Accidents accumulate with time

February 1, 2016

Painful to look at even after 35 years. I healed and so did the bike after Dr. Peter Johnson operated.

Painful to look at even after 35 years. I healed and so did the bike after Dr. Peter Johnson operated.

I’ve ridden at least 200,000 miles since starting in 1969 on a ten-speed. In that time I’ve had quite a few accidents. For the record, in reverse chronological order. I know a few people who have never crashed. They might not have ridden this many miles, but they’re still lucky.

December 2015: A thin layer of mud in the bike lane caused me to fall and hit my head, Tantau Avenue in Cupertino. Bad concussion, ambulance to hospital, then a month to feel back to normal. Giro helmet destroyed. Bike undamaged.

June 2004: Campagnolo Super Record left crank (4 years in use) broke at the pedal eye as I hammered up Scott Boulevard in Santa Clara on the railroad overpass. I flipped onto my back, where I hit the thickest part of my helmet. Helmet destroyed. Uninjured. Bike undamaged.

December 1999: Campagnolo Record left crank (18 years in use) broke at the pedal eye as I took a left turn from Pomeroy onto Pruneridge Avenue while commuting home from work at night. Hit my head. 3 stitches. Bike undamaged. No helmet. No concussion.

October 1995: Collided head-on with a descending mountain biker on Aptos Creek Fire Road. Concussion for 10 minutes. Rode home 35 miles. Front wheel bent and some brake components damaged. No helmet. No residual effects from concussion.

September 1993: Car making an illegal right turn from Homestead onto Hollenbeck in Cupertino cuts me off while driving at slow speed, causing me to grab onto its right rear fender and fall to the ground. Unhurt. Bike undamaged. No helmet. Car did not stop. Probably a teen driving.

May 1993: Campagnolo front brake cable snapped while crossing a pedestrian bridge over a creek, causing me to hit a Cyclone fence head-on and flip over. Uninjured. Front fork replaced and top tube slightly crumpled. No helmet.

December 1982: Hit oil on a curve while descending Hwy 84. Slid out. Banged elbow. No helmet. Checked at emergency room for possible injury, but OK. Bike undamaged.

June 1981: Head-on collision with a car on Portola Valley Road. Right arm compound fracture, artery damage, left kneecap cracked, neck wrenched. 3 months recovering. Fork and front triangle replaced. No helmet.

April 1980: Crashed on dirt road in Pinkies Road Race. Road rash otherwise OK. Finished race. Bike OK. Leather helmet.

April 1980: Front wheel hit by cyclist during a criterium, causing me to crash. Raspberry on right hip became infected. Leather helmet. Bike undamaged.

October 1979: Rocks across road caused me to lock up my brakes and fall while descending Mt. Hamilton. My head came to rest next to a car’s left tire as it stopped when it saw me coming. Left wrist fractured in three places. 8 weeks in cast. Bike OK. No helmet.

I’ve had a few other minor falls, like the one on Page Mill when I hit black ice while climbing a steep section at 3 mph, but not worthy of reporting.

So you might be wondering, how about while driving? I’ve had one, a fender-bender in 1976 when an old lady’s Buick slid into my VW during a blizzard as I approached a stop sign.

So you think riding a bike is easy?

January 27, 2016

Here’s an interesting experiment that demonstrates learning how to ride a bike is not trivial.

The author was challenged to ride a bike with reverse steering, built by a machinist. He had to re-learn how to ride. It took him eight months; the author’s young son re-learned in six weeks.

The implications of this experiment extend well beyond the bicycle.

Here's how the machinist changed the steering.

Here’s how the machinist changed the steering.

When to replace a helmet?

December 30, 2015

There are reasons to replace your helmet, but simple age is not one of them. That’s according to an independent helmet testing agency.

Extensive testing of used (but not crashed) bicycle helmets shows that the foam liners retain their performance over many years. MEA Forensic announced at a May ASTM F08.53 technical meeting the results of their testing of 675 bicycle helmets, some as old as 26 years.

“There is no justification for two to ten year replacement recommendations based on impact performance,” said MEA’s Alyssa DeMarco.

Taken from

Slippery paint lines can cause a fall

December 21, 2015

Time for a new helmet after this one served its purpose.

Time for a new helmet after this one served its purpose.

