Ride Recap: Orinda Pool Party & Ride(s)

August 17th, 2016 by tony

2016 Pool Party pool2

            They was a splishin’ and a splashin’

            Reelin’ with the feelin’

            Movin’ and a groovin’

            Rockin’ and a rollin’. Yeah!

                                    –Bobby Darin

Another year and another Different Spokes pool party has now gurgled down the drain. We got some heat this year, real heat and not the so-so heat we’ve had the last few years. In fact it was so hot that poor Howard really started a-reelin’ and we had to call 911 to get him checked out. But more on that later…

Just the facts, Ma’am.

This year 20 men showed up to pedal and paddle, and I do mean 20 men…as in zero women. It was a stag party by default. And no, that didn’t mean we went crazy wild in the pool, folks. Eight animals, who were patently into some kind of BDSM cycling thing, decided to do the new longer, climbier route and seven sane, mild not wild Spokers did the regular, well-mannered, Goldilocks-kinda route. The former was only five miles longer but it took the Pain Gang up Shepherd Canyon Road. Um, that would be the hella steep grind you’ve never heard of. Unless you live over here. Based on the moaning and complaining I got afterwards it was obviously a fantastic hit. With that feedback in mind I’ll definitely plan on an even harder route for you whiners next year. (Hint: if you did the Orinda Hill Hopper with me years back, you know what you’re doing next year, ha ha!) The goal is to utterly silence any kvetching by either having absolutely no one take up the challenge of doing the harder route or only getting dainty, quaint compliments on how absolutely lovely it was! You’ve been warned.

2016 Pool Party ride

Prancing About.

Sal and David Goldsmith led the long route while Doug O’Neill and David Gaus led the regular route with me as the sweep. I can’t say much about the BDSM ride since I wasn’t there. But the vanilla group had a fabulous time. In fact, the mood was very much like one of our Social Rides, i.e. there was a lot of gabbing and gossiping going on. We only shut up after the second hairpin on Pinehurst, when all talking ceases and heavy breathing increases! Of course after catching one’s breath we were right back at it. Topics of the day included the most au courant excuses why we haven’t been riding much (“Girl, I’ve been watching the Olympics! Did you see that David Boudia in the synchronized riding? I’d like to synchronize my dive with him!”); why the brakes must be rubbing the rim because there’s no other reason why I’m going so slowly; what percent grade is Pinehurst??, and “Darling, that kit you’re wearing is absolutely smashing!” Strangely enough the only real topic worth discussing—Howard’s brand new, custom titanium/carbon Seven superbike with SRAM E-Tap shifting(!!!!)—elicited absolutely no notice from anyone other than me (I’m known for my wandering eye—bike eye, that is). So we sashayed up Pinehurst and moseyed along Skyline even stopping twice to take in the view and snap some panoramas and selfies with our phones. On the descent into Berkeley the animals finally caught up with us and vanished off into the distance whilst we continued to meander along Wildcat lost in chatter. On Old El Toyonal Wanderson, who had left with the Queen Bees but then had been mercilessly dropped Mean Girls-style, finally caught up with us and we arrived at the pool party gruppo compatto. The animals (minus Wanderson) had apparently arrived long ago and did not delay in beelining to the Playa del Pédés ‘cause there was a-splishin’ and a-splashin’ going on when we rolled up.

2016 Pool Party food

Mouth Action.

Brunch was the usual—Caesar salad, Aidell’s sausages (this year it was Spicy Mango and Jalapeño), and pasta with pesto made of basil from our garden. There was the usual array of desserts from people designed to give your pancreas a workout and your brain a nice sugar high although chocolates were strangely absent (except for David’s truffles). Of note was Bill Knudsen’s delicious homemade peach kuchen! In contrast to the distant past when beers would have flowed like October in Munich, this was a way dry crowd except for just a few oldtimers. Man, it was like hanging out with Mormons—no alcohol, no chocolate, no caffeine. This training nonsense must stop. Are we a cult yet?

2106 Pool Party gab

Howard’s End.

