Velo Love Ride 2017

February 23rd, 2017 by tony

We didn’t bring our waders. Or a boat!

 

Chico Velo is well known for putting on the Chico Wildflower Century every April. It’s a huge event they’ve made successful despite being a “backwater”. A large number of SF Bay people, including quite a few Spokers, annually head northward to take part. What isn’t as well known is that Chico Velo has for many years sponsored a much smaller century every February called the Velo Love Ride and it takes place on the weekend on or just before Valentine’s Day. It was formerly known as the Rice Valley Tandem Rally because it runs through a major rice growing region of the Central Valley and is a favorite for tandems being virtually dead flat. I think the new name is a lot catchier, and face it: you have to really love bicycling to get out in February to do a big ride especially in years like 2017 when rain has been ever-present.

We did the Rice Valley Tandem Ride in 2011 and had a great time. The event was super low-key and the vibe was like back in the day when cycling was fringe and cyclists were members of a secret club with its own password and handshake. The ride took place south of Chico in Gridley and went around the Sutter Buttes, an anomalous set of volcanic lava domes in the middle of the Sacramento Valley. The route is the same today. The ride passes by the Gray Lodge Wildlife Viewing Area, lots of rice paddies full of fish and ducks, beautiful orchards, and of course the Buttes. So in addition to sporting cool scenery (both literally and figuratively), the route makes you feel like you have the whole world to yourself because it’s wide open yet so isolated. The event is practically like a family reunion—maybe a couple hundred altogether?—everybody seems to know each other, and the after-ride meal felt like a big family dinner. And it was delicious too!

We finally were able to head back this year. Despite this winter’s Biblical drenching with which we’ve been punished, the weekend of the Velo Love Ride was auspiciously dry. In 2011 we went up a day early and spent the night in the Motel 6 in Yuba City so we could get an early start. This year we decided instead to wake up super early and drive up in time for an 8 a.m. start. The Butte County Fairgrounds start is about a two-hour drive from our home. We got up there right on time and expected to see a bigger event having blossomed in our absence. Instead we see just two dozen cars parked at the start! Same as it ever was. Check in was no mosh pit: just a few people hanging out. Well, that just set the tone of the day. However even though it wasn’t raining, we found out that a short low-lying section of the route was flooded. But we could try to get through it if we wanted as it might be bikeable. They didn’t seem to know for sure, and actually no one seemed to bothered! We were just going to have a cool day on the bike. Whatever. We were already up there, so we were going to ride, period.

The metric route heads west out of Gridley and then drops south along orthogonal farm roads all the way to the tiny town of Sutter. As in 2011 the scenery was pristine and dripping with character and a world away from the typical Bay Area schmutz. I’m not sure how many people were doing the ride but until the “lunch” stop we saw only five other riders! We were on the tandem after a long abstinence and despite the gentle weather we were struggling at times to get back in the groove. But it was day meant for a mellower pace rather than hammering.

In Sutter there were about a dozen folks at the lunch stop. The one snafu was that the bathrooms were locked and Chico Velo couldn’t rouse the fellow responsible for opening them. We also found out the flooded section, which was after lunch, wasn’t some shallow puddle across the road but was um, more lake-like. Not wanting to get soggy in the cool weather and not relishing the idea of having to repack the bottom brackets and pedals after the ride, we decided to turn around and head back the same way. Since the lunch was at the 30-mile point, the distance either way was about the same. After a satisfying handmade sandwich, plenty of snacks, and Cokes we rolled back to Gridley. It must have been the Cokes because we finally were hammering! Even though it was later in the day the car traffic was ridiculously low by Bay Area standards making for a pleasant, unharried roll. At the finish Chico Velo arranged to have a local Mexican restaurant, El Tamborazo, provide the post-ride meal. Hot Mexican food after a long ride: perfect! After heaping plates of delicious food and a hot cup of coffee, we were ready to zoom back to the Bay Area. We were home before 3:30 p.m. making for a nice, short day.

For atmosphere, righteous roads, and beautiful scenery, Spokers should definitely check it out next year.

