Cycling Dangers in the Night — and the Simple Solution

November 2, 2019

My favorite light, EagleTac D25LC2. Super bright with Li-ion batteries.

San Francisco Chronicle
October 21, 1985
[One of my old columns. Used with permission. While digitizing the columns I came across this one.]

The end of Daylight Savings Time on Sunday is an ominous occasion for bicycle commuters. Your risk of injury while cycling home from work increases ten-fold.

Those peaceful rides on warm fall evenings, catching the last sun’s rays reflecting off the golden hillsides, are replaced with a sinister darkness.

Fall evenings on the eve of Halloween are better suited for sitting home and reading a Stephen King horror novel than braving the inky blackness. Riding bicycle at night is unquestionably hazardous to your health. I went to the trouble of digging up some sobering statistics.

More than 40 percent of all bicycle fatalities occur at this time, even though it only accounts for four percent of total miles cycled.

Now I know why I never like to ride at night without a light. That’s enough incentive to make the most confident bicyclist think about buying a searchlight and mounting it on his handlebars. Of course a searchlight won’t fit, but you can equip your bike with smaller lights to reduce the risks. Wearing reflective clothing, attaching reflectors and using a light are inexpensive and sensible means for being seen at night.

Most bicycles must be sold with a reflector in the front and rear, and reflectors attached to the spokes of both wheels. They’re a good backup in the event of a light failure. No matter what type of lighting system — even a combination of systems — you use, there’s always a chance that some drunk motorist careening down the highway won’t see you. So you have to ride as though you can never be seen. That means ride defensively.

There’s an assortment of lighting hardware available, including reflectors, lights operated by a generator or battery, flashing battery-operated lights and reflectorized clothing, tape or tires.

Reflectors are definitely not the final solution to being seen at night. In tests by Bicycling magazine, author Fred DeLong said his confidence in reflectors was shattered while re-creating an accident. He was surprised how hard it was to see a bicyclist equipped with only reflectors.

DeLong observed that flashing or moving lights on a bicycle or rider were the best attention-getters. Recent tests by “Bicycling” (July ’85) show that some reflectors can now be detected by an approaching car on a clear night as far as 1260 feet away. A car traveling 55 mph usually needs a 550-foot stopping distance.

The magazine’s tests revealed that the lower the reflectors are mounted or worn, the greater the distance at which they are first perceived. I like to wear yellow reflectorized leg bands with Velcro. They are low to the ground and move up and down as you pedal. They’re a good addition to pedal reflectors.

Reflectorized vests and other special clothing will help, although the Bicycling test showed that reflective tape attached to a helmet was invisible until the driver was only 386 feet away. (A new windmill reflector that extends on an arm-like device toward traffic may be a prospect. The device, called The Whizzzz, is made and used in Finland but will be available to U.S. cyclists next spring.)

Generator-operated lighting is popular because there is no need to deal with batteries. The generator is either attached on the rear stay of the frame or on a tube brace near the bottom bracket. But when you stop pedaling, the lights go out.

Some cyclists, who would easily qualify as master electricians, jury-rig elaborate systems with batteries and generators to get around this.

Generator light bulbs burn out quickly; be sure to have spare bulbs handy. You must also check the generator adjustment, which has a tendency to become misaligned and reduce lighting.

One generator light was cleverly made to run off a bicycle hub. The generator is enclosed near the front hub with a light attached near the fork dropout. Unfortunately the hub is hard to get and requires building up a new wheel. [Jobst Brandt’s favorite. Not hard to get now, but requires a new wheel.]

We all know the hassles of battery-operated lights. Batteries don’t last forever. A flashing light or beacon that clips to your bike or clothing is a good way to get motorists’ attention. It costs about $15 and uses batteries.

Personally, I’m never without my battery-operated leg light. It’s easy for motorists to spot when you pedal. Sorry. You’ll need a more powerful light if you want to see the road. Of course night riding can be fun. Did I ever tell you about the time we rode up Mount Tam via the railroad grade under a full moon?

[I didn’t do that ride, but Jobst Brandt and friends did. I rode down Mt. Hamilton under a full moon. Not fun.]

Castle Rock State Park becomes a water stop

October 25, 2019

Castle Rock State Park has a water fountain and flush toilets at the new parking area.

