Archive for August, 2010

Mt. Hamilton Has a Darker Side

August 30, 2010

One of my favorite routes in Bay Area Bike Rides is the 102-mile Mt. Hamilton ride. This is my 30th year of doing this route; I’ve done it three times in 2010, probably 40-50 times in all.

Yesterday I did something I had never done before – and do not recommend – and that’s ride the route clockwise. It doesn’t take a Roads Scholar to know why it’s something I’ve avoided doing.

The backside of Mt. Hamilton is steep, unlike the San Jose side. It has a section of 4.4 miles that varies between 11-15 percent. I counted my blessings as I reached the summit and reminded myself that while I had done it, it would probably be my last.

That’s too bad because I otherwise enjoyed this direction more than the route in my book.

Of course, I put that route in not because I expect everyone to do the ride, but because it covers some great bike riding. You can pick a section that interests you and ride that part. Many riders go to the summit from San Jose and return.

One change to my route I recommend is to avoid Livermore streets entirely by taking the Arroyo Mocho Recreation Path. It goes from Murrieta Blvd. at Stanley Blvd. to S. Livermore Ave. The path offers a riparian habitat next to the Arroyo Mocho Creek, fed by Del Valle Reservoir.

Remember Campagnolo Pump Heads?

August 29, 2010

Uber Goop dishwasher caps fit perfectly on Campagnolo pump heads

Back in the day, when Campagnolo ruled, they made a best-in-the-world steel pump head that matched up to the equally impressive Silca frame-fit pump.

While you can still buy new old stock (NOS) Campagnolo pump heads and Silca pumps on eBay, they’re mostly going to collectors who want to restore old steel bikes. That’s a pity because it was a fantastic combination, even if novices didn’t understand how to use the Silca pump.

But I digress. Look at the accompanying photo and you’ll see the Campagnolo head prongs are covered with white hoods. The Campagnolo blue hoods are about as rare as truffles now, but I like these white ones much better.

I discovered the Uber Goop caps when I was looking for something to cover our dishwasher rack, whose prongs were starting to rust. They do the job perfectly — for dishwasher and Campagnolo pump head.

They’re available on

Three Creeks Trail Hangs in the Balance

August 25, 2010

Three Creeks Trail proposed alignment

While progress is being made toward developing creek trails in the South Bay, there’s no trail connection between the big three: Los Gatos Creek, Guadalupe River, and Coyote Creek.

Three Creeks Trail is seen as the best way to link the creek trails. It runs south of Interstate 280, from Willow Glen to the Kelley Park area following abandoned railroad right-of-ways some of the way.

Unfortunately, a lot of this area is already under development and the trail is “late for the train” so to speak, which means a lot of political balls are being juggled at once, both by the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County. Anything involving a railroad right-of-way also complicates matters.

I’m looking forward to the day (will I live to see it?) when Coyote Creek Trail is finished. There’s a lot of work to be done between Tully Road and Montague Expressway, but once complete, it’s going to open up a lot of opportunities for car-free riding.

What puzzles me now is why Coyote Creek Trail under Hwy 237 isn’t open. I can see we planned for a trail here, but it remains closed. Only the homeless are making good use of it.

In other uplifting news, according to the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC), the Santa Clara County special events ordinance, which I wrote about in June, was revised and this time our officials listened to the Bicycle Pedestrian and Advisory Committee. The SVBC says it meets with their approval as written, so you can be sure it doesn’t single out cyclists unfairly.

San Francisco Bike Plan Rolls Out

August 24, 2010

Improved bike lane at Saratoga Avenue and Lawrence Expressway in San Jose

Here’s some good cycling news. After spinning its wheels over a frivolous lawsuit, the city of San Francisco finally got an OK to move ahead with its bike plan, which calls for more bike lanes and bike amenities.

One Rob Anderson, who calls himself a blogger, filed suit, claiming the city needed to file an environmental impact report before it could implement the bike plan. SFGate has the full report.

Translation: he didn’t want to see more car parking taken out for the sake of bike lanes. Obviously, Rob doesn’t ride a bike.

It’s a small matter, but in recent weeks the intersection at Saratoga Avenue and Lawrence Expressway in San Jose was widened about two feet. It was always a bit dodgy riding here because the road narrowed. Not only did the city (and county no doubt) take out some of the encroaching island, they added a bike symbol showing where cyclists should stop to trigger the light. Well done.

Accidents Will Happen

August 23, 2010

Cycling in the Netherlands - Hembrow Cycling Website

As promised, here’s the list of the “most dangerous” countries for cycling. It’s not an easy thing to draw conclusions from because the data is only comparing bike accidents versus other types of transportation accidents – car, motorcycle, pedestrian.