Afternote: Little did we know that just hours after we split Gridley the emergency evacuation order due to the Oroville Dam would be announced. We were lucky not to have to endure an onerous traffic jam to get out of town! If we had done the full century, it might have been a different outcome.

Be Careful What You Wish For

February 20th, 2017 by tony

I just looked at the weather forecast for this coming weekend and guess what it says: yep, rain both days. Is our epic winter a good thing or a bad thing? There’s an old Buddhist (or Taoist) story that you may have heard before. An old farmer, who had worked his crops for many years, one day had his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses and was thrown off and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The next day military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

Other than last January 2016 being pretty wet, we’ve had it easy for the past five years with very mild and dry winters. Whether you consider it karma, global warming, or a sign of the Apocalypse, we are having a near-record year for moisture. That’s great for the drought, agriculture, our gardens, and wildlife. But it’s hell if you’re a cyclist. Well, maybe. Multiple rides in Valley Spokesmen and Grizzly Peak Cyclists have been cancelled this winter due to rain; in Different Spokes we don’t even bother to list rides. (Is that because the other clubs are full of optimists and we’re pessimists?)

But even for cyclists rain and cold are neither good nor bad. It certainly doesn’t prevent people from riding in Seattle or Portland. Rain is just a fact of life in the Pacific Northwest. It’s as much about mentality as it is about the weather. If you like riding your bike, then riding your bike when it’s raining can be made endurable if not pleasingly pleasant by the usual: appropriate raingear, lighting, and choosing suitable routes. For years I commuted to work even when it rained and I developed and amenable attitude. But it wasn’t what you probably think: it wasn’t being stoic, rather it was exactly the opposite, i.e. looking forward to the freedom of the wind and rain on my face and being outside doing one of my favorite activities. I’m not preaching becoming a hardass and ignoring the cold or damp; instead I’m advocating being prepared so that you minimize those niggling annoyances and can focus on the fun. I mean, what’s the point of complaining about what just is?

I’ve been riding a lot this winter. I’d like to fantasize it’s about being a hardass and “training”. But the truth is that I like riding whether it’s raining or not. There is a vernal waterfall in Moraga that you only see when it’s raining hard; I love riding past it and feeling the spray. Riding by the local creeks has been amazing this winter too. What were near-dry arroyos are now curtains of water flowing through reeds. And with some of the road blockages, on the bike I can slip by and enjoy it all by myself without being pestered by cars.

However there is one thing I don’t care for: having to clean my bike after a wet ride. It’s another chore, one that I used to attend to diligently but now instead often just throw the bike in the workshop and let drip-dry. If it ain’t broke, I don’t fix it anymore!

Free Is Not Free

February 6th, 2017 by tony

free1

 

What I’ve learned from the Internet is vast and voluminous! It’s great having all that “knowledge” at your fingertips. For example I recently had to learn how to bleed a Shimano hydraulic disc brake, and in seconds there it was, a completely detailed video on YouTube. Problem solved for free! But the most important thing I’ve learned from the Internet is that “free” is not free. Almost everything that you get for “free” is actually paid for by Google selling our eyeballs to advertisers. Without being able to sell your eyeballs, those writers and videographers whom you rely upon for enlightenment or entertainment, don’t get paid. The other revenue model is of course, donation and subscription. Websites such as Wikipedia beg for donations or sites like the Washington Post set up a paid firewall to charge you for partaking of their resources. Given the distinctly small number of websites that rely on the latter and the immense number that use the former, it’s not a difficult to deduce that people hate paying for stuff when they can get it for “free”.

My point is that only in very rare instances does stuff happen without money and support. It all looks like magic: you get your stuff/information/news/etc. and you didn’t have to fork over any cash. The reality is that it is all subsidized one way or another. So it is with Different Spokes. Different Spokes does not sell eyeballs or make any other demand for money. You don’t have to pay to go on club rides. With the ChainLetter moribund there isn’t even a newsletter to charge for. The only dividend for paying money and officially joining the club is access to the club Yahoo! Group, which isn’t going to give Facebook any competition, which is to say it’s nearly moribund as well. But the club is able to keep on rolling because it has income. So there’s no “goody” we can charge you for and withhold if you don’t

The bottom line is that we depend on your magnanimity in spirit and wallet. If you have been a member, you must have put money on the table because you felt that Different Spokes was making a difference in your life and you wanted it to stay around. Either that or you just took pity! In the last decade or so this has amounted to about a hundred individuals and families every year. Those paid memberships have support our club and kept it alive. Of course the number of folks who have come on club rides or social events is larger; but how much so I’m not in a position to say. And some of them they then realized that the club isn’t really their cup of tea and they didn’t come back.

