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 Übermensch 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.

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)

Silicon Valley Bike Festival celebrates local cycling

May 4, 2015

Tom Ritchey gives insights on Bay Area cycling and how it influenced his life.

Tom Ritchey gives insights on Bay Area cycling and how it influenced his life.

Sometimes I need to remind myself I’m part of a community, so during my Sunday ride I stopped by for the 1st annual Silicon Valley Bikes! festival in San Jose’s Kelley Park.

History San Jose hosted the bicycle show, where cyclists checked out bikes, listened to some local history and learned about what’s ahead for Santa Clara County transportation.

I was in a funk after watching Manny Pacquiao lose his fight to Floyd Mayweather. It was a subpar effort by both boxers, whose best days are behind them. I don’t expect a rematch because Mayweather knows it won’t bring in the big bucks.

Fans of Pacquiao gathered around the world to watch the boxing spectacle.

Fans of Pacquiao gathered around the world to watch the boxing spectacle.

VTA transportation plans
But I digress. The bike gathering offered something for everyone. I stopped by the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) booth to express my thoughts on what’s needed for Santa Clara Valley to enhance public transportation and cycling.

That’s the kind of outreach that helps our government agencies respond to the public’s view on how to get around.

The good news is that BART is going to be in San Jose by late 2017 (or 2018) with the Berryessa Station off Mabury Road (for unknown reasons Google Maps shows it at Piedmont and Sierra Road). This stretch is VTA funded, not BART.

Even better, the VTA supports building a recreation path along Coyote Creek under Highway 101, greatly improving access to the Berryessa BART station for cyclists and pedestrians.

Viva Calle San Jose
Here’s something that looks fun and good for a community like San Jose where cars rule the day: Viva Calle on Sunday, October 11.

It’s an open-street event where city streets — Story Road/Keyes Street/First Street/Market Street to St. James Park — will be closed to cars.

Organized by the Parks and Recreation Department, the event takes after a global movement to take back streets for public use — cycling, walking, strolling, roller skating, etc.

It’s a great way to give people a chance to explore San Jose without car traffic.

Bay Area Ridge Trail expanding
The Bay Area Ridge Trail is making progress, most recently with a six-mile extension planned south from Hwy 92 along Skyline Boulevard. At the event booth, Joel Gartland said it should be open in a year or two along with the Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail through the San Francisco Watershed.

Some 350 miles of the 550-mile trail have been built, extending from Napa and Sonoma counties south to Santa Clara County.

Look for one of these on the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Look for one of these on the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Tom Ritchey, George Mount and others
Along with agencies and companies showing their products, some local luminaries showed up to talk about their early days of racing and cycling.

George Mount, former Olympic cyclist and professional racer, rode from his home in Livermore over Mt. Hamilton to give his talk.

Tom Ritchey, frame builder and owner of Ritchey Bicycle Components USA, talked about innovation and how Santa Clara Valley has been a hotbed for all kinds of technology developments over the decades, including cycling.

He said his father, who was an engineer, encouraged him to build his own bike as a young teen. Tom, who knew nothing about frame building, learned everything on his own, building his own bike, one for Don McBride, and more for fellow bike racers.

Before long Tom had become a master frame builder, and branched out to building high-end mountain bikes when that era started in the early 1980s.

While the mountain bike is believed to have been invented in Marin County, Tom said it’s always dangerous to say you’re the first at just about anything. He gave an example in the Morrow Dirt Riders, a loosely knit group of riders from Cupertino who rode bikes that looked for all the world like mountain bikes back in 1973-74.

First bike to ride on the concrete (originally asphalt) Hellyer Park track.

First bike to ride on the concrete (originally asphalt) Hellyer Park track.

Tom explained that the group got its name from the Morrow coaster brake, the best product of its kind back in the day.

After riding his bike all over the world, Tom said that nothing beats the Bay Area, which he believes is still not appreciated for all it has to offer. “Nothing beats riding up west Alpine Road on a spring day with the great views and wildflowers in bloom,” Tom said.

I’ll second that.

Drought update for the South Bay Reservoirs

May 2, 2015

Chesbro Reservoir in the South Bay is slightly less than half full.

Chesbro Reservoir in the South Bay is slightly less than half full.

Considering last year’s debacle, it’s fair to say that the “glass is half full” for the South Bay reservoirs in spring 2015.

