Old La Honda Road in the days of dirt

January 24, 2020

Old La Honda Road (west) in 1986, less than a mile down, before it was paved.

For those of you who weren’t around, here’s what Old La Honda Road looked like on April 13, 1986, a fine Sunday in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

The road was still unpaved, but it was good dirt, except during wet winters when we had to negotiate mud holes.

During those wet days we typically avoided using the road.

The road was paved sometime in 1987, before December.

Charlie Kempner and Jim Westby worked at Avocet/Palo Alto Bicycles.

Shimano’s Ultegra sh**!@ levers

January 12, 2020

Shimano Ultegra 6700 front shifter fail at cable head.


Once you’ve been riding as long as I have, you too can trace the arc of bike component design evolution. I hope your results turn out better than what I’m seeing.

Inspired by my recent YouTube immersion watching people fix things, I dived into a complete overhaul of my Ritchey Break Away with Shimano Ultegra 6700 components. I figured this will be the last time I embark on such an odious task.

And now for the results. The brake calipers, bottom bracket, front and rear derailleur work flawlessly after 50,000 miles. The chainwheels have seen better days and need replacement. However, I stripped the allen bolts holding the chainwheels together. I could probably fix them, but it’s not worth the trouble.

The open-bearing hubs are working fine, but I find them difficult to adjust. The Mavic Open Pro rims I built are true.

That leaves the shift levers. Here’s where I think the bike industry is doing consumers a disservice. They’re way too complicated, with lots of little bits that break over time.

The front shifter “failed” when I took out the old cable. The tiny part that holds the cable head in place has disintegrated. Realistically, they’re not serviceable, and they cost $400 a set.

I didn’t realize that the Ultegra levers have electronic components (ribbon cable, circuit board) inside them, despite not having electronic shifting in mine.

New Shimano 105 front lever where cable head seats.

A bike manufacturer needs to reintroduce downtube shifters. Not that those are any better when it comes to maintenance. They also have a lot of tiny parts that break or wear out, but cost a lot less.

The new brake levers would keep the ergonomic shape of modern brakes. The Campagnolo Nuovo Record levers were small and not so comfortable, at least in old age.

I decided to buy Shimano 105, levers and crankset. I bought a new BB just because I’ve got everything apart and it doesn’t make sense to keep it when a new one is $24.

Shimano 105 costs half as much as Ultegra and will be fine for my needs.

The frame has no dents or cracks. It will outlive me, for sure.


Follow up: The front shifter has broken bits inside that caused the springs to stop working. That makes sense because I noticed more difficult shifting, but just figured it was old age. I need another lever to see which parts are broken.


A Decade of Bay Area Bike Rides ebook

January 5, 2020

My Bay Area Bike Rides blog is available as a Kindle book on Amazon.

I decided to turn my blog into an Amazon ebook. It’s an homage to the end of what has been a fun ride from 2009-2019.

The ebook is 180,000 words with hundreds of photos, 90 percent of my WordPress.com blog. It’s best viewed on a 2-in-1 Chromebook using the Kindle reader.

I had to keep the photos small to fit the size requirements, the only downside.

Now you can read at your leisure in a place of your choosing, rather than sneaking looks at my blog while at work in the office.

There’s no doubt that this new decade isn’t going to be much like my last, so this is a good time to reset priorities and interests.

I’ll keep my WordPress blog in place for now, but entries will be sparse, if at all.

Ride bike…

Bay Area Bike Rides Deck unveils new routes in the 5th edition

January 1, 2020

New Bay Area Bike Rides Deck will ship in February.

Chronicle Books is taking orders for my new edition of Bay Area Bike Rides Deck. It will ship in late February. Also from Amazon.

What started as a book in 1990, morphed into a card deck in 2008, modeled after a Chronicle Books series dedicated to big-city walking tours.

This 5th edition maps resemble the previous, but now have “3D” terrain. It’s mostly for aesthetics, but required some sophisticated software.

I had always wanted to produce maps showing terrain. I looked long and hard at QGIS open-source map software, but every time I tried using it, I couldn’t figure it out.

I continued looking and finally found something promising. It’s called 3D Map Generator — Terrain, a plug-in for Photoshop developed by a programmer based in Germany. His company is called Orange Box.

Terrain can be created using his software and height maps. I hadn’t heard of height maps, but after looking into it, I found out that the United States Geological Survey (USGS) maintained a website with height map files for California and the Bay Area, and beyond. (The website shut down, but that’s another story.)

I had help with the maps. A Chronicle Books graphic artist worked her magic and showed me how to make them better. She has Illustrator skills way beyond mine. Thanks to her, the maps look the way they do — awesome.

This edition is my coda, the culmination of 40 years of cycling in the Bay Area and just as long working on maps, learning all about Adobe Illustrator and mastering 3D Map making.

I hope you enjoy the maps and the places they take you.

Contents of all five editions are listed. If you click on the route name in the 5th edition, it takes you to Ride With GPS, where you can download the course for use in a bike computer with navigation.

Miracle on Mabury Road

December 26, 2019

Mabury Road has been repaved and restriped. It’s a huge improvement.