A few years ago the club switched from a rolling annual membership to January 1 start: no matter when you join your annual membership lapses on December 31. That means that every New Year the membership roll zeroes out and we start building up all over again. We currently have 61 paid members for 2017 and 48 who have lapsed and not re-upped yet. Hopefully those latter folks are just procrastinating!

Membership in Different Spokes has always had a fair amount of “churn”, i.e. turnover from year to year. In the long run that is completely understandable: people’s priorities and time commitments change. Someone who loves to cycle finds out that they like paddle boarding even more and lapse; people move away; somebody’s job becomes a huge time suck and/or they find out that having kids is just going to take a little more time out of their day than they realized! But by having a January 1 renewal date there is no longer a meager but steady, trickling stream of dough. So boys and girls, if you’re delaying rejoining, dillydally no more and PayPal your way to Different Spokes joy!

Our biggest expense is probably our website and it’s cheap compared to other clubs’ because of Jerome’s laudable work in cobbling together low-cost software and services and all the hours he’s personally donated. If we had to use a commercial website manager, we’d likely be knee-deep in bills, have to charge more for membership, or just be broke.

But you and I know that the blood of the club is much more than money. It’s also about literally the hundreds of hours a year of volunteered time by club officers and ride leaders. They’re not getting paid either. Not one cent. They’re planning rides, organizing events, attending other community and civic meetings on behalf of the club because they love the club. If they didn’t, they’d be volunteering their hours at one of the dozens of other LGBT social organizations here in the Bay Area. If you’re like most club members or fellow travelers, you just come to depend on the club being there when you’re itching for a group ride. But will it be? If you like riding with Different Spokes, there is never a better time than now to ask how you could be contributing to the club. If you would like to lead a ride, then there several seasoned ride leaders who’d be willing to show you the ropes. If you don’t know whom to ask, email our President Sal or our Vice President David and they would be happy to refer you on to one of us. If you’d like to do something more in the background, there are plenty of ways you can contribute. We have been lacking a ride coordinator and an event coordinator for several years. No one has stepped forward most likely because it seems too daunting. Which is why I’ve been thinking that we might want to try another tack: a ride coordinating team. It doesn’t have to fall on just one person’s shoulders! I’d be willing to work with some other well-intentioned members to try to pull together a more robust and diverse set of rides every month. The same goes for planning more social events and weekend trips. We haven’t had a getaway bike weekend in quite a while. Perhaps what we need is a small group of eager members to share the load instead of relying on just one person.

Will 2017 be the year that you want to make a difference in your favorite bicycle club?

Road Closures: Inquiring Minds Would Like to Know

February 1st, 2017 by tony

road_closed

 

Our recent historic rains caused a lot of road closures due to debris flow and water damage. Cyclelicio.us has a nice summary of the closures for the South Bay as of the most recent storm. We are bound to have more rain this winter, and to keep up with road closures throughout the Bay Area I’ve aggregated links by county to make it easier for you to ascertain current conditions. There are at least two interactive online maps that display road closures, one at Localconditions.com and the other at 511.org. But these seem to lack some local data. The California Dept. of Transportation also maintains a closure list but these are state roads and highways and not necessarily local byways or even roads we would usually ride due to traffic. Nonetheless it is quite useful if you don’t mind scrolling through a long list of roads by state highway number.

CA DOT list here.

San Francisco: Localconditions.com

San Mateo: Localconditions.com

Alameda

Contra Costa

Napa (this link also has information about the entire state.)

Marin: the Napa map above also covers Marin County

Sonoma and the Napa map above also covers Sonoma County.

Solano: the Napa map above also covers Solano County.

