Jobst Brandt calendar raises $110 for open space

December 12, 2017

Your contribution added $110 toward open space in the Bay Area through POST.


Yesterday I donated $110 to Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) to go toward its mission of preserving open space and farmland in the Bay Area.

Thank you to all who donated with the purchase of the 2018 Jobst Brandt tour of the Alps calendar. Jobst was a long-term contributor to the land-preservation fund founded in 1977, based in Palo Alto on High Street in the same building as Wheelsmith bike shop. Back in the day.

I may make this an annual event to go toward the POST cause. Recently POST preserved beach property at Tunitas Creek, a location where many cyclists pass by on their rides up and down Tunitas Creek Road.

One of their campaigns is to create conservation easements on private property, something the freewheeling, adventuresome Brandt advocated.

First ride to Mt. Umunhum Cube — Legal or otherwise

December 5, 2017

The concrete cube at Mt. Umunhum, up close and personal.


Mt. Umunhum summit, bathed in warm December sunshine and light winds to push away the smog proved too much of a lure, so I set out from Santa Clara and headed for New Almaden and the southwest climb of Horrible Hicks.

As I had planned, there was virtually no traffic, just the occasional car and a few bicycles. Hicks from New Almaden is less of a grind with sections of 16 percent. It goes on for a mile to the Mt. Umunhum Road intersection.

Riding on the newly paved road, I would appreciate the improvement during the descent, one of the most dangerous I know of in the Bay Area, after Hicks Road, where a cyclist died in 2004.

Summit shelter offers views of the Bay Area that can’t be beat.

The first mile climbs relentlessly with long stretches of 13-15 percent. It lets up at the Bald Mountain Trail parking area for a half mile before resuming its leg-burning grade of 13-15 percent for a mile. Beyond the point where the road was closed to the public for an eternity things get more civilized with the grade of 7 percent.

I stopped at Loma Prieta Road junction to pay tribute to past rides there. One of these days.

From here it’s a delightful downhill and flat ride with the blue waters of Lake Elsman visible far below in the deep redwood canyon where Los Gatos Creek originates.

At a junction I turned right and started climbing steeply once again, the final assault to the summit and the now ugly concrete cube. Surrounded by the elegantly manicured hilltop it truly does look out of place.

As I walked around enjoying the spectacular views of Santa Clara Valley and San Francisco’s building spires I could appreciate why this mountaintop offers a better view than Mount Hamilton. It has the shining blue waters of the Pacific to its credit, but also it’s much closer to the valley, making for a more memorable view.

Contemplating my past rides here, I came to realize that this was my first time to the cube. In 1982, 1985 and other times we rode through the lower base, never up to the cube.

As my cycling days wind down, I can take satisfaction in making it to the summit. Best done on a weekday, or leave early in the morning on the weekend.

Jobst Brandt shows good form on Mt. Umunhum in 2007, age 72.He started riding there in 1957.

That sign on the road. Now a memory.

China pedals toward Copenhagen lifestyle

December 1, 2017

A 7.6 km bicycle skyway opened recently in Xiamen, China. (Dissing+Weitling photo)


It comes as no surprise to me that China now has the world’s longest elevated cycle path at 7.6 kilometers. The world’s most populous country also happens to have the world’s worst traffic, so you can bet the country will be the champion of transportation alternatives for years to come.

Dissing + Weitling Architecture, a company based in Copenhagen (of course), sold China on the concept and design of the futuristic bike path.

Denmark has similar structures, but not nearly as long.

Lest we forget our bicycle history, the California Cycleway opened in Pasadena in 1900. It was supposed to be six miles long, but only 1.3 miles was ever built. The bike craze ended and that was that.

California Cycleway in 1900. (Wikipedia)


Judging by what I’m seeing on YouTube, China’s elevated bike path is being used, maybe more out of curiosity than anything else at this point. There’s also an elevated bus road next to it.

The cycleway is located in Xiamen, population 3 million, a port city about 300 miles north of Hong Kong.

Mt. Umunhum’s popularity puts cyclists in peril on Hicks Road

November 24, 2017

Hicks Road at Guadalupe Reservoir in 2010. Need shoes?


Imagine my surprise riding Hicks Road today as car after car whizzed by on the narrow road with no shoulders bound for, no doubt, Mt. Umunhum summit.

Was there a Black Friday sale underway at the summit? I can’t think of any other reason for so much traffic. Now that the summit is open and this Friday being a semi-holiday, it makes sense. I didn’t find any planned events in New Almaden that would cause traffic.

If this is going to be the pattern going forward, then cyclists must avoid riding on Hicks Road weekends starting at Camden to the Mt. Umunhum junction. I’m guessing the New Almaden side of Hicks will have less summit traffic.

It’s really sad to see yet another country road turned into a Laguna Seca training course.

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) needs to take responsibility for managing traffic to the summit. There should be a car limit and registration for access, similar to what is happening at the popular Muir Woods National Monument.

While I’m on the topic, why doesn’t MROSD/county/state arrange for a shuttle bus service on weekends to the more popular parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains? I’d wager that half the traffic on weekends is generated by well intentioned mountain bikers and hikers out to enjoy park land.

Road diets and protected bike lanes the new norm

November 22, 2017

Tantau Avenue and Apple HQ looking north. Will employees ride bikes to work?


While I don’t think road diets and protected bike lanes will make much of a dent in the way people get to work, those who do ride bikes today will not be complaining about changes coming down the road.

Local residents (read Nextdoor) were up in arms about the road diet that went into effect on Hedding Street in November between Coleman Avenue and Winchester Boulevard in San Jose.

Some people who contributed their thoughts favored the change, but most were against it. The main argument — and a valid one — is that too few cyclists take Hedding and the road change would have little effect.

On Nov. 14, from 6:43 a.m. – 9 a.m., I conducted a traffic count of bicycles and pedestrians at the Hedding – Park intersection in San Jose. Here’s the result:

Cyclists:
Hedding – 30
Park – 27

Walkers:
Hedding – 21
Park- 52

The transportation/housing problems we face today are systemic and a road diet for one street isn’t going to make much difference. However, it certainly does make the pedestrian’s walk and the cyclist’s ride safer. I noticed minor backups on Hedding eastbound, but it was hardly apocalyptic as characterized by some who posted comments. By 9 a.m. there was no traffic to speak of.

Apple backs protected bike lanes

Now Apple is pumping $1.8 million into Cupertino city coffers for protected bike lanes on Stevens Creek Boulevard. With their spaceship HQ about to open, they must be nervous about its affect on commuters.

Over the years I’ve slowly changed my thinking about protected bike lanes and multi-use trails from neutral to all-in. It’s the best way to reduce the number one objection to bike commuting — dangerous in traffic.

The plan is to head west from Tantau in phases. Details have yet to be worked out.

I’ve long advocated greater commitment by corporations for supporting non-auto commuting. They should flat out pay employees to ride to work, as well as cover bus and train expenses. The use of corporate buses is a step in the right direction.

As far as systemic changes, we need to see more people living close to work. City governments are doing their part now by requiring sufficient housing near business parks. Our sacred American way of life– single-family homes — is a big part of the problem. European and Asian communities don’t have them. Concentrating populations makes commuting by bike and public transit less of a burden without urban sprawl.

In the meantime, our governments are doing their best with what they have to work with. They look to the bicycle. It’s a fantastic machine, no doubt, but making it the commuter silver bullet is asking a lot.

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, 11/26: $110)

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.