Skidders is back… as a short story

October 10, 2016

skidders-cover-ray2

What will life be like on a bike 10, 20, 30 years from now?

Miguel wheeled up to Bernard’s doorstep and rang the doorbell, did a track stand. The door opened. “Ready Bernie? Let’s saddle up. I’m in the mood for mayhem.” He sped in a tight circle around the patio, popped a wheelie.

“You’re early. Just a sec. I’ve got to change.” Bernie left the door open, disappeared inside. He bounced back after a minute, got his bike out of the garage, clipped into pedals.

Miguel still maintained his track stand. “What’s your record for a track stand?” Bernie asked. “Five minutes. Could go longer, but I get bored.”

“Where to?”

“Stevens Creek Boulevard. Let’s check out the spaceship and do it there.”

“That’s sick. Right in front of Apple headquarters.”

“Why not?” Miguel replied. “We’ll give those overcompensated carpet crawlers something to talk about during lunch. Maybe even get our mug on Snapchat.”

“I just polished my nose ring,” Bernie replied.

“You wish,” Miguel shot back. “They don’t call you Mr. Clean for nothing.”

Miguel removed his long-sleeve jersey to reveal an arm full of tattoos. “It’s warming up Bernie. Warmer every year.”

“Tell me about it. They’ll be selling beachfront property in Antarctica.”

Bernie and Miguel headed west on Pruneridge Avenue, breezed right through the Saratoga Avenue intersection without stopping. Cars obediently slowed as they rode by.

“We should have slowed down,” Bernie griped. “It’s the law.”

Miguel sneered. “Like it matters.”

“Some little old lady might bang her head.”

“Doubt it. She probably asked Uber to put it in creep mode.”

Bernie laughed. “I’ve seen those drivers. Road boulders of the autonomous-bahn.”

CONTINUED

Hwy 236 repave makes for a ludicrous ride

October 1, 2016

The length of Hwy 236 from Hwy 9 into Big Basin park has been repaved.

The length of Hwy 236 from Hwy 9 into Big Basin park has been repaved.


If riding Hwy 236 between Hwy 9 and Big Basin State Park wasn’t fun enough, since the recent repaving it’s ludicrously enjoyable.

The state highway is narrow and has light traffic (except on some weekends) with so many twists and turns that you might feel like you’re on a roller coaster.

It has always been a blast to ride, but the new pavement turns it into a sublime experience, like enjoying a fine bottle of champagne.

They still have the last half-mile into the park and striping to do. I wonder if they’ll oil and gravel as well? I hope not.

This is the first time in my 40 years living here that Hwy 236 has been repaved all at one time.

San Mateo rolls out bike share program

September 28, 2016

The city of San Mateo has a bike share program.

The city of San Mateo has a bike share program.


Bike share programs in the Bay Area continue to expand, with the city of San Mateo launching one of its own on May 12.

Kathy Kleinbaum, senior management analyst, City of San Mateo, told an audience at the Silicon Valley Bike Summit back in August that they signed up 310 users in just three months.

The system is different from others in the Bay Area in that users have much greater flexibility on where they can park their bikes. Most system require leaving bikes in a designated area at all times, but San Mateo lets users park their bikes at any city sidewalk bike rack, and leave them. How it works.

Their system, along with a mobile app, was developed by Social Bicycles, based in New York City. The 50-bike pilot is scheduled to run for three years.

“We’re not expecting to recover costs from fees,” Kleinbaum said. “We hope to have a corporate sponsor.” She mentioned that Nike sponsors a bike share program in Portland, Ore.

Presently the city funds the program, but they also received a grant thanks to efforts by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. Ford motor company recently agreed to finance a bike share program in the Bay Area. (Either it’s good PR or Ford plans to build electric bicycles.)

The city has 11 bike hubs around the city, mostly at transportation centers and office parks. “Right now bike commuters and office workers are the target, but we plan to expand to residential areas,” Kleinbaum said.

The cost is $5 per hour or $15 per month for an hour of use a day, cumulative. There’s an out of hub fee of $3, but a $3 credit if you take a bike from out of hub and bring it back. Bikes are restricted to the city of San Mateo.

It’s easy to set up an account online, where you can see what’s available. Kleinbaum said they track the bikes with GPS. “One rider goes out at three in the morning along the bay.”

“We would like to see this system adopted throughout the Bay Area,” she said. “The number one complaint is that the systems are different and require different memberships.”

She said a Clipper card can work on their system, technically, but needs to be implemented.

I’ve never used bike share, but I can envision situations where I’d want to. However, to be successful, the system needs to be as simple as possible. I’m talking really simple, like swiping a Clipper card or credit card and off you go.

