Valley Fair expansion considers bicycles

February 7, 2017

Valley Fair's new parking garage off Monroe has bicycle amenities.

Valley Fair’s new parking garage off Monroe has bicycle amenities.

As I write this, another parking structure is coming down at Westfield Valley Fair shopping center, to be replaced by a six-story garage.

In the next 2 1/2 years the popular shopping mall will be expanded to include movie theaters, outdoor shops/dining and new banks. The cost: 1 billion dollars.

What we won’t see: a badly needed overhead walkway between the shopping center and Santana Row. I’m not sure who made that decision, but it’s regrettable. Additionally, there won’t be any police directing traffic on busy holidays.

The good news is that the new parking structure on Monroe has bike lockers, bike racks, a repair stand and a pump, all covered.

I didn’t try the pump, but it’s hand-operated and is supposed to accommodate both schrader and presta valves.

If you’re concerned about parking, check the Valley Fair website for a real-time view of how many spaces are available.

Montana bill would ban cyclists from most roads

February 6, 2017

Hwy 212 in Montana, Beartooth Pass, is one of the most scenic in the U.S. (Google Maps photo)

Hwy 212 in Montana, Beartooth Pass, is one of the most scenic in the U.S. (Google Maps photo)

A bill proposed in the Montana state legislature would prohibit bicycle use outside of municipalities where roads have no paved shoulder. In Montana that’s a lot of highway!

I’ve only been to Montana once, but I wished I had brought my bike as I drove the family over Beartooth Pass, state Hwy 212. I’ve been over a lot of passes, but this one ranks up there as the most beautiful.

It doesn’t have a shoulder. What a shame if Montana decides this bill is the right way to go.

What’s ironic here is that Montana is the state where the Bikecentennial started, a non-profit created to encourage bicycling across the U.S. in 1976 to celebrate our country’s bicentennial. More than 4,000 cyclists completed the route, which went through Montana.

The local TV gave the proposed bill some coverage.

I don’t know if it would do much good, but you can contact the bill sponsor, Barry Usher. Just be nice about it. He’s also a fan of two-wheeled vehicles, so we share a common purpose to keep roads open for all forms of transportation.

Here’s the bill wording. See line 23-24.

If there was a cycling hell…

February 3, 2017

Typical street scene in a Manila suburb. Tricycle motorbikes, motorbikes, cars, bicycles, pedestrians, trucks.

Typical street scene in a Manila suburb. Tricycle motorbikes, motorbikes, cars, bicycles, pedestrians, trucks.

It would be the Philippines. You haven’t experienced traffic until you’ve been to Manila. Or Bangkok. Or New Delhi. Or anywhere else in Asia where the climate is tropical.

It’s hot, it’s humid, the air is fetid with the smell of diesel belching from aging jeepneys that the government is desperate to see replaced with newer, cleaner models.

Yet people still ride bikes here, at all hours, with and without lights or even reflectors. Few wear helmets. I saw them all the time, some wearing masks or handkerchiefs to try to protect their lungs from the debilitating air.

While bikes can maneuver around traffic, I can’t imagine an autonomous car lasting five minutes here during rush-hour. It would be laughable. The car would make it ten feet before shutting down, or just sit there waiting for an opening to safely go forward.

I was fortunate to have a relative who knows how to drive here, someone who does it so well he even worked for Uber. It didn’t take long for him to realize it was a money-losing proposition. I had an Uber driver take me home one evening from Makati and it was a paltry 75 pesos. That’s $1.50. It wouldn’t have even covered the cost of gas. Of course I gave him a lot more than that in cash (Uber takes cash in the Philippines).

Manila’s intersections outside of the ultra-wealthy sections of Makati are mostly unsignaled, which means turning left is a daunting task. Near the airport we had to cross three lanes of traffic while turning left, most of the time without any traffic control. There were roundabouts chocked with traffic.

Yet there are very few accidents because people who drive in Manila know how to yield. It’s like a school of fish maneuvering through another school of fish. They’ve got built in radar. It just works.