Although the rides took place under comfortable conditions, with the constant sun the temperature rose into the low 90s over lunch despite the deck being under awnings. After a hard ride and a couple of adult beverages, Howard apparently hadn’t rehydrated enough because he suddenly started to pass out. Jeff screamed, “Howard, who’s the President of the United States?” trying to elicit a coherent response. Being preoccupied in the kitchen, I hadn’t seen anything odd occur. So when I rushed out to see what the hell was going on, Howard actually didn’t look too bad and at least could talk coherently to me. By that time Roger had already summoned 911, and for our next drama we had an upclose and personal visit from our local fire department. Whilst the EMTs administered to Howard, there were murmurs in the background that went back and forth between Howard’s well-being and how lucky he was to get all that attention from the four young, hunky men in uniform. My god, you would have thought there was a porn movie taking place in real life judging from the hushed whispers and salacious side comments. I thought for sure some others were going to faint and ask for medical attention as well. In any case even though Howard seemed well enough he was whisked off to the ER just to make sure (after all he—like some of us—is “of an age”). And no, there was no filming in the back of the ambulance. Naughty boys!

Riding Off Into the Sunset.

Not long after, folks decided they had had enough drama and heat for the day—plus laundry and other mundane tasks demanded attention before Monday’s slog to work beckoned—and riders packed up their beachwear and took off for BART. The Den Daddy went off to the ER to make sure Howard was going to be alright and he returned to get that dip in the pool he missed (as if the pool at Rossmoor wasn’t good enough!). Things quieted down pleasantly leaving just Joe, Lamberto, Roger, Derek and I to shoot the bull about dining in Contra Costa, the vagaries of local pizzerias, and the fabulous amenities at Rossmoor. We didn’t break up until 6:30 making it one long day of fun, food, foolery, and fabulous blathering.

Hostesses With the Mostesses.

This year marks the ninth year of the Orinda Pool Party, originally called the “Recession Special”. (You do remember the Great Recession, don’t you?) Originally it was an excuse to have a ride but also something that was more than a ride. Often the club will do a ride together and then we take off to tend to our busy lives. The Orinda Pool Party was meant to go beyond that. I hope we have succeeded. Well, at least people seem to be coming back! It is also a way for Roger and me to give something back to the club. Clubs survive and thrive on the energy and volunteerism from its members. Although putting on a pool party is perhaps beyond the means of most members, offering to do something for the club is something anyone can do. It can be as simple as stepping forward to sweep a ride you’ve joined, leading a ride, or posting something to the Yahoo! Group. It could be something more ambitious such as helping to plan a weekend getaway or organize a group dinner. Riding isn’t always about “training” even if many of us do enjoy training (although I’m not sure quite what for). Rides can just transport us to different locations but they can also transport us to another level of friendship and camaraderie. Anyone can release their inner Perle Mesta!

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History of the Orinda Pool Party

August 1st, 2016 by tony
Yammering, not hammering

OMG, no bicycles! What happened to the club??

 

The Orinda Pool Party is coming up in just two short weeks! I thought this might be a good time to share a short history of Different Spokes’ favorite East Bay event. Although many current Different Spokes members think that the Orinda Pool Party is an original idea, it is not. That honor goes to former member Sue Melly and her partner Andrea, who opened their Walnut Creek house to the club for an East Bay Pool Party back in 1997. The East Bay Pool Party lasted at least through 2001 before vanishing. I was living in SF at the time and I never went to it probably for all the reasons that many current Different Spokes members don’t come to the Orinda Pool Party now: it’s ‘far’ from SF, it’s a short ride, and it’s ‘too hot.’ Oh, and add ‘Why would I want to swim??’

Zoom forward a few years. Roger and I are living in Orinda and we have a pool, which coincidentally we don’t use all that much. Roger and I are talking about Different Spokes, the need for more social events, and what we could do for a ride that was ‘something different’. What about a pool party? Roger was game, so we went about contriving a ride plus party. The party part was easy to devise: jump in the pool after the ride and then have a post-ride meal. So you see, great minds think alike, or imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Of course the ride part of the Orinda Pool Party is quite different from the rides that were part of the original Annual Pool Party. Sue and Andrea live in Walnut Creek and the rides started in Berkeley and went to their house. In contrast the Orinda Pool Party, which we have offered every year since 2009 except 2011, mainstay ride has been that classic East Bay training loop, Pinehurst-Skyline-Grizzly-San Pablo Dam Road. One quandary of the current Pool Party is that it is very difficult to create an easy ride because of where we live, which happens to be in the Orinda hills on a hellishly steep road. The only way to offer a flatter alternative would be start a ride on the “flats”, say Orinda BART, and finish it there with a car shuttle to the house. Except that we have no street parking in our neighborhood and that makes bringing cars to the house a potential problem. Maybe some day we’ll figure it out. In its current form the rides are probably too forbidding for Spokers who prefer flatter rides. But nothing prevents folks from skipping the ride and coming to the party afterwards.