Better yet, populate downtown areas with free bikes and be done with it.

Bike thefts on BART: good news, bad news

September 22, 2016

Bike thefts at BART stations are down.

Bike thefts at BART stations are down.


Today’s San Jose Mercury News has a story about bike thefts being down on BART. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that more bikes secured with U-locks are being stolen. Ouch.

I switched to an OnGuard U-lock a year ago, thinking my bike would be safe. To a degree I was right. The cable locks I used could be cut with a pair of good pliers.

Any lock can be defeated. With a half-hour of practice I taught myself how to open a combination Master Lock, thanks to YouTube tutorials.

The article doesn’t say how the U-locks were defeated. I’m guessing hacksaw (some can be picked). I saw a YouTube video where a guy used dry ice to freeze the metal, then bang it with a hammer. It shattered eventually. Clever.

None of these methods of defeating a U-lock are easy, so I wonder why BART security cameras wouldn’t capture the theft? I’m assuming they have cameras over bike racks.

Most thieves go for the easy first, so a U-lock will dissuade all but the most ardent bike thief. The pros troll college campuses and steal by the dozen. For some it’s a living.

So don’t throw away your U-lock. It’s still the best lock out there.

One way to limit thievery would be to flood public places with free bikes. Pretty soon everyone who wanted or needed a bike, and petty thieves, would have one. It’s the Google philosophy to make bikes freely available on its campus to encourage riding between buildings. Great idea.

Next I’ll look at the current model of renting bikes in public places.

Attack of the milk snails

September 11, 2016

Snails by the thousands at Sunnyvale baylands.

Snails by the thousands at Sunnyvale baylands.


While “snail” aptly describes my pace these days, I was surprised to see hundreds of the gastropod mollusks attached to the husks of plant stems at the Sunnyvale baylands.

They look dead, but maybe not since milk snails can be white. Is this where snails go to die?

Then I saw a ground squirrel perched atop a fence post near the snails. Maybe he wanted to die: Death by raptor.

I stopped at Hwy 84 to take in the view at the toll plaza and imagined what life would be like if this highway had been made into a freeway all the way to the Pacific Coast. That was the plan.

Highway 84 toll plaza. Imagining a freeway to the coast.

Highway 84 toll plaza. Imagining a freeway to the coast.

Mt. Hamilton quiet on Labor Day

September 6, 2016

Nice view of tarweed in San Antonio Valley.

Nice view of tarweed in San Antonio Valley.


I saw only 10 riders on my way up Mt. Hamilton on Labor Day. Heading to The Junction I saw none. On the way to Livermore on Mines Road I saw only two riders (1 tandem).

I’ve ridden Mt. Hamilton in September, and what you always see is yellow tarweed everywhere, otherwise known as Madia elegans.

The Junction store continues its modernization after new owners took over, now with a live band on stage outside.

Calaveras Reservoir construction continues, not due to be completed until the end of 2018. We hope.

As I finished my ride 9:17 later, slower every year, I recalled Jobst Brandt’s proclamation: “I’ll do the same rides, only they’ll take longer as I age.”

I missed the live country music at The Junction bar and grill.

I missed the live country music at The Junction bar and grill.

Protected bikeways and intersections all the rage

August 31, 2016

First separated bikeway on a state highway will be located in Albany on San Pablo Avenue.

First separated bikeway on a state highway will be located in Albany on San Pablo Avenue.


Get ready to see more separated bike lanes and bike-friendly intersections in the coming years, just like the Netherlands, our Western world bike nirvana.

I’m all in. Over the years I’ve been a big fan of Effective Cycling principles, espoused by John Forester starting in the 1960s. The “father of vehicular cycling” lived in Palo Alto many years ago and had a profound influence on cyclists near and far.

Forester believed bikes should mix with cars and taught cyclists how to do it safely. However, there’s a sea change underway in the cycling community, a growing awareness that we can increase the number of commute cyclists if we separate bikes from cars. It’s a concept that has been applied with great success in Europe and elsewhere. Not so in the U.S.

Starting this year, California has official guidelines for Class IV bikeways, or protected bikeways as they’re called.

Projects are already underway, the first one for the state being built in Albany on San Pablo Avenue (a state highway) near Dartmouth Street. This according to Sergio Ruiz, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, Caltrans District 4, at the Silicon Valley Bike Summit. University Village Bikeway is only two blocks long, but it’s a start. El Cerrito also approved a separated bikeway.

While I believe cyclists should learn to mix with cars, most people are not professional cyclists like myself. They just want to make a quick trip to a local store on their garage bike. In high-density neighborhoods with lots of traffic, separated bikeways are the way to go, and will encourage casual cyclists to make short trips.