I rode by Calero, Chesbro, and Uvas reservoirs to see how they’re doing. Calero is at 42 percent, but it looked that way through last year too.

Chesbro was empty last year. Now it’s 46 percent full. Uvas is doing much better, empty last year, and now at 71 percent.

The big winner this year remains Stevens Creek Reservoir at a healthy 94 percent of capacity.

What made this ride so enjoyable today was the wind. It was a mild headwind most of the way out, but a tailwind coming home. It’s usually the opposite.

Taming of the saddle creak

April 22, 2015

Super Glue stopped my saddle creak. We'll see how it holds up.

Super Glue stopped my saddle creak. We’ll see how it holds up.

I recently endured 160 miles of saddle creak on a two-day ride. That was enough to drive me to take drastic measures in search of a repair.

I was going to “tame” that creak no matter what, mainly because I like the Avocet Gelflex saddle. I purchased a bottle of Super Glue and set to work. I drilled a 1/8″ hole into the saddle support where the rails meet at the front. They’re encased in plastic. The hole was deep enough that I could see the rails.

I had tried all the other remedies such as cleaning the rails, oiling, and even using a pull tie to brace the rails.

I then drizzled the Super Glue into the hole and didn’t stop until it started coming out of the hole. It was quite a bit of glue.

After letting it sit overnight I put back the saddle and went for a 23-mile ride with a steep climb of 15 percent. Silence!

I thought about using epoxy, but I wasn’t sure it would act enough like a liquid.

We’ll see how it holds up. [Still good after 200 miles] Be sure to cover the hole with tape in case you need to add more glue in the future.

Adventure ride in the Ventana Wilderness

April 20, 2015

A Big Sur moment at Carmel Highlands.

A Big Sur moment at Carmel Highlands.

And you thought bikes weren’t allowed in wilderness areas. They aren’t, but the forest service allows bicycles on Indians Road, which heads through the Ventana Wilderness Area in Los Padres National Forest — 98,000 acres of some of the wildest, most scenic California coastal mountains imaginable.

While I am late to the party, I finally made it, April 17-18, with several riders, two of whom rode extensively with Jobst Brandt on a ride similar to the one we took.

Jobst rode here in 2007 and 2008, and finally his last ride in 2010 (age 75), toward the end of his illustrious cycling days spanning more than 55 years.

Two-day loop
After trying various loops, John Woodfill, the primary ride sponsor, settled on a route that starts in Carmel Valley and ends at the Hacienda Lodge on day one (92 miles), a former hideaway of William Randolph Hurst, now located inside the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation, the largest Army reserve at 160,000 acres.

Day two (71 miles) took us on Indians Road over the rugged Santa Lucia Range and down to Arroyo Seco Road, then up Carmel Valley and back to our starting point.

While we are by no means the first cyclists to ride here, we may well be the some of the last. Landslides closed the road in 1994 and it’s now only open to hikers, equestrians and cyclists. I give it another 5-10 years before it becomes impassible by bike, assuming we have some wet winters.

Off to a good start
Our ride started around 9:45 a.m. after a drive from the Bay Area. Clear skies and moderate temperatures made for short-sleeve jersey riding. The ride to Hwy 1 on the busy Carmel Valley Road can be avoided for several miles by taking a left onto Rancho San Carlos Road and continuing on South Bank Trail and Palo Corona Trail to Hwy 1, avoiding several miles of traffic (had I only known).

Hwy 1, even on a Friday morning, has plenty of traffic, but it comes with the territory this time of year when tourists enjoy the fog-free coast, whale sightings and spectacular wildflowers. The high surf and strong wave action this day made for some inspiring views of the rocky shoreline below. While there wasn’t much of a tailwind, atypical for this time of year, at least there wasn’t a headwind.

The coast road stays in view of the ocean most of the time, with the inland excursion to Big Sur and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park being the lone exception.

Beautiful bridges
Along the way you’ll enjoy some scenic bridge crossings over deep canyons cut by creeks flowing from the insanely steep mountains on your left. The iconic Bixby Bridge 13 miles south of Carmel never disappoints on a clear day, nor the look-alike Rocky Creek Bridge. Dozens of visitors milled about taking photos, selfie sticks now de rigueur. It was a far cry from 2011 when we had this stretch of Hwy 1 virtually to ourselves due to road closures.

