Once Upon a Ride…Bear Gulch Road

September 10, 2014

Jim Westby enjoyed Native Sons Cutoff on a warm day in October 1982.

Jim Westby enjoyed Native Sons Cutoff on a warm day in October 1982.

Time once again to turn back the clock and enjoy an adventure ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains with Jobst Brandt and friends.

November 29, 1981
Riders: Jobst, Jim Westby, Tom Sullivan, Sterling McBride, Dave McLaughlin, Ted Mock, Bill Robertson, Rick Humphries, John ?, Paul Mittelstadt, Tom Ritchey
Route: Up Bear Gulch Road, down Swett Road, Star Hill Road to Native Son’s Cutoff, Tunitas Creek Road to Hwy 1, Stage Roads to Pescadero, Pescadero Road, up Alpine Road, down Page Mill Road
Weather: Cold, then cool, mild on the coast. Clear to partly cloudy
Tire/Mechanical failure: Sterling – flat

It has been said that a dog is man’s best friend. That may apply to bird hunters, but not to cyclists, especially when riders are on their bikes flying downhill.

Dogs and bikes have a nasty habit of colliding, like a magnet to steel. Jobst has had more than his share of encounters.

The riders showed up at Jobst’s doorstep well dressed for the cold weather. Sterling and Mack wore their new baby-blue foot warmers, inspired no doubt by the blue-footed booby commonly found on our Pacific shores.

Paradoxically, they dressed in shorts to face the numbing cold. I dressed more conservatively with a wool long-sleeve jersey and plastic bags for foot warmers. Everyone else suffered in regular cotton socks.

We took Sand Hill Road heading west on the newly paved and striped bike route. Jobst held a steady, yet conservative pace. He had already done some long rides over the Thanksgiving holiday. It was easy to tell because his red bike had a coat of mud, a bit more than you would normally see.

On Highway 84 outside Woodside, Jobst and Robertson became involved in a discussion (one often heard from Jobst) about nuclear weapons, overpopulation and the movies Alien and Wolfen. Jobst noted that the reason homes cost $100,000 on average around the country is because we are feeling the effects of a burgeoning population.

When people talk of head counts, they usually look to Bombay or Hong Kong. Overpopulation in the U.S. with its miles of empty prairie and high plains? No way.

The real riding began on Bear Gulch Road, a steep paved grade that never lets up all the way to Skyline Boulevard. Bear Gulch Road is also a very private road, so private in fact that a big steel electronic gate keeps out the curious near the base of the hill.

The road has a long and murky history involving wheeling and dealing, payoffs and greedy landowners who want their very own road. They paid to have it paved if San Mateo County would make it private and maintain it. [More on this later]

The county agreed but retained half-ownership. None of this ever stopped Jobst from riding on Bear Gulch Road, however. He grew up here and he continued doing what he had been doing since his youth, exploring the Santa Cruz Mountains by bike. Private property be damned.

We all followed along willingly, letting him deal with irate landowners when the time came. This Sunday was one of those times.

A mile past the gate we were stopped by a landowner driving an orange van. Maybe because Jobst is the tallest of the bunch, or because he looks like a natural born leader, he got tagged for a discussion about trespassing on the nicely paved road. The conversation went something like this:

“This is a private road, you know, so why don’t you turn back?”

“I know that,” Jobst said. “But look, we’re not trying to cause any trouble. We just want to ride our bikes through here.”

“But if somebody gets hurt, there could be trouble,” said the landowner. “We have to insure the road.”

“Well, the county technically owns half of this road. If it wasn’t for Mortimer J. Skinflint pushing the county supervisors so hard, this road would still be public.”

“That’s not true. This is a dangerous, narrow road. Some riders come flying down here and are a real hazard. [and we thought we were the only ones using the road]

“We’re not riding down and we never do,” Jobst claimed. “We just ride uphill. Besides, Old LaHonda Road is narrow and dangerous, and school buses drive it all the time. It’s a public road.”

“I don’t think you have all your facts straight about what this area is like,” the landowner argued. “What’s your name?”

“Brandt, Jobst, J-O-B-S-T.”

“Where do you live? What’s your address?”

“In Palo Alto. I’m in the phone book.” [they were still used back then]

“Well, the insurance is the real problem. We have to pay for it and we don’t want anyone hurt on this road and suing us.”