I don’t think you can draw any conclusions beyond this: the more people who rides bikes, the more accidents we’ll see. That’s why the Netherlands has such a high percentage compared to other accidents.

Does that mean it’s more dangerous to ride a bike in Holland than it is in the U.S.? I don’t think so.

What does seem dangerous though is riding in Japan, which has a large number of fatalities for its population. (Data from the 2008-2009 International Road Traffic and Accident Database)

Country Fatalities % of all road user fatalities
Netherlands 138 21.4
Japan 933 16.2
Denmark 54 13.3
Hungary 109 10.9
Germany 456 10.2
Czech Rep. 84 9.3
Belgium 86 9.1
Poland 371 8.1
UK 117 4.1
USA 716 1.9

On a side note, my mother almost nailed a cyclist while driving in Denver. She was turning right when a rider came flying by into the intersection off a sidewalk.

I had just gotten through telling my mother how dangerous it is to ride on a sidewalk. The cyclist took the sidewalk to avoid the train underpass.

You are much safer sharing the road than riding on the sidewalk!

Steel’s the Word at Steelman Cycles

August 16, 2010

Brent Steelman works on a customer's frame.

Could there be a better name for a steel-frame builder? Brent Steelman is his name and he works out of his shop in Redwood City, California. His wife, Katryn, manages office details and logistics. Her beautiful photos of Steelman frames grace the office walls.

Brent has been building frames since 1980 and over the years he has built between 3,000 and 4,000. That puts him up there with the icons of frame building in Northern California – Tom Ritchey, Albert Eisentraut (Brent shared an Oakland facility with Albert and Ed Litton), Joe Breeze, and a few others.

His bikes have been ridden by some of the best racers, including Joe Murray (NORBA National Champion), Laurence Malone (Cyclocross National Champion), and numerous other national road and track champions. The mountain bikes used by Gary Fisher’s racing team in the 1980s were built by Brent.

A true artisan
It’s not so much the number of frames Brent has built that distinguishes his business as it is quality and attention to detail. You have to see a bare steel frame to appreciate why frame builders are craftsmen. Brent’s lugged or tig-welded joints are smooth and clean. The tubing’s silver gleam offsets the golden-hued brazing.

You can see right away Brent takes pride in everything he does. He built his own jig to assemble his frames. The jig is the frame builder’s “third hand.” It holds and positions the tubes for easier access to brazing at the precise angles needed. His shop is filled with tools of the trade – drills, saws, and lathes.

Many varieties

Over his frame-building career, Brent has made road, mountain, fixed-gear, track, and cyclocross bikes. Today he says most of his customers request road bikes.

He even built carbon-fiber bikes starting in 2002. As a steel-frame builder, Brent is unique in this regard. Few frame builders have experience working with both materials. Brent says he quit building carbon-fiber bikes after a few years and went back to steel after some soul-searching. “Carbon-fiber building is nasty work,” Brent said. “The chemicals and dust are something I do not miss.”

Bike fit and assembly
What’s unique about Brent’s business is he doesn’t just build the bike. He offers a one-stop shopping experience: fit the customer, manage the painting, procure components, and assemble the bike. “It makes sense for the builder the assemble the bike,” said Brent. “I’ve been assembling bikes for decades and I can eliminate the hassles the owner might experience by taking it elsewhere.”

Brent tells his own story about frame building and his professional career on the Steelman Cycles website. It’s an honest, straightforward story of his life and love of frame building.

As a steel-frame enthusiast, I can’t say enough about the beauty, ride, and longevity of steel. If you’re a dedicated rider looking for a new bike, be sure to check out a custom steel bike, and Steelman Cycles. Find out what owners have to say on the Steelman Cycles Facebook page.

A Steelman frame hangs in the office.

Road Rage Advice: Keep Your Cool

August 7, 2010

Road rage caught on video in Portland, Ore. Click on photo to watch.

Road rage incidents against cyclists are headline news, and it’s no surprise. When a motorist attacks a cyclist, there’s carnage.

Some bike-car incidents are deliberate. What amazes me is how many cyclists fight back. That’s like a Jeep attacking an M1 Abrams tank.

I’ve experienced my share of road rage – who hasn’t? – and my reaction is to not react. Don’t give the finger, don’t give the Italian salute, don’t key the car (I’ve fantasized about that one). Sometimes I’ll smile and wave like I know the driver, mostly when I get the “buzz.” Drivers do this to get a reaction.

I know a cyclist who’s less accommodating under attack. Once, after a nasty incident, he boldly rode up to the car and broke off the antenna! A furious pursuit ensued. He barely escaped in a residential neighborhood.