The original pool party was a club fav—25 people showed up in 2000—and the Orinda Pool Party entertained about the same last year. If it grows much more than that, we’ll have to charge admission—just kidding!

This year we’re following the same worn, comfortable rut: we’ll grill up some Aidell’s sausages and provide homemade pesto from our garden along with a simple Caesar salad; participants bring appetizers or desserts. We realize that schlepping goodies plus your poolside amenities is too hippie for most Spokers, so just bring your stuff to the start and we’ll haul it up to the house for you so that you can do the ride less gravity-impaired. You’ll enjoy grinding up Pinehurst so much more without that hummus and veggie plate strapped to your back!

In addition to the ‘standard’ ride we are offering a new long route. This route goes up to Skyline by Redwood instead of Pinehurst, and after a short visit to the Montclair district of Oakland head steeply up Snake and Shepherd Canyon to the top of Pinehurst where it rejoins the other route.

And don’t forget to RSVP no later than Friday, August 12! See the ride listing on the DSSF website for details and information.

Ride Recap: Tilden Park Heaven Becomes Hell

July 28th, 2016 by tony

The July 4 weekend saw Different Spokes return to the dirt with the first sorta-mountain bike ride in…well, a whole long time! This was supposed to be a pleasant jaunt in Tilden Park with a couple of wicked descents and one hellacious climb up Seaview Trail. I say it was a ‘sorta mtb’ ride because I have actually never done it on a mountain bike: I’ve only done it on a road bike but each time I wonder if I’m fucking nuts for having done so. Part of the problem is that I haven’t had a working mountain bike in years, so I’ve just been riding fire roads on my road bike. It’s quite doable…until you get to Seaview. But that wasn’t why things became hellish because we actually never made it to Seaview.

Listing a dirt ride with Different Spokes has been a futile proposition for at least the better part of a decade. The average has probably around one dirt ride per year and maybe one or two people will go. Why is that? We used to have a prolific mountain bike contingent and dirt ride participation matched road rides. Somewhere around the Millenium we started to become a de facto road-only club and I’m not sure why. I personally wandered away from dirt rides in the early ‘90s (note: ancient history warning!!) after singletrack in the Marin Headlands was shut down by the NPS (they also shut down a whole bunch of fire roads including some of my favs). At the same time Marin Water was escalating harassment of cyclist on Mt. Tam; I remember numerous times when rangers were out radaring cyclists at blind corners and giving out tickets—I barely avoided one myself. It just started to be a big hassle. Then my mountain bike became my commute bike, which became my rusty heap because I rode it rain or shine and didn’t give it whole lot of love.

Every now and then Doug O’Neil or Andrew Lee, who was and is an avid dirt rider who only does road because he needs to stay in shape for dirt riding, would reminisce about “how it used to be”. So, I decided to test the waters… (tune: theme music to “Jaws”)

It was just Doug O’Neill and David Sexton and me. Doug was the only person to show up on an actual mountain bike even if it was turning into a dinosaur by today’s standards. It did have front suspension but no rear; it was 26-inch, not 29- or 27.5-, the new “standards”, and had—gasp—V-brakes. Doug’s bike made my mountain bike look positively primordial. But I didn’t have a mountain bike: I had a Redline, which was one of my commuters. But it did have disc brakes and I had swapped out the slicks for some meatier 33mm cross tires. David showed up on a real road bike, his old Specialized. His only concession to going on dirt was to put 28mm “mini-knob” tires on it. But I was pretty sure he was going to make it up Seaview because he had lower gearing than I’ve ever had.

