Santa Clara could have a bike boulevard

June 4, 2020

Make Los Padres a through street at Benton for bikes only.

I’m a dreamer, so my suggestion for a “bike boulevard” in Santa Clara fits the bill.

Palo Alto City Council member Ellen Fletcher championed the concept back in the 1980s, and with support of Palo Alto’s pro bicycling residents, made it reality.

It’s no big deal, but every little bit helps. Bryant Avenue in Palo Alto runs northwest-southeast and most stop signs are on cross streets. I’ve ridden it dozens of times and it’s always a pleasure. It helps when the houses are multi-million-dollar mansions.

So here’s my vision for a Santa Clara bike boulevard — Los Padres Boulevard.

I chose this street because: 1) It’s already a bike lane; 2) It leads to the San Tomas Aquino / Saratoga Creek Trail, the city’s fabulous recreation path that connects to the Bay Trail; 3) It passes by several schools and there are hardly any commercial businesses.

These are the changes I would make:
Saratoga Ave. – Give Los Padres traffic light priority. No more than 15 second wait.
Forbes Ave. – Install roundabout. Add yield signs on Forbes.
Homestead Rd. – Give Los Padres traffic light priority. No more than 15 second wait.
Benton St. – Block off Los Padres on both sides. Los Padres only a through road for bikes.
Anna Dr. – Install roundabout. Add yield signs on Anna.
Highway 82 – El Camino Real – Signal reduced to 30 seconds maximum wait time.
Graham Lane/Bray Ave. – Install roundabout. Yield signs on Bray/Graham.
(Graham is actually a better through route for bikes, followed by left on Warburton. The only negative is having to turn left from Los Padres, as it stands today.
Warburton Ave. – Remove stop signs on Los Padres and add roundabout.
Cabrillo Ave. – Install roundabout. Stop signs on Cabrillo.
Monroe St. – No through southbound traffic onto Los Padres. Right or left only.

The main change is closing off Los Padres at Benton, eliminating through traffic. Local residents would be mildly inconvenienced, but they would benefit by not having cars going by. Schools along Los Padres could encourage bike riding.

I have mixed feelings for roundabouts. On the one hand they slow traffic, but they also cause car-bike conflicts. In a world with autonomous cars it wouldn’t be an issue, but humans have little patience for obstacles like bikes.

I’ve ridden Eden Avenue in Campbell dozens of times and it has roundabouts. I’ve had issues with impatient drivers cutting me off on rare occasions.

The other bike boulevard Santa Clara could create is on Forbes Avenue. That way we would have a north-south and east-west route through the city.

I’ve lived in Santa Clara since 1991 and served on the bike committee.

New handlebar fixes problems

June 2, 2020

New handlebar makes riding much more enjoyable.

Today for my early morning ride, to beat the heat, I headed into Los Altos Hills “Prospect-ing” for new roads to ride.

I struck it rich so much so that even Huckleberry “Finn” would have been delighted by my success.

LAH has many trails, some even open for bikes, that are little noticed. The one I found today made my ride all the better because it eliminates the annoying El Monte Road – Elena Road – Moody Road intersection.

I also struck it rich with the new Dimension riser handlebar. It’s the more traditional straight bar, but it has a 100 mm rise to bring me about as upright as I was with my previous 3-speed handlebar.

The change came about to fix problems I have with my hands. The 3-speed bar put my hands directly onto sore spots. It’s a good thing because it was none too good for descending at speed.

The Dimension bar fixes my hand problem, keeps me upright to eliminate neck pain, improves descending, and I can even climb out of the saddle again, although not quite as good as a drop bar.

Secret path in Los Altos Hills.

Tunitas Creek Road leaves my worries behind

May 31, 2020

The light! There’s something magical about the redwoods when sunlight filters through.

As our country confronts yet another social meltdown triggered by simmering social inequities, and Covid-19, I rode to the Pacific Ocean on Friday and put my troubles behind me.

On the bright side, bicycle sales are booming. Everything below $1,000 is sold out. Can you believe it? It’s not just bikes and toilet paper in short supply. It’s everything!

Meanwhile, life goes on and nature welcomes us to enjoy its marvelous display.

I climbed Old La Honda Road as one rider after another passed me by. I made it up in a blistering-fast 43 minutes.

Fortunately, my descending hasn’t decayed as much as my climbing.

I rode through fog and low clouds, but temps hovered at a comfortable 62 degrees.

There’s some road work with a stop light about a mile past the red barn on Hwy 84, where Caltrans is shoring up a hillside. Farther down I encountered another set of orange cones and road crews but there were no obvious signs of construction.

No parking on the sidewalk when people are around.

I stopped at San Gregorio Store to lament its closure, a lonely place indeed compared to days before Covid.

Badges! We don’t need no stinking badges!

At Hwy 1, I enjoyed the views of Tunitas Creek Beach, its brown cliffs glowing in the morning sunlight.