While we all know rain, painted lines and bicycles don’t mix, I found out the hard way on Sunday during a ride.

I’m not the most aware person, as Jobst Brandt once showed me on a ride up Page Mill Road. He said, “Watch out for the black ice.” Two seconds later I was down.

Jobst never let me forget that. So I probably had it coming when I fell on the paint lines on Tantau Avenue in Cupertino next to the fabulous new Apple headquarters under construction.

It was the perfect mix of wetness and bad luck as I moved left to enter a left turn lane at Pruneridge. Both wheels must have been on the bike lane as I looked back.

The bike went out from under me in an instant. Then I got a ride to the same hospital where Jobst once stayed after his fateful accident in 2011.

I won’t say the helmet saved my life, but you won’t see me riding without one. I’ve had too many incidents — broken cranks, slippery roads.

After checking the paint lines, I think they’re old enough to have been put down before better paint-grit combinations came along.

As for the green paint swathes, I think they’re safer when wet because they have grit in them, or they conform better to the pavement. They’re an issue in Australia though.

The slippery white lines were a problem in Portland, Oregon, and had to be re-striped.

Finally, if you’re seriously hurt by a white paint line, there’s always someone willing to represent you in court.

Follow-up: After talking with the eyewitness and carefully reviewing the scene of the accident, here’s what happened. I was riding southbound on Tantau in the bike lane prior to moving left to turn onto Pruneridge. At the location I was observed falling there are patches of green paint designating a bike lane. These have become worn from constant sweeping by a street sweeper assigned to keep dust down where the Apple campus is being built. The combination of light rain, dust and finely polished green paint made this surface an extreme hazard.

I reported the accident to the city of Cupertino via email and letter.

After this incident, I believe the green paint swathes constitute a hazard once they become worn. Not good.

Follow-up 2: I took my wheel and some water to test my theory about the slippery green paint. After testing, I found the issue to most likely be one of a slurry of mud accumulating on a white paint line, not green.

The green paint is a lot like sandpaper in consistency. Although it loses some traction when worn, it didn’t seem any worse than regular pavement.

However, the white lines definitely had less traction when wet, especially with a slurry of mud, which you can see below. A thin layer of mud is deadly for bike wheels. Because this street is in a construction area, there’s a lot of dust being generated. Sweeping helps, but there’s still a layer of fine dust.

I also tested some concrete next to the curb. Surprisingly, even when wet it seemed to have better traction compared to the white paint line. It may be that sweeper does a better job of removing dust from concrete compared to the white paint.

My front wheel went out from under me on a white “paint” section, not green, although I can’t say for sure since I don’t know the precise location.

Wet mud on this white arrow can cause a fall .

Wet mud on this white arrow can cause a fall .

Bikes vs. Cars plays on emotions

December 15, 2015

Bikes vs. Cars is available on Vimeo.

Bikes vs. Cars is available on Vimeo.

During the hour and a half you’ll spend watching Bikes vs. Cars you’ll be given a tour of big cities where transportation has become a daily struggle, and you’ll see how a handful of cyclists like Aline Cavalcante in Sao Paulo are fighting for their cause. It can be watched on Vimeo for $10.

You can’t help but feel sympathy for these mostly disenfranchised cyclists, especially when one of them loses an arm while riding and the offending driver speeds away, arm still in the car, then throws it into a nearby creek. True story.

It’s a well done film by Director Fredrik Gertten, who specializes in documentaries, typically standing up for the little guy who has no voice against big, heartless companies. He’s very good at what he does, knows how to set a mood and develop characters, turn dry facts into an emotional rollercoaster.

All of that works in Bikes vs. Cars, but I was left wishing for something more: the solution to the transportation dilemma. Gertten’s film clearly shows us that staying with the car is the road to ruin, but he doesn’t convince me that the bike is remotely the solution. It comes across as more of a sideshow, which is what the bicycle has always been even when it was the dominant form of mechanized transportation versus horses.

The exception, where Gertten’s camera takes us, is Copenhagen, a European city where four out of five residents own a bike and, I would wager, about that many use them for riding to work and around the city on a daily basis. Instead of delving into its transportation infrastructure, the camera turns on a hapless cab driver who expresses frustration about driving around with so many bikes.

