Saratoga’s brick road has that Paris-Roubaix feel

June 8, 2019

Saratoga’s brick road can be ridden on Austin Way, just off Los Gatos-Saratoga Road.


Next time you’re cycling to Los Gatos from Saratoga on Los Gatos-Saratoga Road (Hwy 9), and you’re interested in riding “the bricks,” turn right on Austin Way.

It’s also called Heritage Lane. The brick portion goes for several hundred yards. I was going to post a video but the footage was so shaaakkkyyyy that I decided against it.

I don’t know the road’s history other than the brick has been in place for about a century. This was the main road back in the early 1900s. Hwy 9 was straightened to its present alignment in the 1920s or so.

Peninsular Railway, an electric car line, ran by here in the early 1900s. Throughout the day, passengers could take the light rail between Los Gatos and Palo Alto, service ending around 11 p.m.

Southern Pacific ran its steam trains on the same track. Peninsular folded in 1930.

I don’t know the exact alignment of the rails, but it generally followed Los Gatos-Saratoga Road.

The road has several hills that would make it difficult for a train, but back then they built trestles to level things out.

Pruneridge sees 50 cyclists during 2-hour survey

June 4, 2019

Cyclist pedals to work on Tuesday. Note that one ear bud is OK, but not two.


Is 50 cyclists riding to work on Pruneridge Avenue in a two-hour time span a lot or a little? It depends on who you ask.

My informal survey took place this morning (Tuesday) from 6:43 a.m. – 9 a.m. at the corner of Pruneridge and Pomeroy Avenue. That’s a T-intersection. Perfect cycling weather.

A local grade school was in session, but I didn’t see a single child riding to school. That’s understandable. Pruneridge is recommended for experienced riders.

I counted only 30 cyclists on Hedding a couple of years ago in another informal survey. However, it was colder than today and it had rained.

I also counted pedestrians on Pruneridge/Pomeroy, which totaled 55.

All but four cyclists were westbound on Pruneridge. My guess is that most cyclists were headed to the Apple HQ.

Most of the Pomeroy traffic turned right onto Pruneridge.

This section of Pruneridge has a Class IIB bicycle lane, from Pomeroy to Tantau. It’s made possible by reducing two-way traffic from four to two lanes.

As I watched traffic, I thought to myself. “This is a lot safer than two-lane streets with no bike lanes,” which is true for Pruneridge between Pomeroy and Winchester.

Traffic backs up from the lights at Lawrence Expressway. I observed peak traffic at 8:40 a.m. I’m sure the light cycled once for some cars. However, it wasn’t as bad as drivers like to complain about.

We have absolutely no reason to complain about traffic here. It’s a million times worse in any large Asian, African, and many European cities.

Back to Pruneridge. According to the 2018 Santa Clara bicycle plan update, it is number two on a priority list for bicycle street improvements, behind the number one priority of a separate bikeway on El Camino Real.

What’s envisioned is an extension of the Class IIB buffered bicycle lane to close the gap between Winchester and Pomeroy.

Will it happen? We’ll have to wait and see. I have my doubts. The opportunity presented itself last year when Pruneridge was repaved. The public was asked what it wanted in the way of improvements. The Class IIB lanes didn’t materialize.

It’s too bad there isn’t another street with as direct a route as Pruneridge. Forbes Avenue comes close, but it has terrible light sequencing that dissuades cycling there.

I’ve also found that with all the parked cars and “speed limit 25” signs planted in the middle of the street, it doesn’t feel any safer than Pruneridge.

A little trivia regarding the survey: I saw one e-bike, one recumbent. A squirrel survived its dash across the street.

One rider, with a child carrier on back (no child), was on the phone while pedaling. It takes all kinds.

Drivers have their issues as well. A jeep blasted down the center turn lane at high speed, no doubt frustrated by the road diet.

So, what do you think about 50 cyclists riding to work? How many cyclists would it take before you believed the road diet was having a positive impact on reducing car traffic? Or is 50 enough?

Hwy 84 straightening marked progress back in the day

May 31, 2019

Western exit for the abandoned section of Hwy 84, and MROSD trail access


As the automobile gained a stranglehold on the American psyche, California road planners responded in the 1960s with freeway proposals that sound crazy today, like Highway 84.

On the Pacific Coast side, Hwy 84 is known as the two-lane La Honda Road, winding through pastoral farmland and woodsy nooks where redwoods reign.

Thankfully the Hwy 84 freeway scheme got shelved along with a dozen other crazy freeway proposals, but efforts were made to straighten Hwy 84.

The straightening I know about (there may be others) occurred sometime between 1955 and 1968, according to USGS topo maps. If anybody knows a more exact date, please let us know.

Old Hwy 84 alignment in 1955, map on right, and after straightening, 1968.