Things started out fine as we rode up El Toyonal, which has some hella steep sections but eventually we go up Wildcat and avoid the really horrible section on Lomas Cantadas. We headed out the Nimitz Trail, which is a paved trail that starts at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park. The Nimitz originally was the access road for the Nike missle silos on top of the Berkeley hills, which is why it was paved. But eventually the pavement ends and you’re on dirt. We never got that far before disaster struck. One of David’s pedals decided to spontaneously eject from his crank. We spent over half an hour trying to get the pedal reinserted and concluded it was hopeless because the crank was cross-threaded. The best we could do was get it in about halfway. David elected, wisely, to abandon the ride and look for a pro shop to get it fixed. Doug and I continued on and dropped down the Mezue Trail, which was not the intended route! I mistakenly missed a turn but Doug had barreled ahead by the time I realized we were off-course so there was nothing to do but continue to the bottom. At the bottom we rolled along Wildcat Creek back into the civilized section of Tilden and started up the Meadow Canyon Trail when Disaster #2 struck (tune: theme music to “Jaws” again): I got bit by a dog. It wasn’t a nip, it was a full on, I-think-your-leg-is-a-lamb-shank, gnarly bite. As I was cycling up the trail at a snail’s pace four off-leash dogs came trotting down. One of them, a medium sized dog gave no indication of aggression and actually looked like he was coming over to sniff me. As I have twice had collisions with off-leash dogs (I ended up in the SF General ER after the second one), I was moving away from him when he lunged and grabbed my left leg like it was tonight’s dinner trying to run away. I ended up with deep puncture wounds and a trip to the ER. To make a long story short, that was the end of the first Different Spokes dirt ride of 2016! But we will be going to Big Basin State Park in August for our second round. What next? Mountain lions?

Ride Recap: Sawyer Camp Trail & Mediterranean Kebab

July 28th, 2016 by tony

In July the Social Ride took on a beloved ride, the Sawyer Camp Trail. The Sawyer Camp Trail has been a club ride since the beginning but its popularity waxes and wanes. For one, even though it’s close to San Francisco it’s not an especially easy ride to get to. No matter which direction you approach the north trailhead you’re in for a climb and a stiff one at that. Of course once you’re on the trail you realize why it’s so beloved: it follows the rift zone created by the San Andreas fault and is a pleasant meander through the Crystal Springs Reservoir area, a semi-natural and undeveloped reserve that stores San Francisco’s water. On weekends the Trail sees mobs of walkers and a smattering of cyclists, making it a dangerous place to race with its many blind curves, not that one should since it is a multi-use path and the speed limit is set at 15 mph. Apparently bike-pedestrian accidents did occur because at one point a 10 mph limit was imposed and police were ticketing speeding riders. When that happened back in the ‘80s, I pretty much stopped using the trail because I was using it to get to the Peninsula from San Francisco and I wasn’t interested in moseying. The speed limit was since been raised (and the rangers with radar guns seem to be gone as well) making it a perfect place for a Social Ride—except for the getting to the trailhead part!

It was just four of us this time—Roger, me, Omar, and Stephen—but the weather was beautifully cooperative: sunny, mild breeze, and a touch of cool at the start of a mid-80s day. The grind up Murchison proved to be a daunting test for Stephen, reducing him to walking when it became painfully wall-like. But he made it up. The trail was moderately busy but everyone was polite and attentive (a rarity these days with so many folks listening to tunes). We stopped several times to take in the views and take pics. After we exited the trail we ended up on Canada Road, another cyclists’ paradise even though it wasn’t a Bicycle Sunday. Our next stop was the Pulgas Water Temple, the entrance of the Hetch Hetchy water into the Crystal Springs Water, for a pit stop and a quick tour. All this time Stephen was snapping pics and sending them to his husband, who couldn’t make it to the ride because he was out of state visiting relatives. This is a picture-perfect place for a picnic lunch on a ride, but we had other plans and were heading to Mediterranean Kebab! We climbed up Edgewood and dropped down to the flatlands and made our way north to downtown Burlingame for a repast. We lucked out and got al fresco tables. Ah, their baba ghanoush is wickedly good! Conversation ended when our plates arrived–was that because it was so good or because we were so famished? Both! Fortunately after such a filling lunch we had just a few miles back to Millbrae BART.

Next month: the Iron Horse Trail to Khyber Pass Kebob in Dublin.

Ride Recap: Social Ride Silverado Trail & Lunch at Sogni di Dolci

June 19th, 2016 by tony

Yesterday’s Social Ride took place under sunny skies and some light heat when afternoon temps made it up into the mid-80s. The rain the previous couple of days had cleaned out the haze and gave us nicely crisp views of the valley hills. Bill, Joe, and Omar joined Roger and me for the 40-mile ride up to St. Helena to grab some panini at Sogni di Dolci. Because the jaunt up the Silverado Trail is so flat (well, actually it’s gently rolling) we dusted off the tandem, which we hadn’t ridden since last October. Although I expected that we would have a faster pace than usual due to the flatness and good quality of the road, folks apparently wanted a really fast pace so we obliged: we averaged 14.7 mph! That’s the high end of C pace and unheard of for a Social Ride. I’ll just say that was an aberration. In all fairness ride leaders may modify the pace and/or route if they have the permission (acquiescence?) of the participants.

