Several fires blazing in the Santa Cruz Mountains

August 18, 2020

Fires in the distance, from Half Moon Bay. It looks eerily apocalyptic.

My old cycling grounds in the Santa Cruz Mountains are going up in smoke.

I say old because I no longer ride in the areas burning, but I can remember every detail of the lands. They’re remote and the terrain is rugged.

This is a sign of things to come in a time of global warming. We’ve had three consecutive years of wildfires so destructive in the Bay Area that they have altered my cycling plans.

These fires were all started by dry lightning from our really bizarre Sunday night storm.

According to Patch:

5-14 Fire is near Olmo Fire Road and Butano Fire Road in San Mateo County, 215 acres, 0% contained
5-15 Fire is near North Butano Truck Tail and Dearborn Park Road in San Mateo County, 272 acres, 0% contained
5-18 Fire is just south of Rhododendron Creek in San Mateo County, 117 acres, 0% contained
Warrenella Fire is near Cement Plant Road and Highway 1, close to Davenport, in Santa Cruz County, 120 acres, 5% contained
Waddell Fire is near the Old Coast Road and Highway 1 in Santa Cruz County, 118 acres, 0% contained

The first three fires are east of Butano State Park. There are a few remote fire roads here, but it’s mostly rugged, unoccupied forest. I used to ride Olmo Fire Road and Butano Fire Road, almost always downhill.

Dearborn Park Road bridges Pescadero Creek Road and Butano Ridge Trail. I’ve ridden it a few times.

Given the high heat we’re experiencing, my rides are finished by 9 a.m.

We’re drowning in trash

August 12, 2020

Interstate 680 underpass path at Penitencia Creek. There’s a homeless camp nearby.

In the midst of a global pandemic I’m keeping busy picking up trash during my rides.

There’s no shortage of trash lining the streets of Silicon Valley. This is no Switzerland.

You’ve got to pick your battles. I avoid homeless camps. Not that they’re intentionally tossing their trash, but when you don’t have a place to live, your living space becomes your garbage dump. No weekly trash pickup here.

Even our pristine looking Santa Cruz Mountains are one big garbage dump. Rick Denman, who started documenting his trash pickup on mountain roads on Bicyclean! (Facebook), has found huge dumping grounds among the redwoods. It’s mind-boggling.

How did things get this bad and what can be done about it?

Like homelessness, trash is an epidemic with no easy cure. It tracks closely with homelessness. The more homeless, the more trash.

The increase in trash is closely linked to income disparity. It’s also linked to housing shortages, and packaging that uses plastic. The poorest neighborhoods are also the trashiest, through no fault of their own.

I don’t have an answer. I’m under no illusion that my efforts, and those of Bicyclean! aren’t going to save the world, but hey, it feels good to see a clean stretch of road for a week or two.

As one Caltrans official told me, “As soon as we clean up a place, it’s dirty again.”

There’s something else that comes into play with regards to garbage. Community pride plays a role, closely linked to social norms.

One day I was being driven by a family member in the Philippines on a mountain road. It was hard not to notice all the garbage lining the road. The driver tossed his fast food bag and drink out the door. I gasped. “Why did you do that?”

He just shrugged. “Everyone does it.”

It’s not the Filipino way, tossing garbage. Consider Palawan. It’s a beautiful island that caters to tourism. Their pride in community is uplifting. I looked hard and didn’t find any trash lining the road. Like all jungle climates, buildings do not last long and can look rundown. But ignoring the condition of the buildings, the place is spotless.

In Silicon Valley, dumping is a problem. People without means are more likely to dump their junk. They’re either uneducated or can’t afford to get rid of construction materials, household trash, and so on.

Where there’s a shortage of community pride, you can expect more trash.

Enjoy your ride, and pick up a piece of trash while you’re at it.

For years someone cleaned this area after it had become a hangout. It’s still fairly clean, except for what’s lurking in the shadows.

RockShox fork maintenance — could have been worse

August 7, 2020

Ancient RockShox Judy XC foam o-ring. Good luck finding a replacement.

I had my introduction to maintaining a front fork with suspension and it reminded why I like simple.

There’s nothing simple about fork suspension maintenance. I felt like I was working on a motorcycle, not a bike.

Fortunately, it went relatively well, but I had an unexpected advantage — working on the simple RockShox Judy XC, vintage year 2000 (on a Trek 6500).

I’m not going to tell you how it’s done here. RJ The Bike Guy took me through the process.

The only real issue I had was the foam o-rings located near the top of the shock. They were shot after 20 years of use.

One had broken in half and they both looked like limp pieces of old spaghetti.

I looked around and couldn’t find anything matching my Judy XC. That’s the way of the bikes these days. There must be hundreds of different bike shocks and they all have different components. Good luck finding parts.

