Back to all steel

November 7, 2016

New Saso steel fork, left, and the old carbon fiber put out to pasture.

New Saso steel fork, left, and the old carbon fiber put out to pasture.

For the past six years I’ve been riding a carbon-fiber fork, but that ended today when I installed my new steel fork, built by Dale Saso. I painted it.

I’m not knocking carbon fiber. It’s a reliable material used extensively by the aerospace and aeronautics industry, so you know it’s going to hold up.

Carbon-fiber forks have broken though. I’ve come across a handful of reports in discussion groups and a friend knows a doctor who works in the Stanford hospital emergency room.

Of course, steel forks break too. Usually you get a warning in the form of creaking sounds. I know that’s not always true for carbon-fiber forks. They can fail without warning.

I worried about the possibility on my ride, so I did the only thing I could think of to put that concern to rest.

I got other benefits too — plenty of tire clearance and no more annoying lawyer lips on the dropouts. Those are little irritants that build up over time, like saddle sores.

Bike weight increased by 11 ounces, not a big deal. As for handling, I don’t notice any difference, but I can tell that my smaller Ritchey is a little more front-wheel sensitive riding no-hands compared to my larger Saso frame. That’s all due to frame size.

As you get old, you think about these things, at a time when it doesn’t matter so much anymore. Funny how that works.

Chestnuts roasting on an… open space district land

November 2, 2016

This is the best time to stop and buy some chestnuts on Skyline Boulevard.

This is the best time to stop and buy some chestnuts on Skyline Boulevard.

I can’t tell you how long I’ve known about the chestnut orchard on Skyline Boulevard, but it has been a while. I finally found time and picked the right day to buy some during my bike ride.

I had a brief conversation with proprietor Hans Josens about the history of the orchard. He looks like he stepped right out of the mid-1800s, when the orchard was planted. He has taken loving care of the orchard the past 15 years.

Josens is no stranger to the Santa Cruz Mountains. His family has been farming here for three generations and managed the nearby cut-your-own-Christmas-tree farm.

You’re encouraged to pick your own chestnuts — the ones that have fallen to the ground actually — but I still had some miles to ride so I opted for the chestnuts already gathered up, $6 a pound paid in cash.

While we didn’t get into talking about the trees themselves, his website says they’re a combination of European, American, and Asian varieties. The American variety got wiped out by a fungus, mostly back East, but a few orchards like the one here, escaped the illness.

When I mentioned I was headed off to look for Chanterelles, Josens related how he found a whole bunch or Morels near Yosemite National Park after the big fire. We bemoaned the lack of Chanterelles in recent years and, sure enough, I didn’t find any. It’s still too early, but I have a bad feeling about this fungi. I think climate change is going to make them a lot harder to find in the years to come.

The orchard is located midway between Highway 9 and Page Mill Road on Skyline Boulevard. Be sure to check it out before Thanksgiving day when they’ll close up until next season. Here’s a nice interview recording with Josens on public radio.

Aptos Creek Fire Road weathers the storm

October 23, 2016

Aptos Creek Bridge marks the end/beginning of the steep grade on the fire road.

Aptos Creek Bridge marks the end/beginning of the steep grade on the fire road.

While San Jose got barely a quarter-inch of rain last weekend, the Santa Cruz Mountains did much better, including the Forest of Nisene Marks near Aptos.

I decided to check it out, figuring the rain washed away all the dust that accumulates during the dry season.

I noticed rain even soaked Los Gatos Creek Trail as I climbed the 20 percent grade that maybe, just maybe they’ll pave someday.

As I climbed Old Santa Cruz Highway I couldn’t help but notice that Holy City Art Glass is closed. Even more sad, owner Tom Stanton died last year from cancer. The land is for sale for $11 million, although Stanton didn’t own the land. That’s another story.

I found one location on Highland Way where an excavator is parked after making repairs. Whenever it rains a lot the road starts to crumble.

All of this made me feel old as I rode past dozens of parked cars at the Demonstration Forest. Ninety percent of car traffic on Highland Way is from mountain bikers dragging their bikes up here.

Their youthful owners headed up Highland Way to Buzzard Lagoon Road, with the aim of riding back down through the Demonstration Forest and then driving back home.

I had much bigger plans, heading down Aptos Creek Fire Road. The rain, as heavy as it must have been, didn’t do any damage beyond knocking over a half-dozen trees, which blocked the road.

I looked down on the bridge over Aptos Creek and recalled years gone by when the bridge was washed out and we rode through the creek.

I rode home under cloudy skies and managed to equal my time from last year over the same distance, one of the rare occasions when age did not catch up to me.

Skidders is back… as a short story

October 10, 2016


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.”


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.