An advocacy documentary like Bikes vs. Cars is supposed to motivate us to take some action. I Bought a Rain Forest (Gertten Executive Producer), a well-done documentary about a Swede’s quest to find out where his grade school’s donations to a rain forest fund wound up, did that for me. I donated money to a rain forest conservancy in Costa Rica.

With Bikes vs. Cars I felt no motivation to do much of anything. I rode my bike to work for 45 years daily, but I still own a car, drive to the store to buy groceries, for long trips, etc.

Something more needs to be done about our transportation system than making way for bikes. It’s coming soon to an Uber franchise near you — autonomous cars. But that’s another documentary and one that maybe Gertten should consider filming. One of the ironies about autonomous cars is that they’ll do more to make cycling safer than any safety law, bike lane or piece of equipment could ever hope to achieve.

All that aside, you should watch the movie. It’s entertaining and you’ll be moved by the people who are highlighted by the director.

Signs and expressions stating the obvious

December 12, 2015

A sign just for bicyclists on Page Mill Road. How patronizing.

A sign just for bicyclists on Page Mill Road. How patronizing.

Have you seen the signs on Page Mill Road warning about water tank work about a quarter-mile up from Moody Road?

I wonder who made them because they sure don’t adhere to any highway sign standards I’m aware of. They call out cyclists, which I find curious.

Here’s what it says:

Attention Bicyclists
Construction Zone
Ahead Loose Gravel
Please Slow Down
Have a Safe Ride

It’s commendable that the local water agency, my guess, went to such effort to create a sign, but it’s not necessary. The work affects all traffic and poses a similar hazard to motorcycles, cars, trucks, anyone using the road. Let’s use the proper signs, ones that we’re all accustomed to seeing.

We’re all guilty of stating the obvious. As I was riding slowly up Page Mill Road, I heard a voice pipe up behind me as a car drove by: “Car back!”

I quickly checked my hearing aid to see if it was working. Working fine, that really was the noise of a car approaching; I heard it for quite some distance before it passed.

There’s only one expression more annoying: “Car up!” On those I have to check both my hearing aid and my prescription glasses to see that they’re working. Let’s not forget “On your left.”

Come to think of it, when passing it might be better to say, “Have a Safe Ride!”

Safety concerns on Mt. Umunhum

December 8, 2015

Hikers and cyclists a security problem? I don't think so.

Hikers and cyclists a security problem? I don’t think so.

This morning’s San Jose Mercury News delves into the issue of opening Mt. Umunhum summit to the public. I mention this here because so few people subscribe to the paper anymore. Support your local newspaper.

As I wrote in my 1986 article, the landowners on Mt. Umunhum believe they are under assault by trespassers and that the county and other law enforcement agencies are unwilling or unable to be of much help.

Fair enough. The area attracts its share of miscreants. I’m guilty of riding the length of Mt. Umunhum Road, as are dozens of otherwise law-abiding citizens.

The question is, how far do you go to maintain security? Video cameras were placed at access points to Mt. Umunhum by the landowners. MROSD rangers have responded when violators were seen, as I can attest.

I think things have gotten out of hand. Most of the violators are well-intentioned. They just want to see the view from up top. Don’t we all? That’s why the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District has spent millions of our dollars (some Federal, so I can include myself although I don’t live in the district) cleaning up the former Air Force base, buying land. Let’s move on.

When I rode bikes with Jobst Brandt, I came to subscribe to his belief that open space should be shared, regardless of who owns it. Europeans pretty much feel the same way. However, that’s not the attitude here. So we have to create an agency that buys land for public use and sets all kinds of restrictions.

There will always be security concerns. They can be dealt with. It reminds me of the politicians who would punish an entire group of people for the misdeeds of a few. That’s no way to handle the problem, including this one.

Follow-up: The board voted 7-0 to pursue eminent domain.

Transmission towers are located on just about every mountaintop, as with Loma Prieta.

Transmission towers are located on just about every mountaintop, as with Loma Prieta.

Mt. Umunhum access down to this: Eminent Domain

December 5, 2015

Mt. Umunhum Road where the McQueen property begins. It might take eminent domain to gain public access to the summit.

I’ve been following the Mt. Umunhum soap opera for more than 30 years, but now the last act is about to be played: Eminent Domain.

It’s the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s (MROSD) ace card, held in reserve until it ran out of options.