I noticed that China has stepped in and they make just about every bike part on the planet. They’re small shops and their work is not always topnotch, but it’s your only choice.

I found something that looked like it would work, but I was wrong. My o-rings must be 28 mm, but it’s hard to tell because they were so degraded. I bought 32 mm and they were way too big.

I wound up cutting them to shorten and down the middle to slim them.

But not to worry. I found out that the forks will work fine without them. Real World Cycling has an excellent article about the purpose of foam o-rings. They’re non-essential.

I had to purchase two bottles of oil for $16 and the o-rings cost another $15. At least I didn’t have to buy a special hand pump to pressurize them.

The Judy XC is a basic shock. It may not be the best, but it’s easy to maintain.

I laugh at the notion of servicing these shocks every 50 hours of use as recommended. Absurd, unless you’re a professional. I’d say even the average mountain biker would get away with 2-5 years between servicing.

I don’t ride many miles on this mountain bike, so 20 years is not meaningful. I’d say they have 5 years of average use.

Now I have a serviced suspension. Given my situation, it will no doubt be the last time I ever service a RockShox suspension fork.

Mt. Hamilton Road needs our help

August 3, 2020

Not far from Grant Ranch Park. Do you really want to see this on your ride?

UPDATE: (Aug 10): I can’t blame Caltrans for their response, especially with a pandemic, but it is discouraging. “Caltrans appreciates you taking the time to provide us with your concerns. We are doing our best to keep the highways clean but no sooner do we clean up an area then it is littered again. There are pending tickets for the removal of debris that has been dumped along the hillside, but these items cannot be safely reached at this time. Caltrans is working on a solution to address this issue, and if you notice any illegal activity, please report this to the CHP by calling 911, because Caltrans has no law enforcement powers. Please also contact the Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway Program regarding future participation in helping to maintain sections of roadside within California’s State Highway System.”
UPDATE (Aug 6): Going forward, I’ll leave the filled bags next to driveways, where available, or at intersections where they won’t be in the way. Residents will mostly likely be happy to toss the trash. Larger loads are more of an issue. Contact Caltrans and submit a pickup request, since the road is a state highway.

UPDATE (Aug 5): I filled 5 bags this morning up to Lori Anne Ln., left side only going up. There isn’t as much on the right, and there are several dumpings that would require a truck or the like. Higher up it may be more efficient to collect on a bike with a trailer.

The large dumpings are not an easy fix. Mt. Hamilton Road has fast-moving traffic and no shoulder and some guardrails. Anyone trying to remove these large accumulations would have to manage traffic for safety.

These large dumpings are hard to remove. Plastic is badly degraded. A half mile up from Alum Rock Avenue.

If you’re interested in helping clean Mt. Hamilton Road, let me know.

The first mile is the worst. Six people could probably clear it in an hour.

The other problems are more difficult, like large appliances dumped over steep slopes.

There are also lots of bags with garbage. A pickup truck is called for.

I’ll give a date and time. Location at base of Mt. Hamilton, Alum Rock Avenue.

You should bring your own picker. They’re only about $10, but worth it.

Nothing but garbage rides these days

July 31, 2020

Clean-up at Wolfe and El Camino Real. Lots of masks and gloves. Two bike racks at this location!

Swept up by the Bicyclean! movement, I’ve taken to the streets in a hopeless attempt to keep Silicon Valley clear of trash.

My trashcycle is a 20-year-old Trek 6500. It sports a rear rack and basket. My trash picker is folding, bought from Amazon.

You have to pick your battles. I’m not going to pick up trash along Guadalupe River near downtown. There’s no point with so many homeless people living there.

Right now the trashcycle is in the shop (my garage) waiting for parts. It had those garbage Shimano axles, the black ones that I see on the cheapest of bikes.

The bearing races are as soft as butter and after a few thousand miles they start pitting. My Campagnolo NR hubs are 40 years old and have never had pitted races.

While I’m griping, Cristo Rey Drive has got to be the most unfriendly road around as an approach to a popular county park. I’m referring to Rancho San Antonio. It’s narrow and has heavy traffic. Not very inviting for a bike.

Age doesn’t slow him down

July 25, 2020

Nice way to send a message.

As soon as he passed me on the short climb up Arastradero Road along 280, I knew it was him. He looked to be about 90.

Shaun Brennan wore his Gizzi orange jersey, riding a black Trek.

In 2018 he rode his bike 200 kilometers through the Santa Cruz Mountains, age 87. There’s no way I could or would ever want to ride that far now, and I’m 20 years his junior.

I made it up Moody Road today, my indoctrination to the Santa Cruz Mountains 42 years ago. Back then I got to Page Mill Road and gave up. It would be more than a year before I tried again, this time with more success.

