Ritchey bikes rule the day

February 27, 2020

Two Ritchey bikes on Caltrain. A rare sight for sure.

Now here’s a rare treat — two Ritchey’s next to each other on Caltrain.

The mountain bike with its vintage bullmoose bars looks like it dates back to the mid 1980s, but it’s in remarkably good condition.

Tom popularized that handlebar design back in the day. My recollection is that he invented it, and that’s what Google says as well.

Even the Caltrain employees commented on the Ritchey bikes.

Bay Area Bike Rides Deck now in digital format

February 27, 2020

Kindle map sample shown on my smart phone.

And now a word from our sponsor. Bay Area Bike Rides Deck, for the first time, is available in digital format, on Kindle.

The print deck and Kindle went on sale this week.

I had a look and I’m delighted with how the Kindle version turned out. Each map and text page is faithfully reproduced.

As a bonus, you can magnify the maps to see the terrain in stunning detail. I spent hours noodling over the roads in magnified mode when I made them. I didn’t just guess where the roads went.

By double-tapping on a page, you can quickly scroll through thumbnails. It’s an elegantly simple design. It appeals to the minimalist in me.

As a reminder, all of the routes are available for download into a bike computer on Ride with GPS.

Close-up view of a map on Kindle.




I’ve got OCCCDC

February 25, 2020

Ingredients for chain waxing. The coffee filter enables limited reuse of solvents.

Besides physical ailments, there’s something else weighing me down of late — Obsessive Compulsive Clean Chain Disorder Complex (OCCCDC).

I’m not the only one. Have a look on YouTube. I’ve reviewed dozens of videos about the process so I could find the best formula.

A prerequisite for becoming OCCCDC is to have lots of time on your hands and a place where you can heat smelly wax and clean your chains. I qualify on both counts.

The degree to which the affliction affects people runs the gamut — from GCN, which almost makes light of chain waxing, to Oz Cycle, a likable Aussie whose obsessive compulsive personality regarding cycling knows no bounds.

After reviewing the variety of formulas and toxic chemicals employed, I came up with my own. It’s tailored for California, where petroleum-based solvents are disappearing from store shelves faster than N95 face masks.

Our state is literally banning solvents.

So, the chemicals I recommend may or may not be available down the road.

Before launching into my alchemist’s elixir that turns candle wax into the world’s best chain lubricant, here’s why I decided to give it a try.

Studies have shown that wax is the best chain lubricant, hands down. No other commercial product compares, and the ones closest to wax are mostly made of wax.

It’s also the cleanest. It doesn’t attract road grime. Chains and other drivetain parts last WAY LONGER.

So why do only a tiny number of cyclists run wax on their chains?

It’s a hassle. There’s no getting around it. It only lasts about 180 miles (300 km). Once wax evaporates, the chain begins making noise, metal on metal.

The up-front cost is modest,  but, as I mentioned, a location outdoors is highly recommended for chain cleaning and waxing.

Melted wax has an odor, although not terrible, and it’s messy. The process of chain cleaning calls for using nasty chemicals, all of them hazardous to humans. But what isn’t? They’re not as bad as asbestos, but much worse than dish soap.

Here’s the two-step process:

A. Clean the chain of lubricants, even if it’s new.

  1. Soak the chain in Mineral Spirits overnight. (Gas, Diesel, Kerosene can be used, but it’s not sold in stores)
  2. Rinse the chain in water and dry.
  3. Soak the chain in a Degreaser for 10-30 minutes. There are many brands. Clear liquid is preferred.
  4. Rinse the chain in water and dry.
  5. Soak the chain in Isopropyl Alcohol or Acetone for 10-30 minutes. You may have to repeat Step 5, until the solution is mostly clear.
  6. Rinse the chain in water and dry.

B. Heat the chain in melted wax

  1. Use a clear paraffin wax, food grade or equivalent, which can include clear/white candles.
  2. Heat the wax on a hot plate outdoors in a pan, or in a crock pot. I prefer a hot plate because it’s faster than a crock pot, which takes 90 minutes to melt wax.
  3. Heat the wax to about 90-93 degrees C, about 200 degrees F.
  4. Let the chain soak for 15-30 minutes.
  5. Remove chain and give it a quick wipe, or let it drip dry. Some recommend letting the chain cool until there’s a thin film of cooled wax in the pot for better adhesion. Not sure this matters.
  6. Flex the chain on a doorknob or equivalent — even flexing in the hand works — before installing.

Part A is only necessary the first time you wax your chain. After that just brush off the chain before rewaxing.