To help people get used to the idea of separated bikeways, local bike groups, like Cycletopia in Mountain View, have created pop-up protected bikeways and invited the public to check them out, as was done on University Avenue in Palo Alto recently.

Davis re-built a busy intersection especially with bikes in mind.

Davis re-built a busy intersection especially with bikes in mind.

Brown skies continue in Bay Area

August 29, 2016

Montebello Road summit looking west.

Montebello Road summit looking west.


If you think the forest fires are out, not quite. Check out the skyline from the summit of Montebello Road. Fabulous weather though.

My last commute: Los Padres Boulevard

August 27, 2016

One of the joys of bike commuting, checking out the creek trails in the rain.

One of the joys of bike commuting, checking out the creek trails in the rain.


Back to work at Kifer Road and Lawrence Expressway, I began commuting on San Tomas Expressway once more.

After a year or so on San Tomas, I came to the conclusion that riding on the busy expressway no longer appealed to me, for two reasons: air pollution and noise.

I had enough of both, so I started taking Los Padres Boulevard to Monroe Street, then the San Tomas Aquino Creek path, left onto Walsh/Kifer.

Los Padres is my favorite street with a bike lane. It cuts through residential Santa Clara and has light traffic, speed limit 25 mph.

Going home I took Central Expressway to the San Tomas bike path.

I never liked the narrow section of Kifer/Walsh near Costco. It was always busy. I had easy access to Central from my work and I could fly. There’s a wide shoulder all the way. Even though the expressway is jammed during rush hour, it never slowed me down.

With the daily bike commute behind me, I avoid all the heavily traveled streets whenever possible. After so many years riding in traffic, I’ve come to appreciate lightly traveled roads and all they offer.

Los Padres Boulevard became a favorite route to work.

Los Padres Boulevard became a favorite route to work.

Purisima Creek Road cuts through a heavily logged canyon

August 23, 2016

Purisima Creek Road just below the Grabtown Gulch Trail junction.

Purisima Creek Road just below the Grabtown Gulch Trail junction.


If you were to go back in time to, let’s say 1880, and visit Purisima Canyon, you wouldn’t recognize it. The loggers clear-cut the canyon starting in the 1850s and ending in the 1920s.

There was ongoing logging here into the 1960s, but it was more like tree thinning.

On Monday morning as I rode down the “trail” from Skyline Boulevard, which I’ve been doing since 1980, I was struck by how much more brush and undergrowth I saw compared to the old days. It used to be pristine, redwoods and little undergrowth. I suppose the difference in plant life is mostly from the lack of logging, but it may also be climate change at work.

Water source for the Alvin Hatch Mill. I took a beautiful photo of Jobst Brandt drinking from the creek here in 1981.

Water source for the Alvin Hatch Mill. I took a beautiful photo of Jobst Brandt drinking from the creek here in 1981.

Most of the redwood was turned into shingles back then, mainly because it was hard to remove trees from the steep canyon over the hill to the port of Redwood City. There weren’t any harbors nearby on the Pacific Coast.

The first mill was water-powered, where Harkins Fire Road joins Purisima Creek Road at the canyon entrance. Later sawmills relied on steam engines, or steam donkeys.

Borden & Hatch Mill  in the 1880s, near where I took the first photo, top of page (From Sawmills in the Redwoods).

Borden & Hatch Mill in the 1880s, near where I took the first photo, top of page (From Sawmills in the Redwoods).


Going downhill, the first location where two sawmills existed is located where Purisima Creek runs under the road through a large steel culvert. That’s where the road levels out somewhat and there’s a sharp right turn. Right here is where a cable way was installed to haul logs uphill to Swett Road. Purdy Pharis, Shingle King, sunk a lot of money into the project, but it never was successful. He died about the time the operation was underway in 1884.

Farther down, at the Grabtown Gulch trail intersection, were two more logging camps, Charles Borden Mill and Hartley Shingle Mill, both operating around 1900-02.

Finally another half mile or so below this site was the Borden & Hatch Mill, which ran from 1871-1900.

While most of the wood went to making shingles, some was used to build a flume for Spring Valley Water Company in 1871. The nine-mile long flume, located in what is now the San Francisco Watershed (Frenchman Creek and stone dam) lasted 20 years before being abandoned.

This was the first time I rode in the Santa Cruz Mountains on a Monday. There’s no traffic to speak of on Kings Mountain Road (2 going up, 5 going down) and the same goes for Tunitas Creek Road. However, Santa Clara Valley traffic during rush hour is no picnic. I’ve learned how to get around it mostly car-free though.