We arrived at Sogni di Dolci and were able to grab a table alfresco. Everyone but Omar ordered various kinds of panini (he just had to have a salad). I had a chèvre and roasted red pepper panini with capers and arugula. It was heaven. Oh yeah, and I got a bowl of their french fries, which had been fried to perfection. Only Joe indulged in an adult beverage, a watermelon flavored (!) beer. No one was displeased with their lunch.

The one major disappointment of the day was the line at Bouchon Bakery was way out the door, about a half-hour wait. Given the afternoon warmth we declined and sped back to Napa. Of note there is a brand new separate multi-use path along Solano Avenue, which is the frontage road to Highway 29. It even has its own bridges. This path runs from the front of the Yountville Veterans Home all the way down to Napa. Although Solano Avenue is also freshly paved and often free of traffic, having the separate path will be a boon for those riding at a casual pace and seeking to avoid interaction with cars.

Next month we’re back to a BART accessible location with the ride starting at Millbrae BART and heading up to the Sawyer Camp Trail with a return along Alameda de las Pulgas. Lunch will be at Mediterranean Kebab in Burlingame. And we’ll be back to our chatty A pace!

Ride Recap: Bay Vistas and Lunch at Tabla

May 29th, 2016 by tony

It’s a sign of the times: not only do we post rides at the last minute but folks send their RSVPs at late as possible too. Two days before our Social A Ride Roger and I thought we were going to be doing it alone. By Saturday morning there were eight of us! Rarely do I not produce a cue sheet, but this ride, which takes in the multi-use paths along the Bay through San Mateo County, is a convoluted mess that would cause headaches if you really tried to do it by cues. So I skipped it. It’s a social ride anyway so I figured we would stay together. Perhaps that was a mixed blessing because my navigation was rather wonky.  The group might have done better if they had followed cue sheets rather than my confused leadership. Roger and I hadn’t ridden the route in a year plus I had altered it to include more paths in Foster City. To add insult to injury I was using a Garmin Edge 1000, which I already knew was prone to navigational mishaps (the topic for a future long blog posting), and mid-ride it experienced—mirabile visu!—a major meltdown that had me nervous for the rest of the trip. Thankfully Roger was using an older Garmin 800, which is near bombproof, and between memory and frequent consultation we were able to complete the ride with only slight delay. Mea culpa! Next time I’ll prepare better.

We had four new club members join the ride—Frank, Stephen, Greg, and a returning former member, Bill—in addition to Mr. Mileage (David Sexton), Roger, me, and Omar. The weather was near-perfect with no wind, low 80s, and abundant sunshine. Highlights included the wind sculptures at Seal Point, Larry Ellison’s America’s Cup winning sailboat in the Oracle lagoon, and an intimate tour of Foster City architecture. Better see it now before global warming has it under the Bay (just as it was before 1960). Of course the real highlight was lunch. This time we partook of a nondescript looking Indian restaurant, Tabla, which serves south Indian food, i.e. spicy. The place was full of South Asians so we sensed we were in the right place. Boy, was it good. The service was spotty—Greg and Stephen finally got their lunch—but the kitchen knew what it was doing. This was probably the first Indian restaurant in the Bay Area we had eaten at where the food arrived spicy, i.e. we didn’t have to request that it be made hot. Lord knows what would happen if you asked for it Indian-hot—probably we’d become flamethrowers. On a whim I ordered medu vada, which was described as an Indian donut. Yes, it was shaped like a donut and it was deep fried but that was the end of the resemblance. Made from ground lentils it was distinctly savory rather than sweet.

After lunch we rolled back to Millbrae BART. Frank commented that after all that hot food cycling was difficult. Well, I was definitely needing a nap!

Next month we’re off to the Napa valley to ride the Silverado Trail and slobber down some delicious panini at Sogni di Dolci in St. Helena and some baked goods from Bouchon Bakery. See you there!

Ride Recap: Wine Country Century

May 9th, 2016 by tony

This year’s Wine Country Century, a club favorite, took place on a rainy day. That’s the first time I can remember that happening in quite a long time. The prediction was for “showers”, which turned out to be technically true—it rained off and on—but it was mostly wet and occasionally very wet. It started raining steadily not far from the start and I grimly thought it was going to be one long day in the saddle. But eventually it relented and the rest of the day when it did rain it was less daunting. Yet we rode the entire day in rain gear. I even brought up my rain bike (which is heavy) because I thought fenders would come in handy and boy, was I glad I had them.

