Different Smokes

November 15th, 2018 by tony

The Camp Fire last Thursday

 

[Thanks to Jerome for the title; I was going to call this “Summer of Smokes” but both last year’s and this year’s gigantic fires actually took place during the fall and early winter. Most of you are probably old enough—although you may not have been living in the Bay Area at the time—to remember the 1991 Oakland Hills fire. Until last year’s Tubbs fire it was the most destructive fire in California history and it also took place in late October during the so-called “Indian” summer that we often get here.]

The current Camp fire near Chico, CA is blanketing the Bay Area and large swaths of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys with massive quantitites of smoke and soot so much so that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued alerts and “Spare the Air” days every day since last Thursday (eight days so far). Even San Francisco, which normally has good quality air compared to other Bay Area regions, has been in the “red” zone. The pollutant of concern is PM 2.5, particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, although the Camp fire is also producing soot in particle sizes much larger than that but those particles don’t travel as far.

BAAQMD issues alerts when a composite index for all six major pollutant categories—PM 2.5, ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, CO, and PM 10—begin to rise. Normally in the Bay Area we are in the “good” (0-50) or “moderate” (50-100) category. But now we are seeing readings that put us in the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” (101-150) and “Unhealthy” (151-200). Today Oakland hit 217 and SF 221. 200 and above is considered very unhealthy or hazardous; those are the kind of readings one might get in Beijing or New Delhi.

All of these pollutants plus a host of others that aren’t tracked are cause for concern not just because they might make the sky look hazy but because with prolonged exposure and at high enough levels they have noticeable health effects. If you have asthma or another chronic pulmonary condition, you might start to feel the effects of air pollution while everyone else around you seems to go about their daily lives with little or no idea that they’re literally drowning in smog. But eventually even hardier folks feel the minor signs such as coughing, burning eyes, and scratchy throat.

What makes these conditions concerning is that as cyclists we are not only outdoors breathing in smoke from the fires but exercising, which increases our respiration rate,so that we are probably breathing about eight to ten times more air per minute even at a relatively easy cycling speed. That means we are exposed to much higher amount of pollution compared to sitting at a desk indoors.

Smoke from the Camp Fire Spreads Throughout NoCal

Last October during the Tubbs fire the air quality jumped up and down subject to the whims of the wind, which changed hourly. At times the air was a hazy brown and the smell of smoke was pervasive; the next day it was sunny and clear even though the fires were raging just 40 miles away. I went riding anyway although I did make a concession by riding at an easy pace to reduce the amount of dreck I was inhaling. One day when the BAAQMD said we were in the red zone, I whipped out my Respro cycling mask that I had bought in London years ago for my daily commute to work here in SF. But the air in SF is generally so good especially out by the Pacific where I worked that I didn’t have a use for it. The Respro is a bit confining even though it’s miles better than a N95 mask. The Respro fits tightly—perhaps too tightly (I did buy the right size so they *are* supposed to fit tightly!)—and that’s good for blocking pollutants but bad when the weather is warm, which it was last October. Even though the Respro has exhalation ports that make it much easier to vent your breath, during hard cycling the mask just didn’t breathe well enough to be comfortable on a long ride. For commuting speed it’s mostly fine but I was out for a pleasure ride.

In retrospect it was foolish for me to ride during the fires because even though I had nothing more than an occasional hacking cough and some transient chest tightness, the long term effects of inhaling pollutants being potentially scary. PM 2.5 particles are so small that they can be inhaled deeply into lungs especially when exercising. Those particles not only obstruct the surface area of lungs and interfere with respiration but they also lodge there; very small particles can even pass into your circulatory system and go on to affect other organs. Exposure to pollutants also can set off an inflammatory response that further scars your lung tissue.

This year I didn’t make the same mistake and I’ve cycled only once—last Saturday when the forecast was for moderate pollution (which turned out to be incorrect—it was worse). The pollution is so bad that I doubt a Respro mask is able to cope with it all. We’ve stayed holed up in the house with the HEPA filter running. But we have to go out and run errands and the house is old and hardly sealed up so we are still getting a goodly share of smoke. Both of us are coughing like patients in a sanitarium and albuterol has become our BFF nonetheless.