Millions of dollars later, Castle Rock State Park on Skyline Boulevard, two miles southeast of Hwy 9, finally has a nice parking lot, with a water fountain and bathrooms.

Sempervirens Fund raised the money to buy the land, with other construction funds coming from Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks and our California state parks agency.

In addition to water fountains, the parking area (90 spaces) has six flush toilets, an amphitheater, electric vehicle charging station, free WiFi, and a small native plant garden.

Overflow parking is still available along Skyline next to the old entrance. The new entrance has a trail to Castle Rock Falls, one of the most popular trails in the park.

Skyline Trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail) and Service Road Trail are the only legal cycling locations in the park.

Several other roads I’ve ridden ought be open for cycling. Future generations have something to strive for.

It was toasty warm on Thursday, but cool in the shade on the climb up Hwy 9.

With the amount of traffic on Hwy 9 these days, I don’t recommend it for weekend riding, but it’s fine on a weekday.

New bike lane configuration on Page Mill Road gets a thumbs up

October 21, 2019

After a bicycle fatality at Page Mill Road and Interstate 280 some years ago, the governmental agencies responsible for this location, in Santa Clara County, have finally reconfigured the bike lanes and made other improvements.

I rode the new bike lanes on Sunday for the first time. It must have been finished in the past month or so.

While this intersection can be difficult to negotiate on bike, the new bike lane alignment has a lot going for it. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best that can be done given the circumstances.

I’m not a fan of riding to the far left, but in this situation it’s the safest location for a bike, and going eastbound on Page Mill Road it’s the route I’ve been taking for years to reach Old Page Mill Road.

The green striping helps, as well as an overhead bicycle sign, lit at night for visibility.

But what if you’re not going to Old Page Mill Road, but riding up Page Mill Road to Deer Creek Road where you’ll turn right to reach your office? Tesla HQ for example.

Jobst Brandt, who was not one to complain about his ride, took exception with the risky maneuver of crossing two lanes of traffic exiting Interstate 280 onto Page Mill Road. He mostly complained about the driving skills of motorists.

Jobst made that hazardous maneuver for many years before retiring from HP Labs, located on Deer Creek Road.

The other point of conflict for riders is when turning right from Old Page Mill Road and trying to access the bike lane on the far left. It may not be an issue when traffic is bumper to bumper during rush hour.

However, when traffic is moving at 55 mph, use caution when merging.

Those issues aside, I give the new bike lane alignment a big thumbs up.

My video below (sped up) gives some perspective. Note the riders merging left on Page Mill Road.

San Vicente Redwoods trails near Santa Cruz moving ahead

October 13, 2019

This map shows the location of future public trails in the lands above Davenport, Calif.

Coming in 2020 — a new 30-mile hiking and mountain bike trail network overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Santa Cruz.

It’s called San Vicente Redwoods. I stopped by the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz booth at the Monarchs Day celebration on West Cliff Drive to get the latest update from Dimitry Struve.

The property is owned by Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) and Sempervirens Fund, and operated by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz has a leading role in building and designing the trail network.

Thanks to their expertise, no trail section will be steeper than a 10 percent grade.

Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz are helping build the San Vicente Redwoods trails.

There’s more. The land surrounding Davenport is part of Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument, administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It’s closed to the public, but the plan is to build connecting trails to San Vicente Redwoods.

That means cyclists and hikers can go from the upper reaches of Empire Grade to Highway 1 all on trails. The BLM trail is not as advanced in planning as San Vicente Redwoods.

However, there is a plan to make Warrenella Road accessible prior to the BLM trails being built.

From what I can see on Google Maps, the gated road is paved where it joins Cement Plant Road in Davenport, for a couple of miles or so.

I’ve never had the occasion to explore this section of the Santa Cruz Mountains, outside of Bonny Doon Road, Empire Grade, and Eagle Rock Trail.

I can imagine that in the future the trails will join up with those in Wilder Ranch State Park.

Anyone wanting to ride a bike on West Cliff Drive to enjoy views of the Pacific Coast would be advised to do so during the Monarchs Day celebration.

Thousands of local residents turned out to enjoy the sun and hear local bands perform, and learn about environmental activities in the area.

Monarchs Day brought out Santa Cruz cyclists to enjoy the sunshine.