There were supposed to be a fair number of fellow Spokers up there but we saw nary a one. Since we were doing the metric, my guess is that you all were out in the hills doing the full century and fighting the same rain and wind—if not worse—that we were dealing with along Westside Road.

In Northern California we are coddled by such good riding weather that rain almost always means waiting until later in the day or the next morning to do a ride. This winter with El Nino I finally developed a Portland mentality and rode rain or shine. It sure helped today! Unfortunately one old habit I still retain is that when it rains my focus narrows to just finishing the ride as fast as possible rather than enjoying it. I’m sure there were occasional beautiful sights—as there usually are—on the Wine Country but I ended up revving the engine and making for the barn door as quickly as possible. We definitely didn’t linger at the rest stops despite the admirable display of goodies. So I can’t say I truly relished the Wine Country even if I did finish it.

Despite the weather it is worth noting that the Santa Rosa Cycling Club did their usual stellar work in hosting this ride. The rest stop food was copious and not perfunctory. Having coffee and hot chocolate especially on a rainy day was soothing and encouraging. The food at the end was, as usual, yummy: we both had the tri-tip and thought it was well prepared, and the food line was not at all stingy at dumping more food on our plates!

Observations along the way: (1) Sag wagons were kept busy all day. It seems a lot of people were abandoning the ride. (2) There were a lot of flats. We passed more groups of cyclists repairing tires than I have ever seen on a century. That happens when it rains. (3) I was surprised at how many riders did not bring any rain gear at all. But SRCC gave out garbage bags for emergency rain wear at the rest stops and we saw lots of riders using them. (4) We saw just one crash, outside of Geyserville. (5) People were happy to be riding despite the rain!

We were done by 1 p.m. As we drove down 101 we were hit by yet more rain. We were thinking of poor you hundred-milers!

Ride Recap: San Juan Bautista-Elkhorn Slough

May 2nd, 2016 by tony
"David, that looks awfully steep!"

“David, that looks awfully steep!”

David Gaus’s annual visit to his old stomping grounds took place this past weekend. Despite having relocated from Hollister years ago he loves to show the club the roads he haunted when he was a wee Spoker. Boy, is it a schlep from SF: about a hundred miles or more than an hour and a half of freeway driving in good traffic. Other than some weekend tours in the early days of the club, the only other club ride I had been on that was further away was a Chris Thomas ride in Fresno. So, for the first time we drove down to check out the scene in rural San Juan Bautista. Apparently the curiosity of others was piqued as well: besides our leader and the two of us we rode with Donald, Omar, Roger Sayre, Parker, Gary, and Tom. All of us were either from the East Bay or SF.

The weather was near-superb: bright sunshine the entire day with moderate temps with just a tad of heat at the end of the day. The only minor bummer was the constant coastal headwind that made riding in the Salinas flatlands a bit challenging. But that comes with the territory and although not endearing at least it wasn’t brutal. San Juan Bautista, is a dinky town of just 2,000 folks and is probably most famous for its mission, used in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo for Kim Novak’s demise (twice!) The edge of town is the beginning of the vast ag land in San Benito County and crossing the highway we almost immediately lost civilization and entered the beautiful countryside. Fortunately spring heat hadn’t yet diminished the still verdant grasses of the hills.

Crappy Road Summit!

Crappy Road Summit!

There were just two climbs of the day and the first one up San Juan Grade is right at the start. We were a chatty little group, climbing together. At the top Monterey County begins and you are made aware of it by the transition in pavement from crappy to decent chip seal. These are isolated county roads with nary a center line. That they get any love at all from the county road departments these days is miraculous. We dropped towards Salinas and re-entered Car Hell, with lots of SUVs and pickups zooming into town. The lack of a shoulder at times made dancing with cars even more fun. The farm roads were more devoid of death monsters and a relief to ride on but being beaten to death by farm trucks and starved for maintenance we had a rough ride until we got to Castroville.

David had planned this ride around a generous number of re-fooding/re-caffeining stops, making it a schizophrenic day: race like the dickens, then relax and refresh leisurely. We stopped at a Starbucks in Salinas and then later stopped for a more substantial lunch at the Artichoke food truck at Pezzini Farms near the coast. Needless to say their speciality was artichokes, grilled, fried, deep fried. I had their Po’ Boy filled with deep fried ‘chokes. Yummy!