Jobst Brandt pointed out the straightened section decades ago during a ride. I finally got around to taking a photo. It’s at milepost 5.50.

What’s interesting is that this section of abandoned road, a mere quarter-mile, is used by Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Signage is visible from the road behind a gate.

It turns out this land is part of the La Honda Creek Open Space Preserve, kind of. The land where the old road runs is still privately owned, but there’s equestrian only trail access to Harrington Creek Trail from here. Use permit required.

Hikers wanting to visit Harrington Creek Trail start at the staging area off Sears Ranch Road. Bikers, you’re out of luck. There’s no access to this preserve, a lot of which is still a working ranch.

Riding through January weather, in June

May 30, 2019

Mitchell Creek’s logging road, former mill site that prompted building Tunitas Creek Road.


Is this going to be another lost summer, like the one we had in 2009? Not that I’m complaining. Well, just a little after my ride.

Headed down Alpine Road into a pea-soup fog, relative humidity 105 percent, what do I see? Dew drops sloughed off the redwoods lining the narrow road, coating it with that wet stuff — rain.

At Pescadero Creek Road it didn’t get any better. In fact, it looked like a January morning during a rainstorm. Road splatter became a reality.

A bail-out occupied my thoughts, like riding up Hwy 84, but as I did so, the road got dry away from the trees. I carried on to San Gregorio under cloudy skies.

Curious about learning the history of an old segment of Hwy 84, long since abandoned, pictures were taken. More later…

At the coast I saw blue sky and regained some composure climbing Stage Road to Hwy 1. The weather turned for the better.

On Tunitas Creek Road I searched for the exact location where Jobst Brandt took a photo during a ride in the early 1960s. I don’t know the exact year, but Gary Fisher (b. 1950) joined the ride, and he looks to be about 14. He’s just behind the rider in the blue jersey.

Tunitas Creek Road in 1965 and today. Just past the Biker Hut. (Jobst Brandt photo)


The weather turned out to be about as mild as I could hope for on a gloomy day. The redwoods dazzled, tucked away in the deep canyon with its bewitching creek, whose waters tumble over jumbled logs and sandstone boulders on the way to the blue Pacific.

Tunitas Creek Road is meant to be climbed.

I stopped at Mitchell Creek to reflect on past adventure rides that took us up a steep fire road to Star Hill Road. And so close to home.

When all seemed right with the world, here comes the intrusive sound of chainsaws chewing through redwood. The horror.

At the always welcome sight of Shingle Mill Road, marking the end of 10 percent climbing, I saw a Big Creek Lumber truck and tractor parked.

Down below along the road lay many severed redwoods, which will soon be cut into boards for houses, fences and decks.

Big Creek Lumber logging operation underway.


I’m not complaining about today’s logging operations in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They’re about as responsibly logged as you could ask for. Redwoods grow back, crazy fast.

Skyline Boulevard offers the usual Jekyll and Hyde personality with drivers blasting past, ignoring California’s laughable three-foot rule, on their way to an important meeting.

And then there’s a minute or two of pleasant car-free riding on the scenic road that rolls up and down the spine of the Coast Range.

Fog blew across the road once I reached Windy Hill, and why not? It’s Windy Hill after all. I managed to stay warm enough that the ride didn’t turn into a suffer-fest. So much for this rainy May.

Avenue of palms also a good bike route

May 20, 2019

If you’re headed to downtown San Jose, there’s no better route than Park Avenue and then Martin Avenue, where you can check out dozens of palm trees lining the bumpy street.

Martin has some of San Jose’s more eclectic homes dating back to the 1930s. It’s a good route to take to avoid The Alameda and its traffic.

If you do have to ride through downtown, going west to east, take San Fernando Street, which has a bike lane. The best, most direct route under the train tracks is Santa Clara Street.

Downtowns offer cyclists an opportunity to dodge a flurry of obstacles while sharpening their riding skills.

Martin Avenue in San Jose has plenty of charm with its many palms.

Shimano Ultegra hubs give me the shimmies

May 14, 2019

Shimano Ultegra hubs, not so easy to adjust.


If Campagnolo made one product well, it had to be their Nuovo Record hubs. Mine are still going strong after 40 years of hard use.

What I like most about the hubs is their ability to be adjusted precisely with relative ease using hub wrenches.

I’m old-fashioned when it comes to hubs. I prefer unsealed bearings, although if I had it to do over again, I’d probably cave and go with sealed hubs, just for their convenience.

During maintenance, after installing new bearings and adding grease, there’s the final step of adjusting the bearing race. It’s an acquired skill, but once you’ve got it down, it’s easy.

The key is to tighten it such that the bearings don’t have too much play inside the hub, but not so tight that the bearings are binding.

