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

Once Upon a Ride… Star Hill Road

July 5, 2014

Star Hill Road at Hwy 1. This section of toll road was abandoned by San Mateo County back in the late 1800s upon purchase.

Star Hill Road at Hwy 1. This section of toll road was abandoned by San Mateo County back in the late 1800s upon purchase.

On my many rides with Jobst Brandt, we often took roads that weren’t exactly public, but that didn’t seem to faze Jobst in the least. It wasn’t out of arrogance.

Jobst grew up in Palo Alto in the 1940s-1950s. Life was different then. The community was small and with the exception of Hewlett Packard and Varian, there wasn’t much in the way of a technology industry.

When he started riding in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the late 1950s, the sight of a bicycle was considered an oddity. Jobst rode wherever he pleased, including Star Hill Road.

He got to know the Markegard family and he would stop and chat with Erik Markegard’s father. Erik has gone on to start his own family and sells range-fed beef, chickens and more from his ranch, which is administered by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. You can find out all about the ranch and business on their excellent website.

Back in 1982, I wrote about one of those rides in my personal diary. So let’s turn back the time machine..

July 11, 1982
Riders: Jobst, Ray, Ted Mock, Peter Johnson, Jan Causey, Bob ?, Tom Ritchey, Gary Holmgren
Route: Up Page Mill, down Alpine Road, Pescadero Road to Pescadero, Stage Road to Tunitas Creek Road, up Star Hill Road, down Kings Mountain Road.
Tire/Mechanical Failure: Ray/flat; Jobst/flat; Bob/flat

The Santa Cruz Mountains are home to a good number of wealthy people who like to preserve their privacy on isolated ranches accessible only by private roads.

Some of those people have made their fortune in entertainment. As much as they love their followers, they still like to enjoy some alone time. Star Hill Road crosses one of those entertainer’s property and rest assured, you are not welcome. The last thing they want to see is some grimy bike riders using their roads.

The morning started with the usual fog, but it was warm and humid. By the time we started up Page Mill Road, it was already warm and everyone dripped with sweat. We met a bunch or riders and Jobst engaged them in conversation during the climb.

At Shotgun Bend I went ahead. Jobst said as I departed, and he said it often, “Ritchey is always stronger than the rest of the riders because he doesn’t have to climb this hill to Skyline.”

Ritchey met us at Skyline, having just returned from a Super Tour in Canada. He wasn’t impressed. “There’s nothing but pine trees. You can’t see through them, they’re so thick.” [I had the same experience on my trip to Vancouver Island.]

Jan followed us down Alpine Road at high speed, showing her excellent descending skills. She headed up 84 to finish her ride.

On Haskins Hill Jobst and Ritchey rode hard, although they would never admit to being competitive about it. We stopped at Loma Mar store for food and drink. We enjoyed the descent to Pescadero but as we arrived at the city limits, one of the town’s upstanding citizens took it upon himself to give us a warm welcome: “Get the hell off the road!”

Before hammering up the climbs on Stage Roads, a bit of levity ensued. Fresh with thoughts of “Sexercise,” a term coined by the Runner’s World publisher for a new book, I blurted out, “Sexerride.” Then Peter added, “This is what you call erotic cycling.” And Jobst, just ahead, chimed in, “What, do I have a hole in my shorts?”

Never one to pass up the opportunity to use his alluring peacock call, Jobst bellowed in his most convincing voice to the denizens of Willowside Ranch, “Aaarrrrr! Aaaaarrrr!”

I commented, “Better watch out Jobst, they’re after you now.” To which Jobst replied, “They know who their master is.”

At San Gregorio, Gary turned up Hwy 84, having done one too many rides up Tunitas Creek Road in recent weeks.

We started up Star Hill Road, me with some foreboding because I heard it was hideously steep and rutted. Not true.

Tom Ritchey, Peter Johnson and Jobst Brandt discuss the meaning of life. Note that Jobst was riding a Ritchey bike at this time. Later bikes were made by Peter.

Tom Ritchey, Peter Johnson and Jobst Brandt discuss the meaning of life. Note that Jobst was riding a Ritchey bike at this time. Later bikes were made by Peter.

After the long climb we had a short downhill to a farmhouse, but the only residents appeared to be some lonely peacocks strutting their stuff. We stopped at the beautiful concrete fountain and watched the goldfish swimming around. Jobst began telling some stories of past rides, one of those reflective moments when all seems right with the world.

After Jobst fooled me by pointing to some clay pigeons, we headed off on the steep road, which was paved for a mile.

For unknown reasons everyone started flatting, Bob first. Peter noted, with complete accuracy, “It seems like this road goes forever.” Star Hill Road is a long climb, made the more so coming off Tunitas Creek Road. It’s no shortcut.

The pavement ended and we began the long climb on dirt Star Hill Road past the last gate. [The road has since been paved.] Then Jobst and I noticed we had flatted. Jobst fixed his tire at a drainage trough.

The descent of Kings Mountain Road went without incident, but Peter had one more trick up his sleeve. While riding behind me he clicked his brakes as hard as he could. It sounded just like someone crashing. Then Peter sped by and yelled, “Fooled you!”

[I never took private Star Hill Road again without Jobst present. Not recommended. The story has more interesting twists and turns, but I’ve left out details out of respect for privacy, if that’s even possible in this day and age.]

Star Hill Ranch flat repair. A later ride. The Peter Johnson (Ritchey decal) bike is yellow here.

Star Hill Ranch flat repair. A later ride. The Peter Johnson (Ritchey decal) bike is yellow here.

Making a case for electric bikes in the Tour de France

June 26, 2014

Video footage of Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.

Video footage of Fabian Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders.

With the Tour de France upon us, what better time to have a conversation about allowing electric bikes in the race?

I conjured up a case for having electric bikes in the Tour de France while writing my novel Skidders. I think it would add even more intrigue to an event filled with drama.

You might say “sacrilege.” But let’s look at all the technology permeating the event today. We have bike computers, electronic shift assist, two-way radios and bikes made of space-age materials. We also have performance-enhancing drugs.

On the surface, electric assist would pollute an event that’s entirely decided by a physical challenge. It’s not all physical though. It’s a team sport. Just think about the lack of winners on weak teams and you know it’s true.

We’re all familiar with the suspicion that Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara rode an electric-assist bike in the Tour of Flanders. See the Michele Bufalino video on YouTube. Whether he did or not doesn’t matter. It’s a possibility. The technology exists and it can easily be disguised.

So why not just allow electric assist? There would be ground rules. It would not be allowed within 2 kilometers of the finish line. Battery size would be restricted to so many milliamp hours, although that’s not necessarily the only factor for battery longevity. Only one bike could be equipped with a motor and the battery could not be changed. They would not be allowed in time trials.

Think of the benefits
Consider the benefits. Most importantly, it would make for a more interesting race. Riders would have to decide when was the best time to use the electric assist because the battery will not last over the distances covered by the Tour race. Sprinters might be a factor on the hillier rides.

However, there is a more compelling reason to allow electric bikes in the Tour. It would send a message that electric bikes are hip, cool.

Many riders would say “if it’s good enough for the pros, it’s good enough for me.”

Another benefit we would see is improvements in the technology through increased competition. Companies would vie to have the best, most powerful electric assist.

One of these days we may need other means to get around than gas-guzzling cars. We might run out of oil or it might be incredibly expensive as a scarce commodity.

Electric vehicles, including bikes, might be the best option for getting around.

If more people could experience the ease of riding electric bikes with the latest technology at an affordable price, bike commuting could become more popular than it is now. That’s not saying much, but it’s a start.


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