Tunitas Creek Road brought back memories. In the 1980s a woman owned a large bird “sanctuary” a few miles up from the coast. I enjoyed hearing the songbirds chirping away. Today the eucalyptus grove still stands, but there’s only a broken down camper where there had once been a house. It burned down and that was the end of the birds.

The exquisite light filtering through redwoods inspired me during the two-mile climb of 7-10 percent. Nothing beats the climb up Tunitas Creek Road for scenic redwood splendor.

With waxed chains I’m Mr. Clean

May 28, 2020

Cassette running a waxed chain.

After a couple of months running waxed chain, I can say it’s worth the extra effort.

I got 350 miles on a single waxing with a 7-speed chain. Your mileage will vary, but no doubt the larger chain, which can hold more wax, accounts for some of the longevity. I’m not seeing the same results for a 10-speed chain. I’ve gone 230 miles and could have gone longer, but the chain was making a little more noise than normal.

The payoff is a clean drivetrain. I’m impressed with how clean the cassette and freewheel are running. The chains are not as clean as I’d like, but they have 80-90 percent less black gunk, a huge improvement.

It’s hard to say how much more life I’ll get from components, but from what I’ve read, it’s significant.

Now that I have a routine, I can clean a chain in about 35-40 minutes.

Dirty waxed chain with 240 miles before cleaning.

Note: I recommend checking Molten Speed Wax for more details. They mention 300 miles between cleanings of “training” chains, which I think is about right. They also recommend changing the wax after 8 to 16 cleanings. I agree. The wax gets dirty.

Battery-free lights use eddy currents for power

May 27, 2020

I’m a sucker for high-tech lighting solutions so I spent some time studying the new Magnic Lights out of Germany. Ironically, these lights are illegal in that country. Doh!

I don’t see that they’re readily available after a Kickstarter campaign. You never know how those are going to pan out.

These lights promise battery-free, non-resisting energy generated by the moving rim. Strong batteries are required to generate an eddy current.

They don’t say how much resistance is created but I can’t imagine it’s much, and it doesn’t take lots of power to drive an LED light.

I don’t ride at night anymore, so I’m not highly motivated to own one, but it looks like promising technology.

Here’s another similar product, Reelight, with traditional dynamo-magnet technology. It’s clunkier, but available now.

“Now and Then” on Stevens Canyon Trail

May 25, 2020

Stevens Canyon slide in December 1980 and present day. About a quarter mile past the end of Stevens Canyon Road. (Jobst Brandt photo 1980)

Stevens Canyon Trail has held up well over the past four decades, but there were a few times when cyclists had issues getting past slides.

I don’t know the year, but in the early 1980s there was a slide about halfway down from Page Mill Road that caused a dismount, but was repaired in short order.

The single-track section that goes down to the creek after the long descent has been there as long as I’ve been riding. I’m guessing a big slide blocked the road. I don’t recall Jobst Brandt mentioning a time when it wasn’t there, so it may date back to before the 1950s. It was a through road way back when.

Then there’s the big slide a short distance from the access point of paved lower Stevens Canyon Road. This slide happened in the early 1980s or late 1970s — 1980 if I had to pick a year.

I clambered down it a time or two but later a cut made through the slide could be ridden with difficulty. Today it’s improved and rideable.

The Canyon Trail as a whole is definitely rockier than it was when I first started riding it in 1980. Mostly the scree comes from natural erosion of steep, rocky walls made of shale along the trail. I don’t think mountain bikes make much of a contribution here. They probably do more for smoothing the trail than making it worse.

I don’t recall the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake having much of an effect on the trail.

Social distancing on the Alviso levees

May 11, 2020

Alviso baylands offer the best chance to practice social distance on a Sunday morning.

There’s no better place to practice social distancing than on the Alviso levees.

Sunday morning the marina had its fair share of walkers, but they thinned out on the nine-mile loop.

The only negative was the last two miles of the loop. I think trucks used the levee to shore up the road, and now it’s as bumpy as hell.

That’s the best way to reduce speeds for bikes and cars.

Park closures reduce traffic

May 5, 2020

Blue Lupine at Quail Hollow Ranch county park.

Enjoy it while you can. With state parks closed in the Santa Cruz Mountains, this is the best riding since 1983 when many roads were washed out.

I rode from Saratoga Gap, heading southeast on Skyline Boulevard toward the first park closed — Castle Rock. Still, some rock climbers’ cars lined the road. With temps in the high 50s and clear skies, this was one of those early May days you dream about.

I saw only the occasional car as I continued on a downhill slope. At Bear Creek Road I noticed that the next mile is Highway 35. Huh? This tiny appendage reminds us of highway builders’ dreams to extend Skyline Boulevard/Highway 35 all the way to Mt. Madonna Road. Today we still have Summit Road.