Separated bike lanes come to Cupertino

October 5, 2019

The Good. Separated lane on both sides of McClellan Road in Cupertino.

I support separated bike lanes in concept when done right. Cupertino’s new separated bike lanes on McClellan Road are a work in progress.

McClellan Road is a gateway to at least six nearby schools, including DeAnza College. It’s an understatement to say this road is a vital route for cyclists and pedestrians. Road riders use McClellan on their way to Stevens Canyon Road and beyond.

I’m sure the city of Cupertino has had every intention of making the road safer, and well they should after the cyclist fatality that occurred here in 2014.

The driver of the double trailer shouldn’t have been on the narrow road when he struck the cyclist who was just trying to get to class.

Today the separate bike lane is open, my first opportunity to ride it since completion.

McClellan is somewhat better or “safer” than before, but I found issues. Some issues are being addressed, but others I’m not so sure about.

The Bad. Where the cyclist died in 2014. You’re telling me this is safer now? Move the railroad crossing barrier so the road can be widened. I hope that’s in the plan.

For one, the surface is uneven in many locations, making for an unsteady ride. Half the lane is taken up by a gutter. There’s a telephone pole in the lane that needs to be removed. I figure that will be done down the road.

Aside from those problems, I’m concerned with the locations where the separation ends, especially at New Life Church just past Stelling Road.

McClellan is narrow here, only one lane in each direction.

As I approached the end of the divider I saw a car parked only feet away. This stretch of road between Stelling and McClellan Place should prohibit parking.

Imagine a cyclist pedaling along at 15 mph suddenly faced with merging into traffic. During rush hour that’s a strong possibility. Will the motorist assume that he has the right of way? Who has the right of way here?

These locations need to be monitored to see if there are conflicts between bikes and cars. I can see it coming.

I’m disappointed by the absence of “no parking” signs this stretch of road. Considering that traffic volumes are much worse than they were 15 years ago, this location needs a serious review.

There are two “no parking” signs before New Life Church, and one after that, but that one is only for street sweeping days.

The Ugly. Good luck merging with cars here. Please, no parking signs!

Now it may be that the protected lane will be extended here one day. I hope so.

Motorists can no longer turn right on red lights at Stelling and Bubb Road. I’m sure that’s going to ruffle some feathers, but it’s being done in the name of pedestrian safety.

I’m wondering, does the no-right-turn sign apply to bikes? I assume so since there isn’t a sign saying otherwise.

Separated bike lanes are the latest road design to protect cyclists on busy roads. If they’re done right, I think they’ll do their job, but points of conflict do occur. They need to be monitored closely in the days ahead.

Bike riding in the Big Apple

September 23, 2019

Williamsburg Bridge on a mild September day in NYC.

My plan was to visit Dave Perry, author of Bike Cult, who lives in Brooklyn near Williamsburg Bridge.

I’ve never visited New York City, but I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to have a good idea what it’s like riding a bike there, and getting around Manhattan where I was staying.

After touring the Statue of Liberty (a must see), I could rent a Citibike and pedal over the bridge, a five-mile ride.

With mild weather, there was nothing to prevent me from a quick trip to visit a Jobst Rider from way back (mid 1970s) who I had never met.

Dave lived in Palo Alto near Keith Vierra, Tom Ritchey, Bill Robertson, and others. He raced and had some success, but then Greg LeMond came along and gave all of these talented Northern California riders reason to pause. “And I thought I was hot stuff.”

I downloaded the Citibike app on my Android phone and proceeded to stumble through the registration process. That wasn’t so bad, but when it came time to unlock the bike, I had to read the instructions printed on the rack to figure out how to enter the five-digit code sent to my phone.

There is a keypad with “1, 2, 3” and LED lights next to each number. You punch in the combination to unlock the bike.

As soon as I pulled the bike out of the rack located in Battery Park, I knew I wasn’t going to be speeding around town. These bikes weigh about 45 pounds. They’ve got fenders, a bell on the left twist grip, and automatic-gear twist shifting on the right hand grip.

The seat was too high, so I lowered it using the convenient quick release. It could be difficult to adjust for someone with weak hands.

I shoved off and noticed the sluggish steering. At least the tires are wide and thick, because you wouldn’t want a flat.