At Big Sur we regrouped and had some food and drink from the local grocery store. Then the flats started. Ned Black had a flat and then another (bad tube). To assuage our bad luck we stopped at the Loma Vista Big Sur Restaurant next to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park for more food, before continuing a short distance to the 700-foot summit, our highest point on Hwy 1.

Bob Walmsley enjoys the view on the Pacific Coast.

Bob Walmsley enjoys the view on the Pacific Coast.

Bob Walmsley and I traded off riding out front as the miles ticked by at a rapid clip despite the many ups and downs.

At Lucia we gathered once again, outdoing one another for who purchased the most expensive item from the only store around. There’s also a small hotel and restaurant for the well-heeled traveler. At 4 p.m. we still had plenty of time to reach the Hacienda lodge before dark.

Here's one way to keep rocks off the road. South of Lucia.

Here’s one way to keep rocks off the road. South of Lucia.

South of Lucia we came across one of the more remarkable road projects in California, a tunnel that’s only about 300 feet long and shaped like a square house. Pitkins Curve has seen many landslides, and a rock shed was the state’s elegant, if unconventional, solution.

Steep climb
Four miles from Lucia we turned left up Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to begin an arduous climb to the summit at 2,664 feet. The first 1.5 miles is the steepest, with one section of 14 percent. After that the grade becomes a more manageable 8-12 percent, with a more level section halfway up. The last mile is a continuous 10 percent grade, but there is little traffic.

On a day like today with clear skies and mild temperatures, the climb didn’t seem so bad, especially with the ocean views for half the distance. On the way we passed a motorist burning wood next to the road, a truly bizarre activity this time of day, around 4:30 p.m. Burn pits are in evidence in many locations with ocean views two thousand feet below, no doubt a popular spot to enjoy a warm summer night under the stars.

Nice view four miles up on the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

Nice view four miles up on the Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

We sped down the eastern slope of Nacimiento-Fergusson, a twisty road that’s narrow and not conducive to building up speed. In a few miles we entered the drainage for the Nacimiento River. This is one of the more scenic roads in the area under a canopy of trees and a burbling creek on the right, all the more so as the sun began its descent and things cooled off on the warmer eastern slope of the Santa Lucia range.

We exited the canyon and entered the base (entry station closed here) to be welcomed by a broad grassy valley covered with giant oaks. It’s ideal terrain for military training, but the 60-ton M1 Abrams tanks (too heavy for the area bridges) that used to rumble over the hills are a thing of the past due to environmental restrictions.

A nice tailwind pushed us on the downhill to the base, crossing the metal grating bridge over the creek that feeds into Lake San Antonio nearby.

After a left onto Mission Road we entered the military base where we showed our ID as military personnel ran our names through a security database (presumably).

Hacienda lodge gives riders a respite.

Hacienda lodge gives riders a respite.

It’s a short ride to the hotel, a bright white mission-style building with Spanish tile roof perched on a hill. But first we headed to the PX for some food and drink, frequented mostly by military personnel.

Shangri-la in the wilderness
At the hotel we were greeted warmly by a manager who helped us find our keys in a lockbox, for which there was a combination provided in the email.

At $50 a room, complete with a queen-size bed, microwave, coffee maker, satellite flat-panel TV and fridge stocked with our morning breakfast, there wasn’t much to complain about! These less expensive private rooms came with a shared bathroom and shower, but the water was plentiful and hot.

For a sit-down meal the only place on the base — the hotel restaurant is now just a bar — is the nearby bowling alley, which serves delicious pizza, beer and soda. Highly recommended, but at 7 p.m. it was already too cool to eat outdoors on the patio and the mosquitoes buzzed with delight over having us for dinner.

Sleep came easily after covering 92 miles, climbing 7,470 feet, in nine hours.

Day 2 begins with Reveille

Around 7 a.m. we heard the sound of Reveille, but we were already up and about. After eating our breakfast we headed out around 8:10 a.m., clear skies and temps in the mid 40s, but within 30 minutes it would be short-sleeve jersey weather.

John Woodfill and Ned Black discuss next steps on Milpitas Road before the descent.

John Woodfill and Ned Black discuss next steps on Milpitas Road before the descent.

Heading north on Mission Road we passed the Mission San Antonio de Padua, founded in 1771. It became the foundation for a thriving community of 1,200 residents, but by the 1840s it had fallen into ruin.

We saw a reconstructed mission modeled after the original, but it still looks old.