I’ve only ridden down Zayante Road a few times. I much prefer the climb through the dark, silent redwoods, but age convinced me to go down and not up. Mostly it’s a bumpy ride and not so fun.

There’s only one short climb all the way to Zayante Creek Market & Deli. Sadly, it was closed. I’m not sure why. There was a nice Asian lady running the store. I haven’t been by in several years though.

So I headed on to Quail Hollow Road. This stretch of Zayante Road is my least favorite with all the traffic, but there is no alternative.

Quail Hollow had a lot of traffic too. My bike got tired and took a rest at Quail Hollow Ranch, a county park, which has a nice bloom of blue lupine.

Another unfriendly stretch of road remained — Hwy 9 from Ben Lomond to Boulder Creek. Even with Covid, lots of cars.

I stopped at the Redwood Keg Mini Mart and made a purchase, dressed as a masked robber. But I still had to pay.

Big Basin Way, Hwy 236, is another unfriendly stretch of road until the golf course, but once past that traffic evaporated and I rode alone under the sun and mild temps.

Once in Big Basin Redwoods State Park I didn’t see a single car. All the parking lots are roped off, including every turnout for several miles along Hwy 236. I wasn’t complaining.

Back on Hwy 9, the last 10 kilometers is a grind. I have a few memories of blasting up to Saratoga Gap, but mostly it was a slog after those long rides to the coast.

There has been some paving at mile 22.9 and culvert improvements, but the road’s overall complexion hasn’t changed since I rode here at least two years ago. Time flies. I’d prefer that they widen mile 24. Maybe someday, but that will be for future generations to appreciate.

After forty years these roads never grow old, but I do. It has been a blast.

Last chance to see the green hillsides

April 26, 2020

Beautiful view at Oak Glen Avenue and Sycamore Drive near Morgan Hill.

After this week, the hillsides will change from brilliant green to drab brown, so it was time for a ride into the South Bay to check up on our reservoirs.

They’re nowhere near as good looking as last year, but the reservoirs have some water after the mid-April rains. I recorded nine inches where I live, nothing to get excited about.

It felt like rush-hour traffic on Almaden Expressway this Sunday morning as dozens of hikers drove to nearby county parks and put those limited parking spaces to use.

Many cyclists also turned out as I headed south on McKean Road with a gentle tailwind. Calero Reservoir has its maximum allowable water, reduced for fear that it can’t withstand an earthquake.

Chesbro Reservoir, built in 1955, looked to be half full. Fisherman lined the shore hoping to make a catch. Not sure I’d want to eat anything caught here, given the amount of mercury circulating.

I struggled up the tough climb that I call Chicken Coop Hill on Sycamore Drive, a 15-percent grade.

Uvas Reservoir, for some strange reason, is at 80 percent capacity, and it looks it. The Santa Cruz Mountains, rest assured, received a lot more than 9 inches this winter.

Nice thing about riding a bike, I can forget about the coronavirus. No better way to make my day.

“Rad” ride into the land of slides

April 23, 2020

Radonich Ranch is known for its marsh at the start of Highland Way.

One of the funny things about cycling is that no matter how old you are, you can feel young — while descending.

Climbing, that’s a different story.

I headed out on a brilliant, warm day into the Santa Cruz Mountains to relive the days of my youth when a ride to Santa Cruz and Corralitos was a lark.

Now it’s an activity where I reduce the miles and hope I can finish in one piece without leg cramps.

The ride up Lexington Reservoir’s 14 percent grade had my heart redlining, but after that things went more smoothly.

There has been a lot of misery associated with the Los Gatos Creek Trail, like when it was closed for years so a large pipe could be added next to the trail. And that short 20 percent grade hasn’t been kind to aging legs.

On Summit Road I ran the car gauntlet, traffic hardly any less with the coronavirus19 shelter in place.

Once past Summit Store life improves. Radonich Ranch marks the beginning of Highland Way and some bumpy, but not so steep riding.

Every time I see the sign I’m reminded of the silver-tongued radio and TV sports commentator Gary Radnich. I figured out soon enough that his name is missing the “O” and that this could not be his property.

Last time I heard Gary’s voice, I was driving home from Mendocino last June, tuned into his final show on KNBR. Always the professional, Gary didn’t let it turn into an emotional tribute. It was business as usual.

But I digress. About two miles down Highland is a mile stretch of “Landslide Alley.” There have been too many slides here to count. The worst happened in 2000 when we had to walk our bikes over a perilous section where one slip meant a fall into the abyss.

This year the road is intact, just bumpier than hell.

Ten cars lined the road at the entrance to Demonstration Forest where mountain bikers gather to enjoy the trails.

I soldiered on and began a 9-mile descent starting from Buzzard Lagoon Road, which would be a blast if not so bumpy.

At Corralitos Store I put on my mask so I could buy a Bavarian sausage sandwich ($6.99), a treat not to be missed. That IS why we ride to Corralitos.