Santa Cruz County still digging out from winter storms

May 21, 2017

Schulties Road is closed to cars.

Tucked away in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the “town” of Laurel isn’t a destination, rather it is a memory of what used to be, the living quarters for workers at a thriving sawmill and a train stop for the South Pacific Coast Railroad.

I like to ride by here once a year to check out the tunnel entrance and enjoy quiet solitude in the redwoods, but today’s ride hearkened back to Jobst Rides of old — those adventures following the brutal winter of 1982-83, memorialized in Once Upon a Ride.

As I rocketed down the bumpy Redwood Lodge Road I noticed a sign just off San Jose-Soquel Road that said the road was closed. And someone wrote in pen, “They’re not kidding.”

They weren’t, but I knew that no road closure was too great to overcome on a bike. I expected to see a barricade around every corner but I kept descending into the bowels of the redwoods, bottoming out at Burns Creek. It was here that I saw the last barricade warning of road closure ahead. I had just passed another slide that was fixed and in 1982-83 there was yet another slide on the steep descent to Burns Creek.

Not more than a tenth of a mile later I saw the closure, a big blob of mud occupied the road. Since it has been there for weeks, the local residents who live just up the hill installed wooden stairs, which made the clambering so much easier. First, I eased the bike down a steep slope onto the old road.

Once past that slide I saw another warning on Schulties Road. I wasn’t a bit surprised as this remote track lost its pavement decades ago and is little used except by a handful of local residents. I continued on and at the last house saw the first slide. It’s a doozey with a steep drop-off into the gulch that feeds Burns Creek and close to another tunnel entrance crossing the creek.

I carefully walked over the downed wires and across the log bridge (no riding here) and then onward, wondering what other road closures lay ahead.

In less than a mile I came to another blob, this one so big that there was no way around. I had to go over. I gingerly put my foot down and in it sank, but not enough to swallow my shoe. I managed to walk through the slide and on the other side cursed my brakes with their narrow clearance. Mud caked what little space there is between pad and rim.

If not for those two obstacles, Schulties is in fine shape, dry and always pleasant without traffic in the dense redwoods. From what I could tell, Santa Cruz County will fix the road, in due time.

This Schulties slide is still sticky mud. Expect to get muddy.

Road work continues in Santa Cruz Mountains

May 6, 2017

Slide at Hwy 9 and Redwood Gulch Road needs a retaining wall.

While Caltrans ponders what to do about fixing Skyline Boulevard, Hwy 9 road work goes on and on. Eventually, Saratoga to Skyline will be one big retaining wall, if this keeps up.

Starting Thursday, May 11, Hwy 9 will be closed to traffic (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.) both directions at Redwood Gulch Road.

I rode up Hwy 9 today and the stop light is still in place above Redwood Gulch, another location where a retaining wall is being built.

A retaining wall will no doubt be needed at the large slide (now a barren hillside) at Redwood Gulch Road.

However, Hwy 236 held up well, with only one sag near upper China Grade.

North Escape Road into Big Basin Redwoods State Park also survived, with only a road collapse (no dismount) at the bridge crossing Opal Creek. A couple of trees also toppled across the road, but they fell at such an angle that no dismount is necessary.

As for Gazos Creek Road, the ranger I spoke with could only say that crews had been out working on the “muddy” road. I suspect it’s rideable, but muddy in spots.

On my way up Bear Creek Road I rode past one stop-light repair less than a quarter mile from Hwy 9 and passed two eroded places with stop signs near David Bruce winery. Farther up on Bear Creek Road, past Summit Road, I noticed two slides have been fixed.

That’s what you get when Big Basin sees 92 inches of rain in a short time span.

Hwy 9 stop light several miles from summit. Expect up to a 5-minute wait.

Siren wail of New Idria calls for a change

April 23, 2017

Midway in the climb to New Idria. Car-free riding.

Without question one of the best rides I’ve taken includes a visit to the historic mining town of New Idria in the wilds of San Benito County.

It offered everything an adventure rider could ask for — long stretches of dirt, a climb to 4,500 feet, fording a river, visiting an old mining town, and no cars.

The down side is that the one-day ride took a long time. Over the years I’ve slowed, to the point that we were finishing the ride in the dark. Not that I didn’t like riding in the dark with a powerful light. It was just too much.

I decided enough is enough and thought of another ride — out and back to New Idria starting in Paicines, altitude 680 feet. It’s 104 miles — plenty of miles for an aging crank — there isn’t any traffic, the countryside is beautiful and I could still see New Idria.

