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!

What Is A Different Spokes Ride?

December 28th, 2016 by tony

how-to-tell-if-a-man-is-gay

Is this too obvious a question? We all know what a Different Spokes ride is, right? It’s a ride listed in our ride calendar and led by a member of the club. Our calendar does have a few non-DSSF rides such as local century rides. These aren’t Different Spokes rides per se but are rides that either have been popular with Spokers in the past or that a member would like other Spokers to ride with even though it’s not offered by DSSF. But for the most part the above answer is trite and true.

However a Social “A” Ride this year caused me to mull over this question a bit more deeply. As far as I know, the turnout on all but one Social “A” Rides has been completely LGBT ranging from just me and Roger (only once!) to about a dozen riders. On the one exception we had 13 riders and six turned out to be non-LGBT couples whom a Different Spokes member invited along. They were very pleasant, older, and obviously at least LGBT-tolerant if not –friendly. The ride was fine: everybody got along and we had a fabulous ride with a delicious (and noisy) lunch afterwards. But the group dynamics were subtlely different. I certainly noticed that my behavior changed with having so many straight people along who also happened to be old farts the same age as I. Those of you who are younger and are “post gay” may not have experienced having to pass; maybe you came out in elementary school or your parents were fine with having a queer child. But some of us who hid in the straight world or didn’t have such a supportive milieu are intimately acquainted with trying to pass for straight (or at least, be less fey lest we suffer the consequences) and some of us still have a latent, automatic habit of going into passing mode that we have to deliberately check. However in this case it wasn’t pretending to be straight. Instead I caught myself pretending to be less “gay chatty”: I just toned it down “for the benefit of our straight friends”. After all, I wanted them to feel welcome and talking about the things that we typically talk about in front of non-LGBT people might upset them. I reverted to talking as I talk in the office, i.e. “safe for work”. It’s not that I typically converse racily on Different Spokes rides but when sex comes up—um, does it ever not come up?—I don’t shy away from it. Until this ride.

Occasionally rides in our calendar are cross-listed with another club, invariably a non-LGBT club. Most recently it’s been Stephanie cross-listing her Grizzly Peak rides with us, and that actually has worked out well for me and Roger because we also belong to Grizzly Peak and have quite a few Grizzly friends and acquaintances. They’re a Berkeley-based club and have “Berkeley” values, plus they seem to have more lesbian members than we do! I’ve been on a few cross-listed rides over the years and these are a “different” kettle of queers altogether because one can safely presume we would be outnumbered by non-LGBT folks. With the exception of cross-listed rides, I do not recall a club ride that had such a high proportion of non-LGBT participants until this recent Social A Ride. So, I can perhaps plead lack of practice for my behavior.

Occasionally we have had straight folks some of our rides. Back in the day it was usually because they didn’t realize that Different Spokes was a queer cycling group and they invariably never came back. Some folks were “fellow travelers”—they had gay family members, or when AIDS was decimating our community they were straight people deeply affected by the epidemic. In that era we had a larger profile due to the AIDS Bike-A-Thon. In recent times we’ve had a few straight and queer-friendly members, perhaps providing some evidence that we are slowly rolling towards ‘post-gay.’ But they’ve always been a minority, a few straight droplets in a sea of Gay.

Back to my question: what makes a Different Spokes ride? A Different Spokes ride is our space: it’s a cycling environment where we can be gay, i.e. just be ourselves and enjoy our second favorite activity, cycling. If we can’t be ourselves on a Different Spokes ride, then what’s the point? When non-LGBT people come on our rides, some may not realize they are entering a milieu where the cultural norms are slightly different. I’m pretty certain that a lot of straight folks would raise an unmanicured eyebrow or two at some of the explicit chatter that erupts on DSSF rides. If welcoming non-LGBT means toning it down, is it really a real hearty rainbow welcome? And if they are taken aback, is that our “fault”? Of course on this particular Social Ride I just made a presumption they would be taken aback. Perhaps they would not blinked a blasé eye but, alas, now we’ll never know.

In public spaces a good rule of thumb is to try to be respectful in speech and behavior. There is no sense in inadvertently offending or intentionally putting off others, is there? Respect is an important byword for all DSSF events. But Different Spokes rides are not like your  local public library; they are LGBT spaces where the values, customs, and behavior of the LGBT community predominate. Just because straight people come on a Different Spokes rides does not mean that suddenly the space is generically public and that our behavior should change. Isn’t it our space? Or, do we lose that “privilege” once we become a mixed environment? Sex is such a charged topic anyway—can one safely presume that all LGBT people on a DSSF ride would not be put off by explicit conversation? It’s like all intercultural communication: it’s hard to negotiate the middle ground when worlds collide.

Ride Recap: Social Ride to Danville Chow

December 19th, 2016 by tony

ice-biking-1

It wasn’t December 21 but it sure felt like winter had arrived. This morning of the ride the thermometer said 38 F. Well, at least it wasn’t freezing but it was nippy when I poked my nose outside the front door. But I knew that if it was 38 at the house, then it was likely to be near freezing at the bottom of the hill. If you live in San Francisco or near the Bay, you don’t often see temperatures go below 40 and rarely below 35. But when you live in Contra Costa or Napa, it’s not uncommon in the winter to see frost on the ground or to have a freeze warning. Derek was the first casualty; he called me in the morning to moan that it was too cold and he’d have to bag the Social Ride today. Derek lives not far away in Walnut Creek; I couldn’t believe he’d be put off by a slight chill! Weaklings from San Francisco I can understand but not someone who lives over here! Fortunately it was bright sunshine and absolutely clear; I was confident it would warm up. Roger and I rolled down to Orinda BART to wait for Frank, who promptly showed up on the 9:45 BART train. Then I got an email from Jon saying he was bagging the ride too. So, the last Social Ride of the year was just Roger, me, and Frank.