Unsympathetic police
You’d think the police would lend a sympathetic ear. Read the SFGate report and you’ll be aghast at what happens to cyclists who report road rage. Some police refused to so much as take a report, and some blamed it on the cyclist.

When drivers are nailed, they’re often let off with minor punishment. However, that wasn’t the case in Los Angeles recently when a driver deliberately slammed on his brakes and sent a cyclist through the car’s rear window, causing serious injury.

A jury found the driver guilty of six felonies, and he got five years behind bars. NPR covered the incident in a news report. Lance Armstrong has some interesting comments on road rage in this interview.

Road rage and culture
University of Hawaii’s Dr. Leon James, an expert on road-rage psychology, testified that road rage is the outcome of a world with more stress, more frustration, more anger, more hostility, and more traffic.

That’s part of the equation, but I think it’s also cultural. I’ve been to the Philippines enough times to know road rage is not always the result of crowding. Manila’s roads are jammed and I’ve never seen road rage, haven’t even seen a wreck. Filipino cyclists jockey with cars, jeepneys, and motorbikes at close quarters daily.

I know of an American who lived in Manila for five years. He had a driver, but one day decided he could handle it. After a short drive he gave up and had to take a stress pill.

You may be wondering just how dangerous our roads are compared to other countries. I’ll let you in on the most dangerous countries in my next entry.

Redwood Shores Has its Oracle

August 1, 2010

Click on map to see PDF. Bike routes to Redwood Shores. Google map.

Redwood Shores, the area north of Highway 101 opposite the cities of Belmont and San Carlos, is home to one of the largest technology companies in the world – Oracle.

The good news is that the office complexes in this area are modern and easy to reach on wide streets. The bad news is you have to cross Hwy 101 overpasses to get there.

Of course, there is some housing in Redwood Shores, so you may be lucky. Also, paths wind their way along sloughs (waterways), leading to Foster City north of Hwy 101.

The last time I visited this location was around 1984 when I attended a triathlon at the Marine World-Africa USA theme park. The park was located at the end of Redwood Shores Parkway, but moved to Vallejo in 1986.

Businesses: Oracle, EA (Electronic Arts), Kensington Computer Products Group, Proteus Biomedical, Check Point Software Technologies, Jameco Electronics, Tragon Corp., Aero Scout, Qualys, Shutterfly, Trilliant.

[A reader (see Comments) informs me that an overpass close to Ralston Road is being built by the city of Belmont. You can find more about it on the Belmont website.]

Ralston Road overpass, as a partial cloverleaf, is more modern and easier to negotiate than Holly Street/Redwood Shores Parkway. There’s a strange appendage called Island Parkway on the north side of Hwy 101, linking to Ralston, which essentially goes nowhere.

Holly Street is the classic double cloverleaf, which makes it more of a challenge to cross at rush hour. It’s best ridden earlier in the morning, or after the rush. I found worn striping, no bike symbols on the pavement, and no help for cyclists in the form of dashed lines at merge areas. Belmont and San Carlos do not rate highly on my bike-friendly list. (Website discussing Holly Street and Ralston Road overpasses)

Holly Street overpass approach from Redwood Shores Pkwy.

Cyclists will find paved paths in Redwood Shores, some that go past Oracle. There’s one nearby bridge crossing a slough to the north. Across the bridge, the path splits. The right path connects to Foster City. The left path gets you to Foster City, but it’s a chore. You have to circle a baseball field on a bumpy path. The path ends at an undeveloped area (no doubt to be built on), where there’s a break in the fence to the left. Riders can join up with Concourse Place and continue on paths into Foster City.

Commuters coming from Belmont, San Carlos, and Redwood City have some decent roads to travel, although this area is not known for scenic beauty.

To the south of Hwy 101, Industrial Road is a designated bike route as far as Harbor Blvd. Old County Road, paralleling El Camino Real, is another bike route going north-south. El Camino, known for traffic and lights, is relatively free of both impediments here.

If I were coming from the north to Oracle, I’d take Old County Road, left on Dale View Ave., right on Hiller St. Hiller offers a left-turn light onto Ralston at the overpass, reducing the amount of traffic to deal with on the ride up.

North of Hwy 101 there’s Shoreway, a frontage road right next to the freeway and suitable for cycling between Holly and Ralston. Enjoy the view.

Public Transit
Caltrain has stations conveniently located in Belmont (El Camino and Ralston) and San Carlos (El Camino and Holly St.). It’s not much more than a mile from either station to businesses north of Hwy 101. Oracle and EA have a shuttle bus service.