San Tomas Aquino trail link a bright idea

October 21, 2017

Looking north, new ramp off San Tomas Aquino Creek trail makes for easy access to nearby stores.


A new office building/parking garage bordering San Tomas Aquino recreation trail near Hwy 101 was designed with the handicapped, pedestrians and cyclists in mind. Bravo.

The ramp and short staircase connects the trail to Augustine Drive in Santa Clara.

So what? It’s a way for someone wanting to avoid taking busy city streets to access the Whole Foods Market, the new AMD buildings, new apartments and other stores at Scott Boulevard and Bowers Avenue.

That’s a big deal in the scheme of things. It must have cost at least $25,000, but money well spent.

Bear Fire brings back memories of an epic ride

October 20, 2017

I head down upper Favre Ridge in fall 1994. Jeff Vance photo.


Back in 1994, almost 23 years to the day, I went on a ride that can only be described as “epic,” covering new roads, where the Bear Fire is located, and exploring a train tunnel from the previous century in a remote forest.

Fire fighters say the Bear Fire terrain is steep and remote. That’s an understatement. Having studied a topo map (no Internet back then), I suggested to Jeff Vance that we try riding down through Las Cumbres, a secluded housing development off Skyline Boulevard south of Castle Rock State Park.

We rode down a steep paved road and then got onto a dirt road (Favre Ridge) that was unsigned and didn’t look like it had been used in eons. At that point we were just letting gravity guide us. I figured as long as we kept riding south we’d wind up on Bear Creek Road eventually.

Jeff Vance follows on upper Favre Ridge.

The road was steep at first but then gradually got less so as we descended into the bowels of Santa Cruz Mountains, swallowed up by redwoods, oaks, manzanita and dense brush. At the time there were few houses and they were concealed up long driveways.

Eventually we wound up on Bear Creek Canyon Road, near where the Bear Fire originated, and from there climbed through the dust to Bear Creek Road.

But the fun had just begun. We continued over to Hwy 9 and rode up Zayante Road where we would search for the long lost Mountain Charlie tunnel, built for the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1878-79. It’s not a long tunnel, but a strategic one as it dropped trains into the Zayante Creek drainage where they linked up with the Felton-Santa Cruz line.

I knew the general location of the tunnel, but finding it was no easy task. We got onto the railroad right of way that followed the creek, but it was covered with fallen trees and poison oak. We picked our way through for a mile before finding a rideable right of way deep in the redwoods.

From there the ride went smoothly (following a gentle grade) and before long we were staring at the tunnel entrance, lined with concrete and the year “1909” pressed into the arch. The tunnel was reinforced after the 1906 quake by Southern Pacific Railroad.

South Pacific right of way near Mtn. Charlie tunnel, in remarkably good shape.


We clambered into the tunnel as far as we could go and peered into a black abyss. The tunnel, and others, were blasted shut in 1942 for safety reasons after the railroad was decommissioned. A cave-in made any exploring out of the question.

Not wanting to backtrack, we followed a road uphill that eventually took us to Mountain Charlie Road. We had to ride right by several houses, but it was our lucky day.

We continued back home via Mountain Charlie Road.

Jeff checks out the tunnel entrance.


Looking back, the Las Cumbres route never became a regular ride for various reasons, mainly because it didn’t go anywhere interesting, the view was unremarkable after the first mile and it was not a “friendly” area.

The Mountain Charlie tunnel, I have read, had yet another cave-in and there is a huge slide over the right of way that makes access even more difficult than it was. With age catching up to me, it’s just as well.

The history of the South Pacific Coast Railroad tunnels has inspired me to write my second full-length novel, a continuation of my first, China Grade. The main character, after working on the transcontinental railroad, is hired to help build the Summit Tunnel (#2). The novel is called Wrights. Available in 2018 on Amazon.com.

Chestnuts worth the ride to Skyline

October 19, 2017

Chestnuts ready for the ride home. Chestnut knife shown at inset.


Although the Bear Fire is not yet out, I didn’t notice any smoke this morning, so I headed up Hwy 9 to Skyline to fetch some chestnuts.

Aside from all the garbage accumulating on the roadside, I didn’t notice anything out of place. In fact, for the first time in months, there isn’t any road work, at least not work with stoplights to control traffic.

At Skyline all I saw was a sign saying the road is closed four miles to the south. Is that due to the road repair from last winter’s slide? I figure that’s it and not the Bear Fire, although I wouldn’t recommend going that way until it’s officially extinguished.

