Jobst Brandt Memorial Ride brings back memories

June 20, 2015

Jobst Riders prepare to set off on the celebratory ride from Palo Alto. (Chuck Morehouse photo)

Jobst Riders prepare to set off on the celebratory ride from Palo Alto. (Chuck Morehouse photo)

On Saturday we gathered at the hallowed steps of the house of Jobst on Middlefield Road in Palo Alto for a tribute ride and gathering to celebrate our friend’s adventuresome life.

I can’t begin to identify everyone in the photo, but we had Jobst Riders there going back to the 1960s!

Many riders braved dirt Alpine Road, Jobst’s favorite route to Skyline Boulevard, even though they hadn’t ridden there in decades.

Everyone managed to make it up the narrow, bumpy trail with plenty of time to spare for the celebration.

The big yellow bike in the front is Jobst’s old one with a repaired rear stay, owned now by Richard Mlynarik.

So now it’s time for everyone who isn’t riding to get back on and pick up the pace. Jobst wouldn’t have it any other way.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Blackburn’s Atom SL cyclometer an affordable electronic marvel

June 16, 2015

Cyclometers I've owned over the years compared to the Blackburn Atom SL.

Cyclometers I’ve owned over the years compared to the Blackburn Atom SL.

As I begin this review of the Blackburn Atom SL 5.0 cyclometer, let me take you for a quick trip down Memory Lane.

I worked for Palo Alto Bicycles mail order in 1984 and we were the first to ship the groundbreaking Avocet cyclometer. After clearing up some early problems with the gate array chip, it went on to be a huge success and was the cyclometer of choice in the Tour de France peloton in the late 1980s.

Since then, cyclometers have matured and we have at least a dozen models and brands. Still, I’m seeing innovation in the Blackburn Atom SL cyclometer.

I bought my first full-featured wireless cyclometer similar to the Atom in 2003 — the Specialized Speedzone Pro. The Atom SL 5.0 (6.0 has cadence) follows that kind of cyclometer, where altitude is measured.

One selling point stands out about the Atom SL 5.0 — price. It’s about $60, 70 percent less than what I paid for the Specialized cyclometer and the VDO. A great value!

Atom SL 5.0 features: Speed – current, average (up/down arrows), maximum; Odometer; Trip distance; Ride time; Time of day; Wheel size; Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA); Temperature; Altimeter; Slope; Total Altitude gain; Maximum altitude gain; 2nd bike setting.

Materials that come with the Atom SL cyclometer.

Materials that come with the Atom SL cyclometer.


Distance: We expect an accurate cyclometer and Atom SL 5.0 does not disappoint. It recorded exactly the same distance — 62.5 miles — as my Garmin 500 on a ride. The altimeter is also precise, within 10 feet of a climb to 2,625 feet on Hwy 9.

Slope is accurate as well, but as with all cyclometers measuring gradient on a steady climb, your numbers will shift as you climb. It’s a quirk that I don’t fully understand, but after a while you’ll know which number is accurate: usually the first one or two results.

Accuracy greatly depends on wheel/tire measurement. This measurement varies with body weight, tire pressure and tire wear.

The manual describes how to get the best measurement by rolling out the wheel for one circumference, but you can do more. Sit on the bike while doing the roll-out. Body weight reduces the rolling distance by 0.5 to 1 inch. Measure several times for the best accuracy.

Entering the measurement in millimeters calls for closely following manual instructions. Note that if you reset the cyclometer, you reset the wheel size to its default of 2150. (My tire setting came in at 2115 mm for a 700×28 tire while seated.)

Altitude: Don’t expect accurate readings at high altitudes. I’ve seen variances of 1,000 feet and more in cyclometers, which I call a “feature.” However, the Atom SL altimeter is 99 percent accurate at lower altitudes (up to 5,000 feet or so), remarkable considering it’s an affordable consumer device.

Bike cyclometers use a tiny built-in barometer where the analog reading is converted to a digital electronic signal. It’s incredibly complicated stuff.

Meanwhile, atmospheric pressure changes by the hour, even minute. Set your altitude before a ride to ensure the best accuracy. Even then, if there’s a change in the weather during your ride, the altitude will be off. However, the number we care about most — cumulative altitude — will be mostly accurate.

Temperature: All cyclometers heat up when exposed to direct sunlight and hot plastic invariably affects the reading by up to 10 degrees. In cool weather or shade, the Blackburn Atom SL temp gauge is as accurate as any cyclometer I’ve used. It displays temperature to tenths of a degree.

User interface
Font size is great for speed and satisfactory for other readings, even for my aging eyes. The displays are appropriately spaced. What stands out about this unit, over other cyclometers I’ve used, is Scan mode. In scan mode all of the cyclometer’s readings cycle through in about 25 seconds. You will still manually push the Set button for each reading to cycle through those readings listed in the manual under Bike mode and Altimeter mode.