I’m not saying it’s better than our signaled intersection driving in the U.S., but it does work well enough that people can struggle to and from work daily.

Head for the Hills
There is one place near Manila where cyclists have a respite from the heat and traffic. It’s Tagaytay, where there are a few roads without traffic. Cyclists enjoy riding up a concrete road that spirals upward for 2,500 feet to the summit of Mt. Gonzales.

Cyclists begin the climb up Mt. Gonzales. Those huge fat tires popular here.

Cyclists begin the climb up Mt. Gonzales. Those huge fat tires popular here.

Riders at the summit and entrance to Palace in the Sky prepare for the descent.

Riders at the summit and entrance to Palace in the Sky prepare for the descent.

There they find a Palace in the Sky, literally. Marcos had it built in 1981, but it was never finished because his government was toppled by the People Power revolution from 1983-86. Today it’s a park where Manila residents can escape the ever-present heat in the valley below.

Cyclists face a daunting climb, some sections as steep as 20 percent and longer stretches of 15 percent, hard under any conditions but more so here with the heat and humidity.

At the summit they’re rewarded with cooler temperatures, fair winds and views of Mt. Taal, a volcano inside a lake. In recent years the roads in and around Tagaytay have been widened so cyclists can manage to get around a lot more safely. There’s still the ever-present traffic on crowded weekends.

When I think about any types of problems I have riding in Santa Clara Valley, I remind myself just how good we have it compared to so many places around the world. This is Shangri-La.

Colnago Ferrari. I'm assuming this is a knock-off of the real thing, which does exist.

Colnago Ferrari. I’m assuming this is a knock-off of the real thing, which does exist.

Winter storm floods creek path

January 9, 2017

That's a lot of debris. You'll want to ride on Great America Parkway a short distance and then take a left.

That’s a lot of debris. You’ll want to ride on Great America Parkway a short distance and then take a left.

San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail made it through the weekend rainstorm everywhere but here at the Great America Parkway underpass.

Use extra caution at the underpasses where there’s a slurry of slippery mud.

I also rode on the Sunnyvale Baylands trail over to Mountain View and the Google road improvement made it rideable even with all the rain.

Wool jacket fits active lifestyles

January 4, 2017

I purchased the Sheep Dip jacket. Other garments are available.

I purchased the Sheep Dip jacket. Other garments are available.

I haven’t owned a wool clothing item in eons, so when Dave McLaughlin offered a jacket on Kickstarter, I figured I could use one for those wet cold days, like the one today.

A Kickstarter purchase is never a sure thing, so when it arrived on time I was already ahead of the game. I’ve had all good luck with Kickstarter, purchasing a bike bell made in San Francisco, a board game, a book, and a cycling video camera.

Quality has generally been excellent with only one minor disappointment. The video camera broke, but it was replaced free of charge.

I’ve been wearing the jacket more often with colder weather, so I can now give my review. I’m pleased with the purchase, with two exceptions. The sleeves are a little tight at the wrist when putting on the jacket. The sleeves are just right once on.

It’s itchy. However, with wear that is becoming less noticeable and I expect it will disappear with time. The fabric reminds me of felt, a blend of wool and polyester. It’s washable in cold water.

What I like about the jacket first and foremost: it’s fashionable. It fits perfectly on my slim frame. I like the full-length zipper and the abundant, large pockets, a big plus on cold days when you want to keep your hands warm. My size is medium.

It’s not a cycling jacket, but you can wear it for short bike rides around town with no problem. Dave designed his jacket for post-exercise activities, like going to a restaurant or visiting friends, and so on.

Another plus is that the jacket keeps me warm. No complaints in that department. Wool is a great fabric for warmth even when wet.

The price was a real deal on Kickstarter and it’s still competitive with other similar jackets on the market. If you’re interested in buying a jacket and supporting a veteran Northern California cyclist with your purchase, check it out on the DMAC website or on Facebook.

Coyote Creek Trail adds paved segment

December 27, 2016

Newly paved section of Coyote Creek Trail looking north from Tasman Drive in San Jose.