Skyline Chestnuts is four miles north just off Skyline Boulevard, on Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District land. Follow the sign.

I had already visited last Saturday, the official opening, and noticed the trees were yet to be dropping all of their giant, prickly seed pods. Today was a different story. Peak season is upon the orchard.

I purchased three pounds along with a knife used for scoring the chestnut. What a fantastic tool! It’s a must have for anyone who likes chestnuts.

Of course, no ride to Skyline is complete without a descent on Page Mill Road. I flew down, although not nearly as fast as Jobst Brandt used to do it when he was in his prime. There was no keeping up with him.

After trying toaster oven, boiling, and steaming, we prefer steamed chestnuts. They get softer that way. The ones from Skyline are super sweet, better than the Asian variety and equal to the European, of which some of these trees are of the lineage, in addition to the North American native.

As for the Bear Fire, I once rode down from Skyline starting at Las Cumbres right into the present location of the burn. That was back in 1994. More on that ride next.

San Jose completes Hedding Street transformation

October 17, 2017

West Hedding after restriping. Bike lanes for all.


There are now bike lanes the entire length of Hedding Street in San Jose, East and West. That’s good news for the handful of cyclists that use the road, not so good for motorists. At least that’s the sentiment on the Next Door website, Santa Clara neighborhood.

On my ride today, I noticed a few more stripes need to be added between Coleman Avenue and Winchester Boulevard, but that’s about it. Hedding has been squeezed down to one lane each direction, with a center turn lane.

Santa Clara resident motorists can breathe easy. There is no plan to do the same to Pruneridge Avenue, which links up with Hedding at Winchester. Santa Clara’s road diet effort on Pruneridge between Pomeroy and Tantau was not well received, although I’m not aware of any plans to return that stretch to two lanes each direction.

I rode Hedding both directions on my way to the always enjoyable Alum Rock Park. I saw a total of five bikes on Hedding, although it was between 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. when there is little traffic to speak of — cars and bikes.

The spirited discussion on Next Door leaned heavily toward the motorist’s viewpoint, which makes sense. Most people drive cars, not ride bikes. I can appreciate where they’re coming from. They perceive the change as anti-car, reducing lanes and increasing congestion.

The same reaction happened on East Hedding when the road diet went into effect several years ago. That debate boiled over on the pages of the San Mercury News, Roadshow column. Over time people quit complaining and moved on, finding a different route to work or putting up with the hassle. The problem with finding a different route these days is that ALL roads are congested at rush hour, including side streets.

Riding on Hedding you get a look at life in Silicon Valley, up close and personal. The good and the bad. I rode past houses bordering the Rose Garden, an enclave of wealth and privilege where multi-million dollar homes are the rule. As I continued east, the scenery changed from tree-lined streets and stately homes to industrial and lower/middle class housing. A homeless man talked to himself as he sat on the sidewalk outside the Santa Clara County Clerk Recorder’s Office.

Farther along, a deranged elderly man struggled in his wheelchair against the efforts of his homeless friends trying to help him.

I wondered what kind of clientele would frequent a newly furbished hotel at the corner of Hedding and 13th Street. I wish them well.

Hardscrabble would be the operative word in this neighborhood, where people scrape out a living making minimum wage. The depths of despair came into view as I turned the corner onto Mabury Road, the detritus of a homeless encampment scattered about. The fence has been repaired, but for how long?

I continued through more industrial hodgepodge, riding next to the busy Hwy 101, and then turned left, crossing over the now placid Coyote Creek. The new Berryessa BART station stands empty, ready to open next year, many hope. I wonder what traffic will be like when it opens, when Apple HQ opens, when more and more new businesses near Hedding kick into gear?

Finally, I entered a place of refuge in the Valley — Alum Rock Park. As I stopped for water I noticed a sign plastered on the wall. Due to budget cutbacks, San Jose has to reduce maintenance. At least they’re not closing the park.

I rode on and passed the concrete abutments of a past achievement in public transportation — an efficient, practical light rail that was the pride of Santa Clara Valley in the late 1800s. Of course, it was ripped out along with all the other light rail when Detroit took over.

Looking back on the ride, two areas of improvement hit home: the 880 underpass and the railroad overpass near Coleman. I never enjoyed riding there as traffic zoomed by at 45 mph or more. The bike lanes did wonders.

