Point Guard Station, or what was left of it. It had burned down in the 1960s.

We headed steeply down Gazos Creek Road and passed a large wooden sign declaring this land to be a tree farm.

Jobst pointed out that someone had tried to chop down the sign with an ax. That brought back memories of the Dog Town sign in Marin County off Hwy 1, which got chopped down time and again by sign collectors.

We dropped down Gazos Creek Road, which was in great shape with the exception of small muddy spots from recent rains. Two cycle tourists loaded down with bags slowly descended as we blew by.

As we rode on the flat section of Gazos Creek Road following the creek, Jobst and Tom got into a heated argument about religion, which was par for the course.

Along Cloverdale Road (dirt at the time) a car came speeding by at 60 mph, kicking up a cloud of dust. Jobst turned around to watch and see if it could make a difficult corner. He didn’t see it and declared, “It could be in a ditch now for all we know.”

As we rode past the Butano State Park entrance, Jobst remembered a bike race held here, which went through the hills to our right over fire roads.

Tom headed home on Pescadero Road while the rest of us turned left to Pescadero. Jobst pointed out the town’s new flag pole, about 40 feet tall with a huge American flag waving in the ocean breeze. The old wooden pole blew down in a storm.

Pescadero festival
In Pescadero we were greeted by Holy Ghost Festival signs. We stopped at a new store and Jobst greeted the owner. who he knew by name. Outside we listened to Jobst doing his usual harangue on all sorts of topics: lousy car suspensions, bad tires on a VW Bug, an overweight cyclist, and so on.

We continued north on Stage Road to Hwy 1, where we turned right and continued to Purisima Creek Road. During the gentle climb to the dirt section Jobst identified many different birds and pointed out San Mateo County’s first oil well hugging the hillside above the creek.

The sun peeked through the fog along the coast while we enjoyed the lush green canyon cut by Purisima Creek over the eons. An old logging road would take us to Skyline Boulevard, with some sections as steep at 18 percent. [The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District purchased the surrounding land around this time.]

Guns in Purisima Creek
Heading up the lower reaches of the dirt road before the wooden bridge, we came upon a group of four hikers, one of them carrying a dog with a broken leg.

Later on we passed two hikers dressed in military fatigues, one of them toting an AR15 (civilian version of the M16). Jobst asked, “What are you going to do with that?” The gun-toting hiker replied, “We’re going to shoot targets.”

At the bridge we stopped to enjoy the creek and Jobst commented what a pity it is that trout no longer live in Purisima Creek.

After the difficult climb, we headed down Kings Mountain Road, Jobst and Ted passing a speeding Mercedes convertible on the way.

Jobst drinks from Purisima Creek at the upper bridge. Photo taken day of this ride. It's overgrown here today.

Jobst drinks from Purisima Creek at the upper bridge. Photo taken day of this ride. It’s overgrown here today.

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: A crank that cracked

November 27, 2014

One of my favorite photos of Jobst, taken on Butano Ridge Trail looking toward the Pacific Ocean. 1981.

One of my favorite photos of Jobst, taken on Butano Ridge Trail looking toward the Pacific Ocean. 1981.


November 21, 1982
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Ray Hosler, Peruez, John
Route: Alpine Road, Rapley Road, Skyline Blvd., Hwy 9, Hwy 236, China Grade, Butano Ridge Trail to Cloverdale Road, Pescadero Road, Alpine Road, Page Mill Road
Weather: Cold and hazy, then warm.
Tire/mechanical failure: broken crank

Jobst didn’t have much of a turnout for this pre-Thanksgiving Day ride. It was just me, Strange John and an HP co-worker of Jobst, Peruez from Iran.

While Peruez was something of a novice, Jobst never discriminated and welcomed all who turned up, just as long as they could keep a decent pace.

This Pied Piper of the Santa Cruz Mountains headed out on yet another adventure. I often wondered when this aging rider would lose his following. It looked like it had already begun. When would the day come when nobody showed up, and would Jobst still ride? [I don’t know the answer, but Jobst almost always had someone show up for his Sunday ride until well into the 2000s.]

John mentioned riding up Rapley Road and Jobst took up him up on the challenge. We climbed to nearly the end of the Alpine Road pavement before turning right onto a dirt road, crossing Corte Madera Creek and then heading straight up the hill, destination Skyline Boulevard. [The road goes to Thomas Fogarty Winery property.]

So steep is the road that no matter how good its condition, it is an extremely difficult climb. On this Sunday the road condition could be called “perfect.” Rains the day before had removed the dust and made traction as good as pavement.

John pulled ahead with his 30-tooth rear cog while Jobst muscled his way up using the power of his mighty legs and extra-long crank arms that gave him additional leverage.

Halfway up, when it seemed the agony could not be endured any longer, the riders saw that they were a long ways from Skyline. Jobst circled while he waited for me and Peruez. He warned us that the road gets steeper and to ride as slowly as possible. How about walking? That worked.