Newly paved section of Coyote Creek Trail looking north from Tasman Drive in San Jose.

Slowly but surely, Coyote Creek Trail is being paved from bay to Morgan Hill, including the latest segment between Hwy 237 and Tasman Drive in San Jose.

That’s about a mile. The heavy lifting will occur between Kelley Park and Montague Expressway where there are many obstacles in the way. Of course, that section isn’t even open. The newly paved section was open and gravel.

I’m seeing a lot more homeless people in places I never saw them before, like along the paved trail on the north side of Hwy 237. Yes they cleaned out the Coyote Creek camps, but those same people had to go somewhere, so now they’re along Guadalupe River and other parts of Coyote Creek.

One of those “eventful” days I’d just as soon forget

December 17, 2016

It wasn't all bad news. Mushrooms a plenty.

It wasn’t all bad news. Mushrooms a plenty.

My favorite bike rides these days are “uneventful.” Nothing at all happens beyond a quiet bike ride in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Not so today.

It was in the high 30s when I left and it didn’t warm up until late afternoon. That made things unpleasant most of the ride, so it was already edging toward “eventful” territory.

As I rode north on Skyline on the long straight after Grizzly Flat Trail two cars approached one another going opposite directions at their usual high speed, but the car behind me had to slow abruptly (slight tire screech) when he realized there would be a three-way passing situation, all of us lined up side by side.

The driver didn’t take kindly to having to slow down and he made sure to let me know it was my fault. He drove up to my side and matched my speed. I stopped. He said, “Why do you ride your bike on this road?” I responded in kind. “Why do you drive your car on this road?”

What followed is familiar dialogue. “It’s dangerous riding a bike up here,” he said. “I just want you to know.” I realized this was not a situation where anyone was going to win an argument, so I did my best to diffuse any tension, speaking with genuine sincerity. “You’re right. Riding a bike is extremely dangerous. I tell that to everyone I know.” It worked. He didn’t get upset and drove off in his punked out BMW.

But my close encounters were not yet over. As I was riding up Hwy 84 two or three miles outside La Honda I stopped at a driveway to check my bike when out of nowhere this young man shows up on Hwy 84 wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants. He told me he was walking to Skyline Boulevard and needed to know how far it was. After I told him, he asked me to call his mother and have her pick him up. He gave me a number and I punched it in to my smartphone, but first I moved close to the highway because this guy looked like he was sketchy, although he didn’t sound threatening. No service. I told him I’d ride up to Skyline, but I was none too happy about it. The guy did not give off a good vibe — more like a scared deer.

I got to Skyline soon enough and tried my phone. Still no service at Sky Londa. Oddly, there was a Sheriff standing a few feet away in the parking lot. I told him my story and he immediately used his walkie talkie to talk to dispatch. Turns out the guy “escaped” from Camp Glenwood, a probation facility in La Honda off Pescadero Road and they were searching for him. He had been wandering around since 3 a.m.

I have no idea what became of their escapee, but if he’s smart he accepted a ride from the Sheriff when he drove by.

This camp is not to be confused with the Honor Camp located in Pescadero Creek County Park, which closed in 2003. It was supposed to be turned into a campground, but I haven’t heard any news on that front. Ken Kesey stayed at that one back in the 1960s and got some material for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest while there.

Microshift 7-speed shifter fits the bill

December 12, 2016
Microshift 7 speed levers have an unusual shifting method.

Microshift 7 speed levers have an unusual shifting method.

UPDATE (Jan. 4, 2017): I corresponded with Microshift regarding the lever not working properly. After seeing a video I created, a new lever was shipped to me at no cost. Indeed, the lever was defective. It was purchased through Ebay from a seller called “microshift-bicycle” based in China and in no way affiliated with Microshift of Taiwan.


This story starts six years ago when I finally threw in the towel and switched from down-tube index shifting to brake/shift levers on a new bike.

It didn’t take long to realize I had made the right decision. So much so that my second bike with down-tube shifting called out for a make-over. I still enjoy riding that 1986 frame built by Dale Saso, even though it has been through a lot. Another reason: Dupuytrens contracture is reeking havoc with my hands, making it painful to use the old Campagnolo brake levers — small and narrow.