If you’re young and robust, you’re probably ignoring the warnings and heading out for a good spin despite the smoke. Maybe that’s alright for now but in the long run it can’t be good. Ending up with COPD, lung cancer, or pulmonary fibrosis are not pleasant ways to die.

Well, the fires are just a transient hazard. Next week the high over the Rockies that is causing our offshore prevailing wind will move and we’ll return to our usual onshore flow and maybe even some rain. The smoke will change direction away from the Bay Area, and eventually the Camp fire will be extinguished. But chronic exposure to everyday air pollution is no good thing either and we have plenty of it with the enormous number of cars filing up and down our roads and highways. Diesel engines produce copious soot in the PM 2.5 range and regular gasoline automobiles create ozone both directly and indirectly. Even on days that have “good” air quality, pollution can be much higher in certain locations for example next to freeways. So avoid riding next to freeways or major roads with a lot of car traffic. Even better would be to go mountain biking away from roads, period.

A BAAQMD reading is for an entire day but the pollution changes from hour to hour. Particulate matter tends to be worse in the early mornings because of the night time stagnant air whereas ozone tends to be worse later in the day after tailpipe emissions climb. In addition the commute hours cause big pulses of pollution in the early morning and late afternoon. If you are riding during the week, you have to fit that around your work and home life and that likely means you’re riding early in the morning or after work, right when car pollution is peaking. On top of all that air pollution behaves differently at different times of the year. During summer with increased heat and sunlight we have higher generation of ozone and during winter temperature inversions and wood fireplaces mean higher PM readings in the late evenings, nights and early mornings.

With ozone generally peaking during the afternoon and PM more or less level during the day except at nights and early mornings during the cold months, the best time to exercise is usually going to be in the mid-morning. But another option is to wait until well into the evening when ozone has started to drop. With a good set of lights you’ll be able to enjoy that cleaner air. Years ago I often had to work until 7 in the evening. I’d rush home, change into my cycling clothes and head out over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands to clear out my head and get in a refreshing ride. With a good set of lights and being alert riding at night can not only be cleaner for your lungs but also safe.

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Sign Of The Times: Respro Mask

November 13th, 2018 by tony

 

If you insist upon riding when the air quality is bad or if you regularly ride next to major roads or freeways, you should consider riding with an anti-pollution mask. During “red” alerts the Bay Area Air Quality Management District suggests that people wear N95 masks. These masks block some of the particulate poluttion but they don’t seal against your face and provide little barrier at all if they’re loose. They also have no exhalation ports so you exhale into the mask and rebreathe your breath. Needless to say during exercise they are not comfortable let alone wearing them when you’re walking outside. Their one saving grace is that they’re dirt cheap and can be purchased at any Home Depot or hardware shop.

What you should be wearing is a mask like the Respro Sportsta. Respro has been around for well over a decade but it’s based in the UK and is not well-known here. Respro makes anti-pollution masks for a variety of uses and the Sportsta is their model for cycling. They are made of neoprene and seal tightly against your face with a strap. They have an adjustable nose bridge so that you can fit the upper part of the mask perfectly against your face. They also have exhalation ports that open when you exhale and shut when you don’t. Finally they have replaceable HEPA filters so when your filter gets dirty it is easy to swap it out for a clean one. Unfortunately they’re not cheap: The Respro Sportsta costs about $45 and a two-pack of replacement filters is $25 on Amazon. You also have to size them to your face in order for them to work, so make sure you check the size chart on the Respro website.

I wear a size medium and with the Velcro-like strap I can get a tolerable yet tight fit. That doesn’t mean it’s comfortable—it’s not: wearing an elastric band around your face is never going to be as comfortable as a Wonderbra. But it’s not irritating either. Being able to exhale easily is a plus although in warm weather you are going to feel the extra insulation. If the temps are cooler, as they have been during the Camp Fire, it’s less uncomfortable.