Jobst continued. “But I’ve been using this road even before it was paved. I know all about it. I bet I’ve used this road a lot longer than you.”

The landowner shot back, “I’ve lived here for 20 years.”

Jobst countered, “I’ve lived here longer than that.” [40 years]

The landowner never got upset during the conversation, but it wasn’t clear what he had in mind as he drove off.

We continued our ride, passing the landowner on the way as he worked on his house next to the road.

Jim, Tom S., and I fell off the back on the hard climb, no doubt a bit wasted from the previous evening of wine tasting.

After heading north on Skyline, we turned left onto the steep, pot-holed Swett Road and continued down to Star Hill Road, which turned to dirt soon enough.

But it was on a wide, gently sloping paved section where Jobst met his fate. A mongrel dog weighing at least 40 pounds dashed toward us, Jobst seemingly protected in the middle of the pack.

This dog didn’t pull up as dogs usually do. He barreled into us despite an angry chorus of commands from the riders. We all scattered and somehow Jobst tangled with the dog.

His bike fell out from under him and he rolled once, using his right hand to break the fall. He lay on the pavement for several seconds before moving. Then he sprung up and said, “I’m all right.” He only complained of a sore wrist and the shock of falling.

But Jobst’s bike wasn’t so lucky. I noticed that the paint had buckled in the downtube and top tube where they meet the head tube. Tom Ritchey came over to inspect his handiwork and determined that it was only warped, not broken, still safe to ride.

Jobst said this was his second dog collision. He had his other one 22 years ago with the same result — a broken frame.

Meanwhile, a motorist wearing his Sunday best drove up and honked at us to get off the road.

We continued the ride on Star Hill Road, peeling off onto the bumpy, leaf-covered Native Son’s Cutoff, a route only known to Jobst and friends. It turned out to be a muddy spoor after recent rains, so we slipped and slid down the road as our hands froze on the brake levers in the dark, dank forest.

Giant gray and and brown mushrooms covered the trail, which brought howls of delight from Sterling and Mack: “Shrooms!” Sterling then flatted, right where Tom R. had flatted a week ago, ruining an expensive silk sewup. That had proven enough for Tom, who was riding on new clinchers. [It was about this time that everyone switched to clinchers]

Back on Tunitas Creek Road we headed downhill, while Jobst turned back home, feeling the effects of the fall.

We headed to Pescadero on Stage Roads, stopping at the local grocery store for a bite to eat and to see Miss Pescadero 1981. We headed home over Haskins Hill and Alpine Road bathed in the late- afternoon sun on a November day.

Capitola begonia festival draws Begonians from far and wide

August 31, 2014

Absent my rappelling gear, I had to be satisfied with just taking a picture.

Absent my rappelling gear, I had to be satisfied with just taking a picture.

Taking a page from past epic Jobst Rides, I headed to the coast and turned south for Santa Cruz and then even farther south to Corralitos.

I always bailed in Santa Cruz and headed up Mtn. Charlie while Jobst and friends continued south. I wanted to see if I had missed anything. On this Labor Day weekend it became clear that I had missed the annual Begonia festival in quaint Capitola by the sea.

This was one of those nice weekends where a long ride isn’t so bad when heading south on the Cabrillo Highway with a comforting 15-mph tailwind and clear skies. I missed out on the big waves earlier in the week from a distant hurricane, but there were still some decent breakers.

I marveled at the incredibly smooth pavement near Cascade Ranch. This has to be the smoothest stretch of pavement ever devised by Caltrans. Bravo.

After a stop in Davenport for an It’s It, I headed to Santa Cruz with more tailwind.

On this holiday weekend traffic backed up for miles as people jockeyed for a parking spot in Santa Cruz. Others wisely took the train from Felton. I negotiated my way along East Cliff Drive past the boardwalk and then crossed the railroad bridge over the mighty San Lorenzo River.

The river is more like a creek now, which is not a good thing because the city gets all its drinking water here. It’s no wonder they have severe water rationing.

Take my advice and stick to the narrow pedestrian path rather than taking the railroad, no matter how tempting the tracks might look when the path is jammed with walkers.

Begonia festival
As I entered Capitola I noticed a huge crowd gathered on the Soquel Creek bridge downtown. I was asked to dismount and enjoy the begonia festival. This was the first time I had seen so many Begonians in one place. They looked indistinguishable from other Capitola residents, except for their fascination with Soquel Creek, where I was hard pressed to see much of anything. However, I later learned that the Begonians were worshiping floats festooned with begonias grown locally on 43 acres of prime begonia growing land.