At the top Jobst opened a gate and let us through. To our right was a newly planted vineyard and the Rapley home. On one occasion Rapley himself (I have no idea of the name) met Jobst and his band of merry riders. Rapley expressed his displeasure in blunt terms.

As we climbed on Skyline, Jobst looked down to see Tom Ritchey preparing for a ride with the Palo Alto gang. Later that day Tom would lay bleeding on Haskins Hill following a spill behind the wheel of Keith Vierra.

As the riders descended Hwy 9, Jobst waited for everyone to follow along.

We made our way on China Grade to a logging road that took us down to Butano Ridge Trail, a roller-coaster dirt road that runs along the spine of a ridge overlooking Portola State Park to the east.

We pushed and lugged our bikes up the steep spots, except for Jobst, who managed to ride every hill.

Rather than take Dearborn Park Road down to Pescadero Road, Jobst decided to take a chance following the ridge trail all the way to Cloverdale Road, crossing all-too-private property and residences.

On the first of three magnificent hills, Jobst showed he still had legs strong enough to snap steel. As he pushed mightily on his right pedal, the alloy metal of the Campagnolo Record crank finally had enough. It snapped, throwing Jobst off his bike. [It might have been a left crank, but my journal says right, so it stands.]

It was not until the long downhill to Cloverdale Road that I caught up to Jobst. He rode with his right leg dangling, like someone with a paralyzed leg. And yet he rode with purpose, unfazed by adversity, in full command of his crippled machine.

[By 1982 the land owners already had plans to pave the road, which they did a few years later. They made every effort to keep cyclists out. One irate owner chased after Jobst and friends, who took refuge in Pescadero. They later saw the owner, but with other cyclists mingling at the local store, he had no idea who to finger.]

While riding to Loma Mar for food and to call on the pay phone for a ride home, Jobst came across two cyclists who were searching for mushrooms on the roadside. Jobst stopped to help them look. Mushroom hunting was one of his favorite winter activities.

After striking up a conversation with the married couple, Jobst learned that they had a spare crank back at their house on Pescadero Road. A plan was hatched. Jobst would remove his broken crank and install the owner’s.

I rode ahead with Peruez to Loma Mar for a bite to eat. After Jobst arrived, I remarked about the steepness of the hills on Butano Ridge Trail.

Jobst said with a touch of remorse, “There were days when I rode up those. Keith was right next to me.” I had a hard time believing he could have done that. But then I thought back to the hill and considered the force required to snap that crank. I realized that back in the day when Jobst was young, even those hills gave way to legs as powerful as locomotive pistons.

[Jobst broke at least a dozen cranks in his long riding career. He finally solved the issue by developing a simple remedy based on the car lug nut. It has a tapered end that fits snug against the wheel frame. It was only when that innovation came to pass that car lug nuts stopped unthreading.]

Jobst solution for crank failure at pedal eye. There's a 2-piece washer that fits into the drilled indent. One half is shown on the crank; both halves shown on the pedal thread.

Jobst solution for crank failure at pedal eye. There’s a 2-piece washer that fits into the drilled indent. One half is shown on the crank arm; both halves shown on the pedal thread.

Once Upon a Ride…Bear Gulch Road

September 10, 2014

Jim Westby enjoyed Native Sons Cutoff on a warm day in October 1982.

Jim Westby enjoyed Native Sons Cutoff on a warm day in October 1982.

Time once again to turn back the clock and enjoy an adventure ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains with Jobst Brandt and friends.

November 29, 1981
Riders: Jobst, Jim Westby, Tom Sullivan, Sterling McBride, Dave McLaughlin, Ted Mock, Bill Robertson, Rick Humphries, John ?, Paul Mittelstadt, Tom Ritchey
Route: Up Bear Gulch Road, down Swett Road, Star Hill Road to Native Son’s Cutoff, Tunitas Creek Road to Hwy 1, Stage Roads to Pescadero, Pescadero Road, up Alpine Road, down Page Mill Road
Weather: Cold, then cool, mild on the coast. Clear to partly cloudy
Tire/Mechanical failure: Sterling – flat

It has been said that a dog is man’s best friend. That may apply to bird hunters, but not to cyclists, especially when riders are on their bikes flying downhill.

Dogs and bikes have a nasty habit of colliding, like a magnet to steel. Jobst has had more than his share of encounters.

The riders showed up at Jobst’s doorstep well dressed for the cold weather. Sterling and Mack wore their new baby-blue foot warmers, inspired no doubt by the blue-footed booby commonly found on our Pacific shores.

Paradoxically, they dressed in shorts to face the numbing cold. I dressed more conservatively with a wool long-sleeve jersey and plastic bags for foot warmers. Everyone else suffered in regular cotton socks.

We took Sand Hill Road heading west on the newly paved and striped bike route. Jobst held a steady, yet conservative pace. He had already done some long rides over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was easy to tell because his red bike had a coat of mud, a bit more than you would normally see.

