Safe cycling a matter of political willpower and a change in values

March 23, 2017

A short stretch of Pruneridge Avenue in Santa Clara was restriped from two lanes to one in 2012.

San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold delves into the reasons why more cyclist don’t commute to work in today’s paper. The answer, he says, and as we all know, is that it’s not safe.

Robert Ford, the late mayor of Toronto, summed it up best when he said cyclists are “swimming with sharks.” He said that as downtown Toronto eliminated a bike lane, putting the cyclist even more at risk for being hit by a car.

I’m no longer a cyclist who believes that safe cycling is simply a matter of learning to ride your bike in traffic. I’ve concluded that the only way for there to be safer cycling is to separate bikes from cars. One way to do that is by putting some busy streets on a “road diet.” It’s a term many people disparage, myself included.

A great example of road restriping is Hedding Street in San Jose. It went from two lanes each direction to one lane with a center turn lane and wide bike lanes. I use it all the time and I feel safer here than on, let’s say, Pruneridge Avenue, the extension of Hedding through Santa Clara.

It’s not that Santa Clara doesn’t appreciate the value of this road restriping on Pruneridge. The city has the street listed for restriping in its 2009 bike master plan. However, these days it’s looking more and more like it won’t happen anytime soon.

The reason is pretty simple. It’s not politically popular, considering the hue and cry raised by the January 2012 restriping for a short distance on Pruneridge between Lawrence and Pomeroy. I guess the city decided it would dip its toe in the political water. It got burned. Lots of motorists complained.

I can see why. Lawrence is a huge bottleneck during commute hours. Cars stack up both sides of Pruneridge. I would have started at Hedding and worked my way west for the restriping.

While the complainers were loud and numerous, a study proved them wrong. Kimley-Horn Associates concluded that traffic volumes dipped by less than 5 percent after the restriping. Bicycle counts went way up, weekday usage increasing 350 percent. Admittedly, the numbers are small, but it means fewer cars on the road and that’s the lesson we need to take from the road diet.

Given a chance, restriping encourages more people to ride bikes to work and that means fewer cars on the road. If just 15 percent of all commuters biked to work you’d see a noticeable improvement in traffic.

The reason this matters now is because the new Apple campus is weeks away from opening. More commuters will be using Pruneridge. Wouldn’t you rather see those Apple employees riding bikes?

Mt. Umunhum access down to this: Eminent Domain

March 22, 2017

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.






Roller bike racing rumbles into the Bay Area

March 22, 2017

Way back in December 1987 I was invited to write about a roller bike race in San Francisco for my bike column in the San Francisco Chronicle. Intrigued, I decided to check it out:

It’s part game show, part bike racing and definitely part insanity. I’m talking about roller racing. No not Rollerball, roller racing.

While the 49ers were sending the Bears into hibernation last Monday night, San Francisco bike racing dueled head to head at Pacific Bicycle in San Francisco.
Reaching speeds in excess of 45 mph, they were going nowhere fast while mounted on rollers, a platform of three aluminum free-turning drums on which wheels spin in place. Rollers are popular among bike racers for winter training.

Two competitors faced a big square board with a face like a clock. The clock had a large blue hand and a large red hand. Each hand was connected by cable to the rollers. The cable transmitted each rider’s crank revolutions to the clock hand, so the faster a rider went, the faster the clock hand moved.

The winner was the first rider to make his hand turn twice around the clock. That double revolution indicated the equivalent of about one kilometer of frantic pedaling: the record stands at 47.6 seconds.

So fast and furious was the racing, “spotters” (willing victims…I mean volunteers from the audience) were used to keep contestants from bouncing off the rollers and being launched through the nearest brick wall.

After six races the championship came down to a match between two teammates on the Golden Gate Cycling Club, Jeff Clark and John Suarez. Preliminary race times indicated the contest would be close.

Suarez, 31, a San Francisco architect who races in his spare time, said he got involved in roller racing to get Clark to stay in shape over the winter. “The guy’s lazy you know.”
But Clark looked like the type that can take a lot of pain. The 27-year-old biologist fell off his bike after winning his first heat, gasped for breath and staggered out of the building like he had just swallowed a hot pepper.

