Dumbarton Bridge and Coyote Hills Park tour

September 26, 2015

After reading about the tack attack on Kings Mountain Road, I decided to scratch my plan to ride there.

Turns out the tacks were spread over 50 yards back in June, but an effort to raise a $10,000 reward to catch the criminal made news, again.

I took various paths and expressways to make it over Dumbarton Bridge and then around Coyote Hills and along Alameda Creek.

That reminds me of the time I rode over Dumbarton with Jobst Brandt and friends on April 17, 1983, six months after the new span opened, while on our way to watch the Coors Devil’s Cup Criterium in Walnut Creek, won by Steve Tilford.

Because we were following Jobst, you can be sure we did the unexpected, which meant riding ON THE BRIDGE road, not the separated bike path on the south side.

Back then the striping was four lanes, two each direction, with a generous shoulder, so we rode without being hassled. Striping increased to three lanes after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. Due to construction near Crow Canyon Road, we also had to cross Interstate 580.

I’ve lived here long enough to remember driving over the OLD Dumbarton Bridge. Narrow would be the operative word.

Lilliputian bike light an LED marvel

September 17, 2015

Is there a smaller bike light? From Kikkerland.

Is there a smaller bike light? From Kikkerland.

We have LED lights, yet another semiconductor marvel, to thank for small, powerful bike lights that brighten those rides home in the dark.

None would be smaller than the Lilliputian Kikkerland® flasher bike light.

I found this useful doo-dad at The Container Store for $2.99, including front and rear units. While the size and price are small, the amount of light it puts out is nothing of the sort.

In the fast- or slow-flash mode you’ll be seen with ease at night, both front (white) and rear (red). In the non-flash mode you can even see the road ahead.

Weighing just 7 grams each, you can’t complain about the weight. The clever mounting is fabulous. There’s a stretchy rubber loop that wraps around the handlebar. The body has two small notches to hold the loop. It’s a secure fit.

They come with replaceable CR1220 batteries, which are a breeze to change.

The only issue you may have is that they’re flimsy and may require some tape or glue to keep in one piece. Other than that, they’re a handy item to keep in a bike bag for those rides at night when you’re caught without a light.

Check out the video above.

Car-free riding in Silicon Valley

September 10, 2015

Here’s a 25-mile ride where I can avoid cars for most of the way. It’s good riding when dry, but not possible when wet because the levee roads become a quagmire.

I do this ride when it’s hot and smoggy, like today.

A Mt. Hamilton and Quimby Road one-two punch

September 7, 2015

There's a soda machine and ice cold water available at the north entrance to the observatory.

There’s a soda machine and ice cold water available at the north entrance to the observatory.

Back in the day, Jobst Brandt took us up Quimby Road and then up Mt. Hamilton Road to the summit, just for fun.

Anyone who has ridden up Quimby Road knows how much fun it can be, as you dance on the pedals up the 20 percent grade for miles. I exaggerate, but not much.

On this Sunday I decided to try riding over Quimby Road after the climb up Mt. Hamilton. It’s about a mile from Grant Ranch park to the Quimby Road summit, mercifully less steep than the west climb from Santa Clara Valley.

Hordes of cyclists rode up Mt. Hamilton on this fine day, although temperatures climbed into the high 80s by mid-afternoon.

On the way back down near Grant Ranch I encountered Marc Brandt, the nephew of Jobst Brandt and bike racer par excellence in the early 80s. These days he’s happy to be riding after his recent hernia surgery, which he proudly showed me.

Marc Brandt rides up Mt. Hamilton Road in 2008 on a gearless bike.

Marc Brandt rides up Mt. Hamilton Road in 2008 on a gearless bike.

Marc stops for a chat, his first time up Mt. Hamilton since 2008.

Marc stops for a chat, his first time up Mt. Hamilton since 2008.

In the distant past Marc lived for a time off Sierra Road overlooking Alum Rock Park. His time there included raising turkeys. There’s more to the story, I am told, but Marc will have to tell it himself…

I survived the descent of Quimby Road, which is saying a lot because it’s not easy on the brakes. This would not be a good place to break a front brake cable.