I headed out at 7:20 a.m. on Saturday under clear skies, temperature 48 degrees. As luck would have it I saw two riders with whom I rode the loop route, just getting started on their ride. They figured we’d meet up later, but I figured we wouldn’t. My New Idria ride is far easier now, much easier than even I imagined.

Welcome to New Idria, population 0.

Weather couldn’t have been better as I headed into the hills on a gradual climb that would take me to the 2,200-foot pass at Summit Ranch, according to the road sign. I didn’t see a reading of more than a brief 9 percent grade on my GPS. I also didn’t notice any wind.

By the time I reached the only store 27 miles into my ride — Panoche Inn — it would be a 20-minute wait before it opened at 10 a.m. I searched for water, but found none. I had to decide — wait or carry on? I figured I could beg for water from target shooters who frequent Griswold Canyon 10 miles ahead. I also wanted to check out a small campground at the canyon entrance.

I continued, still not experiencing the usual winds that blow through Panoche Valley. I noticed the grass is already brown and I didn’t see any evidence that the winter had been wet here. I did cross a small stream higher up on Panoche Pass, something I had never experienced before.

I found the campground, but it’s nothing more than a pit toilet and some signage. Fortunately there were shooters but I decided I could wait until the return ride. It wasn’t all that hot, about 65 degrees.

Steady climbing took me to 1,700 feet, where I found the view more appealing — green grass and cows by the hundreds enjoying their morning munch. The patch-quilt road had new patches of black tar to fill in the worst potholes. Potholes and patches made riding a challenge as I bumped along and favored the smooth dirt shoulder.

At the adobe house the climbing starts getting serious. I noticed a rock collecting camp, Benitoite, on my right and made a note to stop there to look for water upon my return.

Adobe house, where the serious climbing begins.

The last quarter-mile to 2,648 feet altitude offers strong riders a chance to test their resolve on loose dirt with grades of 20 percent. I have long since lost any need to prove my mettle.

At the mine I watched a drone take flight and no doubt I can check YouTube for the footage. The old mine now has a chain-link fence around it and almost all of the other buildings have been torn down. As a Super Fund site, I can imagine that the area will continue to change, unless the EPA is de-funded in the years ahead.

I turned around at 12:12 p.m., plenty early compared to years past. At the mining camp I didn’t see anyone, so I walked around looking for water, finding a large plastic jug next to a hose attached to a spigot. After a pour I confirmed it was water, a bit turbid, but probably drinkable. I figured the worst that could happen would be a dose of mercury, equivalent to eating fish from the bay [I waited a week to be sure. The water did not make me sick].

The ride back included a brief tailwind and more bumpy road. I didn’t see any Super Bloom, just tall grass with a mingling of wildflowers.

Back at Panoche Inn I stopped and purchased some refreshingly cold Gatorade from the new owner Sam, Larry and wife having retired late last year. They served up huge ice cream cones for $1 and had $1 bills plastered on the ceiling.

After 15 minutes I headed off into a headwind at 2:20 p.m., but nothing too bad. It helped cool things down as temps had climbed into the mid to upper 70s. The climb didn’t seem nearly as bad as years past, mainly because the afternoon was still young and I hadn’t ridden loose dirt to 4,500 feet.

Fortunately things cooled down a bit as cloud cover moved in. The journey ended at 4:39 p.m. with 104.5 miles on the GPS. It was a relatively easy ride with only 5,400 feet of climbing (compared to 7,750 for the loop ride), better suited to my riding interest these days.

What’s left of the mining community, which thrived from 1857-1972.

Wildflowers reaching their glorious best

April 15, 2017

Redwood Retreat Road has its share of wildflowers this time of year.

Judging from what I saw today, next weekend or two will be the peak of the wildflower season in the Bay Area. I saw plenty of clover on Redwood Retreat Road.

The downside with much of the area close to San Jose is there’s a lot of wild grass covering the flowers, especially after a wet winter.

That’s why the backside of Mt. Hamilton is worth the ride. There isn’t nearly as much grass, so the wildflowers have the ground to themselves.

Skyline Boulevard washout brings out the gawkers

April 9, 2017

Skyline Boulevard is closed a mile southeast of Castle Rock State Park. It’s going to be a while before it’s fixed.

Sorry, but I counted myself among the many gawkers who wanted to see the Skyline Boulevard washout at 16169 Skyline on Sunday.