A big portion of the middle of the 55-mile ride was touring Elkhorn Slough, a vast, meandering tidal slough full of wildlife. You would think it would be dead-flat being a slough. But it wasn’t—it squiggled and rollercoastered up and down making it delightful to ride except for the occasional terror of being passed cars on the narrow road with no sight line. Eventually we ended up in the little town of Aromas for our final snack stop at a local minimart. The fave seemed to be ice cream bars of various sorts washed down with sugar drinks and bags of chips and Cheetos. Isn’t cycling a healthy activity? For some reason Tom seemed to like to read the ingredient lists aloud, as if we cared how much high fructose corn syrup we were downing. Any port in a storm!

The final push was over Carr Road, a climb that reared its ugly head just a couple blocks away from the minimart. It’s not a long climb but I did hear someone scream, “It’s 14%!!” at one brutal moment. Then it was just a long descent back to Vertigo Coffee Roasters in SJB for more refreshment before the long drive back to the Bay Area. Thanks David!

Electric Bike Expo at Stanford

April 29th, 2016 by tony
Demoing e-bikes at Stanford

Demoing e-bikes at Stanford

This past weekend Stanford Shopping Center hosted the Electric Bike Expo, one of six taking place in the western US. Roger and I found out about it quite by chance and made last-minute plans to drop in on its final day, Sunday. The Expo hosts bikes by about twenty different e-bike manufacturers as well as adventure companies using e-bikes, and even a company making e-bike charging stations! There were a few brands familiar to US cyclists—Trek, Felt, Raleigh, and Focus—but most were either new companies or established European brands such as Haibike, Kalkhoff, and Gazelle finally bringing their e-bike goodness to the New World. The one major brand that was missing was Specialized, which is just down the road in Morgan Hill, perhaps because Specialized would prefer you to try their e-bikes away from the other brands. That’s too bad because that was the one model, the Specialized Turbo, that I would have wanted to demo.

Cargo e-bike set up for hauling child

Cargo e-bike set up for hauling child

In addition to vendor booths where you could check out the various e-bike models, talk to company reps, and pick up informational brochures, there was also a small, closed off track where you could try out a multitude of bikes. As expected most of the bikes were commuter or hybrid style bikes with a strong number of e-mountain bikes. There were cargo e-bikes too. If there ever were a sensible idea, it would be to marry the cargo bike with an electric system: you can get some badly needed assist when you’re carrying a heavy load or when you’re going up a hill. No one had a drop-bar road e-bike. Clearly manufacturers are aiming for the commuter and casual cyclist and not the recreational cyclist, and that makes sense: e-bikes make commuting by bike a much more tolerable affair not just be reducing the effort but also by speeding up the commute and reducing its sweaty aftereffect. Arriving at work a smelly mess is not a good way to impress the boss or your clients.

Hawg of a different color: E-cruiser with sidecar

Hawg of a different color: E-cruiser with sidecar

Although there were a few, well, let’s call them “less heavy” e-bikes, this was accomplished by using smaller motors and batteries, which are probably enough for a city-sized commute. Most e-bikes are pretty weighty affairs pushing 50 pounds or more. That isn’t a problem for the engine as you’ve got plenty of watts to propel all that extra mass. But it is a problem if you need to store the bike on anything other than the ground level. If you live in a walk-up or even have to schlep your e-bike up a few stairs, you’re going to find just about any e-bike a real pain, if not impossible, to lift. You better have an elevator at hand and a large one too because e-bikes are not small. The good news is that if you have to lock it up outside, removing the battery and in some cases the computer head will make stealing it a lot less desirable. But I wouldn’t leave a $3,000 bike outside unattended.

Speaking of $3,000 that’s the other thing I noticed: these bikes aren’t cheap. For “serious” cyclists, spending a few thousand dollars for a new bike sounds about right, but for everyday people that’s practically the sign either of insanity or profligate wastefulness. Who are these companies marketing too? Casual cyclists and a lot of basic commuters aren’t looking to spend tons of money on a bike, let alone one they have leave locked up outside in danger of being stolen or one they can’t lift up the front stairs. At these prices you’re either indulging in an expensive fad or you’re already into the cycling lifestyle in spades. For e-bikes to take off the prices will have to come down a lot before we see them jamming up the streets of San Francisco in large numbers. Until then they’re going to be a distinct minority. Now, for the cycling addicts out there, rolling big coin on yet another bike involves a lot less hesitation. But currently manufacturers don’t really make the kind of bike that Mr./Ms. Road Cyclist would probably like to own. I’m talking about something that looks like a road bike. But they are coming and when they do I’m really going to enjoy going to an Expo to try them out. Until then it’s mostly going to be more commuter bikes or full suspension mtb rigs.