We could have headed straight onto Del Venturi Road, but John had pioneered Milpitas Road and chose that as our route, a wide dirt road that took us gently uphill most of the way before a brisk descent back to Del Venturi Road.

As we approached a grove of trees we saw a large tan military vehicle parked and a solider outside waving us back. We immediately made an about-face.

However, to our good fortune an officer in a pickup truck following had radioed ahead and cleared us to pass a military exercise being held by Navy Seabees, who use this landlocked area to test their collective motto of Construimus, Battuimus or “We Build, We Fight.” Who knew?

Basically they spend time in the field practicing building structures while under fire. We saw numerous places where this activity was underway. One soldier warned us that they work with tear gas on occasion and need to close the public road.

While most of the roads on the base are “public” they can be closed at any time for military activities.

After repairing a couple of flats, we continued on the mostly smooth dirt road and entered Del Venturi just beyond the San Antonio River ford, which can be quite high after a rain. It can also be slippery.

Del Venturi Road climbs gradually through an oak-covered valley.

Del Venturi Road climbs gradually through an oak-covered valley.

We continued ever higher into the hills at a gradual climb through a spectacular valley filled with giant oaks. The scenery only got better as we passed exposed sandstone formations. I fully expected to see Captain Kirk and the Gorn battling it out because it looks just like the Vasquez Rocks in southern California.

We stopped to enjoy the scenery before plunging steeply down the paved road to the wooded Santa Lucia Memorial Park Campground. It was here that Ned took a spill when his wheel caught a rut in the dirt road. Fortunately he suffered nothing more than a sore hand and cuts on his right knee.

John leads the way through the Roosevelt Creek narrows.

John leads the way through the Roosevelt Creek narrows.

The Indians Road route is not so clear here, but we knew to take a right and cross Roosevelt Creek, with water up to the bottom bracket. A narrow canyon greeted us as we continued climbing away from the creek ever higher.

The road wasn’t all that bad, with the occasional loose spots and gravel to keep your attention.

At the final campground, Escondido, we turned right and started the real climbing, going around a closed gate in about a quarter-mile. Immediately ahead there’s a water tank where water can be tapped.

Testing our gears on Indians Road. Start of the steep stuff.

Testing our gears on Indians Road. Start of the steep stuff.

This began the steepest section of Indians Road for climbing, with some sections of 13 percent, loose and rocky. To make things harder, tall brush grows either side of the road, severely limiting your maneuvering.

I had to put a foot down in a couple of sections, but otherwise managed to keep riding at a slow pace.

Yucca plants seem to like it here.

Yucca plants seem to like it here.

Ticked off
At the 2,800-foot level at the end of the steep climbing, we stopped under some shade to regroup and check ourselves for ticks. We found plenty, probably the ubiquitous Pacific Coast tick. Between us we must have removed 15 ticks and there would be more to come as we stopped farther along.

But there was still more fun riding ahead. At 2,800 feet near the summit the road mellows out and goes straight across a high plateau where public works can be seen in the form of nicely done rock culverts.

Ned revels in the zen of tube patching.

Ned revels in the zen of tube patching.

As the road heads back into the mountain’s crevasses it twists and turns around every corner, narrowing to 10 feet in places where there are thousand-foot vertical drops. On top of this the road is littered with scree that demands your full attention.

Flats, flats, flats
As we began a gradual descent Ned flatted once again (a half-dozen flats in all). I stayed behind and helped with repairs while John and Bob continued on. When we didn’t show up at the infamous Adit slide they walked back minus bikes to see what was up.

Ned masters the Adit slide.

Ned masters the Adit slide.

Once repairs were complete Ned and I joined Bob and John at the slide where a bike portage is essential. It’s only 30 feet of narrow trail, but it’s a steep pitch of about 20 percent. The best way to get over is to push your bike from behind on the left side. Or have someone else do it, which is what happened in my case.

Adit slide close up. What's all the fuss?

Adit slide close up. What’s all the fuss?

At the north end of the slide there’s a spring in a rocky hollow where water drips constantly. At the base of the cave you’ll find some Stream orchids, the California state orchid. We refreshed ourselves and Bob filled his water bottle. Temperatures at this point were on the toasty side in the mid-80s.

While we didn’t see any rattlesnakes, we did come across a beautiful horned toad. It quickly left the road and hid in the bushes, but in full view of us. I was more accustomed to seeing a much less colorful version, so it was a special treat to see one so colorful.