Compared to riding in San Francisco, NYC has a lot going for it. There’s a comprehensive bicycle network, including protected bike paths on some streets.

I followed a bike path along the East River, although it doesn’t go all the way to Williamsburg Bridge. I had to take Clinton Street, but it has a protected bike lane.

There’s no relaxing while riding in NYC. I had to watch out for other riders, walkers, joggers, cars. Most cyclists knew what they were doing. The boldest of the bold weave in and out of traffic with a death wish.

They make a sport of it and hold races through Manhattan, which you can watch on YouTube.

I was just trying to keep out of everyone’s way and make it in one piece to my destination. It’s intimidating riding in crowded cities, especially when you’re old and riding an unresponsive tank. In my youth it wasn’t a concern.

Riding over the Williamsburg Bridge, I appreciated the lengths that the city went to to accommodate walkers and cyclists. It has a separate lane above the cars and next to the subway/train that whizzes by every few minutes.

I enjoyed the ride in mild weather and saw nice views, but I wondered what it would be like to deal with snow and ice.

The one comparison between the Bay Area and NYC that stands out is the kind of cyclists I see. In NYC it’s utilitarian riding with an assortment of bikes, no helmets. Riders are dressed in street clothing. I saw a young woman wearing stockings and a miniskirt.

Bike lane on 8th Avenue near Central Park, minus the bollards.

Downtown I witnessed something out of a magazine advertisement — a Wall Street “suit” riding on a Citibike!

In the Bay Area it’s all Lycra and Spandex, sunglasses, and shiny helmets.

I made it to my destination and had a brief conversation with Dave, who had been out riding. He looks fit.

After sharing memories of days gone by, I headed back the way I came, this time feeling more comfortable with the riding and the bike.

At least I didn’t get lost and survived the ride. The cost came to $13 for a 10-mile ride. The day pass is the best option. It can get expensive if you pay for a 30-minute ride and go over the time limit.

Considering the difficulties of getting around in Manhattan, riding a bike can be a good option in some situations.

Since car traffic was banned in Central Park, there has been an explosion of cycling here. However, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. There are daily bike-to-bike and bike-to-pedestrian accidents.

Best way to see Central Park is via a pedicab. Look for the guy who hails from Uzbekistan.

Pedicabs ply the streets of Manhattan, offering rides after Broadway shows, etc.

Alpine Road then and now

August 31, 2019

Alpine Road just past the green gate today.

Alpine Road at the same location in May 1990.

This morning I decided to check out Alpine Road and take a photo to compare it to the same location from May 1990.

That year is pivotal in the road’s long history. The last time San Mateo County graded the road was December 1989.

While climbing the shaded, paved section of Alpine Road, a rider passed me wearing a Veloro Bicycles jersey. It had to be Gebhard Ebenhoech, the shop OWNER, so I caught up.

We exchanged pleasantries before I headed past the green gate at Alpine Road where the dirt begins.

It didn’t take long to find the spot, which is only a couple hundred yards past the green gate. I’m pretty sure this is where I took the photo. Even if it’s not, you get the picture.

The tree on the right resembles the one from 1990. Of course the terrain has changed to the point of being unrecognizable after 30 years.

The whole point of this exercise is to remind everyone, for the millionth time, that Alpine Road used to be our gateway to the Santa Cruz Mountains.

It was far and away the best route to Skyline Boulevard, avoiding all traffic and offering spectacular views higher up.

Late-summer days like today weren’t so pleasant back then either, as the dust accumulated on the road, but it was still a good ride.

Loma Mar Store – open at last

August 18, 2019

A view of Loma Mar Store from the patio. Spacious.

The colorful sign posted on 8150 Pescadero Creek Road outside Loma Mar Store sums it up best — Open at Last. It took 5 1/2 years, but the wait was worth it.

I stepped inside and marveled at the spacious, open floor plan. Every detail said quality. Anyone can see that the owners put heart and soul into their store and brought a dream to life.

Over the years since its closure, I’ve stopped by from time to time and watched the store being rebuilt. I think all that’s original is the tree out front.

The store became a favorite way station for Jobst Brandt since he started cycling in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the 1950s. He was joined by a cadre of riders in the 1960s. They were engineers, bike racers, programmers, machinists.