On Highway 84 outside Woodside, Jobst and Robertson became involved in a discussion (one often heard from Jobst) about nuclear weapons, overpopulation and the movies Alien and Wolfen. Jobst noted that the reason homes cost $100,000 on average around the country is because we are feeling the effects of a burgeoning population.

When people talk of head counts, they usually look to Bombay or Hong Kong. Overpopulation in the U.S. with its miles of empty prairie and high plains? No way.

The real riding began on Bear Gulch Road, a steep paved grade that never lets up all the way to Skyline Boulevard. Bear Gulch Road is also a very private road, so private in fact that a big steel electronic gate keeps out the curious near the base of the hill.

The road has a long and murky history involving wheeling and dealing, payoffs and greedy landowners who want their very own road. They paid to have it paved if San Mateo County would make it private and maintain it. [More on this later]

The county agreed but retained half-ownership. None of this ever stopped Jobst from riding on Bear Gulch Road, however. He grew up here and he continued doing what he had been doing since his youth, exploring the Santa Cruz Mountains by bike. Private property be damned.

We all followed along willingly, letting him deal with irate landowners when the time came. This Sunday was one of those times.

A mile past the gate we were stopped by a landowner driving an orange van. Maybe because Jobst is the tallest of the bunch, or because he looks like a natural born leader, he got tagged for a discussion about trespassing on the nicely paved road. The conversation went something like this:

“This is a private road, you know, so why don’t you turn back?”

“I know that,” Jobst said. “But look, we’re not trying to cause any trouble. We just want to ride our bikes through here.”

“But if somebody gets hurt, there could be trouble,” said the landowner. “We have to insure the road.”

“Well, the county technically owns half of this road. If it wasn’t for Mortimer J. Skinflint pushing the county supervisors so hard, this road would still be public.”

“That’s not true. This is a dangerous, narrow road. Some riders come flying down here and are a real hazard. [and we thought we were the only ones using the road]

“We’re not riding down and we never do,” Jobst claimed. “We just ride uphill. Besides, Old LaHonda Road is narrow and dangerous, and school buses drive it all the time. It’s a public road.”

“I don’t think you have all your facts straight about what this area is like,” the landowner argued. “What’s your name?”

“Brandt, Jobst, J-O-B-S-T.”

“Where do you live? What’s your address?”

“In Palo Alto. I’m in the phone book.” [they were still used back then]

“Well, the insurance is the real problem. We have to pay for it and we don’t want anyone hurt on this road and suing us.”

Jobst continued. “But I’ve been using this road even before it was paved. I know all about it. I bet I’ve used this road a lot longer than you.”

The landowner shot back, “I’ve lived here for 20 years.”

Jobst countered, “I’ve lived here longer than that.” [40 years]

The landowner never got upset during the conversation, but it wasn’t clear what he had in mind as he drove off.

We continued our ride, passing the landowner on the way as he worked on his house next to the road.

Jim, Tom S., and I fell off the back on the hard climb, no doubt a bit wasted from the previous evening of wine tasting.

After heading north on Skyline, we turned left onto the steep, pot-holed Swett Road and continued down to Star Hill Road, which turned to dirt soon enough.

But it was on a wide, gently sloping paved section where Jobst met his fate. A mongrel dog weighing at least 40 pounds dashed toward us, Jobst seemingly protected in the middle of the pack.

This dog didn’t pull up as dogs usually do. He barreled into us despite an angry chorus of commands from the riders. We all scattered and somehow Jobst tangled with the dog.

His bike fell out from under him and he rolled once, using his right hand to break the fall. He lay on the pavement for several seconds before moving. Then he sprung up and said, “I’m all right.” He only complained of a sore wrist and the shock of falling.

But Jobst’s bike wasn’t so lucky. I noticed that the paint had buckled in the downtube and top tube where they meet the head tube. Tom Ritchey came over to inspect his handiwork and determined that it was only warped, not broken, still safe to ride.

Jobst said this was his second dog collision. He had his other one 22 years ago with the same result — a broken frame.

Meanwhile, a motorist wearing his Sunday best drove up and honked at us to get off the road.

We continued the ride on Star Hill Road, peeling off onto the bumpy, leaf-covered Native Son’s Cutoff, a route only known to Jobst and friends. It turned out to be a muddy spoor after recent rains, so we slipped and slid down the road as our hands froze on the brake levers in the dark, dank forest.

Giant gray and and brown mushrooms covered the trail, which brought howls of delight from Sterling and Mack: “Shrooms!” Sterling then flatted, right where Tom R. had flatted a week ago, ruining an expensive silk sewup. That had proven enough for Tom, who was riding on new clinchers. [It was about this time that everyone switched to clinchers]

Back on Tunitas Creek Road we headed downhill, while Jobst turned back home, feeling the effects of the fall.

We headed to Pescadero on Stage Roads, stopping at the local grocery store for a bite to eat and to see Miss Pescadero 1981. We headed home over Haskins Hill and Alpine Road bathed in the late- afternoon sun on a November day.

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 or 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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