As I pedaled on Hedding Street toward the San Jose BART station, I contemplated the letter I would write to the city of San Jose about the wretched condition of Mabury Road.

I crossed over Hwy 101 and turned right onto Mabury, only to see a Christmas gift from the heavens above. I, of little faith, had been taught a lesson. Never give up hope.

Mabury has been repaved and striped with bike lanes. It even has bollards near the yet-to-open BART station.

My last trip here on March 18, 2018, nearly cost me my life as I was sideswiped by a hit-and-run driver at Mabury and King. Not one to tempt fate, I choose not to ride here anymore, except today.

I made it past King without incident and continued on to Alum Rock Park to enjoy, I thought, some solitude. However, the park was open and I’ve never seen more cars than I did today.

The next step in the long and winding road of bike progress here will be the completion of Coyote Creek Trail at Mabury. I expect it will happen in 25 years or so. The plans have been posted for quite some time, and by all appearances it will be a spectacular trail extension, linking Alviso to Morgan Hill.

BART San Jose on Mabury Road waits for the first train, looking like a ghost town. It might open in 2020.

Follow the pipe

December 24, 2019

Remnants of the Schilling Estate litter the landscape.

As we scrambled down the abandoned trail, I regained my confidence when I saw the pipes snaking their way downhill. I knew we were on the right path.

Some 35 years ago I rode down the same unnamed trail off Hwy 84 and Grandview Drive, Jobst Brandt leading the way on another adventure ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Back then the trail hadn’t been rehabilitated by Midpeninsula Regional Open Space. It was just a forgotten road once owned by the August Schilling estate, located at the intersection of Portola Road and Old La Honda Road.

Schilling made his fortune in the late 1800s, first partnering with coffee magnate James Folger. He went on to establish his own spice business. I remember their distinctive red and blue containers.

At the height of his fortune, Schilling sculpted the redwoods around him into a horticultural fairyland. He built roads and bridges and planted an assortment of trees.

On this day in the 1980s all Jobst and I saw was a barely recognizable trail, rusty pipes, a concrete drainage and bridge abutments. Jobst first rode down the trail/road in the mid 1950s, on his motorcycle.

The trail to Schilling Lake from near the base of Old La Honda Road has been modified to its present alignment, in such a way that I knew this was not the original trail.

Once we reached the lake, I wanted to relive those days gone by and follow the old trail. Normally I wouldn’t depart from the marked trail, but this was a unique opportunity to explore.

It’s no wonder the trail was realigned. Many trees have fallen and time has not been kind to what was once a nice dirt road.

This canyon was logged by Dennis Martin in the 1840s, and it was he who created the lake for his sawmill. The creek that runs through the Schilling estate is named after him. Sadly, Dennis Martin lost his bet on the sale of Spanish landholdings and died a lonely, broken man.

That ride down to Old La Honda Road stayed fresh in mind after all these years, and that pipe that occupied the road. Still there.

Schilling Lake. Not much to see.

“Bike Column Memories” brings the 1980s to life

December 17, 2019

Available now on Amazon.

Back in the 1980s I wrote a column for the San Francisco Chronicle (1985-1988). I repackaged the articles and posted them in print and ebook. Available on Amazon.


Kindle ebook

There’s more…I’m packaging this blog into a single ebook, with photos.

And even more soon…but it’s a secret. Stay tuned.

Bike riding on Hedding increases by 23 percent

November 4, 2019

A cyclist rides by during my bike survey on Hedding.

Before cyclists jump with joy and motorists fume, first read the details of my bike survey on W. Hedding Street at Park Avenue in San Jose.

I’m comparing today’s results (November 4, Monday) with those for November 14, 2017, a Tuesday. The weather couldn’t have been better this morning. In 2017 it had rained the previous day, although the streets were dry.

Here are the numbers:

2019 / 2017

Cyclists on Hedding – 37 / 30
Cyclists on Park – 39 / 27

Pedestrians – 52 / 73

The time of day for both counts was 6:45 a.m. – 9 a.m.

I consider a 20 percent increase a modest gain. There are many variables to consider, but the two dates are essentially the same. Today was the start of standard daylight time, so there’s more light in the morning.

I saw several youths pedaling, probably to Herbert Hoover Middle School on Park, or Lincoln High School on Dana Avenue. I’m always amazed to see students riding bikes to class. It used to be common, a century ago.

Car traffic was not nearly as bad as two years ago. I credit this improvement mostly to commuters finding different routes to work. I saw only one instance where a few cars missed the light at Park due to congestion.

Based on my recent observations, there’s a lot more traffic in the evening clogging Hedding.

Nearby Naglee Avenue, not on a road diet, has absorbed some of the change in traffic patterns.

My survey on Pruneridge Avenue near the Apple HQ showed 50 cyclists pedaling to work. There aren’t many large businesses near Hedding at Park.

It’s pretty obvious who is commuting and who is just out for a bike ride, based on how they dress. I saw only one rider who looked like he was out for exercise.

As I’ve said before, the Hedding Street restriping has greatly improved bike safety. One of these days, let’s hope, more cyclists will take advantage of the benefits.