Test for looseness: After installing the wheel and locking the quick release, try to wiggle the rim side to side. If there’s any play, it’s too loose.

Test for tightness: Spin the wheel and see if the hub turns freely for a fairly long time before coming to a stop. It should turn for quite a few revolutions before stopping.

Ideally, the wheel will rock back and forth at the valve stem before stopping, but that’s difficult to achieve. Consider yourself the bike repair whisperer.

The problem I have with my Ultegra hubs is that they’re hard to adjust. They don’t give me the same tactile feedback I got from the Campagnolo hubs during adjustment.

I recently serviced the Ultegra hubs (for about the fifth time), but during descents I noticed squirrely steering. The bike seemed to wander.

Sure enough, the hubs were a bit loose. I could rock the rim back and forth. It’s not much, but it doesn’t take much to notice wheel wobble. I needed lots of trial and error to get a good adjustment.

South bay reservoirs have something to hold

May 13, 2019

Agencies listed on the sign collaborated to make Blair Ranch public open space, near Uvas Road (ranching continues).


I hadn’t been south on McKean Road for two years, so I headed out to check the reservoirs and enjoy the scenery.

After a normal winter for rainfall, all the reservoirs are full, except Calero at 43 percent.

That reservoir, built in 1935, has earthquake stability issues, so it cannot be at more than 55 percent capacity.

Green hillsides are rapidly turning brown and the wildflower season is kaput.

McKean, which badly needed paving between Calero Park entrance and the Cinnabar Hills Golf Course, gave a smooth ride today, a welcome change.

I noticed lots of roadside garbage in normally pristine places. We’re drowning in garbage.

The good news for the day was a sign on Uvas Road indicating Blair Ranch has been added to Cañada Rancho del Oro Open Space Preserve.

Mind you, this transaction/donation happened back in 2007, but this is the first I’ve seen the sign.

The plan is to build a bridge over Llagas Creek in the Rancho parking area this year so access can begin to the 860-or-so acres of cattle ranch land.

Lots of photos can be seen on this website. It looks like it will give more room for mountain bikes to roam the hills on old ranch roads, but I’m not aware of any plans for trails being built.

This was my first time riding on Uvas Road, Oak Glen, McKean on a weekday. It’s a mixed bag. There’s more traffic up to Cinnabar Hills Golf Course, compared to a Sunday, but a little bit less in other areas.

In general, weekday drivers are in a hurry to get somewhere. It’s not so bad that way on Sundays.

Crystal Springs Reservoir bridge does it right

May 7, 2019

Crystal Springs Reservoir Bridge in 2019 and 2008.


Today I rode over to check out the new Crystal Springs Reservoir bridge, which has been under construction for about a million years.

It was finally open to the public on January 11. It was supposed to open in 2011. At the same time San Mateo County and other agencies opened a 0.8 mile extension of the Crystal Springs Trail.

The flat trail follows the reservoir shoreline, eliminating some hills on Skyline Boulevard, which also has traffic moving at 45-50 mph.

I dredged up some photos from 2008 when I was last there. The reservoir remains the same, but it’s seven feet higher now.

It’s really worth a visit, especially considering Cañada Road is closed to cars every Sunday, except holidays. Does that include Mother’s Day? Call the Bicycle Sunday Hotline at (650)361-1785 on the day of the event for an update.

There’s a transition on Hwy 92 for a short distance to reach Skyline Boulevard, which requires caution. On weekends it’s usually a zoo here as motorists drive to Half Moon Bay and the coast. It’s also busy on weekdays. The good news is that there’s a new layer of asphalt and striping.

The Cañada Road/Skyline Boulevard route is probably the best way to get to San Francisco by bike, although it’s not great. I’ve ridden to San Francisco from Palo Alto and Santa Clara a half-dozen times.

It would be nice if we had a bike path all the way, but it’s not quite there.

The big downer is the Hwy 1/Skyline Boulevard interchange with its cloverleaf. It’s a nasty stretch of merging cars going fast.

There are alternatives next to the interchange, although they involve more hills. I’ve always stayed on Skyline.

Those days of riding to San Francisco ended in 2009.

New section of Crystal Springs Trail, opened in 2014 or so according to the sign.

Transcontinental railroad completion celebrates sesquicentennial

May 7, 2019

Tunnel 8 west portal at Donner Pass summit, 2015.


Back in 1869 the Utah desert became the scene of a remarkable achievement in railroad engineering with completion of the transcontinental railroad.

What used to take months crossing the United States by wagon and risking life-and-limb could now be done in less than a week by train.

Building the railroad is the stuff of legend. I haven’t seen a movie that captures the grand spectacle, although the highly fictionalized TV show Hell on Wheels had its moments.

Thousands of Chinese toiled for more than seven years to make the dreams of the Robber Barons come true. All the work was done by hand.