Does it work? Hard to say because I’m coughing regardless right now with the air quality being so bad all day long. If you’re commuting to work, these masks work very well because you’re usually not breathing very hard. For recreational use they’re definitely better if you’re taking it easy, which is what you should be doing anyway with our abyssmal air quality. If you’re going á bloc they’re probably going to be quite uncomfortable as it was for me. But for getting in that not-so-fast recreational ride, the Respro is fine. Remember: these masks aren’t perfect so don’t imagine that you’re safe riding during bad air quality: you’re not. But they will reduce your exposure, you know, like getting less radiation after the H-bomb has been dropped. Hey, but you gotta get in your ride, right?

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Continuing Lessons on Road Tubeless Tires

November 6th, 2018 by tony

Orange Seal tire ‘booger’ blocking a puncture

 

I recently got a flat tire on a road tubeless tire. How is that possible you say? I’d love to tell you it was because Jason slashed my tire with his chainsaw leaving me hapless by the side of the road. But it was much more mundane and humiliating. Whatever caused the puncture was rather small. I never did see it, only the tiny hole it caused. How come there wasn’t any sealant bubbling out and doing its thing? When I got home and took the tire off, I found the sealant was almost completely dried out!

I was initially puzzled—hadn’t I put Orange Seal in there just a few months ago? It turned out it was 14 months ago, which is an eternity when it comes to tire sealant. That’s one of the little maintenance tasks that go along with tubeless: put more sealant in your tires at regular intervals. But it’s also a task that is easy to forget, just as I did. In my case I had been checking at regular intervals when I first set the tires up, about every three months. At the time I was using Stan’s sealant, which is notorious for drying out in just a few months. But after a year the Stan’s was still there, and with confidence my diligence dropped off. I then switched to Orange Seal and checked my tires only once since then. I won’t make that mistake again.

I was fortunate in that I flatted just about a mile from home. I was able to get back to the house riding an almost flat rear tire (sealant also seems to help clincher tire beads bind to the rim). If I had been further away, I would have had to put in a tube. If the sealant were still working, it would have been an ugly mess to pull the tire off and put in a tube. On the other hand the hole was small enough that it surely would have sealed too. And by the way, did you know that tubeless tires tend to be hard to mount because they have tight beads? It’s enough hassle to try to get those Schwalbe tires on when I’m in the shop let alone by the side of the road. I’m not sure I could have gotten a tube in that tire without breaking a bunch of my finely manicured nails!

By the way this experience gave me an opportunity to check the inside of the tire to see how sealant works. Orange Seal consists of a liquid and lots of particles that flow to the puncture and clog it up. I was able to see two boogers inside the tire where apparently I had punctures that sealed. I made sure not to disturb them. It turns out the particles in Orange Seal are tiny little sparkly squares that look like metalic flakes. Whatever they are they seem to work very well at clogging holes.

Well, did I put more sealant in and mount the tire? Nope. I was going to but then I got Lesson Number Two: make sure you have a working air compressor. Air compressor, you say? Yep. Mounting a tubeless tire isn’t always possible with a regular bike pump. Sometimes it is but you don’t necessarily know ahead of time. It depends on the rim-tire combination. To seat the bead you often need a firm blast of air that literally blows the beads into place and create a seal. If you have a tube, the tube inflates and pushes the tire bead into place. But there isn’t a tube with tubeless tires. Nowadays you have three choices: air compressor, CO2 cartridge, or newfangled floor pumps with compressor tanks. CO2 is easy to get and cheap but has one problem: it causes tire sealant to coagulate. So you must do it in two steps: blow the beads into place and hope they stay there and then add sealant. Air compressors are the tool of choice but how many of you have the interest, need, or space for a shop air compressor? They’re moderately bulky and the cheap ones weigh about 40 lbs. They also make a lot of noise. If you’re a tool kind of guy/gal, then you probably already have an air compressor to drive your nail gun or air sprayer. But I’m guessing most of you wouldn’t know an air compressor from a tongue depressor. The third option is rather new. You can now get bicycle floor pumps that have a tank you inflate with the pump. Then you flip the switch to send the compressed air shooting into your tire. Genius. But they cost more than a cheap air compressor. Those floor pumps start around $125 and you can get a really cheap compressor for about $100 and it’s good for other things besides blowing your tubeless tires. But if you live in a SF apartment, the floor pump is definitely the way to go.