Cycling Dangers in the Night — and the Simple Solution

November 2, 2019

My favorite light, EagleTac D25LC2. Super bright with Li-ion batteries.

San Francisco Chronicle
October 21, 1985
[One of my old columns. Used with permission. While digitizing the columns I came across this one.]

The end of Daylight Savings Time on Sunday is an ominous occasion for bicycle commuters. Your risk of injury while cycling home from work increases ten-fold.

Those peaceful rides on warm fall evenings, catching the last sun’s rays reflecting off the golden hillsides, are replaced with a sinister darkness.

Fall evenings on the eve of Halloween are better suited for sitting home and reading a Stephen King horror novel than braving the inky blackness. Riding bicycle at night is unquestionably hazardous to your health. I went to the trouble of digging up some sobering statistics.

More than 40 percent of all bicycle fatalities occur at this time, even though it only accounts for four percent of total miles cycled.

Now I know why I never like to ride at night without a light. That’s enough incentive to make the most confident bicyclist think about buying a searchlight and mounting it on his handlebars. Of course a searchlight won’t fit, but you can equip your bike with smaller lights to reduce the risks. Wearing reflective clothing, attaching reflectors and using a light are inexpensive and sensible means for being seen at night.

Most bicycles must be sold with a reflector in the front and rear, and reflectors attached to the spokes of both wheels. They’re a good backup in the event of a light failure. No matter what type of lighting system — even a combination of systems — you use, there’s always a chance that some drunk motorist careening down the highway won’t see you. So you have to ride as though you can never be seen. That means ride defensively.

There’s an assortment of lighting hardware available, including reflectors, lights operated by a generator or battery, flashing battery-operated lights and reflectorized clothing, tape or tires.

Reflectors are definitely not the final solution to being seen at night. In tests by Bicycling magazine, author Fred DeLong said his confidence in reflectors was shattered while re-creating an accident. He was surprised how hard it was to see a bicyclist equipped with only reflectors.

DeLong observed that flashing or moving lights on a bicycle or rider were the best attention-getters. Recent tests by “Bicycling” (July ’85) show that some reflectors can now be detected by an approaching car on a clear night as far as 1260 feet away. A car traveling 55 mph usually needs a 550-foot stopping distance.

The magazine’s tests revealed that the lower the reflectors are mounted or worn, the greater the distance at which they are first perceived. I like to wear yellow reflectorized leg bands with Velcro. They are low to the ground and move up and down as you pedal. They’re a good addition to pedal reflectors.

Reflectorized vests and other special clothing will help, although the Bicycling test showed that reflective tape attached to a helmet was invisible until the driver was only 386 feet away. (A new windmill reflector that extends on an arm-like device toward traffic may be a prospect. The device, called The Whizzzz, is made and used in Finland but will be available to U.S. cyclists next spring.)

Generator-operated lighting is popular because there is no need to deal with batteries. The generator is either attached on the rear stay of the frame or on a tube brace near the bottom bracket. But when you stop pedaling, the lights go out.

Some cyclists, who would easily qualify as master electricians, jury-rig elaborate systems with batteries and generators to get around this.

Generator light bulbs burn out quickly; be sure to have spare bulbs handy. You must also check the generator adjustment, which has a tendency to become misaligned and reduce lighting.

One generator light was cleverly made to run off a bicycle hub. The generator is enclosed near the front hub with a light attached near the fork dropout. Unfortunately the hub is hard to get and requires building up a new wheel. [Jobst Brandt’s favorite. Not hard to get now, but requires a new wheel.]

We all know the hassles of battery-operated lights. Batteries don’t last forever. A flashing light or beacon that clips to your bike or clothing is a good way to get motorists’ attention. It costs about $15 and uses batteries.

Personally, I’m never without my battery-operated leg light. It’s easy for motorists to spot when you pedal. Sorry. You’ll need a more powerful light if you want to see the road. Of course night riding can be fun. Did I ever tell you about the time we rode up Mount Tam via the railroad grade under a full moon?

[I didn’t do that ride, but Jobst Brandt and friends did. I rode down Mt. Hamilton under a full moon. Not fun.]

Castle Rock State Park becomes a water stop

October 25, 2019

Castle Rock State Park has a water fountain and flush toilets at the new parking area.

Millions of dollars later, Castle Rock State Park on Skyline Boulevard, two miles southeast of Hwy 9, finally has a nice parking lot, with a water fountain and bathrooms.

Sempervirens Fund raised the money to buy the land, with other construction funds coming from Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks and our California state parks agency.

In addition to water fountains, the parking area (90 spaces) has six flush toilets, an amphitheater, electric vehicle charging station, free WiFi, and a small native plant garden.

Overflow parking is still available along Skyline next to the old entrance. The new entrance has a trail to Castle Rock Falls, one of the most popular trails in the park.

Skyline Trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail) and Service Road Trail are the only legal cycling locations in the park.

Several other roads I’ve ridden ought be open for cycling. Future generations have something to strive for.

It was toasty warm on Thursday, but cool in the shade on the climb up Hwy 9.

With the amount of traffic on Hwy 9 these days, I don’t recommend it for weekend riding, but it’s fine on a weekday.