I don’t know what will become of our car-centric world, but there’s no doubt in my mind it’s unsustainable. I’m not saying bikes are the answer. I’m not sure there is an answer. Maybe the autonomous car will be our savior, but I’m not betting on it.

In the meantime, just like the patrons of our public golf courses, I’ll be one of the few making the most of the bike lanes while they’re still here.

Traffic in a Manila suburb. And we’re complaining?

Jobst Brandt Tour de Alps 2018 Calendar available now

September 4, 2017

A 2018 calendar with images of Jobst Brandt’s rides through the Alps is available now.

UPDATE: We have decided to donate 100% of 2018 calendar profits to Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST). Jobst Brandt donated generously to POST and other conservancies during his lifetime. (To date, 11/13: $106)

For anyone who knew of Jobst Brandt and his epic rides through the Alps, you won’t want to miss this 2018 calendar (including January 2019).

It has 18 photos taken between 1960 and the late 1990s, some never before published. Others were turned into posters for sale in the Palo Alto Bicycles catalog during the 1970s-80s.

All photos come from the Jobst Brandt photo collection, but obviously images of him were snapped by his ride partner at the time.

The 28-page calendar (8.5 x 11) is printed on demand. Important U.S. holidays are dated.

Because the calendar is sent by mail, you’ll need to give a shipping address and provide payment details to Magcloud. Cost is $7.60 (shipping not included, but runs about $5).

Proceeds will help defray the considerable expense of scanning Brandt’s thousands of slides. Thanks to Richard Mlynarik for scanning the transparencies.

A preview is available on the Magcloud website.

Viva CalleSJ on Sept. 17 returns streets to the people

August 29, 2017

Shiloh Ballard, SCVBC executive director, recognizes Ed Solis for Viva CalleSJ success.


I can imagine the reaction from the police when San Jose parks and recreation superintendent Ed Solis submitted a request to shut down six miles of streets in San Jose for a recreational event in 2015.

Most other public agencies also balked, but Solis persevered. He saw first-hand the success of a similar “Open Streets Project” held in Guadalajara, as well as San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Solis built a coalition of the willing, including the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SCVBC). Solis was recognized by the SCVBC for the San Jose event at its annual bike summit held in August.

Viva CalleSJ, as it’s called, now in its third year, expects more than 100,000 participants to join in the fun on streets between Japantown and Lake Cunningham Park.

Solis said that in addition to allowing people to get out and exercise safely, this is a social experiment in bringing residents together from all walks of life. Looking at the photos of smiling faces cycling, walking, skateboarding, and more, I’d say the results make it worth the effort and occasional inconvenience.

Viva CalleSJ will be held on Sunday, Sept. 17, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Caltrain proposal for bikes on electric trains

August 16, 2017

Bike stacking proposals for the new Caltrain cars. Which do you prefer? Vote now.


Caltrain is soliciting your comments on how bikes should be stacked on its new cars, which will be part of the electrification plan.

I prefer the traditional stacking method. Over the years I’ve never had an issue.

Most cyclists tag their bikes, which says where they’re off-boarding, so it’s easy enough to find the right place to place your bike.

The disadvantage of the alternate single-bike stack is that it reduces the number of bikes that can be carried.

I anticipate we will have an increasing number of riders on Caltrain in the coming years, and I’d like to see as many people as possible riding bikes.

Here’s a link to where you can vote.

The presentation was made during the Silicon Valley Bike Summit, held Aug. 8 in Mountain View on the Microsoft campus.

Cycling to Foothill College? Here’s the expected route

August 3, 2017

El Monte Road path under I280. Cyclists are expected to use this path, or didn’t you know that?


I’ve been riding on El Monte Road into Los Altos Hills since 1980 and in that time I have not seen one finger lifted to make it safer for cycling. Or so I thought.

You see, I always assumed the improvement would come with bike lane striping as the road heads through the classic cloverleaf intersection at Interstate 280.

There’s a lot of traffic on a weekday at hours when a student cyclist attending class would be expected to ride here. However, I NEVER see cyclists riding on El Monte Road at these times.

For good reason. Drivers blast through this intersection, always in a hurry to get onto the freeway for a meeting, to which they’re already late.

After seeing some cyclists stop at a crosswalk prior to the freeway, walk across, and then ride under the freeway on a paved path, it occurred to me this is what the state of California and Los Altos Hills expect us to do.

So I tried it out, several times. I can’t say it’s terrible, just bad. For starters, I would never use the crosswalk to get to the path. That’s silly. I’m a cyclist, not a pedestrian. Check the video below to see how I handled it.