In my case I have an air compressor. But first I tried the floor pump because it’s worked before. No go—matter how I positioned the tire it didn’t want to inflate. Plan B was the air compressor. But when I turned it on, it was broken. Then I tried CO2 cartridges and after two failures I gave up and put a latex tube in the tire. I ordered a new compressor but I wasn’t going to wait for it to show up. So now I have a tubeless tire in front and a regular tubed tire in the back. I’m going to try this for a while. Right now I don’t notice a whole lot of difference in the ride. That’s not too surprising to me because latex tubes are very, very supple and give a Cadillac ride. But that brings up issues around maintaining latex tubes. But I’ll save that for another post!

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Hedging Your Bets [Updated 11/14]

October 29th, 2018 by tony

Today I finally received a response to my 10/15/18 email to Carter Choi at San Mateo Dept. of Public Works regarding whether the opening of Crystal Springs Dam Road would be postponed yet again beyond 10/31/18. I’ve put in bold the hedging:

“The County is currently putting in a recreational trail south of the bridge to provide a safe area for pedestrians to walk.  In addition, there is security fencing that needs to be installed in multiple locations within the project site and this security fencing has to be coordinated and approved with the SFPUC.  The current tentative schedule to complete the remaining work for the Parks trail work and the security fencing is the next 2 to 3 weeks pending sub-contractor availability and lead time to procure fencing materials given the current construction climate in the Bay Area.  Once this work is completed the ribbon cutting event for the bridge reopening can be properly scheduled. Thank you for your patience.”

My bet is not before mid-January. Nothing gets done during the holidays and if the  rains will begin, they will delay any real work. And it sounds like there isn’t even a sub lined up for the work let alone the fencing materials being ordered to spec and delivered. Basically he doesn’t have a clue when it will be reopened.

My question is WTF didn’t his office say that on their website in the first place. It’s like they have no idea what is going to happen next and then get surprised by yet another unknown step to getting this road opened. For all we know the security fencing may also need to pass some Homeland Security requirement and California state requirements as well. And it will have to redone because it wasn’t done correctly the first time.

UPDATE: [11/14] Gosh darn, that two to three week postponement turned out not to be true! Now the website lists “December 2018” for the completion. I’ve lost track of the number of times SM DPW has had to backtrack on their finally finalest-of-all-final deadlines. I still think it can’t happen anytime before February 2019.

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What Lying Liars Like To Do

October 29th, 2018 by tony

Calaveras Road, which has been closed since July 2016, was supposed to reopen on Saturday, November 3. Now the SF Water website says it won’t open before January 1, 2019. The reason? Whatever, it doesn’t matter because they’ve been lining up excuses like bowling pins. They should just say it’s closed indefinitely. But they won’t because people would scream. So they lie and put up a date to placate the public. I would like to say they are unlike other public agencies in their relentless failure to keep to any reasonable timelines. But they’re not: witness Crystal Springs Dam Road (San Mateo County Department of Public Works) and BART.

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BART: Promises, Promises

October 27th, 2018 by tony

Did you see this article in the SF Chronicle?

BART is behind schedule on rolling out the new Bombardier cars. Are you surprised? No, neither am I. There isn’t a timeline in history that BART hasn’t optimistically projected and missed. We are now looking at 2020 before the Milpitas and Berryessa stations will open—only three years behind schedule—and now BART trots out a “Gee, we’re sorry. Things didn’t go as planned!” for the new cars. BART is “hoping” to have five Bombardier trains (if they’re full trains, that’s 10 x 5 = 50 cars) yet only 35 have been certified for use and only one train is currently in use. So in the next two months the CPUC has to certify at least 15 more cars or else BART will be running short seven car trains. Oh, and that will mean that there won’t be any cars that BART can use to train new operators—unless they remove some of those 35 cars from daily use. Notice that “hope” does not equate with “will”.

BART is supposed to have all 775 Bombardier cars in the system by spring 2022 as well as a new railcar storage facility in Hayward and five new substations to provide power. Yet it’s already behind schedule on installing the new cars because of unforeseen mechanical problems. 