Assuming the chain lasts about 150-200 miles before needing waxing (body weight/torque, weather, and road surface has a lot to do with variations), if you have 3-4 chains ready to go, you can go for more than a month without chain waxing, assuming you ride a lot of miles. It could be two months for riders who don’t do so many miles.

The chain melting process isn’t all that bad. It’s the cleaning that’s a hassle.

Additives that may or may not be useful are PTFE (Teflon by Dupont), which comes in a powder or spray, and Paraffin Oil, also called lamp oil. PTFE is not something you’ll find in the local store, although Paraffin Oil is more readily available.

These additives improve wax lubricity. Whether or not they increase mileage between waxing is unknown, to me anyway. I’ll let you know.

Next up, my experience riding a waxed chain.

Lessons learned after Break Away refurbish

February 16, 2020

Shimano Ultegra components bound for the bike parts boneyard. Replacement cost $700.

Every time I work on my bike I’m reminded why I would never cut it as a mechanic. Good mechanics are good to know.

What would take a mechanic a couple of minutes to do, like replace a shift cable on Ultegra, took me hours, and I’m not exaggerating.

Threading the cable through the right way proved daunting, and I couldn’t find anything on YouTube that made the task easier. It’s not intuitive and the cable bend inside the shifter caused no end of frustration.

However, I’m in no hurry these days.

The first lesson is to photograph your bike before beginning, and I mean every angle. Second, mark and measure all the old cable housing, noting their orientation. You’ve got four cables going at weird angles, overlapping each other.

When threading the shift cables, which are the biggest headache, be sure to use the proper housing. Brake housing is thicker than shift housing. That I knew.

Cutting the cables should be the last step. You never know if you might have to re-thread something, but once cable is cut it can fray. It only takes a tiny amount of fraying to cause headaches. I tried soldering the ends after cutting and it worked out well, although you may need to do some sanding to make them the same width.

Use end caps on all the cable housing, except for the front brake, which doesn’t really need one inside the barrel adjustment housing. In fact, I don’t think a cap will fit inside if used.

When adding new components, check for compatibility. Shimano is known for changing specs across each generation. Gone are the days when components rarely changed. I also noticed NOS for Shimano products is almost non-existent. Ultegra 6700 stuff is hard to find.

I’m using Shimano 105 ST-5700 shifters designed for a 10-speed freewheel. I need to ride some miles to be sure it’s dialed in.

The BBR60 Ultegra bottom bracket replaced my old Shimano Ultegra R6700 BB. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t go on as easily as the old one. The BBR60 was redesigned with a smaller face, but I was provided an adapter for the old crank tightening tool I already owned.

I didn’t find a Shimano 105 BB anywhere online initially, although there are a few out there. Not sure if they’re compatible, but the BBR60 works.

Be sure to shift the levers into the proper setting before threading the cable. This is not essential, but when it comes time to adjust the cables, you’ll discover that you have to downshift to the proper setting before any adjustments can be made.

I had to review the process for cable-adjusting the front derailleur. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the procedure. Park Tools has some excellent tutorials.

If you want to remove the chainrings on a Shimano Ultegra or 105, the five bolts require a Torx 30 driver. These bolts are installed at the factory and are extremely tight.

I used a battery-powered drill with a fresh battery and put it on “hammer” mode. Give the bolts a dose of penetrating oil and let the crank sit for a day or so. Use a heat gun on the bolts before removing them.

Press down with all your strength to keep the crank from moving. Use short bursts of power to back out the bolts.

But it may be better to buy a new Ultegra crankset for about $225, or a 105 for $160. The large Ultegra ring goes for $150. The 34T ring costs $18.

Looking at all the hassles with today’s bikes, there’s something to be said for the old days when index shifting didn’t exist, and a six-speed freewheel was a big deal. Bike repair was much simpler and parts plentiful.

One thing I do like today is the quality of bike tires. I went from 3,000 miles on a tire to more than 6,000. That’s progress.

How can I thank the doctors and nurses who saved my life?

February 12, 2020

Ouch! My Colnago took it on the chin in 1981 from a head-on collision.

Maybe it’s too late now, but like the TV show “My Name is Earl,” I will try to make amends. As you can see by the photo, my head-on encounter with a car did not go well.

My trip to Stanford Hospital took place on a warm summer day, July 12, 1981, with an ambulance ride from Portola Valley.

It was my good fortune to be hit a hundred yards from the Portola Valley fire station, where I received medical attention within minutes of the accident.

The EMTs stabilized my broken humerus, a compound fracture that tore a hole in my brachial artery. My left kneecap broke like an eggshell when it took out the car’s left-turn signal. Whiplash from crashing into the windshield left me with a sore neck and maybe a fracture in the C7 vertebra. X rays were inconclusive.