Santa Clara: Unfortunately you have to phone the county (!) at (408) 494-1382

Santa Cruz

Monterey and interactive map of road closures

Update on 2017 Centuries

January 28th, 2017 by tony

Here is the follow up to my earlier post on 2017 century rides with updates. To see the earlier post, go here.

 

March

11 Saturday. Solvang Century. $125 online/$115 mail in. Registration is open. Preregistration closes on Feb. 22. After that you can do day of event registration but the cost goes up to $130.

April

23 Sunday. Primavera Century. $70. Registration is open. The Primavera is currently about 75% sold.

29 Saturday. Mount Hamilton Challenge. Still no word on whether this venerable event will take place in 2017.

30 Sunday. Chico Wildflower Century. $75 until 1/31, then goes up to $85; $100 onsite registration (if they have any slots, which is never).

May

6 Saturday. Wine Country Century. Registration opens on 2/1—soon!—and they will sell out in a couple of days if history is a guide. Cost is $87/200k or 100 mi; $77/100k; $62/35 mi.

7 Sunday. Delta Century. $52.50 for 100 century or metric. No information on whether there is a limit this year.

7 Sunday. Grizzly Peak Century. $60; $70 after 4/15. Registration is now open. This has a cap of only 1,000 and usually sells out.

21 Sunday. Strawberry Fields Forever. Registration is now open.

June

4 Sunday. Sequoia Century. $80 for 100 mi; $70 for 72 mi; $65 for 64 mi; $40 for 44 mi. All go up $10 after 2/17. Registration is now open.

17 Saturday. Mile High 100. $75 for 100 mi; $55 for metric; $55 for half metric.Registration is open. If you’re interested in getting far away from the Bay Area, this is for you. Ride starts in Chester, CA and takes in Lake Almanor.

24 Saturday. Alta Alpina Challenge. This is the “other” Death Ride. $120-$70 depending on which route you ride. You can also make up your own route including as many passes as you want. Cost goes up after 5/1.

24 Saturday. Climb to Kaiser. $95 until 1/31; $110 until 6/11; $125 thereafter. This is a real killer, even more deadly than the Death Ride: 155 miles with 15k vertical. Since it starts in Fresno, you always have extreme heat to make it extra nice. But it’s closer than going to Markleeville!

July

8 Saturday. Markleeville Death Ride. $125. Registration opened on 1/17 and they are very likely completely full.

29 Saturday. Devil’s Slide Ride. $45-90 depending on route, until 2/20 then goes up quite a bit. This used to be the Giro de Peninsula and started at the old Bay Meadows race track in San Mateo; now it starts in Pacifica. The century is a scenic run down Hwy 1 to Pescadero and up Alpine (!) to Skyline and back on Sharp Park. The metric cuts the route down by returning over Tunitas Creek.

29 Saturday. Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge. $55-65. Registration is open now. 135/101/75/45 mi. Lots of climbing in the Santa Cruz Mtns. and it’s not too far from the Bay Area.

August

5 Saturday. Marin Century. $110-30 depending on route; increases on 2/5 and then again on 5/1, 6/1, and 7/1. 200/136/107/96/60/30 mi. This is club fav but also for thousands of others, so you are warned. Food on this one is quite good, which makes up for the crowd scene.

20 Sunday. Tour of Napa. 100/65/40/35 mi. No information yet but date is confirmed. This is also club fav and lots of Spokers will likely attend. Food is typically quite good also.

September

10 Sunday. Motherlode Century. This century has been moved from April to September for 2017. If the Mt. Hamilton Challenge fails to be offered this year, you won’t be able to fall back on the Motherlode, alas. Otherwise no additional details.

23 Saturday. Lighthouse Century. 100/85/65 mi. $75. Registration not yet open. Venerable century starting in Morro Bay on the Central Coast. Route goes over Green Valley to Templeton and then back to the coast up to San Simeon and a return to Morro Bay.

October

7 Saturday. Best of the Bay. 203 or 114 mi. $100 until 2/28, then goes up. Registration opens on 2/1. This is an East Bay climbing route starting in Castro Valley: Skyline, Grizzly Peak, Redwood, Norris Cyn., Diablo, Calaveras. If this ride coincides with a heat wave, you’ll be in for a real gruesome treat.