I arrived as a drone pilot was launching his buzzing video camera into the sky. Needless to say, I was not welcome, nor is anyone else except, it would seem, drone pilots.

A semi-official construction person wearing a hard hat told me I had to leave but he let me take a photo and generally was nice enough about letting me have a look, but I can understand his concern. One guy on a motorcycle wanted to ride through, I was told. Looks like enforcement will be ratcheted up.

I was planning to continue riding southeast, but my itinerary was out the window. I could have taken the Skyline Trail, which parallels the road, but it was so wet and goopy, I decided against it. The washout probably didn’t bother the trail.

Instead, the direction of the slide was toward the Deer Creek drainage to the south. The trail is on the opposite side of the slide.

As a Sheriff arrived at the east side of the slide, I turned around, and saw a Sheriff driving up from the west as well.

Highway 9 has so many sags that it will be a while before they’re all fixed. There’s one signal-light work area. The Santa Cruz Mountains still feels like a place under siege by the weather gods.

Beauty shot from Skyline. Clear skies after recent rain and downright cold in the morning.

Refurbished Avocet GelFlex ready to roll

April 6, 2017

My ancient Avocet GelFlex saddle has been reconditioned, ready to go another 36,000 miles.

UPDATE (April 23, 2017): The saddle started creaking again. I decided to thoroughly clean the rail clamps and seatpost base, then grease. After doing that the saddle is completely silent after 30 miles. All that time fussing over the saddle!!!! I’ll see if it holds up. After 6 years of use, the gunk in the placement grooves might be the culprit. I never had this issue with my Campagnolo Super Record seatpost. I guess every post is different.

Today I saw an Avocet GelFlex saddle NOS for sale on eBay for $140. Fortunately, I have one left, newly reconditioned.

My second attempt at replacing the saddle cover with marine vinyl (those nylon covers didn’t last long) using a process described on the Instructables website, went easier than last time, but it still lacks polish.

I guess I lack the patience to make it look perfect. I’m happy with good enough.

This time the staples went in better, now that I have an electric staple gun and used shorter 1/4-inch (6 mm) staples.

I wasn’t as happy with the Loctite spray glue compared to 3M. I recommend the 3M brand described in Instructables. The Loctite glue sprayed out like that stuff used to make fake spider webs during Halloween.

This is my second successful attempt at adding epoxy to quiet that annoying front saddle creak. It’s like I’m riding a new saddle.

Last word on creaking saddles

April 3, 2017

Add epoxy here to stop saddle creak.

I’ve been battling the creaking saddle demons for several years and after lots of experimentation and research I found the cause and the solution.

I’m riding saddles made in the 1980s-90s so right there I’m already in trouble. All bike parts wear out, including saddles and I’ll explain why.

Saddle rails are springs, constantly moving up and down in their support structures within the saddle. Over time, which varies with the saddle model and manufacturing variables, the saddle will start to creak. Most cyclists don’t ride their saddles into the ground like me, so few riders experience saddle creak woes.

Of course, before trying to fix your saddle creak, you need to be sure it’s the saddle that’s at fault. Be sure the seatpost is well greased because it can cause creaks in the saddle area. Some people say to oil or grease the rails at the clamps, but those locations are not meant to move, so lubrication is not recommended, beyond a very light dab of oil to prevent rust.

When I first experienced saddle creak, I did what most experts recommend and added oil, all kinds of oil, but nothing worked. In fact, it sometimes made things worse. The bottom line is, if it’s not supposed to move, don’t add oil. Those seat rails are not meant to move.

[Seatposts are not meant to move and they absolutely need grease. So I imagine giving the rails a thorough cleaning and oiling would keep them from squeaking. Lack of access makes this impossible. Everything I’ve tried in terms of lubrication hasn’t worked.]

My next line of attack was to drill a hole and drizzle in Super Glue. That worked, for a while.

Then I tried a screw that rested up against the bend in the rail at the nose of the saddle. That worked, for a while.

I’ve never had an issue with the rails in the rear of the saddle, only the nose. I think that’s where the most stress occurs. Over time and constant movement, the rail loosens up inside the nylon mold. You can’t notice the movement, but it’s there. I disassembled a saddle to check the rail. It’s a single piece of wrapped steel alloy. I thought it might be welded there and the weld failed.

Finally, I decided to try epoxy. I carefully cleaned the saddle nose by dipping it in concentrated Simple Green, rinsed, and then sanded the nylon around the rails for the best possible adhesion.