Even the granite tunnels through the Sierra were cleared out by hand after each explosion. Pneumatic drills had just come on the scene but were not used.

I decided to write a novel, China Grade, about the building of the railroad as seen through the eyes of a Chinese character. I’ll admit it’s not elegant writing, but it does give some historical background on what it must have been like working on the railroad.

To top off the celebration in Promontory on May 10, Union Pacific invested a ton of money to restore one of their enormous Big Boy steam locomotives, built from 1941-44, and retired in 1959.

The train is making a U.S. tour, so it may pay us a visit. Worth a see.

And to give this some connection to bicycling, Thomas Stevens on his around-the-world bike tour, starting in San Francisco in 1884, took his penny-farthing through High Sierra train tunnels, and basically followed railroads cross-country.

Haul Road Memories

April 30, 2019

Beautiful day on the Old Haul Road. Note the colorful new trail sign next to the old brown.


I didn’t sign up for this — 48 degrees and a strong breeze that gave me the shivers on Skyline Boulevard.

But it was Monday, time for a longer ride. There’s no worse experience than descending at high speed while shivering. Must be something wrong with the bike.

Nope. It’s just the body creating disharmony.

As I descended Portola State Park Road, its steepness reminded me of why I haven’t ridden up it in 20 years. Only for the crazies.

The descent has its appeal. I coasted into the park, riding past the headquarters, crossing a creek bridge and turning right for the access road to the Old Haul Road, as I have been doing since 1980.

I arrived at the new steel bridge and took the obligatory photo of Pescadero Creek where Jobst Brandt always lamented the absence of big fish.

Jobst steered dozens of us his way onto the Haul Road, which today would be the wrong way. We turned left after climbing the hideously steep access road past Iverson’s Cabin (gone) onto the Haul Road.

In three-tenths of a mile we arrived at a gate (never took photos there) and continued on our way to the fabled Gate 10 road. Today it has decorative road signs to guide the logging trucks, but back then you had to know your way around.

Never photographed, the end of public access to the Haul Road going east.


It’s no ride for the faint of heart. We faced three miles of unrelenting climbing on a dirt road that could be muddy or dusty. It had sections of 16 percent, probably more in places.

When we rolled up to Gate 10, it meant the hard riding was over (Gate 10 was gone in 2009). Time for a celebration photo. Jobst took many over the years.

Hard riding to Gate 10, around 1977. Jim Westby, (rider hidden), Smokey, Rick Humphreys. (Jobst Brandt photo)


These rides drew Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey and other elite competitive riders. No doubt the rides inspired them to pursue their dreams of winning races, building the ideal off-road bikes.

Gate 10 ride about 1977. ?, Keith Vierra, ?, Marc Brandt, Peter Johnson, Gary Fisher, Bill Robertson, Tom Holmes, ? (Jobst Brandt photo).


Why the Gate 10 route? Jobst liked to avoid Highway 9. He preferred off-road riding whenever possible to reach a destination — Big Basin Redwoods State Park in this situation.

Celebrating the climb at Gate 10 circa 1981, Ted Mock, Keith Vierra, Dave McLaughlin, Sterling McBride, Dave Zanotti, Tom Ritchey, John Pinaglia. (Jobst Brandt photo)

Jobst scoffed at the notion of a mountain bike, but he was like that. He figured a road bike was good enough.

You’re not welcome here now. The signs say it all. It wasn’t as bad back then, but Jobst and his cadre hid from the logging trucks on rare occasions.

One of these days the Haul Road might be open to the public, extending from Highway 9 to Pescadero Creek Road. It’s going to take a lot of negotiating and public pressure, but it could happen.

I turned around and headed northwest toward Loma Mar. Note that Pescadero Creek County Park added new trail signage. Bridge Trail is now Baker Fire Road. They need to update their online map.

Over the years the road has seen its share of trauma from heavy rains. This past winter left the road rutted in places, but otherwise in good shape.

At Loma Mar I greeted the bearded fellow, Steve, doing all the hard work to build a fabulous new Loma Mar Store, soon to open. It has been closed for eons.

Jobst liked to stop here and talk with previous owner Roger Siebecker. Roger was also a volunteer fireman, and on more than one occasion, helped Jobst Riders who had taken hard falls, most notably the Wurr Road Bridge disaster.

I continued on up Highway 84 and Old La Honda Road to check out the slide. Still no repair underway, but the road is open for bikes.

Riding southeast on Skyline Boulevard the temps turned favorable as I ground my way back to Saratoga Gap. The temporary road repair past Horseshoe Lake has a stoplight. It could be a while before it’s permanently fixed.

At the end of my ride I reflected on the day’s effort and counted myself lucky that I could still do all the climbing. It doesn’t get easier with age.

Old Haul Road map