If you’re looking for an interesting road in south San Jose, there’s always San Felipe Road, a rural route that will take you back to the early 1900s with aging ranch houses and range-fed cattle, all free of cars.

Ride it to the end and then take Metcalf Road, passing the Pratt & Whitney facility (no jet engine testing heard) and then the motorcycle park before one of the most unpleasant descents in Santa Clara Valley.

Bearing down on yet another creak!

September 3, 2015

Be sure to remove the clear cellophane cover on the Rema patch, or else.

Be sure to remove the clear cellophane cover on the Rema patch, or else.

What does it take to get a break these days? I’ve been riding a bike for about 10,000 moons and counting and I’ve never had such a run of bizarre creaks. Enough already.

I had an ongoing noise that sounded EXACTLY like ball bearings clattering with each wheel rotation. Or at least that’s how I imagined ball bearings would sound when clattering.

I went so far as to buy a new front hub in pursuit of the phantom noise. I figured that the dimpled race was at fault. It fixed the problem, so I thought, but the sound came back.

I can put up with the occasional noise, but when it happens with every wheel rotation, the annoyance factor goes through the roof.

Finally, today I looked at the rear wheel, figuring it was a bad rear seal that’s bent. I’m always attributing my issues to something complicated.

Well, after removing the wheel I decided to press down on it. As I went around I found the source of the creak. It was one spot. Odd.

So I oiled the spoke nipples and spoke cross overs. Hey, you never know.

Anyway, that didn’t fix it, so I took off the tire and tube. I haven’t had a flat in AGES, thanks to these bullet-proof Continental Grand Sport Race tires.

I noticed I hadn’t bothered to remove the cellophane cover on a Rema patch. It’s an innocuous piece of plastic that can be difficult to remove, so I left it.

That was my undoing! I removed it and put the tire back on. Yes, that was the problem. No more clatter. Lesson learned, the hard way.

Arastradero Road: Then and Now

September 3, 2015

Arastradero Road in 1930, inset, and today.

Arastradero Road in 1930, inset, and today.

Rooting around in the Palo Alto Historical Association online archive, I found this image taken by Kenneth Merckx (Eddy’s distant cousin) in 1930.

Here’s the same location, exactly, today using Google Maps.

It’s a lot more civilized these days.

Mtn Charlie tree a hidden gem

September 2, 2015

Now we're talking.  This is an old-growth redwood, Mountain Charlie.

Now we’re talking. This is an old-growth redwood, Mountain Charlie.

I first read about the Mountain Charlie Tree about 30 years ago in the San Jose Mercury News and now I finally found it.

At the time they didn’t want to reveal its location, but it has a state historical marker, so there’s no reason to keep it a secret.

A website has all the details on location, as well as where you can find other historical markers about Mountain Charlie.

As we all know, Mountain Charlie McKiernan was one of the earliest settlers in the Santa Cruz Mountains and survived a fight with a grizzly bear.

We have him to thank for Mountain Charlie Road, which he built himself and opened to the public as a toll road.

It has hardly changed, only now quite a few people reside next to the narrow paved road.

The tree is located downhill from Mountain Charlie Road just off Glenwood Highway, which as we all know used to be the main route to Santa Cruz from Los Gatos.

Just to give you some perspective on its height, at 260 feet it’s nearly as tall as the tallest building in San Jose, “the 88.”

The plaque next to the tree has all the details. The "Queen" is about 100 feet away.

The plaque next to the tree has all the details. The “Queen” is about 100 feet away.

Bike lanes on El Camino Real through Menlo Park?

August 31, 2015

Buffered bike lanes are being considered for El Camino Real, Menlo Park.

Buffered bike lanes are being considered for El Camino Real, Menlo Park.

There’s a move afoot to add an experimental bicycle lane and accompanying buffer on El Camino Real through Menlo Park. The experiment may last for six months or a year, yet to be determined.

I don’t have a problem with the experiment, but don’t expect miracles. I used to live in Menlo Park, but I hardly ever rode my bike on El Camino Real through Menlo Park, or to downtown for that matter.

It was traffic-crazy. I had to contend with a million driveways and lots of cars going in and out. The intersections are jammed most of the day. It’s bike unfriendly to say the least.