This band of Merry Pranksters, minus the drugs, explored the Santa Cruz Mountains by bike. Jobst knew every trail and abandoned road in the area, and all roads led to Loma Mar, eventually.

Jobst Brandt sits outside the store in 1987.

Jobst became our Pied Piper, our bard, our Francis Bacon in the saddle as he made astute observations about the world around us. In the 1970s-80s he liked to stop at Loma Mar and visit owner Roger Siebecker, who served as the town’s postmaster, store owner, and volunteer firefighter.

On one occasion in the 1970s, Roger came to the rescue of Jobst and several riders who crashed on the frozen Wurr Road bridge one winter day. Bones were broken.

I got to meet the gracious owners, Jeff and Kate, this Sunday morning as they greeted local residents come to see the beautiful store that opened six days ago. It has always been the heart and soul of Loma Mar, a tiny community tucked away in majestic redwoods.

Fuel for the return ride.

It’s hard for me not to feel nostalgia about this place, as I’ve been riding here since 1980. Jobst’s adventure rides became the highlight of every weekend, an escape from the pressure cooker atmosphere of Silicon Valley.

Visiting the store gave me a feeling that “community” really means something. The appeal of the small town hearkens to simpler times when people knew each other by first name and life moved at a slower pace. I enjoyed that feeling every time I stopped by, if only briefly.

Jeff encouraged me to return and I promised I would try. But it’s a long way from where I live and the miles aren’t getting any easier. Cyclists heading down to the coast may want to stop and pay a visit, enjoy a coffee, pastry, sandwich. You too can be part of the Loma Mar community.

Loma Mar Store, open for business.

Squeal like a brake pad – redux

August 15, 2019

Kool Stop pads on the Open Pro rim, above, and Mavic MA2 rim below.

(Follow up: I used the Kool Stop pads on some long descents. They squealed descending Pescadero Road and later on Page Mill Road, although it cleared up completely going down Moody Road. I have zero tolerance for brake squeal. I will use them on the rear brake only.)

Back in 2009 I complained about squeaky Kool Stop brake pads. Fast forward ten years and I’m back to using the Continental style pads (still being sold), but no more squeal.

Jobst Brandt was a huge fan of Kool Stop pads. At one point back in the 80s I think every rider in his cadre switched to Kool Stop.

My guess is that the newer Mavic Open Pro rims I’m riding are less prone to grunge buildup compared to the Mavic MA2. I have photographic evidence. I could get the Kool Stop pads to stop squealing if I ran them through wet sand and applied the brakes, but the fix didn’t last.

The Shimano Ultegra brake pads I replaced had lost braking power. I noticed it on steep descents and even not-so-steep inclines.

Worn Shimano pad removed from its casing. Easy to remove them once you back out the screw with a 2 mm Allen key.

I think it’s mostly due to age. They were nine years old and had many miles. Rubber hardens with age and I think that contributed to the reduced braking power.

These Continental pads are old. They’ve been sitting in the garage for 15 years, but they work well. These pads last forever. They might just outlive me.

I don’t have any objections to Shimano’s pads. I wanted to use what was on hand and save a buck.

The Kool Stop pads I’m using have some cons. They’re ugly for one. They require a 10 mm wrench. I prefer an Allen key.

While my braking power is much better now, I should be using disc brakes for even better braking.

I’ve always preferred the simpler caliper brake, but nowadays my aging hands need all the help they can get.

Homeless encampments a fire hazard

July 20, 2019

A grass fire consumed most of a homeless encampment at the Guadalupe River Trail and Hwy 237.

When you think about it, humans were all homeless fifty thousand years ago. We’ve come a long way since the stone age, but homelessness still has its place in our society.

A scorched field next to a homeless encampment along the Guadalupe River trail at Hwy 237 brought this sad reality into focus once again during my bike ride.

The grass fire broke out Thursday afternoon around 2:30, cause unknown. KPIX 5 has some footage, no audio.

I reported this encampment to San Jose officials in December 2017, but what can they do?

Meanwhile, there’s also dredging underway along the river that will close the trail occasionally near Montague Expressway. The other side of the river has a dirt road that can be used during closures.

I hope the dredging takes into account all the turtles living in this location. I’ve seen more than a dozen at a time along the shore.