I have every reason to believe that Begonians and Rosicrucians have a lot in common. Instead of begonias, the Rosicrucians worship, you guessed it, roses. Their headquarters is located next to the San Jose Rose Garden.

I left the Begonians, still pouring into Capitola, behind and headed to Corralitos through two scenic agricultural valleys known for growing apples — Valencia and Day.

As I rode past apple orchards next to Valencia Road I came across a most unusual scene – an unoccupied apple stand. Bella & Sons Orchard is unique in this regard – they trust people. I know, it’s hard to believe in this day and age, but you could help yourself to a bunch of apples for $4, and the bags were provided. I picked a green Washington apple. Delicious. I stuck $1 into the iron payment post and continued on my way.

After riding up Horrible Hames Road, I coasted into Corralitos and had a bite to eat, but didn’t feel like a sausage sandwich at Corralitos store this time around.

The rest of the ride took me up Eureka Canyon Road and Highland Way where I passed the usual crowded car park of mountain bikers enjoying Demonstration Forest. If they happen to be riding Trek brand mountain bikes I hope they check their forks because there’s a massive recall on the Suntour brand. I really feel sorry for companies that build mountain bike forks. It’s a losing situation.

Finally, I blasted down Old Santa Cruz Highway and noticed paving continues, which is a good thing because the road has a lot of cracks. And so ended a truly epic-style Jobst Ride of 123 miles.

Bella's faith in people took a bite out of my cynical side.

Bella’s faith in people took a bite out of my cynical side.

We live in earthquake country

August 24, 2014

I was reminded that we live in earthquake country this morning at 3:30 a.m. when I was awakened by the Napa temblor. It was mild compared to 1989 when I rode home from Cupertino to Palo Alto through streets with no traffic signals.

Fortunately the South Bay wasn’t affected this morning. I saw nothing out of the normal on the ride to Santa Cruz.

However, I noticed that Mountain Charlie Road has a new coat of pavement lower down, seemingly unpaved since Charlie McKiernan sold his toll road to the county of Santa Cruz in 1878.

Old Santa Cruz Highway also has a new coat of pavement near Summit Road. Most of the road hasn’t been paved in 15 years and it’s starting to show, with large fissures that could catch a wheel.

Three Feet for Safety Act goes into effect on September 16

August 20, 2014

Central Expressway in Santa Clara at rush hour from the Mobius perspective. Plenty of shoulder here.

Central Expressway in Santa Clara at rush hour from the Mobius perspective. Plenty of shoulder here.

After eight years of trying, California cyclists have an added measure of legal protection from motorists who take pleasure in buzzing cyclists, starting September 16. Don’t think for a minute that these buzz jobs are innocent oversights. They’re mostly intentional and they send a clear message: “Get the hell off my road!”

It’s a daily occurrence and one veteran cyclists live with, knowing there’s little they can do about it. That may change with this law, combined with actioncams like the popular GoPro used by riders in growing numbers.

I’ve had more than a few encounters that were so close the gap could be measured in inches, including several Santa Clara VTA buses. Now I ride with a Mobius actioncam, and while it won’t save my life, it could be used as persuasive evidence before a judge.

But back to the bill, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. In essence it says, “A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.”

SB 1464 by Alan Lowenthal was vetoed by the governor in 2012 because it authorized drivers to cross over double yellow or double white pavement markings in order to provide the minimum three-foot clearance when overtaking a bicyclist. In his veto message, Gov. Brown noted that the bill could increase the incidence of head-on collisions for which the California Department of Transportation could be liable. That provision was removed.

Ironically, the city of Los Angeles sponsored Assembly Bill 1371 put forth by Steven Bradford, State Assembly district 62, which includes Gardena and surrounding communities.

I don’t think this law will change behaviors, but if it saves one life, it was worth the eight-year journey through the California state legislature.

Big Basin Way is a highway, but not really

August 4, 2014

hwy9 stop

One of my favorite roads is Big Basin Way in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the section connecting Hwy 9 and Big Basin State Park, but let’s not call it by its official state moniker: Highway 236.

It’s a narrow, winding road where every turn is a blind corner.