Adding the bike lane does not remove the hazards of cars entering and exiting driveways or turning right or left, which I consider a greater threat than being hit from behind on a straight section of El Camino Real.

I see the biggest advantage coming from slowing car traffic, and more drivers avoiding that stretch of El Camino Real.

Whatever the outcome, we need to be thinking long-term about accommodating bikes on roads. I’m talking about 50-100 years. It’s going to take that long for things to change.

The big improvement will come once autonomous cars arrive and it’s safe to ride a bike. That combined with electric bikes that make riding easy will change how we get around forever.

Let’s not forget that the Bay Area is unique compared to the rest of the U.S. where they have something called weather. There is no weather to speak of here (heat, cold, snow rain), so local cities have a much more compelling reason for accommodating bikes on roads to ease traffic congestion.

Braking: front, rear or both?

August 30, 2015

I'm not going to declare this an old-growth redwood, but still impressive.

I’m not going to declare this an old-growth redwood, but still impressive.

Yesterday I did one of the most difficult descents in the Santa Cruz Mountains — Bear Creek Road (Summit Road to Hwy 17) –using only my front brake.

The road is steep — about 16 percent in several sections — and has washboard bumps on tight turns, the worst kind of road for descending fast on a bicycle.

There has been some debate over whether or not to use your rear brake while descending. Jobst Brandt gave his thoughts on this subject in one of his rec.bike posts in 2000. For the record, he never said you should not use your rear brake while descending. In fact, there are situations where it is advisable.

Of course, we all know that about 90 percent of braking power comes from the front brake, so using the rear brake is not going to make a lot of difference in most situations. Jobst and Sheldon Brown, both experts on the subject, wanted to get across the point that going over the handlebars while braking does not result from using just your front brake.

I didn’t go any faster on my descent compared to using my rear brake. As Jobst pointed out, one’s ability to descend depends on innate abilities — he compares the mind to a CPU — so using your rear brake or not while descending isn’t going to make much difference on how fast you make it down a mountain.

That said, I made it down the road, as I have dozens of times, without incident and didn’t notice any improvement or increased difficulties from using only the front brake.

The reason most cyclists crash is because they’re riding too fast for conditions, not from improper braking. Jobst rarely crashed, considering the miles he rode, but on two occasions where he crashed and broke bones, it was from riding too fast for conditions. The same goes for driving a car. It happens every time there’s a snowstorm or icy roads.

Meanwhile, my quest to find the Mountain Charlie tree ran into a snag, so this one I photographed nearby will have to do.

Finally, I’m giving the first person who can identify this black device a free copy of my novel Skidders. And I’ll give you another copy if you can tell me where it’s located.

Can you ID this thing? Let me know.

Can you ID this thing? Let me know.

Moorpark Avenue goes on a road diet

August 27, 2015

Moorpark Avenue in West San Jose on a road diet. I had the road all to myself.

Moorpark Avenue in West San Jose on a road diet. I had the road all to myself.

Moorpark Avenue has been put on a road diet, which is a good thing if you’re a cyclist or pedestrian living in West San Jose, and maybe so-so for motorists.

I can understand why the four-lane road was reduced to two lanes and a center turn lane, mainly because there are two schools on Moorpark, Archbishop Mitty High School, DeVargas Elementary School, and Strawberry Park Challenger School nearby.

I rode it around noon on a hot day, so I saw no traffic to speak of, and one bicycle.

If any street needs to go on a road diet in the area, it’s Homestead Road. I see dozens of students walking and riding bikes to and from Homestead High School. Homestead is one of the more congested roads around and it’s only going to get worse once the Apple campus opens and the Vallco shopping mall gets its multi-billion-dollar makeover.

Unfortunately, we need wide, multi-lane streets like Homestead to support car traffic. If you took them out, there would be worse gridlock at rush hour.

I don’t think road diets are going to get people out of their cars to ride bikes to work. It will certainly make roads safer for students walking and riding to school, but humans are naturally averse to combining exercise with commuting.

I’ve written at length about all the excuses, some of them valid, so for now our best and probably only hope is for the autonomous car to come along.

We don’t like public transit, we don’t like riding bikes, so what other choice is there?


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