There is also a new super-techy electronic control system planned so they can run more trains. Yet if you recall BART has a sorry history when it comes to control systems. BART has never been able to live up to its initial projections of being able to handle a train every 90 seconds. I believe there have been at least three lawsuits by BART against the companies that provided the control systems. The first one was against the original company, Westinghouse, after it was apparent their system was flawed and could not prevent accidents. The second one I can’t recall the name of the company but I do remember that BART squandered an enormous amount of money in hopes the company could come through and it couldn’t. The third was in 2006 against GE, yet another vendor. In other words in the 46 years that BART has been running trains it has never had an electronic control system that could live up to the 90 seconds per train hype.

Are we to believe that those 775 new cars will be fully deployed by 2022? Get real! BART blows its projections by years. If we have full deployment by 2025 we will be lucky. Those BART press releases are only good for lining bird cages.

So for at least the next four years we will have to live with our ever-increasingly filthy and miserably crowded old BART cars. And don’t forget that important BART rule: you are not allowed to board cars that are crowded with your bike. So guess who’s going to be enjoying sitting around those lovely BART stations waiting for a train that has space? Happy BART riding!

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Disc Brake Hype

October 22nd, 2018 by tony

If you are contemplating purchasing a road bike or you perhaps fervently peruse cycling magazines and websites for the latest bike porn, without doubt you have been exposed to a deluge of hype about road disc brakes. I’m here to disabuse you of the marketing drivel and share a real world user’s experience.

My experience with road disc brakes goes way back to 2003 long before road disc brakes were a thing. I met a Swiss cyclist from Zurich who had a custom Ericksen road bike with disc brakes, which at the time was a real rarity. I disparagingly asked him why he bothered with discs. He said, “It snows in Zurich and I ride year-round.” Oh. Made sense. If you’ve ever tried to brake in snow or sleet, you know how unreliable and scary it can be with rim brakes. Well, actually it’s scary regardless of the brake type but it’s especially scary with rim brakes. As I also commuted to work by bike, the idea was planted. In 2005 I got a cheap road bike that was EOLed by the manufacturer and it had Avid mechanical disc brakes—probably because no one was buying road bikes with disc brakes back then. It was an experiment perhaps motivated by a specific need. I commuted to work by bike rain or shine. My beater commuter bike often was a filthy mess despite having fenders, partly due to rim brakes. The black brake pads shed material and filth; add water and you have a black, oily slime all around your wheels and frame. Since I was carrying my bike up and down BART stairs, I was getting filthy too. I also was hoping that the braking would be more consistent when it rained; I had already gone down once in the rain due to being unable to tell when the rim brakes were going to lock up. Disc brakes do have a reputation for powerful braking but I just needed to have a consistent feel so that I wouldn’t brake too much or too little.

Roger and I had also been riding a tandem with Avid mechanical disc brakes. Due to the increased mass of two riders, with rim brakes you can produce so much heat during long downhills that you can blow the tire right off the rim. That happened to a friend on his single bike on a long, steep downhill in the Alps and we were also aware of a tandem that did blow its tires on a hairy, steep technical descent in Switzerland leading to copious road rash and a trip to the hospital for the duo. I’m a firm believer in disc brakes for tandems when you’re riding in mountainous terrain.

I now have a road bike that has the latest and greatest Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. The brakes are very nice—they stop the bike, require little hand force to produce immense braking whether dry or wet, and have reasonable modulation. There really aren’t any significant downsides purely with respect to braking. But are they that much better than good rim brakes? Well, yes and no. In dry conditions I find that rim brakes, especially Campagnolo brakes, provide really excellent modulation even if they do require more hand force. Shimano and Avid disc brakes modulate well in the middle but as you get near the lock up point the braking curve suddenly goes up. This is really noticeable with metal/sintered brake pads but less so with resin pads.