Race official Colin Powers started the event with stop watches in hand as both riders began spinning for their lives. Ancient aluminum drums turning on worn bearings rumbled in protest.
Clark took the early lead, his blue clock hand barely ahead of Suarez’s red hand. At one turn of the clock, 500 meters, Clark still had a 25-meter lead. A small crowd, sensing a close race, started cheering wildly over the deafening roar of the rollers.

At 800 meters Clark’s lead shrank to 10 meters. Suarez then gave it everything he had. The red hand crept closer, closer. He nipped Clark’s blue hand at the finish line in a time of 50.75 seconds.
It was great fun. Today some bike shop may hold a similar event. It would be much easier with the electronics available. Back then all they had were rare Italian-made mechanical cables.

Mt. Hamilton Road repair underway

March 18, 2017

Mt. Hamilton Road is closed for repairs about 1.5 miles up from the Grandview Restaurant.

California state highway 130, otherwise known as Mt. Hamilton Road, is closed for repair about 1.5 miles up from the Grandview Restaurant. Estimated completion is six weeks from today.

Quimby Road is the only alternate route and believe me, you don’t want to take it.

A culvert got plugged or gave way and so went half of the road on the steep embankment’s eastern slope.

I can’t tell you if road crews work on Sundays or give any insight as to whether or not you can get through as the days go by. Right now though it’s impossible. There’s someone there at all times during construction assigned to keeping people out.

Mt. Hamilton Road is open up to the slide construction area, so you can still enjoy rides on Crothers and Clayton roads.

Brake hoods stretch with use

March 16, 2017

When the brake hood starts to shift to one side it’s time to replace.

Have you ever found your brake hood loose to one side? While riding?

Time for new ones. My Shimano Ultegra 6700 hoods lasted about 36,000 miles, 6 1/3 years. I’m a heavy user of the hoods since I do a lot of climbing and descending.

My only experience with gum hoods was Campagnolo Nuovo Record from the old days. They cracked with age. Shimano doesn’t crack, but when they’re loose they’re just as worthless as cracked Campagnolo.

It’s an easy fix that will set you back about $12. I just cut off the old ones. You’ll need some muscle to get the new ones on. Use some hand sanitizer for lubrication. Liquid soap, Dawn or the like, also works, but the sanitizer evaporates better.

The primary concern is with the rubber lip in the front. The little bumps inside fit into holes in the handle. There are MANY different styles. Some may overlap for use, but I didn’t want to take a chance so I found the exact match.

Spring weather favors Pescadero

March 13, 2017

Pescadero from Bean Hollow Road overlooking the flood zone.

I decided to check out Pescadero and the area after the recent flooding downtown. Pescadero Creek wraps around the town, so it’s always at risk during wet winters like this one.

Fortunately the damage was minor even with the downtown flooded. Dozens of families visited the town to enjoy a Spring day with plenty of sunshine and gentle breezes.

Having ridden Bean Hollow Road only once, I tried it again to get a better view of Pescadero below. The road, I believe, is part of the old Coast Highway, and it sure looks like an extension of Stage Road as it climbs quickly to a plateau where I found farmland in abundance.

Wildflowers on Haskins Hill.

The view did not disappoint. It’s a great place to see Pescadero.

I headed south on Hwy 1 to Gazos Creek Road. As you might expect, the road has plenty of sags and creek erosion of embankments. This is one of my favorite roads. Too bad it’s always at risk from the creek.

Finally, no ride report on Pescadero Road would be complete without mention of the Loma Mar store. It creeps toward completion. I’m wondering if it will be a private residence and a store, or just a residence?

Loma Mar store creeps toward completion.

Treadmill bike turns heads

March 4, 2017

Last weekend while riding on Foothill Expressway I had to do a double-take. Some guy was riding a treadmill bike. Now I’ve seen everything.