That time is now. The road to the summit, originating at Hicks Road, is supposed to open to the public in October 2016, but MROSD can’t get an easement across the McQueen family (Scott and Randee) land through which the upper reach of the road passes.

Without an easement, there can’t be a grand opening. From all appearances, eminent domain is MROSD’s last resort. The staff recommendation to pursue eminent domain will be taken up by the MROSD board at a meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m.

Probably of lesser importance, but still calling for eminent domain, is access to a road leading to nearby Mt. Thayer, the land apparently owned by Michael Rossetta and Leonard Rossetta.

For anyone unfamiliar with eminent domain, it basically means the government takes your land, although it has to pay a fair price. In this case, it’s about $380,000 for an easement to use the road crossing the McQueen land.

When the Air Force shut down its radar station at the mountain summit in 1980, the land was put up for sale. MROSD swooped in an bought it. The original owner, Loren McQueen, who sold his land to the Air Force, didn’t have a chance to buy it back.

At least that’s one version of the story. McQueen never forgave MROSD and put up roadblocks, literally and figuratively, to prevent the agency from developing the land for open space.

He claimed the Air Force easement to use the road crossing his land expired, if the base shut down. I don’t doubt him on that point.

While McQueen is the primary obstacle, other landowners haven’t been accommodating either. Most were bought out by MROSD, eventually.

I think both sides in this dispute share some blame for not settling their differences, especially now that Mr. McQueen is gone. He was your classic curmudgeon.

His children, I’m told, are reasonable people who went out of their way to help out with a time trial bike ride up Mt. Umunhum, granting access to their part of the road.

If it were up to me, I would lease the Mt. Umunhum cube to the McQueen business, Communication Control Inc. (CCI), at a fair price in exchange for opening the road.

That would preserve the cube, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on where you stand on the matter.

I have no problem seeing the cube, and a fence around it. CCI owns the facility on Black Mountain off Monte Bello Road, also on MROSD land, and it doesn’t bother me in the least seeing it there.

I wrote a lengthy article on this topic way back in 1986. It’s available here for anyone who wants to delve into the history: The Last Outpost.






Bikes vs. Cars coming to a theater near you

November 29, 2015

Bikes vs. Cars is coming to the Bay Area in December.

Bikes vs. Cars is coming to the Bay Area in December.

I first learned about Bikes vs. Cars a couple years ago through Kickstarter, from which the producer/director Fredrik Gertten raised $80,000 from 2,000 pledges.

In the Bay Area it’s showing Dec. 3-9 in San Francisco at the Roxie theater, in Oakland Dec. 8 and in San Rafael Dec. 4-10.

The movie looks at bicycles and how they are used for transportation from a global perspective. It takes a Michael Moore advocacy slant for bicycles, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I plan to see it. What might be missing (I haven’t seen anything more than previews) is how the autonomous car fits into the transportation equation. This technology is going to be of enormous benefit for all humankind, bicyclists included, and will certainly ensure continued use of the automobile.

I’m not advocating individual ownership of autonomous cars, such as we almost have now with the Tesla. I took a ride in one and it was truly unnerving, at first.

What I think we’re looking at is the “elevator model.” That means companies like Uber and Lyft will own autonomous cars and use them as horizontal elevators, as suggested by Alain Kornhauser, professor at Princeton. He recently gave a brief talk in Santa Clara at a community forum on autonomous cars.

All of this is at least a decade away, but it’s definitely coming. You can already see companies jockeying for a position within the new transportation model.

As for bicycles, they’ll play an increasing role, but I don’t see them ever becoming the primary means of transportation. The good news is that people who do ride bikes will find things a lot safer.

Now we know why this tree's seed is called a buckeye. It looks like a deer's eye. Contains tannic acid, poisonous.

Now we know why this tree’s seed is called a buckeye. It looks like a deer’s eye. Contains tannic acid, poisonous.

Flooding on Guadalupe River recreation path

November 25, 2015

FYI, the mighty Guadalupe River has submerged parts of the Guadalupe River recreation path.

I saw it beneath the Hwy 237 overpass. While it might have been less than a foot deep, I wasn’t going to risk submerging my bottom bracket.

I can imagine other locations are also under water, such as at the Trimble Road overpass and Hwy 101.

San Tomas Aquino Creek trail is OK with the exception of a wet section beneath the Great America Parkway overpass.


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