Arastradero Road: Then and Now

September 3, 2015

Arastradero Road in 1930, inset, and today.

Arastradero Road in 1930, inset, and today.


Rooting around in the Palo Alto Historical Association online archive, I found this image taken by Kenneth Merckx (Eddy’s distant cousin) in 1930.

Here’s the same location, exactly, today using Google Maps.

It’s a lot more civilized these days.

Mtn Charlie tree a hidden gem

September 2, 2015

Now we're talking.  This is an old-growth redwood, Mountain Charlie.

Now we’re talking. This is an old-growth redwood, Mountain Charlie.


I first read about the Mountain Charlie Tree about 30 years ago in the San Jose Mercury News and now I finally found it.

At the time they didn’t want to reveal its location, but it has a state historical marker, so there’s no reason to keep it a secret.

A website has all the details on location, as well as where you can find other historical markers about Mountain Charlie.

As we all know, Mountain Charlie McKiernan was one of the earliest settlers in the Santa Cruz Mountains and survived a fight with a grizzly bear.

We have him to thank for Mountain Charlie Road, which he built himself and opened to the public as a toll road.

It has hardly changed, only now quite a few people reside next to the narrow paved road.

The tree is located downhill from Mountain Charlie Road just off Glenwood Highway, which as we all know used to be the main route to Santa Cruz from Los Gatos.

Just to give you some perspective on its height, at 260 feet it’s nearly as tall as the tallest building in San Jose, “the 88.”

The plaque next to the tree has all the details. The "Queen" is about 100 feet away.

The plaque next to the tree has all the details. The “Queen” is about 100 feet away.

Bike lanes on El Camino Real through Menlo Park?

August 31, 2015

Buffered bike lanes are being considered for El Camino Real, Menlo Park.

Buffered bike lanes are being considered for El Camino Real, Menlo Park.

There’s a move afoot to add an experimental bicycle lane and accompanying buffer on El Camino Real through Menlo Park. The experiment may last for six months or a year, yet to be determined.

I don’t have a problem with the experiment, but don’t expect miracles. I used to live in Menlo Park, but I hardly ever rode my bike on El Camino Real through Menlo Park, or to downtown for that matter.

It was traffic-crazy. I had to contend with a million driveways and lots of cars going in and out. The intersections are jammed most of the day. It’s bike unfriendly to say the least.

Adding the bike lane does not remove the hazards of cars entering and exiting driveways or turning right or left, which I consider a greater threat than being hit from behind on a straight section of El Camino Real.

I see the biggest advantage coming from slowing car traffic, and more drivers avoiding that stretch of El Camino Real.

Whatever the outcome, we need to be thinking long-term about accommodating bikes on roads. I’m talking about 50-100 years. It’s going to take that long for things to change.

The big improvement will come once autonomous cars arrive and it’s safe to ride a bike. That combined with electric bikes that make riding easy will change how we get around forever.

Let’s not forget that the Bay Area is unique compared to the rest of the U.S. where they have something called weather. There is no weather to speak of here (heat, cold, snow rain), so local cities have a much more compelling reason for accommodating bikes on roads to ease traffic congestion.

Braking: front, rear or both?

August 30, 2015

I'm not going to declare this an old-growth redwood, but still impressive.

I’m not going to declare this an old-growth redwood, but still impressive.


Yesterday I did one of the most difficult descents in the Santa Cruz Mountains — Bear Creek Road (Summit Road to Hwy 17) –using only my front brake.

The road is steep — about 16 percent in several sections — and has washboard bumps on tight turns, the worst kind of road for descending fast on a bicycle.

There has been some debate over whether or not to use your rear brake while descending. Jobst Brandt gave his thoughts on this subject in one of his rec.bike posts in 2000. For the record, he never said you should not use your rear brake while descending. In fact, there are situations where it is advisable.

Of course, we all know that about 90 percent of braking power comes from the front brake, so using the rear brake is not going to make a lot of difference in most situations. Jobst and Sheldon Brown, both experts on the subject, wanted to get across the point that going over the handlebars while braking does not result from using just your front brake.

I didn’t go any faster on my descent compared to using my rear brake. As Jobst pointed out, one’s ability to descend depends on innate abilities — he compares the mind to a CPU — so using your rear brake or not while descending isn’t going to make much difference on how fast you make it down a mountain.

That said, I made it down the road, as I have dozens of times, without incident and didn’t notice any improvement or increased difficulties from using only the front brake.