I had some minor facial cuts, but no internal injuries.

I wouldn’t be in surgery until around 10 that evening. I was in good hands — in fact, extremely good hands. William Baumgartner and Michael J. Cummins masterfully sewed up the artery. As it turns out, Dr. Baumgartner left Stanford Hospital for Johns Hopkins a year later, going on to become the head of the cardiology department where he specialized in heart and lung transplant surgeries.

It doesn’t end there. The orthopaedic surgeons who repaired my humerus were Donald Bunce and Chris Mochizuki. Dr. Mochizuki may still be practicing in Redwood City.

Dr. Bunce died of a heart attack in 2003. I only learned recently that he was the Stanford University quarterback in 1972, and led his team to victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

My surgeries went well and I left the hospital 11 days later on my own two feet.

How do you thank all the people who saved your life? It’s tough. You realize how vital medical care is and you understand why it’s such a flash point in politics. Good health care is a matter of life and death.

As for today’s health insurance, it’s a reflection of changing times. In 1981 I paid a modest monthly fee for 100 percent coverage with Blue Shield. The hospital bill came to $40,000. I didn’t pay a dime; just $200 for the ambulance ride.

That brings me to the here and now and why I’m stuck in my garage on a trainer going on two months. It all leads back to that fateful day so long ago.

It wasn’t my arm or my knee that came back to haunt me, but my neck. It was so stiff that I couldn’t turn it after the accident. Riding a bike was awkward, but I rode anyway, covering 50 miles to the ocean by October.

The neck got better after some physical therapy by Doris Sukiennicki, but bike rides have always been accompanied by a sore neck. It got to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore.

Physical therapy is helping, but it remains to be seen how much it can undo 35 years of ignoring stiff, scarred muscles. I’m making progress, but that impact point with the car windshield will never let me forget my transgressions.

UPDATE 3/4/2020: X-rays revealed the source of my pain: There is grade 1 approximately 2 mm anterior subluxation of C4 upon C5.  Moderate narrowing C5-6 disc.  Mild to moderate endplate spurring seen at C3-4 through C5-6.  Multilevel mild to moderate facet spurring.

In other words, I have arthritis and it’s only going to get worse with age. Riding a bike is probably the worst form of exercise for my situation. Bone spurs make things worse. I guess this is my body’s way of saying it’s time to let go of the kind of riding I have done the past 40 years.

Old La Honda Road in the days of dirt

January 24, 2020

Old La Honda Road (west) in 1986, less than a mile down, before it was paved.

For those of you who weren’t around, here’s what Old La Honda Road looked like on April 13, 1986, a fine Sunday in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The road was good dirt, except during wet winters when we had to negotiate mud holes.

During those wet days we typically avoided using the road.

Paving took place sometime in 1987.

Charlie Kempner and Jim Westby worked at Avocet/Palo Alto Bicycles.

San Mateo County completed its mission to pave every dirt road in the early 1990s. I think it was Higgins-Purisima Road (Higgins Canyon Road today) and Lobitos Creek Cutoff in 1987, followed by Lobitos Creek Road around 1991-93.

Jim Westby and Jeff Justice ride Lobitos Creek Road on a cold day, December 13, 1987.

Shimano’s Ultegra levers somewhat fragile

January 12, 2020

Shimano Ultegra 6700 front shifter fail at cable head.



UPDATE: After mulling over the failure, it might be that two hard crashes on the left shifter caused the spring failure. The shifter has many fragile parts, including the post where the spring clipped in. I haven’t seen any complaints similar to mine, so that makes me think the crashes caused the failure, not normal wear and tear.

Once you’ve been riding as long as I have, you too can trace the arc of bike component design evolution. I hope your results turn out better than what I’m seeing.

Inspired by my recent YouTube immersion watching people fix things, I dived into a complete overhaul of my Ritchey Break Away with Shimano Ultegra 6700 components. I figured this will be the last time I embark on such an odious task.

And now for the results. The brake calipers, bottom bracket, front and rear derailleur work flawlessly after 50,000 miles. The chainwheels have seen better days and need replacement. However, I stripped the allen bolts holding the chainwheels together. I could probably fix them, but it’s not worth the trouble.

The open-bearing hubs are working fine, but I find them difficult to adjust. The Mavic Open Pro rims I built are true.

That leaves the shift levers. Here’s where I think the bike industry is doing consumers a disservice. They’re way too complicated, with lots of little bits that break over time.

The front shifter “failed” when I took out the old cable. The tiny part that holds the cable head in place [more likely the spring clip] has disintegrated. Realistically, they’re not serviceable, and they cost $400 a set.