I’m not going to completely dismiss the intended route, because it does work after a fashion, but anyone new to the area riding west on El Monte would have no clue that the path existed, nor would they have any idea where it went even if they got on it for the first time.

The issue I have with the route is that anyone riding on the path has to be especially alert at the left turn for Stonebrook Drive and access to the path from El Monte calls for a complete stop before crossing, assuming you can’t see what’s coming.

I’m not crazy about this stretch of El Monte, even with the path, which is why I always take Stonebrook Drive through Los Altos Hills over to Magdalena Avenue. I think the I280 – Magdalena intersection is far safer.

Of course, that route does nothing for a student trying to get to class, but then nobody rides a bike to Foothill College, and I can hardly blame them, considering how the death-defying El Monte Road freeway interchange stands in the way.

Shoulder widening a welcome addition on Watsonville Road

July 30, 2017

Widening on Watsonville Road is a welcome improvement.


I’ve never been a fan of riding on busy county roads like Watsonville Road between Morgan Hill and Hwy 152, and it looks like Santa Clara County road planners know why.

It’s narrow with no shoulders and traffic moves at the speed limit — 45 mph — which translates to 55 mph in the real world.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I saw a two-foot wide shoulder addition to each side of Watsonville Road. It’s mostly between Uvas Road and Sycamore Drive, popular routes for weekend cycling.

I’m not sure if Uvas Road got the same treatment, but from what I can find online, it’s a countywide effort. I also noticed some widening on one side of McKean Road near Oak Glen Ave.

Autonomous vehicles will one day make all this street widening unnecessary — we’ll need much better road striping — but for now it’s a welcome change. At this rate though it will be decades before all the roads are widened so, as I said, it won’t be needed as we slowly adopt autonomous vehicles that will forever make cycling safe on our busy roads.

I don’t think this is pie-in-the-sky thinking. For sure, it’s going to be much more difficult than making all commercial airlines autonomous, but it’s doable as long as people go along with the plan.

My fear is that, just like gun owners, there will be a large segment of the population that believes their personal freedoms are being robbed and they’ll swear, “over my dead body I’ll give up driving.”

I’m optimistic that this sentiment will not play out to any meaningful degree. Once people see the advantages of driving without fear on roads with smoothly flowing traffic and the ability to sit back and snooze, they’ll be on board in a heartbeat. I hope I live to see the day.

Everything is “under construction” these days

July 22, 2017

Panoramic view of Dumbarton Bridge. Will the railroad bridge ever be used?


I figured I’d ride over to Dumbarton Bridge this morning, taking my familiar route along the Sunnyvale-Mountain View-Palo Alto baylands — but things didn’t turn out that way.

Everything in the Bay Area, as we all know, is “under construction.” I’m seeing buildings being torn down and new ones go up at a dizzying pace, reshaping what used to be known as Silicon Valley. The Valley is no longer about silicon, but social media, search engines, virtual reality and iPhones.

The San Francisquito Creek Trail, starting at the Baylands Athletic Center in Palo Alto, is closed until January for flood control improvements.

I had to take one of the least desirable streets in Palo Alto, E. Bayshore Road, then north on Pulgas Avenue back to familiar territory.

After taking some pics of the Dumbarton Bridge, I decided to make my way back on the north side of Hwy 84, not quite sure what it offered in the way of a side road. There’s a dirt road for a ways, but you’ll need to get back on Hwy 84, which has a wide shoulder.

In a short distance you can turn right at the light onto a path that dumps into the Facebook parking lot. I wound my way through here and decided to check out the famous sign at the main entrance.

Sure enough, a steady stream of Facebook users had the same idea, so I waited for my time to snap a photo. That sign is nothing more than the old Sun Microsystems sign with some panels slapped over it.

Facebook. It’s a love-hate relationship for many people.

As I headed back to Menlo Park and Palo Alto, it was hard to believe that start-up Facebook occupied the old Avocet headquarters on University Avenue once upon a time. Not the building owned by Palo Alto Bicycles, but the one right across the street. It’s a small world.

At least one thing hasn’t changed — the charm of riding through tree-lined streets in Menlo Park and Palo Alto. It brought back memories. Sigh.

I took the always popular Bryant Street — Ellen Fletcher’s legacy — we call Bike Boulevard and headed home through the remnants of Silicon Valley on Central Expressway.