21 Saturday. Foxy Fall Century. Registration opens 6/1. 100, metric, or 50k. Enjoyable flattish ride in the Davis exurbs. Limit of 1500 and it will sell out.

22 Sunday. Canyon Classic. $59 until 91, then $69, or $80 same day. 112, 91, or 53 mi. The Canyon Classic used to be in June, when it was usually hot. Now it’s in October and that’s likely to make it a less sweltering. However Del Puerto Canyon is likely to be dried out and arid in October instead of green. Lovely ride up Del Puerto and down to Livermore and back to Patterson after some flat Valley miles. The metric goes up Del Puerto and back down for Valley miles. The 91-mile is up Del Puerto and to the top of Mt. Hamilton and back.

New Year, New Kit…for Different Spokes Southern California

January 25th, 2017 by tony

3D-Elevate-Jersey-Different-Spokes-v3

Check out the new kit that DSSC has in store for 2017. Having a nice new kit for 2016 apparently wasn’t enough, so they have a new one for this year! To see the whole thing and to place an order, go here. Makes me think that we should have something as well since it’s our club’s 35th anniversary…

Just A Moment

January 18th, 2017 by tony
Smile! You're On Candid Camera!

Smile! You’re On Candid Camera!

 

That’s all it takes for your bike to be stolen. This past weekend a Valley Spokesmen member had her expensive Wilier road bike nicked at the Peet’s in Alamo. She had parked it unlocked next to the Peet’s and went inside. When she wasn’t looking—maybe she was in line to order—a theif cased her bike, quickly grabbed it, and threw it into the back of his accomplice’s pickup truck and it was gone. The whole thing took less than ten seconds. Interestingly the entire incident was captured on video, which you can amuse yourself by viewing here. I haven’t heard if the thief has been apprehended, but the license plate number (8X17757) was recovered from the video and that doesn’t bode well for the thieves. Incidently this theft was picked up internationally and put on the front page of Cyclingweekly.co.uk a few days afterwards! You can view that here. [Update: the thief was apprehended later the same day.]

How many of us have done the same? It’s just a dash in to get a latté/card/Big Gulp/drop off a letter. A sad fellow in my town Orinda had his commuter bike stolen from in front of the post office when he went in to check his mailbox. The thief took his bike and left his trasher, which sat in front of the PO with a sign from the victim. Years ago I had a bike stolen when I went in to buy a birthday card. It was locked but not locked to something. But it was front of a Muni stop full of people in Noe Valley. When I stepped back out, it was gone and no one at the bus stop had seen anything! Really? You didn’t see anyone pick up a locked bike and walk away??

On club rides when we stop for a break, we always have at least one person stay back to watch the bikes while the others get lunch or buy snacks. But when you’re by yourself, you’ll have to depend on the kindness of any nearby strangers to watch your bike. Another option is to carry a small cable lock. They’re pretty light—mine is less than a half-pound—and fits easily in a jersey pocket. It won’t stop the thief with a cable cutter but it will deter the kind of thief you saw in the video, providing that you lock your bike to something. Even with a lock it’s important to keep an eye on your bike outside. And leaving a locked bike unattended outside is not a deterrent to a real bike thief; U-locks can be broken in just minutes with the right tools. The only safe bike is the one you’re sitting on.

SMART Bike Route Status

January 18th, 2017 by tony

You can view a status report on the Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit multi-use path here. The route runs from San Rafael up to the Guerneville turn-off north of Santa Rosa. Portions of the route are unfinished, mainly due to pending permits. But major sections of it are complete. Perhaps one can presume that the entire route should be completed by the time SMART starts running later this spring.

Get SMART This Spring

January 8th, 2017 by tony

trainandpathway-web

 

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rapid Transit (SMART) train system is set to launch this spring providing train service for 43 miles between San Rafael and northern Santa Rosa. This system uses the existing rail right-of-way of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad corridor, which parallels Highway 101. The current plan is to open service at no charge until July 4; from July 4 to Labor Day tickets will be half-price; after Labor Day tickets will be full price. SMART is set to use Clipper Card and cost of a ticket depends upon how many zones a passenger traverses, anywhere from $3.50 to $11.50 one way. Trains are planned every half-hour in both directions during the commute period (5-9a, 3-7:30p) with one midday train. Eventually service will be extended southward to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and northward all the way to Cloverdale.