Then why did I get them? Because I am running big tires. Current Shimano rim brakes top out at about 28mm tires; older generation brakes—and that’s all that I have—can rarely fit around a 28 mm tire and usually top out at 26 mm if you’re lucky––the tires are just too big to fit under the brake arch. That’s partly a frame problem because until recently major bicycle companies thought no one riding a decent road bike was going to use anything bigger than a 25 mm tire. If you ran big tires, then you had to use “long reach” rim brakes, cantilever brakes, or V-brakes. Over the years I’ve used them all and guess what: they work quite well at stopping. So-called long reach side pull brakes actually have really good modulation but they do require more hand force. But they are not uncomfortable on the road to use even for prolonged periods. Cantilevers and V-brakes can stop on a dime just like disc brakes but they use also brake pads and so shed muck and that wouldn’t work for my commute. In an ironic turn Shimano has made their newest rim brakes so powerful that they stop like disc brakes. But I find their modulation is worse than their hydraulic brakes or their older road brakes. They have so much force in a short pull that I’ve had to relearn how to control them.

When reviewers go gaga over hydraulic brakes what are they getting at? Probably the reduction in hand force that to them feels like better modulation. But 99% of the braking you’re going to be doing is exactly what you’ve been doing to date. Do you often think your brakes are underpowered, lack modulation, or just plain suck? For most of us the answer is no. I do think a reasonable case can be made for very heavy bikes such as cargo bikes or e-bikes and very heavy cyclists. Also if you regularly do crazy long and steep downhills or ride in the rain a lot, then disc brakes are extra insurance against blowing a tire or skidding and crashing. But these are not everyday concerns unless you live in the Alps or Dolomites or live in the Pacific Northwest. Even for descending Mt. Diablo or Mt. Umunhum standard road rim brakes are perfectly fine. And how many of you ride your bike regularly in the rain?

Often you’ll see in reviews that the big minus with hydraulic disc brakes (usually no one mentions mechanical disc brakes anymore) is the added weight. The extra weight is probably just under a pound but I don’t think that’s the real problem with disc brakes. What they don’t mention is the extra maintenance that disc brakes incur. If you want to read an in-depth explanation of exactly what maintenance they do require, go here and here.

In my experience disc brakes require frequent and more complex maintenance than rim brakes. Rim brakes are relatively easy to take care of. It’s trivial to replace brake pads, and I usually go years before needing to replace pads despite riding lots of miles. Setting the pads the correct distance from the rim is also a snap. Disc brakes are another matter altogether. Although the pads cost about the same as rim brake pads, they wear through much more quickly and that means you’ll be replacing them often. Resin pads, which are the preferred type, wear very quickly; I’m getting about 2-3,000 miles per brake and having to replace them at least once a year front and rear (note: and I’m light!) The rotors wear out too. With rim brakes you will wear out rims eventually but it’s many years (about 25-40,000 miles in my case). But I’ve discovered that Shimano rotors wear out in about a year of riding. And they’re not cheap, running $60-90 each. Rotors also warp easily. Massive heat from hard, long braking seems to cause rotors to go out of true. You can also accidentally bump the rotor or lean it against something. The distance between the pads and the rotor is so minute, a few millimeters, that minor warpage means the rotor rubs against the pads usually with a grating, annoying squeak. You can true rotors with a rotor tool but I find it’s much harder than truing spokes in a wheel. Finally, replacing a brake cable is super easy for rim brakes. But bleeding a hydraulic line is a tedious process and you’d better have read the instructions carefully for your brakes because there are nuances in how you bleed your brakes depending on the model. At the moment I’m tearing my hair out over inconsistent piston retraction on the front brake. One of the two pistons doesn’t retract quickly after use so I often get a rasping squeak that only goes away when the piston slowly retracts

Of course if you don’t do your own bike maintenance—which seems to be the trend these days—then you escape the hassle. But your shop bills are going to increase instead.

So before you buy that next bike with disc brakes, think: are you ready to trade the convenience and low cost of rim brakes for the complexity, more frequent maintenance, and higher cost? If you’re going to be riding the same old roads, you are gaining weight and cost for what? Road disc brakes do make sense if want to go up to bigger tires, you ride in the wet a lot, or you need to stop a lot of weight. The other application that make more sense to have disc brakes is if you’re riding on fire roads and trails with your road bike: essentially you’re mountain biking on a road bike and the reduced hand force of disc brakes will definitely feel welcome. It’s no surprise that disc brakes are de rigeur for mountain biking. I have an old mountain bike with cantilever brakes and my hands do get tired and crampy. Now, I do like my hydraulic brakes and the extra weight means little to me. But I’m spending more time futzing with them than I did with the worst rim brakes I’ve ever owned. It’s a pain. And rotor rub just becomes a fact of disc brake life—for some it’s easily ignorable but for me it’s a princess-and-the-pea problem: the noise drives me crazy. There is one other advantage to disc brakes: if your wheel goes out of true—whether it’s due to a broken spoke, tacoing the rim, or “just riding along”, you can usually keep riding to get home. With rim brakes you’ll have to do some serious wheel truing by the side of the road/trail or else call a taxi.