When I started looking at cost, I discovered that Shimano has abandoned 10-speed cassettes for 11-speeds, and even worse, they’re not compatible. Enough already! Ten speeds in the rear was more than I needed. I would have to widen the rear stay another 4 mm, build new wheels, buy new cassettes.

I decided to try a 7-speed. I could swap my 6-speed screw-on freewheel for a 7-speed without widening the frame, as it turned out, and screw-on 7-speed freewheels are available. Your bike may be different and require a hub spacer or not work at all. The issue is chain clearance in the high gear. Gear stops cost $11 and screw into the down-tube shifter braze-on.

Microshift levers, derailleurs
Looking around I found Shimano still makes 7-speed brake/shift levers. I also found Microshift makes the levers and rear derailleur for a 7-speed. I had good luck with their shifters on my mountain bike, so I decided to give them a try. The price was right, $50 for the levers on eBay and $22 for the derailleur. A Shimano freewheel (13-28) runs about $9 on sale. I would need to buy cable housing ($20) and then a cable cutter ($25).

I bought through the mail, so I was on my own when it came to troubleshooting.

Would my Dura-Ace 7402 rear derailleur work? I wondered, so I held off ordering the Microshift rear derailleur. Dura-Ace 7402 was compatible with 8 speed SIS, so it might just work.

The levers went onto the bike with no issues. Cable routing is straightforward. They didn’t come with directions (they’re online in PDF), but Microshift has instructions on YouTube.

The moment of truth: I began shifting gears. I made barrel adjustments going from high to low speed on the rear derailleur and it worked well. However, I noticed that shifting from low (easy) to high gear (hard) didn’t work. I tried everything — barrel adjustments, checking the cable housing length, different ferrules, lubrication, checking the chain, rear hanger alignment, on and on. No matter what I did, the chain clunked from low gear to high gear without stopping between cogs.

Dura-Ace to blame?
I figured the Dura-Ace derailleur was to blame, so I ordered a Microshift 7 speed derailleur. I installed it without any issues (nothing unusual about how it works) and again the moment of truth: Argh!!! No matter what I did, I got the same result.

By the way, in the meantime I read about cable housing and discovered that Shimano SIS shift housing is different from brake housing. So much so that using shift housing on brakes can lead to sudden brake failure! So I had to go back to my old brake housing, which is a single strand of thick wire wrapped in a coil (helical). The Shimano SIS shift housing is multiple strands of thin, straight wire held together by plastic lining and then nylon sheathing. Brake cable undergoes compression, which puts a lot of pressure on the housing lining.

But I digress. Now I was really mystified by the problematic shifting. I couldn’t find squat about Microshift derailleurs and how they worked. YouTube videos only explain how to adjust derailleurs, not how to use the levers.

I tried opening the brake/shift lever and figure out how it worked. It was like a Sturmey-Archer hub in there.

Shifting works this way
As I was messing with the gears I decided to try something different. The shifter has two paddles. The large paddle is pushed to the left to shift from a high to low gear. Pretty straight forward. There’s a small paddle that you push in to do the opposite, low to high. Makes sense. But as I mentioned, every time I pushed the small paddle the chain shifted all the way into high gear. I wondered: What if I push in on the big paddle, holding it in place, and then push in on the small paddle?

Lo and behold, that was it. Perfect shifting. Microshift might have a patent on that process. I couldn’t find one though. If only they had instructions. It’s not intuitive.

After riding, I got used to the shifting, but I wouldn’t want to use it in a race. It’s way too complicated to have to think about it during the heat of competition. However, for an old geezer riding around town, it’s fine.

So how about the levers for comfort? They’re far better than Campagnolo and with padded gloves my hands can tolerate them. They’re a bit narrower than Shimano Ultegra 6700 levers, but not enough to be an issue. All in all, they have a nice feel.