For bicyclists this is doubly good news. First,  a multi-use path adjacent to the train corridor will also open providing a mostly flat highway between San Rafael and the Sonoma County Airport, the current northern end. Entry points to the corridor are unclear at the moment, but one can presume reasonably that there will be numerous access points all along the path. At some point the Richmond-San Rafael bridge bicycle path will be completed and this opens up an interesting ride from the East Bay over to Marin and the SMART corridor.

Second, SMART is planning to run two-car trains (and presumably might add cars as the service need grows) with each two-car train capable of carrying 158 seated passengers, 160 standing passengers, and has space for no more than 24(!) bicycles depending on the number of wheelchairs, stroller, and flip-up seats. I guess we can safely assume that SMART is going to allow bikes on board. This opens up the possibility of some very interesting multimodal bike rides if you don’t want to ride on the SMART multi-use path. For example, without using a car we would be able to ride over to San Rafael, catch the SMART train and take it to Petaluma or Santa Rosa, where there are some beautiful rural roads. After the extension to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal is completed in a couple of years, we will be able to catch a ferry to Larkspur, take the SMART train north, and start a ride.

After SMART opens we’ll be sure to do a few scouting trips and plan some DSSF rides up north that won’t involve using a car.

For more information:

http://www2.sonomamarintrain.org/index.php/what_is_smart/

On New Year’s Different Spokes Did Not Climb Mt. Diablo!

January 3rd, 2017 by tony

snow-bike2

 

Technically we didn’t because neither of our ride leaders remembered to bring a club waiver. So, the six of us were just “friends out for a ride together.” Besides David Sexton and Gordon Dinsdale, the ride hosts, our group comprised of me, Nancy Levin, Bill Holt, and Steven Shirreffs. Atypically we did not linger at the start in traditional DSSF style mainly because David was concerned we’d be frozen waiting for the perpetually tardy and those of us who need time to adjust our make-up. Within minutes of the BART train arriving we were off.

Previous New Years Days on Mt. Diablo have brought us everything from snow, hellish rain (no one rode that year), polar vortices, and balmy warm days. This year we avoided rain but it was fairly cold by Norcal standards, i.e. it was in the forties! Ugly overcast skies slowly turned to sunshine, however Diablo’s summit was immersed in clouds for much of the first half of the day. Unlike some years no one was rushing to get to the top. In fact it was a regular chatfest all the way up. Nancy and I got to check in after not seeing each other in months. Since I last saw her she’s undergone a bike change and is now sporting a beautiful blue Waterford with giganto 32mm tires, after which I lusted. We reached the Junction gruppo compatto with nary a misplaced eyelash. Perhaps it was because of our early start, but the Junction lacked the large crowds one usually sees on Jan. 1. The mountain looked positively deserted compared to previous editions.

As we pushed to the summit the temperature slowly plummeted and the wind picked up. Past the short but torturous 18% final section we saw just a small crowd frolicking on top. Fortunately it didn’t take long for our small pack to regroup because we just had to get off the top and out of the wind. The view was disappointing with clouds swirling around us. David commented that in the past clear days allowed us to see the snow-capped Sierras but not today. Down we went. Also unlike previous years, there were fewer idiots careening downhill at unwise speed; people pretty much seemed to be conscious that we were sharing the road. However one Phreddy Pro passed me—of course with no verbal warning (most are hardly past the one-word stage of development) and then proceeded to pass two other cyclists and a car…on a curve.

We took the cut-through into Diablo and ended up at Lunardi’s, chilled and hungry. Most opted for soup but I was hankering for cheap Chinese, which I got at the adjacent Panda Express. Sidenote: years ago nothing was open New Years in Danville but now just about everything is! After a refreshing break on the Lunardi’s patio, we did a brief tour of the Caboose tearoom and then sprinted northward back to Pleasant Hill BART. The best way to start the new year!