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World’s Longest Road Closure: Crystal Springs Dam Road

October 19th, 2018 by tony

So, who among you remembers cycling across Crystal Springs Dam Road? If you don’t, it’s no surprise because we are approaching the 8th anniversary of its closing. Yes, Crystal Springs Dam Road has been closed for eight years: it closed on October 21, 2010—can you believe it? Admittedly the reason for the ridiculously prolonged closure is not entirely bogus. The construction of the replacement dam, which sits on the San Andreas Fault, had to be done conservatively. But as with Calaveras Road there is something about major public works projects that almost always causes them to spiral out of control and blow their timelines. The number of times San Mateo County Public Works has had to revise the opening date is embarrassing. I just glanced online and saw one estimate as “2017”. Seriously? We are almost two years later!

The last estimate of reopening was September 2018 but at the last minute it was pushed back to “mid-October”. Their webpage hasn’t been revised since and we are now just past mid-October and there isn’t even an announcement of a date for the “grand reopening ceremony”. In other words, they’ve blown their deadline again and we haven’t a clue as to when they will reopen it. I emailed the Senior Civil Engineer, Carter Choi, a few days ago about a revised estimate and surprise, surprise I haven’t heard a thing (I didn’t hear from him when I asked the same question in August—I guess he’s too busy “working” to answer his email). I just called SM Public Works and their receptionist says “mid-November”. Of course the engineers weren’t available to talk.

So how believable is that “mid-November”? Does shit even get done at public agencies near the holidays??

San Mateo’s repeated bad estimates mirror that of another public agency, BART. The Warm Spring extension was initally projected to open in 2014, five years after groundbreaking. It didn’t open until 2017, three years late. We are now awaiting the opening of the two stations just to the south, Milpitas and Berryessa. Both were scheduled to open in December 2017. Then there were problems integrating the new electrical control system to the old existing system, and that pushed the opening to June of this year, which didn’t happen, and the new opening was set for maybe the end of 2018 but probably more like early 2019. (Didn’t they run into those same system issues with the Warm Springs station? If so, why didn’t they revise their timeline before?) So now they’re three years behind schedule for Berryessa.

Now comes word that equipment was installed in the two stations that was not “compliant” (they were used and not new) and has to be removed, replaced, and then tested again. Now the rough estimate is Milpitas and Berryessa won’t open any earlier than “late 2019”. The Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority has requested a FTA extension with a deadline to begin service of December 31, 2019. Of course they could easily refile for another extension. Earlier this year we were thinking we could use Milpitas BART to get to the start of the Mt. Hamilton in the Fall ride. That is off the table for next year as well.

We have no inkling as to the actual sequence of events that leads to these delays. Why do agencies continue to mouth overly optimistic opening dates? They should know from previous miscalculations that the error is, say, roughly three years and then add that to their public announcements. One wonders if the delays are due to truly unforeseeable circumstances or whether it is really due to mediocre oversight of contractors and/or inept planning.

Will I even be alive when BART opens these stations??

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Jersey Ride Notes

October 14th, 2018 by tony

David Gaus led this month’s Jersey Ride. Besides David it was Roger Sayre, Roger and I, and guest David. We did a few nice diversions from the usual route, the Corte Madera-Larkspur path around the Corte Madera Shopping Center, and because it was a beautiful day after lunch we also trucked up into Belvedere to catch the great views of Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge, and finally instead of returning on Washington Blvd. through the Presidio, we dropped down Battery Caulfield to 14th and then back to Golden Gate Park. There were a billion other cyclists out and about.