By the way, I kept the Dura-Ace front derailleur. It works fine with Microshift. I didn’t notice a long throw as some have reported. It has three clicks, but I think one of them is for trim and not a triple crank. As for the Campagnolo brakes, their 1-1 pull ratio isn’t any different. The 4-1 ratio found in modern brakes is much preferred by me since my hands aren’t all that strong, but I can live with it. In terms of hand size, larger hands are probably better for Microshift levers.

Finally, I still wasn’t sure about the Dura-Ace derailleur. Would it work? I reinstalled it and gave it a try. This is an old derailleur. Maybe that has something to do with it, but the results were not great. It could work in a pinch, but I would go with the Microshift derailleur, which shifts as smooth as glass. It’s light years better than my down-tube index shifting.

Note: The official Microshift instructions for the levers do not say that it’s necessary to push in on the large paddle while shifting the small paddle. I doubt that my levers are defective. The instructions may be wrong. Microshift has not responded to my email, so hard to say.

More reading:

Drive-train history

Dura-Ace 7402 rear derailleur

Microshift rear derailleur. Cable housing should be about 30 cm long.

Microshift rear derailleur. Cable housing should be about 30 cm long.

Too much of a good thing

December 11, 2016

Seven pounds of chanterelles. My neck ached after the ride.

Seven pounds of chanterelles. My neck ached after the ride.

It’s not anywhere near as impressive as 2006, but 2016 is shaping up to be a good one for chanterelles after the long drought.

I can only carry about seven pounds in my bike bag, so I had to leave behind about five pounds, and that was what I saw where I looked. I quit looking once I filled my bag.

I found a new location, although in reality it’s an extension of another spot I know about.

I’d give some away, but with the exception of my neighbor, who has “European sensibilities,” people freak out when offered.

Chanterelles sell for about $25 a pound (and up) in the few markets that sell them. You need a permit to sell to stores.

It was a cool, cloudy day, perfect for riding in the Santa Cruz Mountains and finding edible fungi.

Eating an oak tree — one acorn at a time

December 6, 2016

Acorns are best left for the squirrels.

Acorns are best left for the squirrels.

We’ve all ridden through oak-covered hillsides in the Bay Area, but I’ve always wondered if the acorn could be a delicious food source, so with a lot of free time these days I decided to find out.

I’ve eaten Miner’s lettuce, Chanterelle mushrooms, Thimbleberries, and other wild foods, but I’m hardly a survivalist.

If we ever have one of those events leading to a dystopian future, I’ll be the first to go.

Gathering acorns is the easy part. They’re everywhere. I picked up some in a nearby park as the squirrels chattered away in the trees, watching their food source disappear.

I followed the process recommended by Arthur Haines in his YouTube video. He recommends cold-water leaching of the tannin, the stuff that makes acorns poisonous to most animals.

I didn’t see the point in drying the acorns in the sun, as recommended, and besides, it was raining. Probably not a good idea. They should be dried.

I used a claw hammer and a flat stone to smash the acorn (lying on its side) to get to the nut.

It took at least two hours of pounding. I thought about the indigenous people who used to do this all the time and thanked my lucky stars for Costco.

Then I had to grind the nuts into a fine powder before leaching.

Leaching took a week of twice-daily emptying water-filled mixing bowls with ground acorn. On the eighth day the water was clear except for a slight color tinge, so I knew the tannins were gone and I wouldn’t die.

Then I had to dry the acorns. On a cold winter day that can take a while, so I used a space heater.

Finally, I used the acorn mix to make waffles. I figured, one cup of flour and one cup of ground acorn would do the trick. No, the acorn is more like ground nuts, not flour.

I had to add another cup of regular flour. The verdict: Acorns don’t have much taste, if any. Think sawdust.

The lesson here is simple. Good foods are popular.

Acorns don’t make the grade. That’s why you only see them being eaten by survivalist types. Same goes for buckeyes, only they’re even harder to prepare and taste like bland potatoes.

OK squirrels, you can keep your acorns.

Follow-up: I tried it as coffee. With sugar and half-and-half, yum! The Southern troops drank acorn coffee in the Civil War.