I’ve run across the elliptical bike on Foothill, a contraption that looks like giant grasshopper legs, but the treadmill bike does it one better for being out there.

Apparently there’s a company in Europe that means to sell them. Another version has been around since at least 2009, so it seems. Good luck with that.

The 2009 version below.

Mamnick’s interview from across the pond

March 2, 2017

Mamnick logo, from the Mamnick website.

Mamnick logo, from the Mamnick website.

Recently Thomas Barnett contacted me about an interview, which is live on his website. Having read a lot about Jobst Brandt over the years, he wanted to know more from my perspective.

His company, Mamnick, is located a short ride from one of the most beautiful parts of England, Peak District National Park, Sheffield being the nearest major city. Note that almost all of Mamnick’s bicycle products are made in England, including Reynolds steel frames.

As I mentioned in the interview, I documented rides with Jobst and friends in a personal diary, available now for free on my website.

Another bike shop squeezed out of Silicon Valley

February 25, 2017

Calmar Cycles is closing shop to make way for an apartment complex/retail.

Calmar Cycles is closing shop to make way for an apartment complex/retail.

Bike shops are the poster child for small business, but like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, they’re falling victim to this region’s high cost of living and, to a lesser extent, online buying.

James Lucas, president and owner of Calmar Bicycles located on El Camino Real in Santa Clara, announced the store’s closure in a press release dated Feb. 24. I stopped by the next day to buy some parts and find out more.

“Our landlord sold the building and it will be torn down for a mixed-use 151-unit apartment/retail complex,” Lucas said. Rather than wait around for an uncertain closing date, Lucas said, “I decided it was time to move on and look for something else. Sales have been flat for a while now.”

Ironically, it is the region’s healthy economy and desirability that caused Lucas to close up shop. “It’s too expensive to have a small business here,” Lucas said. In addition to the high cost of retail leases, housing is the most expensive in the country. Lucas said there’s only one way for a small business to make it here. “You have to own your building. And if you’re not in high-tech, it’s hard to make a life here.”

The online buying trend also hurts bike shops, but in a roundabout way. Lucas explained that while bike sales have not gone to online purchases, accessory sales have taken a hit. “That’s a problem because the healthy margins are in accessories, not bikes.” On top of that, the bike industry has been “eating its young,” by forcing bike shops to pay higher prices for accessories. Many shop owners have resorted to buying accessories online themselves rather than going through dealers.

For someone who has a long career ahead of him and one that might no longer involve bicycles, Lucas laments the loss of Calmar Bicycles. He said it was originally called Santa Clara Bicycles in the 1890s. Over the years the shop was called Rick’s Bikes and Desimone’s, a branch of the San Jose business.

He remains upbeat about his future. “I’m keeping all my options open.”

Calmar Cycles is selling all its inventory as it closes down.

Calmar Cycles is selling all its inventory as it closes down.

Cycling in this weather is for crazies

February 21, 2017

San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail at Scott Blvd. I went back to cross at street-level.

San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail at Scott Blvd. I went back to cross at street-level.

There’s no question that this winter’s rain tops the list for causing the most destruction to area roads. At least since I’ve lived here, 1977.

Just about all the main roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains have been damaged, some severely. Reservoirs are overflowing. Coyote Creek is a disaster. It’s hard to imagine the toll it’s taking on local residents. The creek is treated like an open sewer, which is why anyone exposed to the floodwater needs to wash down.

I was going stir-crazy, so I headed out despite the threat of rain, which did not disappoint. I checked out Saratoga Creek where it dumps into San Tomas Aquino Creek. It’s obvious Saratoga Creek has a lot more runoff than San Tomas.

I got as far as Scott Boulevard on the trail. It was flooded, but fortunately the road can be crossed at street-level. Old Mountain View-Alviso Road, also flooded.

Hwy 237 underpass, flooded. I watched as a rider decided he had to keep going, so he dismounted and walked his bike along the embankment. I had enough for the day.

Saratoga Creek at San Tomas Aquino. A lot of water.

Saratoga Creek at San Tomas Aquino. A lot of water.