Highway 9 (big Big Basin Way) looks more like a highway, and more so all the time as the state continues its widening project. There are two signal stops now, one at the Saratoga Creek pump station entering the twisty section, and the other about a half-mile up from Redwood Gulch Road.

The twisty section is being widened considerably. Whether or not other blind corners with no shoulder will be widened is not known. There’s another section slated for widening higher up between the two current work sites.

But back to Big Basin Way, or Hwy 236. I have nothing against car rallies, but the Porsche tour de force on Sunday coming at me was a bit much as they cut corners at every bend in the road. I stopped riding. They weren’t driving crazy fast, but with so many cars it didn’t matter.

On Skyline Boulevard I developed a powerful thirst, which could mean only one thing: a visit to the coke machine at the Los Altos Rod and Gun Club. I enjoyed a club soda while lounging on a deck chair. The desultory sound of gunfire and the American flag on the tool shed reminded me that I was in Reagan country.

It brought back memories of the early ’70s when I fired an AR15, its long-hair owner (who later became a lawyer) anticipating the coming “revolution.”

Jobst used to stop here for a drink. In addition to the secret coke machine, he introduced me and others to the joys of drinking from springs and chastised those who feared giardia or other beasties. He even eschewed the bike water bottle.

Only in his later riding years did Jobst start carrying a satchel with Pepsi, which he guzzled by the quart.

Enjoying a nice day in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Enjoying a nice day in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Zoox has the right idea – no steering wheel

August 3, 2014

Skidders on Amazon.com. Kindle.

Skidders on Amazon.com. Kindle.

As I was writing Skidders, I imagined an autonomous car without a steering wheel. Not that it’s an original idea, but reality is just around the corner with the Zoox mobile. Meanwhile, Skidders is always available on Kindle, Amazon.com. Fewer typos than before.

Mt. Hamilton summit around 1970

August 1, 2014
Mt. Hamilton summit around 1970. From left: John Hiatt, Anwyl McDonald, Dave Lucas, George Varian, Jobst Brandt with his orange Cinelli.

Mt. Hamilton summit around 1970. From left: John Hiatt, Anwyl McDonald, Dave Lucas, George Varian, Jobst Brandt with his orange Cinelli.

San Jose History Park Looks Back at Bikes

July 27, 2014

Schwinn bikes on parade at Kelley Park.

Schwinn bikes on parade at Kelley Park.

On Sunday, San Jose’s Kelley Park saw a bike gathering of epic proportions as two bike events meshed into one: Shiny Side Up Bicycle Day and the exhibit “Bikes: Passion, Innovation & Politics Since 1880″ opened inside the Pacific Hotel’s Arbuckle Gallery.

I’ll get to the history part in a second, but first a little about Shiny Side Up. Like car collecting, bike collecting is a niche activity.

If you’re into the old Schwinn balloon tire bikes and “chopper” bikes, southsydecycles is the place for you.

Schwinn made millions of single-speed town bikes, and it looked like every one that’s left was on display in the park. My parents couldn’t afford a name-brand like Schwinn so we kids got the J.C. Higgins Flightliner, circa 1960, sold by Montgomery Ward.

Now let’s take a look inside the Arbuckle Gallery and see what’s in store for cycling history aficionados.

Local history
There’s a lot of history packed into a small area, starting with the earliest bike on display, a velocipede (a name coined by the French) built in the mid-1800s. These bikes with steel rims were aptly nicknamed boneshakers.

Beautiful photo on display in Arbuckle  Gallery.

Beautiful photo on display in Arbuckle Gallery.

In my mind, bicycle design took a step backwards with the big-wheel penny farthing in later years, mainly because they were so difficult to ride, mount and dismount.

The first safety bikes that looked and worked like today’s bikes are also on display, including one of my favorites — the bike without a chain. Instead of a chain, it has rear-stay direct-drive geared shaft. (Check out the wood rims.) There’s a modern version of this bike. I don’t imagine it sells all that well, but if you really don’t like chains, it’s a decent option.

No more chain. Drive- shaft technology.

No more chain. Drive- shaft technology.

There’s a display case devoted to Clyde Arbuckle, who by all accounts was a walking encyclopedia of San Jose history in later life (1903-1998). He was, in fact, the city historian. But more importantly, he was a cyclist and winning bike racer in his youth. Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet him, or his son Jim, who died while cycling, age 72.