Los Altos Hills gets kudos for its nice sign on Magdalena Road.

Dumbarton Bridge path gets trashed

July 19, 2020

Bulky car body parts from a wreck obstruct the Dumbarton Bridge bike path.

Now this is annoying. Debris from a horrific crash on Dumbarton Bridge gets dumped into the bike path. Convenient for the people cleaning up the accident, but not so good for cyclists.

I would have moved it, but it’s bulky and it’s a half mile to the end of the path. Dumping it into the bay was another option. I’d never do that.

Things are worse at the west approach to Dumbarton. A low cyclone fence catches debris before it can reach the bay. It’s off-fence-ive.

I’d ride out and clean it up, but 20 miles is a hike just to clean garbage. Maybe some local riders and hikers will take it on.

While I’m here, a Jobst Ride memory is called for. Shortly after the bridge opened to car traffic, Jobst led us over the bridge but — of course — not on the path. We took the main road!

Welcome to the scenic South Bay. You’d never see this in Switzerland.

Jobst Brandt’s bikes

July 14, 2020

Finding a bike suitable for a strong rider who’s 6’5″ is a tall order.

Few riders, outside of the pros, rode as hard and as long as Jobst Brandt. Jobst and Northern California racers explored the Santa Cruz Mountains, crossed the High Sierra, and took weeks-long tours in the Alps.

Given his size, it stands to reason Jobst was particular about his bike. Cycling became more than transportation while he attended Stanford University in the mid 1950s.

Master frame builders of Jobst’s steel bikes: Cino Cinelli, Tom Ritchey, Peter Johnson

Around 1955 he purchased his first bike, a Schwinn three-speed. No photos exist. He switched to a straight handlebar, like those found on today’s mountain bikes.

That bike took him into the Santa Cruz Mountains where he met devotees of the sport, who scoffed at his heavy Schwinn and steered him to the Cinelli.

A former bike racer, Cino Cinelli made about 250 frames a year when Jobst purchased his first Cinelli on October 2, 1957, from Spence Wolfe.

First Cinelli
Spence ran the Cupertino Bike Shop part-time out of his house. Jobst’s blue Super Corsa 62 cm. fully equipped sold for $138 ($1,259 in 2020).

How many Cinellis did Jobst Brandt own? Maybe 4. Blue with chrome lugs, blue, silver, red.

Jobst raced in 1958, but quickly lost interest in the sport. He moved to Europe around 1960 as part of his military service where, I’m guessing, he purchased one, two, three (who knows?) Cinellis. After the military, he landed a job at Porsche in Germany.

When Jobst returned to the U.S. with his German wife around 1964, he resumed long weekend rides in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It wasn’t long before Jobst started breaking not only bike parts, but frames as well. His size and leg strength put bike components to the ultimate test. Most failed, including the vaunted Campagnolo crank.

Tom Ritchey frame
These failures caused no end of frustration for Jobst. He finally gave up on Cinelli frames in about 1975 and turned to Tom Ritchey to build a frame.

The young, competitive rider had started joining him on rides. “I had replaced half of its [Cinelli] broken tubes,” Tom recalls when he was asked to build a frame.

Jobst must have been impressed by Tom’s frame-building prowess. The 18-year-old who lived in Palo Alto had already built racing frames for local riders and mastered lugless frame building. Without lugs, he had easy access to various tube diameters.

Tom’s mastery of frame building suited Jobst’s engineering sensibility. He had found someone who not only knew how to handle a torch, but Tom could ride his pace and understood the stresses bikes had to withstand.

Jobst had his share of accidents, including one on November 29, 1981, on Swett Road. Riding with a half-dozen cyclists they passed a few houses. A dog vaulted after the riders and lunged into the pack, where Jobst tangled with the dog and fell. He bent his Ritchey frame.

Tom fixed it and Jobst was quickly back on the road.

Peter Johnson frames
In the meantime, Jobst asked Peter Johnson to build him another frame. The machinist had been riding with Jobst for years and he, like Tom, had become a master frame builder who specialized in tig welding.

From the mid-1980s on, Jobst rode a yellow bike. Yellow, according to him, showed cracks better compared to other colors. He also painted one of his Cinellis yellow back in 1970.

Jobst started riding Peter’s frame in the mid 1980s, so he had two rideable custom-built frames for a time. However, he collided with a car on his Ritchey. Its whereabouts is unknown, but it may turn up. Jobst’s original Peter Johnson frame is owned by Richard Mlynarik.

Size matters
One thing that stand out about Jobst’s bikes is their size. Peter said he made Jobst’s first bike 66 cm. “Jobst’s theory was that he liked his handlebar high and if he stuck the stem up that high, it would break off. So he wanted a big frame with the stem stuck well down in the fork.”