Scan mode is an improvement in usability because there’s no constant button pressing to see a particular reading, or squinting to read tiny type. If you think the Atom SL’s text is small, some other brands have even smaller text.

The manual describes cyclometer settings, but as with any electronic device, it takes practice to master (remember) the functions. Some cyclometer owners express frustration over changing settings. That frustration is common to all electronic devices, not just cyclometers. Be patient and take time to understand how the settings work. Most importantly, remember that “Set” is the left button and “Mode” is the right button.

The manual’s type is small, typical for most bike cyclometer manuals, but at least there’s a printed manual! When was the last time you saw a smartphone come with a printed manual? If you’re having difficulty reading the manual, go online to see it in a large-font PDF.

The batteries last about a year, typical for CR2016 (wireless transmitter)/2032 (wireless receiver) 3-volt lithium. Four Phillips-head screws must be removed to access the receiver’s battery compartment.

Mounting is a breeze and you have options. It can be mounted on the stem or the handlebar. I like the mount because it uses a convenient Velcro strap that holds securely. While not explained, the strap goes on a certain way. My photo shows how it mounts.

A close-up showing how the strap mounts to the handlebar.

A close-up showing how the strap mounts to the handlebar.

The transmitter takes two pull ties that wrap around the fork, while the magnet screws onto a spoke. Be sure the transmitter is no more than 22 inches from the cyclometer (receiver) for the best accuracy.

If you’re someone who will be riding in hills and don’t want the hassle of constantly charging batteries, the Blackburn Atom SL 5.0 is an outstanding value.

PROS: Best value for the price, every function you could ever want, excellent mount, accurate, scrolls through features, small.

CONS: Lacks explanation for mounting the Velcro strap, small type in instruction manual, prefer showing trip mileage instead of altitude on the main screen.

Check the Blackburn website for shops selling the Atom SL:

Addendum: (7/21/2015) The speedometer function stopped working, probably from a bad transmitter. Disappointed. If it happens to you, be sure to return under the lifetime warranty.

Once Upon a Ride: Crested Butte 1985

June 13, 2015

Only known photo of my Ritchey mountain bike in 1985.

Only known photo of my Ritchey mountain bike in 1985.

When the mountain bike craze took root, Crested Butte, Colorado, became a focal point. It wasn’t long before riders from all over the country gathered in September for a bike-fest.

The big ride called for a day-trip over Pearl Pass to Aspen on a gnarly road. It was more than I could handle, but many do it annually.

I ventured out there in spanking-new Amtrak cars in September 1985 and had a great time with photographer David Epperson (Mountain Bike Hall of Fame) and friends of triathlete Sally Edwards.

It was a chance to ride my new Ritchey mountain bike, one of the most advanced at the time. While I enjoyed the experience, it didn’t take me long to realize mountain biking wasn’t my strong suit and I sold the bike shortly thereafter.

While the event has been moved to June, the Rockies in September can’t be beat for scenic beauty with the turning aspen.

David Epperson, an outstanding action photographer, rides in Crested Butte, 1985.

David Epperson, an outstanding action photographer, rides in Crested Butte, 1985.

Now that’s a motor-bike

June 9, 2015

A motor-bike literally.

A motor-bike literally.

It’s blasphemy. How can you do this to a perfectly good bike? If it were electric, I wouldn’t mind. I do admire the owner’s ability.

Too much of a good thing

May 28, 2015
Pearl Izumi Elite gloves have too much gel for my hands. Older model, right, felt better on long rides.

Pearl Izumi Elite gloves have too much gel for my hands. Older model, right, felt better on long rides.

When I recently purchased a pair of Pearl Izumi Elite gloves, I figured the increased amount of gel padding compared to its older model would be a good thing. I was sorely wrong.

When you get to be my age, gloves are required. For many years I didn’t wear gloves, although in hindsight it’s always a good idea to wear them.

On a 30-mile ride they were OK, but I noticed the gel lumps felt like small pebbles after a while. On a 119-mile ride, well, they became more than an annoyance early on during a long climb. They compressed the ulnar nerve, which leads to hand numbness. I had to constantly change hand position.

Pearl Izumi usually makes excellent products, but I think they went overboard on these gloves and didn’t test them enough before release. They did fix one problem compared to the previous model: the Velcro wrist clasp holds well.

Mt. Hamilton Road Race brings out the hammerheads

May 25, 2015

Leaders in the Mt. Hamilton Road Race. Not far ahead of the peloton.

Leaders in the Mt. Hamilton Road Race. Not far ahead of the peloton.