Solar powered e-bike charging station

Solar powered e-bike charging station

The e-bike charging station caught my eye. At first glance it all made sense: solar powered recharging stations spread throughout the land so you can top off your battery while you work/shop/eat! But upon thought it didn’t make any sense at all. Most commutes by bike are under five miles. Roger’s e-bike in Eco mode, which is plenty for all but the steeper hills, gets 40-50 miles per charge. So unless you’ve got a long commute or you’ve just forgotten to recharge your battery at home, charging stations are charming but unnecessary. Second, each motor/battery manufacturer has a different, proprietary motor, battery, and charging port. How are these charging stations going to be one-size-fits-all? Until one system becomes the standard (or is mandated the standard), we’ll end up with either (a) proprietary charging stations, (b) lots of dongles at the “pump” to connect to your port, or (c) you carry a universal dongle that connects your battery to, say, a two- or three-prong plug.

Speaking of proprietary, that’s another potential headache. There are about three systems currently on the market that are or are going to be widespread: the Bosch system (yes, the same company that makes your power tools), Yamaha, and now Shimano with its e-Steps system. Panasonic also has a system on the market. The rest of them are pretty much tied to one specific bike company. For example, Kalkhoff touted the fact that it had a proprietary, in-house designed motor and battery. (Specialized has the same for its Turbo, but its wasn’t present at the Expo.) That may have cachet to be designed in-house but what it meant to me is: (a) what if they stop making that system or their e-bike effort flounders? How then do I get replacement parts or batteries? (b) You mean I can’t get a battery from anyone else to fit your mount or whose voltage matches your motor? I have to order one just from you? How much will that cost? and (c) “What do you mean you don’t have a vendor in Schmoville?! I need to buy a battery there!” One manufacturer had bikes with three different battery designs (!). That’s taking customization to an absurd level. While for some that means choice, for me it means that maintaining one of their e-bikes for the long term is going to be either expensive or I’m going to end up searching on EBay for EOL parts or batteries. Right now the Bosch system seems to be the most palatable because it’s widespread (at least overseas), has a deep distribution network, and their system is used by a lot of bike companies. That means it’s not hard to get a battery or parts. Bosch also has come out with its new 500 watt-hour battery (the current is 400 WH) and they have kept it backward compatible with the mounts and the chargers of the older models, so at least they’re trying.

Lots of e-mtbs

Lots of e-mtbs

There’s no doubt that riding an e-bike is a lot of fun. But the current choices on the US market show that they’re not aimed at us for the most part. My guess is that in less than five years time the e-bike landscape is going to be different. Not only will there we rapid expansion in this country but there will also be some thinning out of the motor/battery systems. My guess is that Bosch will continue to do well and that Shimano is going to take off because it really knows the bike market and its e-Steps system offers potential integration with its Di2 electronic shifting system. Plus, we are going to see the spread of e-road bikes. Haibike already has one it is selling in Europe and the other companies are sure to follow.

New Different Spokes Southern California Kit!

April 27th, 2016 by tony

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Our brethren in Los Angeles have redesigned their club jersey. If you’d like to support them while sporting some fashionable duds, then zip over to their website to place an order. DSSC is offering two jersey designs, a limited edition “L’Orange” and an always-fashionable black club jersey. You can get either design in short sleeve, summer short sleeve (a lighter fabric), sleeveless, or summer sleeveless. You can add matching shorts, bib shorts, or performance bib shorts. All are made by Champion Systems in either club cut or race cut. That is a lot of choices! Prices are super reasonable too: only $55 for the short sleeve jersey and $73 for the bib shorts. When they have enough orders for a minimum, they’ll place it with Champion Systems; this is expected to be towards the end of May with delivery in early July. You can either send them a check or use PayPal, but don’t send them payment until you are sent an invoice and that won’t be until they’re real close to placing the order.

For more information and to place an order, go to: http://www.dspokes.com/jersey/