Peter helped Jobst’s bike maintenance and performance by developing a threadless steerer tube, first used by Jobst’s nephew Marc Brandt in the early 1980s, and later by Jobst in the early 2000s. (That technology was patented in 1990 by Homer Rader III.)

What really irked me about Jobst and his big bike was that he would nonchalantly leave it outside stores while he went inside for a bite to eat, and a Pepsi. The rest of us had to worry about leaving our bikes unattended.

In the late 1980s, according to Peter, he built Jobst a second frame, which is still owned by the Brandt family, fully restored.

Bike is a utility
As much as Jobst loved cycling, he didn’t cherish his bikes. They were utilities to him. Owning three or four? Cinellis eventually turned into owning a single bike, which he rode into the ground. When it broke, he had it fixed. That’s the beauty of owning a steel frame.

Steel was to Jobst like a bottle of fine Chianti was to Cinelli. There was no better choice.

Jobst on his red Cinelli in early 1960s (Jobst Brandt photo).

Feel free to add to this story, if you have more details.

Bored games for when you’re not riding

July 10, 2020

My favorite two-player board games.

My life revolves around the bike, but I also play games. Since these are strange times during a pandemic, I’m going to share one way to keep busy and entertained when not cycling.

These are my 10 favorite 2-player (or more) games. They’re easy to learn and play and they’re especially good for replaying time and again:

Blokus – A Tetris-type tile laying game. Gemblo is similar but with hexagonal pieces.

Manhattan – (2 to 4) Play cards to build highrises. The only downside is that there’s a lot of trashing of your opponent, necessary to win.

Tiny Towns – (2 to 4) A puzzle game using cards representing different types of buildings. Extremely engaging, and frustrating at the same time.

Reef – (2 to 4) Build reef structures using cards with different patterns. Like Tiny Towns, engaging and frustrating. Highly replayable.

Azul – (2 to 4) Lay down colored tiles on a square grid. Simple to learn and play, but always a challenge.

Take It Easy – (2 to 8) Lay down hexagonal tiles on a board with 19 spaces. Each tile has a three-color-stripe design. Simple puzzle with high replay value.

Lost Cities – Card game where you build suits 1 to 10 of a color. Easy to play, and addictive.

Qwixx – (2 to 5) Dice rolling game with a unique way of scoring. Lots of dice rolling…

Can’t Stop – (2 to 4) Dice rolling game (I built my own board) where you try to roll combinations 2 to 12. Not much to it, but fun.

Backgammon – One of the world’s oldest games. It’s an acquired taste. Some may not appreciate its repetitive nature when knocking opponents.

Bonus game…

Splendor (2 to 4) Incredibly simple to play “engine building” card game. Acquire various gems to gain points. Addictive.

Charcoal Road stirs recollections of a gnarly gnightmare

July 7, 2020

Charcoal Road at Skyline Boulevard. Three miles of dirt and hard climbing from Stevens Creek.

On my Skyline Boulevard ride from home — a rare event — I stopped at Charcoal Road and thought back on my previous life when I could actually ride it, up or down.

But first a traffic count on Hwy 9. From Hakone Gardens to the summit 67 motorized vehicles passed me, and four cyclists. At least 120 cars headed downhill. I’ve had as few as 25 cars pass me on cold Sundays, but that was years ago.

Bicyclean! has done great work on Hwy 9. There’s no garbage visible from Saratoga Springs event center to the summit. However, the span between Saratoga and Pierce Road needs another cleaning.

At Skyline I headed north, stopping at Charcoal Road to snap a photo and think back on those crazy hard rides in the 1980s.

One ride took place on April 12, 1987 with Jobst Brandt. As I look at my notes, I’m amazed that we didn’t let a little dirt slow us down. That day we rode to Big Basin State Park and then headed to Whitehouse Canyon Road for an incredibly bumpy dirt descent to Hwy 1.

How did we get home? Last Chance Road! We weren’t done yet. We decided to drop down into Stevens Canyon via Charcoal Road. I’m glad it was downhill because it’s three miles of hard climbing (13-20 percent sections). There’s a nice single-track at the end, but this trail is one-way only uphill. We didn’t worry about it back then.

We weren’t the only ones riding Charcoal Road back in the 1980s. On May 31, 1987, I had one of the more bizarre small-world encounters, on Alpine Road. It had been a decade, but I noticed Rich Karlgaard when I saw him. As I started working at Runner’s World magazine, he was exiting to go on to much bigger publishing gigs.

Like publisher of Forbes magazine after co-founding Upside magazine.

We exchanged words briefly. Rich told me he had ridden UP Charcoal Road!

It’s best ridden in the winter after poison oak leaves have fallen. The narrow section used to have its share of the nasty plant. Enjoy your ride.