Racers pursue the breakaway at Mt. Hamilton.

Racers pursue the breakaway at Mt. Hamilton.

Talk about cyclists with energy to burn — they all showed up for the Mt. Hamilton Road Race on Sunday.

As I inched my way uphill past Halls Valley, a motorcycle official warned me the peloton was on its way. The freight train arrived a few minutes later, giving me time to dismount and snap a few pics of the Cat 1, 2 riders.

Then they were gone, only to be followed by a hundred or so more riders in lower categories. They weren’t going nearly so fast, but it was still like race cars going by compared to my snail pace.

On the way down the steep backside I didn’t see any accidents, which is a good thing because it’s easy to get carried away going down. I heard of only one accident, at Smith Creek, and I don’t think it was too bad.

The women’s leader going past The Junction store had a lead of at least five minutes. I’m told she was a national champion, so I can only surmise she won handily in the race that ended at the junction of Mines and Del Valle Road.

The race used to finish at Wente Vineyards on Tesla Road, then at Mines and Tesla, now here. In 1987 it ended on the second long climb of Mines Road, call the Double S. Not sure why but it probably had to do with permission from local authorities.

As I plodded home through Pleasanton and Calaveras Road, a bevy of racers blasted by on their way back to Silicon Valley. Youth.

Still a few wildflowers on Mt. Hamilton - Elegant brodiaea

Still a few wildflowers on Mt. Hamilton – Elegant brodiaea

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.

Haul Road has Wild Iris in bloom

May 17, 2015

So much beauty on the Haul Road.

So much beauty on the Haul Road.

What more could you ask for on the Haul Road deep in the redwoods than Douglas iris springing up everywhere?

I headed up Page Mill Road into winter-like conditions with thick fog and mist blanketing Skyline.

Fortunately the fog lifted while heading down Alpine Road, but it was still long-sleeve jersey weather riding into the deep canyon cut by Pescadero Creek. How does GPS make it there?

I had Camp Pomponio Road all to myself (Honor Camp Road), it being closed at least a dozen years now. It’s a cathedral kind of place with tall stands of new-growth redwoods.

On the Haul Road I stopped to admire Pescadero Creek, which finally has some water after last winter’s drought.

Farther on I came across lots of wild iris and stopped to admire their delicate beauty. They seemed to like one particular location that’s also one of my favorite places on the road.

Back on pavement I headed to see how the Loma Mar store is progressing. The concrete foundation is in. It’s looking great. Soon the store will be restored. I’ll celebrate some lasting memories of ageless Jobst Rides.

In Pescadero I checked out the town’s 115th anniversary of the Holy Ghost celebration. Flags hung over main street and people gathered at the local church for some fun activities. The bagpipers were a nice touch.

I couldn’t help but notice the sign in an open field — in the Moore family since the 1850s. That would be Alexander Moore.

That brought to mind another Moore who grew up in Pescadero – Gordon. Yes, the Gordon Moore of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel. Are these Moores related? I have no idea. Do Pescadero residents even know Gordon Moore?

I had that and more to think about as I checked out the Pacific Ocean from Stage Road for the hundredth time, an experience that never grows old.

Honor Camp Road's redwood cathedral.

Honor Camp Road’s redwood cathedral.

A delicate iris shows off on Bridge Trail.

A delicate iris shows off on Bridge Trail.

Loma Mar Store has a new foundation. Making progress.

Loma Mar Store has a new foundation. Making progress.

Lost my appetite for Michelin Optimum Pro tires

May 12, 2015

Michelin Optimum Pro tire lasted 2,700 miles, but had serious sidewall fray.

Michelin Optimum Pro tire lasted 2,700 miles, but had serious sidewall fray.

Without question I love French cuisine, but I’ve lost my appetite for Michelin bike tires.

The French manufacturer was one of the first to abandon pattern tread, which I’m sure is one reason Jobst Brandt tried their tires back in the late 1980s. The tires didn’t last long and Jobst quickly quit using them.

I got 2,743 miles on my Michelin Optimum Pro ($46.39, 700×25) and probably could get more but the sidewalls look so shabby that I’m not going to take the risk of a sudden failure. I had a couple of other Optimum models and had the same issues.

I’m no tire expert, but from the looks of it the sidewalls are a separate layer of fabric from the inner tire wall. I can peel back the outer layer in areas where it’s separating.

The tires seemed good in every other respect. The rear “model” was supposed to have more tread than the front, which is a dubious selling point. I’m not pleased with 2,700 miles. A tire should last at least 3,000 miles, which is the length of a U.S. transcontinental ride.

I don’t see this tire listed on the Michelin website. It’s just as well.

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.

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 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.


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