I used JB Weld quick-setting epoxy. It couldn’t be easier to apply. Just squeeze out the two mixtures, stir together with the enclosed wooden stick and drizzle it into the saddle between the rails. Every saddle is different, but this one for a Bianchi (Viscount saddle) had a wide opening ideal for adding epoxy. Your results may vary with different saddles based on how they are built. Some saddles have small or no openings to speak of, so adding epoxy may not work well. You might have to drill a hole.

Now my saddle is completely quiet. I don’t know how long it will last, but if it’s not at least a year, it’s time for one of those new saddles that looks like it was made by space aliens.

Mtn. Charlie Road survives the winter, barely

April 2, 2017

Some fields are still flooded on Cloverdale Road.

I figured Saturday would be as good a day as any for a spring ride along the coast to Santa Cruz, with all the wind we’ve been having.

I wasn’t as lucky as I’ve been in some years, but the tailwind was enough to make the ride as enjoyable as possible on a day drenched in sunshine and temperatures in the high 60s.

One year I averaged 20 mph all the way to Santa Cruz, pushed by a strong tailwind. Those days are behind me as I grind out the miles in my usual survival mode.

On Cloverdale Road I saw evidence of the heavy winter’s rain and understood why strawberries from Watsonville will be in short supply. Some fields are flooded, although the Swanson pick-your-own strawberry patch looks to be in good shape. A tractor tilled the soil next to one of the large plots planted with strawberries.

I blasted through Santa Cruz on the always busy Hwy 1 and then made my way to the San Lorenzo River path and bridge where the homeless congregate in large numbers.

On the way up El Rancho Drive the stop sign and slide has finally been fixed and local residents have the good fortune of not having other slides to deal with.

As I made my way up Glenwood Highway I saw plenty of warnings that there’s no access to Hwy 17, but I was headed up Mountain Charlie Road, which I heard was open.

Sure enough Mt. Charlie was open, although the “road closed” signs are still there. The road is looking more and more like the goat path it was in the 1980s, pavement crumbling everywhere.

I came across a slide that had been repaired (closing the road) about halfway up. Near the summit I saw another big culvert blowout that took out half the road and will surely need fixing.

Old Santa Cruz Hwy survived the winter in good shape, as did Los Gatos Creek Trail. There’s still a lot of roadwork to be done in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Skyline Boulevard southeast of Castle Rock State Park, and Zayante Road are closed.

Making a case for an ancient side-pull brake

March 31, 2017

Aging Campagnolo rear brake caliper finds new life on my road bike, solving several problems.

I’ve always been a fan of Campagnolo Nuovo/Super Record brakes because they were built to last and looked nice.

But with age comes weaker hands and I have difficulty squeezing the front brakes hard enough to stop quickly. It’s an issue with those old Campagnolo brakes because they had a 1-1 cable pull ratio.

I can’t begin to explain how brakes work, but suffice it to say they use cables and fulcrums to create mechanical advantage. The bottom line is that the higher the mechanical advantage, the easier it is to exert force. Today’s brakes mostly use a 3:1 mechanical advantage.

But it comes at a cost. As Jobst Brandt so often pointed out in the biketech forum, Campagnolo brakes of yore had the advantage of working even with a wobbly wheel, say after breaking a spoke. As brake pads wore, you didn’t have to adjust your brakes so often. Finally, Campagnolo brakes could accommodate fat tires with ease due to a quick-release that opened the brake calipers plenty wide.

All that said, I decided to try Campagnolo brakes on my modern brake levers. The result was not good. I found the front brake hard to use. I had to pull especially hard to stop. The Campagnolo brake arms work better with their original levers, but they’re still harder to use than Shimano Ultegra or other modern brakes.

After giving it some thought, I tried using the Campagnolo brake caliper in the rear only. That worked well. It’s still not quite as easy to use the rear brake, but 90 percent of your stopping power comes from the front brake. No big deal.

I gained the advantages of using Campagnolo calipers, and that is a big deal on the rear wheel where most flats occur and spokes break much more often. I especially dislike Shimano brakes when it comes to removing a wheel with a 28 mm wide tire. That’s no longer a problem with the Campagnolo rear brake.

Doing the research made me realize that brake ratios are not something taken lightly by the bike industry. Bike companies are constantly fiddling with brakes by changing ratios and designs that try to fix problems. However, like so many well-meaning engineering efforts, the lack of understanding about how things work has delivered us some less-than-satisfactory solutions over the years.

More reading here:
Arts Cyclery; Park Tool; Bike Forums; Cycling UK

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?