The reason most cyclists crash is because they’re riding too fast for conditions, not from improper braking. Jobst rarely crashed, considering the miles he rode, but on two occasions where he crashed and broke bones, it was from riding too fast for conditions. The same goes for driving a car. It happens every time there’s a snowstorm or icy roads.

Meanwhile, my quest to find the Mountain Charlie tree ran into a snag, so this one I photographed nearby will have to do.

Finally, I’m giving the first person who can identify this black device a free copy of my novel Skidders. And I’ll give you another copy if you can tell me where it’s located.

Can you ID this thing? Let me know.

Can you ID this thing? Let me know.

Moorpark Avenue goes on a road diet

August 27, 2015

Moorpark Avenue in West San Jose on a road diet. I had the road all to myself.

Moorpark Avenue in West San Jose on a road diet. I had the road all to myself.


Moorpark Avenue has been put on a road diet, which is a good thing if you’re a cyclist or pedestrian living in West San Jose, and maybe so-so for motorists.

I can understand why the four-lane road was reduced to two lanes and a center turn lane, mainly because there are two schools on Moorpark, Archbishop Mitty High School, DeVargas Elementary School, and Strawberry Park Challenger School nearby.

I rode it around noon on a hot day, so I saw no traffic to speak of, and one bicycle.

If any street needs to go on a road diet in the area, it’s Homestead Road. I see dozens of students walking and riding bikes to and from Homestead High School. Homestead is one of the more congested roads around and it’s only going to get worse once the Apple campus opens and the Vallco shopping mall gets its multi-billion-dollar makeover.

Unfortunately, we need wide, multi-lane streets like Homestead to support car traffic. If you took them out, there would be worse gridlock at rush hour.

I don’t think road diets are going to get people out of their cars to ride bikes to work. It will certainly make roads safer for students walking and riding to school, but humans are naturally averse to combining exercise with commuting.

I’ve written at length about all the excuses, some of them valid, so for now our best and probably only hope is for the autonomous car to come along.

We don’t like public transit, we don’t like riding bikes, so what other choice is there?

Lower Guadalupe River Trail closed

August 23, 2015

Guadalupe River Trail between Tasman Drive and Gold Street is closed until November.

Guadalupe River Trail between Tasman Drive and Gold Street is closed until November.


In case you were planning to ride on the Guadalupe River Trail, note that it’s closed until November from Tasman Drive to Gold Street in Alviso.

PG&E is working on a gas line that requires levy work.

The other side of the river has a dirt levy, and that’s still open.

“Friday light” lives up to its reputation

August 21, 2015

Pescadero cemetery. Amaryllis belladonna is named after the Greek beauty Amaryllis and bella donna which means beautiful lady in Italian.

Pescadero cemetery. Amaryllis belladonna is named after the Greek beauty Amaryllis and bella donna which means beautiful lady in Italian.


This is my second long ride on a Friday and I’m beginning to believe it’s the lightest traffic day in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Of course, the drawback is fighting morning traffic in Silicon Valley with a 7:30 a.m. departure. It gives me a chance to see how most people live.

I’m not liking what I’m seeing at the intersection of Homestead Road and Bernardo Avenue. Parents jam up the intersection turning right from Homestead, which blocks the bike lane for at least eight car lengths. I’d never want my children to ride to Cupertino Middle School on Bernardo.

On top of that, there’s no bike lane on Bernardo. Who wants their children to ride a bike to school? That’s what I figured. Nobody, and I can’t blame them.

But I digress. Once I got onto Moody Road, things got better. It was clear sailing the rest of the way until Old La Honda Road, where quite a few motorists braved the drive up to Skyline. That’s what happens when Hwy 84 closes from a downed tree.

In addition to no traffic, the weather couldn’t have been better. High clouds and temps in the 60s.

There might be one benefit from the drought. I’ve never seen so many belladonna flowers. Bellissimo!

Loma Mar store. It's going to be a while before it's finished. They also need a new sign.

Loma Mar store. It’s going to be a while before it’s finished. They also need a new sign.

Sigma rear brake light gives warning

August 20, 2015
The unobtrusive Sigma rear brake light has a bright LED

The unobtrusive Sigma rear brake light has a bright LED

I immediately liked the concept of the Sigma rear brake light — lightweight (7 grams), easy to install, affordable ($10), a safety feature.

Here’s what I think after making a purchase.

Installation is not as easy as it looks. I had to back out the Shimano Ultegra adjustment barrel all the way to accommodate the light. They recommend at least 25 mm of exposed brake cable.

Be sure to push the light firmly against the brake cable in order for the screw to securely clamp the brake cable.