Since the June Jersey Ride the City of Tiburon actually repaired significant sections of Paradise Drive. It’s not a full repaving instead being a patchwork of long sections of road that now have pristine asphalt. There are still degraded bumpy sections but it’s a lot less jarring (and annoying) than before. Wow. Maybe someone read the ChainLetter blog and saw my complaint! The other notable improvement was the return on the Bridge. It’s still jammed full of visitors looking uncertain, steering their rental bikes the way a fish swims upstream. but this time it seemed less dangerous. The equipment bulb-outs are still egregiously wide but perhaps the brisk breeze deterred the tourists from literally casting their fate to the wind because I saw not one with a phone or selfie stick in hand as they pranced across. I still wonder how many ambulance calls are made on weekends for the west sidewalk though.

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Waistlines not Pacelines

October 9th, 2018 by tony

Oktoberfest training

 

Whatever illusions you might harbor about being able to Consume Mass Quantities because you cycle your pretty ass off, the truth of the matter is that bad eating habits are just that regardless of how praiseworthy your Strava KOMs/QOMs might be. There are a lot of cyclists (and runners and triathletes and swimmers and…) who regard their exercise as carte blanche to indulge in uninhibited voracity. For some Spokers having discovered they like to ride bikes is like a second Coming Out. But instead of the bathhouses it’s the nearest Burger King. And lord knows there are a lot more BKs and KFCs out there than there are saunas. Cycling might do wonders for your cardiovascular system. But weight? I’m not so sure. Cycling’s ugly secret is that riding often means more hunger and that means more eating with little effect on your waistline. You didn’t know cycling is a zero sum game, did you?

You know how those pro racers stay so trim? It isn’t just mega miles—it’s also adhering to very restricted diets. You know, the kind of diets you used to try and you absolutely hated. As in: being hungry all the time! Those low body fat numbers come from serious pushing back from the table and that takes real will power. Which is why cycling with the goal of becoming fabulously thin is elusive. Somehow the effort of cycling is supposed to supplant the effort of not eating while hungry. Hmm.

Which brings us to how we ended up at Gaumenkitzel last weekend for Oktoberfest. There are no illusions on Social A rides that your butch quotient is going to go up nor is there the sense that you’ll be able to throw giant wads of spaeztle or potato salad down your gullet without consequences. On Social A rides hedonism isn’t given an excuse, it’s a fact of life! No need to do penance for sin—we just sin with abandon. Our inclinations are distinctly Dionysian rather than Catholic. And that supermodel who claimed that “Nothing tastes as good as the way thin feels” is laughably disproved every time we eat at Gaumenkitzel: thin doesn’t stand a chance against the delicacies from the kitchen there! German food is the new thin.

The ride to Gaumenkitzel started with a single pedal stroke. And given the lack of hills—well, there were two actually—it didn’t take a whole lot more than that to get there. There’s the hill over St. Stephens between Lafayette and Orinda and then the short, nasty hill in El Sobrante just before the Starbucks hovers into sight. The ride was an exercise in herding cats, with one person after another missing the start and then missing the meet-up point. When all was said and done Roger and I were eventually joined by Suzan, Thomas, and David Goldsmith, with Roy and Bill just giving up and not making it. David’s husband Chris met us at Gaumenkitzel. He’s obviously a very bright person because he figured out that absolutely no cycling was necessary to enjoy Gaumenkitzel. The ride down the Ohlone Greenway didn’t take long—it’s a straight shot being underneath the elevated BART tracks. It’s a corridor well used by cyclists and pedestrians to get around the East Bay suburbs, not unlike the Iron Horse or the Contra Costa Canal trails. It’s perfect for leisurely cycling but you’re not going to set any speed records on it nor should you given its mixed use.

At Gaumenkitzel our table was waiting. The menu had a few Oktoberfest specials. Roger and I had to indulge in their German potato salad with pickled carrots and pork patties (it tasted much better than it sounds!). Chris had their delicious Jagerschnitzel. David had a plate piled with sausages. Others were more restrained. The food was delicious and filling. It was the kind of food you lingered over and definitely not something to dine and then dash off. Fortunately it was a short, flat roll from there to Rockridge BART requiring just enough effort to forestall food-induced lassitude. It was miles ahead of Burger King in taste but in calories probably not any less. Too bad Strava doesn’t have food KOMs!

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