There’s also tribute paid to Spence Wolf (Cupertino Bicycles), Ellen Fletcher (Palo Alto City Council), and John Forester (bicycle transportation engineer). I did a two-hour video interview with Ellen about her life a few years ago that I hope to post.

You’ll see some interesting bikes from the past, including a classic Cinelli track bike in pristine condition, and of course some mountain bikes, which were popularized by cyclists in Marin County and, to some extent, by South Bay riders.



Familiar faces
The real reward for showing up on opening weekend was encountering cycling acquaintances who have seen their passion evolve over the past four or five decades.

I talked with Chris Dresden about his recovery from a heart operation, and Ken Kratz, retired Santa Clara traffic engineer who helped design the San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail. Our paths had crossed years ago at work and while I was on the Santa Clara bike committee.

Trophy case for San Jose clubs going way back.

Trophy case for San Jose clubs going way back.

Finally, one of the co-curators of the bike display, Terry Shaw, walked around chatting with attendees. The retired owner of Shaw’s Lightweight Cycles in San Jose (1976) and Santa Clara (1984) had a heart transplant in 2011, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News, and says he is back riding and feeling great. He sure looks it!

Among pro bike shops, I could depend on Terry to have those rare parts that riders need for older bikes. But unlike some, Terry also catered to the regular bike crowd. One time he sold me a set of nice alloy rims for a beater 3-speed. He was the only shop owner that had alloy as opposed to the standard steel rim. Now there’s someone who appreciates all bikes.

Terry Shaw put his considerable knowledge of cycling history to good use.

Terry Shaw put his considerable knowledge of cycling history to good use.

Terry said that this display is just the beginning. He hopes that it can find a permanent home and continue to grow. That’s a worthy goal, considering the rich history of cycling in the Bay Area. Many of the bicycle inventions and trends of the 1970s-2000s have been here. The riding isn’t half-bad either.

You can ride on a flat

July 13, 2014

Today's objective: ride to Corralitos and enjoy a Bavarian sausage. Mission accomplished.

Today’s objective: ride to Corralitos and enjoy a Bavarian sausage. Mission accomplished.

Today on Alma Bridge Road I came across a cyclist bike-walking. I figured it was a flat, and sure enough it was.

I was told it was only a mile walk back home, so it was a situation where a repair didn’t make much sense, as long as the cyclist rode home.

My suggestion was met with some skepticism. “Won’t it ruin the rim?”

I assured the rider it would not and that I had done it on numerous occasions, once about five miles with no damage to rim or tire.

However, you need to be cautious about it. The rider had a front flat, which is even better since most of the weight is over the rear wheel.

Let’s not forget that pneumatic tires were not invented until 1887. Before that bikes used solid rubber. It’s no wonder they were called “boneshakers.”

Rocking and rolling at the Tour de France

July 10, 2014

RockShox would have come in handy at the Tour de France yesterday. Los Altos History Museum display.

RockShox would have come in handy at the Tour de France yesterday. Los Altos History Museum display.

While riding cobbles of the famed Paris-Roubaix route in stage 6 of the Tour de France may make for good TV, the participants were none too pleased.

Lots of racers crashed and we know the rest of the story. The course got cut short to reduce the carnage. So why didn’t the riders use front suspension or even full suspension?

It turns out they could and they have since 1991 when the original RockShox suspension was put to the test at Paris-Roubaix.

Greg LeMond used it and his French teammate Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle (Team Z) rode to victory on RockShox front suspension in 1992. After that lots of teams used them on the cobbles, but then they disappeared, later to return.

Bike Radar does a great job detailing the history.

Today they’re not used. I suspect the reason is that there’s not enough of an advantage with today’s carbon fiber bikes absorbing a lot of vibration compared to steel bikes. Not all of the Paris-Roubaix covers cobblestones. The extra weight and spongy suspension (some suspensions can be locked) slows riders down on the long sections of smooth road.

If you want to see the original bike used in the Paris-Roubaix and live in the South Bay, you’re in luck. It’s on display at the Los Altos History Museum, located right behind the library on San Antonio Road.

Bay Area natives Paul Turner and Steve Simons get credit for starting RockShox, now owned by Sram.

The bike exhibit “Pedal Power: From Wacky to Workhorse” runs through October 5. No charge.

Thanks to all who donated bikes. Several came from Vance Sprock, Cupertino Bike Shop owner.

Original RockShox suspension used in the Paris-Roubaix

Original RockShox suspension used in the Paris-Roubaix


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