We continued downhill on the rocky spoor hoping that we wouldn’t slash a tire or take a spill. Jobst slashed a tire on one ride, but had a spare. The descent was continuous at about 8-10 percent and not too bad for a road bike.

At the bottom we crossed a fork of the Santa Lucia Creek. As a final reminder that this is a challenging ride, we climbed 200 feet in 0.4 miles, grade about 13 percent. Then we hit pavement and the ride took on a new complexion.

Dirty water
At the Arroyo Seco Campground we found the water fountain, but a big sign said water needed to be boiled. Ned offered some iodine pills, so we had water for the long climb back to Carmel Valley 35 miles distant over a 2,200-foot mountain.

It was already 2 p.m. and we had covered a mere 35 miles. One 5-mile section took 1:16, stops included.

As we climbed out of the Arroyo Seco River drainage in the baking heat, it was our good fortune to find the Country Store open this year. We went inside to discover they had air conditioning and some interesting antiques for sale, but more importantly they had lots of cold Gatorade for the ride ahead. We traded stories with the store owner; dressed in cowboy hat and boots, he looked like someone out of the Wild West.

Filled with delicious cold fluids, we turned left shortly on E. Carmel Valley Road and began an 11-mile climb through some spectacular countryside with almost no traffic.

The climb begins gradually and steepens near the summit, but it’s never more than 10 percent. At the summit I continued on alone and enjoyed the long descent, one of the best in the region. The country road passes secluded creeks and dense trees as it winds down toward the Pacific Coast.

All the better, cool ocean air had made it into the valley, setting us up for a delightful ride in the late-afternoon sun.

At 5 p.m., 71 miles later (17 miles of dirt) we finished our ride and grabbed a bite to eat at the Carmel Valley grocery store, which makes some of the best sandwiches around.

Indians Road with its alluring scenery has high potential for things to go wrong. Be prepared. Bill Bushnell took his recumbent on the same route with a friend in fall 2009. They had their own kind of adventure ride, and a good time was had by all.

Shimano CN6701 chain lasts about 4,000 miles

April 16, 2015

Shimano 6701 chain lasted about 4,000 miles.

Shimano 6701 chain lasted about 4,000 miles.

I have assiduously cleaned my chains over the past 15 months and now the results are in. Swapping between two chains, cleaning them about once a month, they lasted about 4,000 miles each.

I use the Park chain-wear indicator tool and dump the chain between the 0.5 and 0.75 measurement. I found that the chain only needs a couple hundred miles to go from 0.5 to 0.75. Another interesting observation is that half the chain indicates more wear than the other half.

I use Simple Green to clean the chains. After removal I put it into a wide-mouth container and shake vigorously, then let sit for a day. I then remove the chain, wash it off with water and sun-dry.

For lubricant I am currently using ProLink ProGold. Before that I used Finish Line Dry. The ProLink seems to hold up a little better over the miles (doesn’t need more lubrication), but it’s not a big difference.

The days of using car oil are over; these fancy Shimano chains require a teflon-like lubricant that can penetrate the narrow gaps.

My Shimano Ultegra freewheel is still working well after three years and five months, about 22,000 miles. As soon as I start having chain skip, I’ll replace it.

Bicycle helmet bill – further study needed

April 11, 2015

Eastern descent of Mt. Hamilton, April 12, 1981. No helmets here. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Eastern descent of Mt. Hamilton, April 12, 1981. No helmets here (Jobst Brandt photo).

California SB-192, sponsored by 25th District Senator Carol Liu, has been sent back to committee for further study, according to the California Bicycle Coalition.

Liu’s office released a statement, first reported by former Streetsblog San Francisco editor Bryan Goebel, explaining the decision:

“The bill was amended to create a comprehensive study of bicycle helmet use in California and evaluate the potential safety benefits of a mandatory helmet law. Carol believes in consensus-driven policy, and there were too many conflicting opinions about helmet use. A study will provide the data needed to guide us to the next step.”

In a recent interview with Liu on KQED public radio (I listened to it but can’t find the recording), the senator was asked why she sponsored the bill. She replied that two close relatives (nephew, one killed while wearing a helmet) had been in serious bike accidents.

Far more effective would be banning people from driving. That’s coming. Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, said as much. While he later retracted his words, he meant what he said. It’s only a matter of time before the autonomous car eliminates the need for car ownership. My novel Skidders, published last year, goes into all that.

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)


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