I’d like to see a better fit for the screw against the cable. As it is now, it mashes down on the brake cable.

Test to see that the brake light doesn’t get stuck on. That can happen, if it’s not installed properly.

You’ll need a 2.5 mm Allen key. The light comes with a CR1025 lithium battery, which should last at least a year or two.

It comes in five colors, but I think red and white have the best visibility against the red LED.

Now you can see when your ride partner is braking while descending Page Mill Road, or motorists can know when you’re stopping for a light, assuming they’re not looking down while texting.

Available now at the Bicycle Outfitter, Los Altos, and other fine bike shops.

Once Upon a Ride: A Back Out of Whack

August 16, 2015

Riders from left: Ted Mock, Olaf Brandt, Peter Johnson, Jobst Brandt, Paul Mittelstadt, stop for a drink of water at the giant redwood tree near McKenzie Reservoir.

Riders from left: Ted Mock, Olaf Brandt, Peter Johnson, Jobst Brandt, Paul Mittelstadt, stop for a drink of water at the giant redwood tree near McKenzie Reservoir.


May 20, 1984
Riders: Jobst Brandt, Paul Mittelstadt, Ray Hosler, Peter Johnson, Jan Causey, Ted Mock, Olaf Brandt
Route: Foothill Expressway to Stevens Canyon Road, Mount Eden Road, Pierce Road, Hwy 9, Sanborn Road, Black Road, Summit Road, Bear Creek Road, Big Basin Road, Hwy 236, Hwy 9, Skyline Boulevard, Hwy 84.
Weather: Warm and clear, then cooler and overcast
Tire/Mechanical Failure: Jan – broken spoke

Jobst is still contending with his bad back, which he now thinks is somehow related to a “leaking” kidney. Once again, Jan and Olaf came along to ride with Jobst.

Jobst established a leisurely pace and it was readily apparent he was not feeling up to par. Only on Mt. Eden Road did Jobst ride with any strength.

From the top of Mt. Eden we saw a valley of fruit orchards and neat rows of vineyards. We passed Mount Eden winery on our way downhill.

Before the steep descent, Jobst said he can ride down it without braking “only if I don’t have a tailwind.” After the descent I said, “I missed hitting that rabbit by a hair.” Groans were heard.

While climbing Pearce Road, we passed a tourist listening to his Sony Walkman. As we passed Paul Masson Winery and the tourist, Jobst said in his loudest voice, “I read in the papers yesterday about a Muni bus driver in San Francisco who was wearing his Sony Walkman. A policeman stopped him when he ran two stop lights.”

On Hwy 9 Jobst mentioned a beechnut tree near the bridge crossing a creek and as we passed a roadside campground next to Sanborn Road, he said, “I can smell the Oscar Mayer wieners already.”

We started up the steep Sanborn Road and enjoyed the canopy of trees between deep, rapid breaths. The real climbing started when we headed up the dirt road at the end of paved Sanborn. It’s about 25 percent in places to start, but improves to around 18 percent afterwards. We saw McKenzie Reservoir at a low level, but at least it had water. Jobst spotted a Green Heron and a regal-looking Caspian Tern skimming the water.

Leaving the lake, we continued on the dirt road, passing a mother and her two children riding bikes. With that most unusual sight behind us, we arrived at the giant redwood tree where a creek runs across the road.

Jobst stopped to look inside the hollow trunk, but did not see any bats. Then he walked over to the creek and took a drink from one of his regular watering holes.

We continued another mile to Black Road and began a steep climb to Skyline Boulevard. Jobst rode home via Skyline, still complaining about his back, while I continued on alone to Big Basin State Park.

At the park I met up with Bob Walmsley, another Jobst rider, and we discussed Ted Mock’s latest encounter with a car, but fortunately this time he was wearing a helmet. His helmet split in two from the collision.

McKenzie Reservoir drinks in the sunshine

August 14, 2015

Two deer ambled down to the lake for a drink as I snapped the photo.

Two deer ambled down to the lake for a drink as I snapped the photo.


I’ve been riding past McKenzie Reservoir on Lake Ranch Road since 1980, but the good news now is that it’s sanctioned by the county.

In May 1984 Jobst and friends rode by here and stopped to drink from a stream that runs by a big redwood next to the road. I’m not so inclined to drink from local streams these days with the drought and increased pollution making it less appetizing.

As happened in 1984, I saw a gaggle of kids riding by, part of a commercial business catering to youth summer camps, Bike Dojo.

While that’s all well and good, when I was a kid we explored our local parks and trails unsupervised, something that would be unthinkable in today’s world. How times have changed.


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