I didn’t realize that the Ultegra levers have electronic components (ribbon cable, circuit board) inside them, despite not having electronic shifting in mine.

New Shimano 105 front lever where cable head seats.

A bike manufacturer needs to reintroduce downtube shifters. Not that those are any better when it comes to maintenance. They also have a lot of tiny parts that break or wear out, but cost a lot less.

The new brake levers would keep the ergonomic shape of modern brakes. The Campagnolo Nuovo Record levers were small and not so comfortable, at least in old age.

I decided to buy Shimano 105, levers and crankset. I bought a new BB just because I’ve got everything apart and it doesn’t make sense to keep it when a new one is $24.

Shimano 105 costs half as much as Ultegra and will be fine for my needs.

The frame has no dents or cracks. It will outlive me, for sure.


Follow up: The front shifter has broken bits inside that caused the springs to stop working. That makes sense because I noticed more difficult shifting, but just figured it was old age. I need another lever to see which parts are broken.


A Decade of Bay Area Bike Rides ebook

January 5, 2020

My Bay Area Bike Rides blog is available as a Kindle book on Amazon.

I decided to turn my blog into an Amazon ebook. It’s an homage to the end of what has been a fun ride from 2009-2019.

The ebook is 180,000 words with hundreds of photos, 90 percent of my WordPress.com blog. It’s best viewed on a 2-in-1 Chromebook using the Kindle reader.

I had to keep the photos small to fit the size requirements, the only downside.

Now you can read at your leisure in a place of your choosing, rather than sneaking looks at my blog while at work in the office.

There’s no doubt that this new decade isn’t going to be much like my last, so this is a good time to reset priorities and interests.

I’ll keep my WordPress blog in place for now, but entries will be sparse, if at all.

Ride bike…

Bay Area Bike Rides Deck unveils new routes in the 5th edition

January 1, 2020

New Bay Area Bike Rides Deck will ship in February.

Chronicle Books is taking orders for my new edition of Bay Area Bike Rides Deck. It will ship in late February. Also from Amazon.

What started as a book in 1990, morphed into a card deck in 2008, modeled after a Chronicle Books series dedicated to big-city walking tours.

This 5th edition maps resemble the previous, but now have “3D” terrain. It’s mostly for aesthetics, but required some sophisticated software.

I had always wanted to produce maps showing terrain. I looked long and hard at QGIS open-source map software, but every time I tried using it, I couldn’t figure it out.

I continued looking and finally found something promising. It’s called 3D Map Generator — Terrain, a plug-in for Photoshop developed by a programmer based in Germany. His company is called Orange Box.

Terrain can be created using his software and height maps. I hadn’t heard of height maps, but after looking into it, I found out that the United States Geological Survey (USGS) maintained a website with height map files for California and the Bay Area, and beyond. (The website shut down, but that’s another story.)

I had help with the maps. A Chronicle Books graphic artist worked her magic and showed me how to make them better. She has Illustrator skills way beyond mine. Thanks to her, the maps look the way they do — awesome.

This edition is my coda, the culmination of 40 years of cycling in the Bay Area and just as long working on maps, learning all about Adobe Illustrator and mastering 3D Map making.

I hope you enjoy the maps and the places they take you.

Contents of all five editions are listed. If you click on the route name in the 5th edition, it takes you to Ride With GPS, where you can download the course for use in a bike computer with navigation.

Miracle on Mabury Road

December 26, 2019

Mabury Road has been repaved and restriped. It’s a huge improvement.

As I pedaled on Hedding Street toward the San Jose BART station, I contemplated the letter I would write to the city of San Jose about the wretched condition of Mabury Road.

I crossed over Hwy 101 and turned right onto Mabury, only to see a Christmas gift from the heavens above. I, of little faith, had been taught a lesson. Never give up hope.

Mabury has been repaved and striped with bike lanes. It even has bollards near the yet-to-open BART station.

My last trip here on March 18, 2018, nearly cost me my life as I was sideswiped by a hit-and-run driver at Mabury and King. Not one to tempt fate, I choose not to ride here anymore, except today.

I made it past King without incident and continued on to Alum Rock Park to enjoy, I thought, some solitude. However, the park was open and I’ve never seen more cars than I did today.

The next step in the long and winding road of bike progress here will be the completion of Coyote Creek Trail at Mabury. I expect it will happen in 25 years or so. The plans have been posted for quite some time, and by all appearances it will be a spectacular trail extension, linking Alviso to Morgan Hill.

BART San Jose on Mabury Road waits for the first train, looking like a ghost town. It might open in 2020.