This Social Ride is one of our favorite rides: it’s a jaunt from Orinda to Moraga and down the Lafayette Moraga Regional Trail, which is a converted rails-to-trails multi-use path. It’s a gentle downhill being a former rail line and therefore restricted to an average of about 2%. We had a nice warm up getting to Moraga because of the slight incline in between, but now rolling downhill we started to chill. By the time we got to Lafayette Roger, who never seems to be bothered by cold weather, was complaining his fingers were aching from the cold. And he was using little heater packs in his gloves, which alas seemed to be ineffective against the elements. We did a slight detour to Papillon Coffee Shop and got some warm drinks to boost our metabolisms and spirits. After a long discussion of the pitfalls and benefits of total knee replacements we got ready to head out. But Roger was still feeling too cold so he decided to turn around and go home. But Frank and I were determined to do the whole shebang.

We bid Roger farewell and took off. Being midday it was—to me—comfortably warm, and Frank certainly felt alright despite not wearing a hat under his helmet. Neither of us was dressed like polar bears but we clearly had layered adequately because as long as we kept moving we were generating enough heat. We rolled easily through the back roads of Walnut Creek and through Round Hill and out towards Blackhawk. Interestingly despite being a Saturday there were not the usual horde of cyclists throughout the San Ramon Valley. Maybe it was too chilly to ride?? We got to Chow in Danville and we lucked out again: their outside patio was completely in the sun and was plenty warm enough for us to dine alfresco. I love dining at Danville Chow not only because the well-placed patio is cozy and allows us to watch our bikes but because I’ve never had a bad meal there. This time I had their chicken noodle soup and a wedge salad. I’d never had their chicken noodle soup before: the broth was the real thing, not some canned fluid poured into a pot and it was perfect for a cold day. Frank had the mussels and a salad as well. His mussels were dripping in garlic and butter broth, which he soaked up with their toasted bread—it looked divine if a bit too heavy for a meal for me! More conversation ensued about the vagaries of riding in the Hudson Valley, riding in New York City, how the Bay Area has changed, getting new bikes, and maybe a little gossip about fellow Spokers not present!

It was a leisurely lunch—I think over an hour—and suitably refreshed we remounted our bikes and rolled up the Iron Horse, another converted rails-to-trails multi-use path, back to Walnut Creek. By now the sun was getting low in the sky and the trail had little direct sunlight. Even I was starting to feel a bit chilly. But the return has a few low hills and we warmed up and made it back to Orinda safely and pleasantly tired.

Stay tuned for Social Ride plans for 2017. We’ve already started working on the calendar and have some fav reruns as well as some interesting new routes and lunch stops!

2017 Centuries and Gran Fondos

December 16th, 2016 by tony

black Cannondale road bike

l13

Less than one month to go and 2016 will be one for the books, yet it’s not too early to be thinking about next year and the Next Big Ride. Many cycling clubs don’t yet have information available about their centuries and even if they do, registration has yet to open and details are currently a bit sparse. But at least you can peruse the calendar and figure out those weekends you’re going to dedicate to a hundred-miler. Although 2016 was an El Nino year, other than January when rain was near epic it actually wasn’t too wet. Training for an early century in winter wasn’t that hard. This year is forecast to be a La Niña year, which tends to have normal precipitation. We may be able to enjoy even more riding days in 2017 without having to pull on rain gear! These are the usual suspects up to early June 2017. Most rides from June on have little or no information up yet. A follow up post will highlight the centuries of the latter half of 2017.

January

1 Sunday. Resolution Ride. This is Different Spokes’s own ride up Mt. Diablo on New Year’s Day.  If you’re already semi-fit or at least willing to suffer, it’s a great way to start off the New Year. Open to anyone and no fee! If it’s not raining, it will be a mosh pit at the summit—Valley Spokesmen, Grizzly Peak Cyclists, and Diablo Cyclists all respect this day and have club runs to the summit.

21 Saturday. Tour of Palm Springs. $75. Registration is open. 10/25/50/100-mile routes. Down south typically receives much less rain than we do, so this one is a safe bet for dry riding. But if it’s dry, there will a huge crowd. A few brave Spokes have driven south for this one.

February

12 Sunday. Velo-Love Ride. $50. Registration is open. 40/60/100-mile routes. Chico Velo annually celebrates Valentines Day with the Velo-Love Ride. V-Day falls on a Tuesday, so Sunday February 12 is the closest weekend date. Because it starts in Gridley, which is close to Yuba City, the drive is even less than going to the Chico Wildflower. Nice tour of the rice fields and Sutter Buttes in the Sacramento Valley. The post-ride meal is really good too! A small and friendly ride.

25 Saturday. Pedaling Paths To Independence. $45. Registration is open. 25 or 65-mile routes. This is a pretty easy metric in the Valley that is a benefit for the Community Center for the Blind. It’s cheap too at $45. Mostly flat so it’s not too demanding (unless the wind is blowing.) Starts in Linden, east of Stockton.

March

11 Saturday. Solvang Century. $125 online/$115 mail in. Registration is open. 50, 70, or 100-mile routes. This is an extremely popular Southern California ride starting in Solvang. It’s about a six-hour drive from San Francisco so it’s close enough for us. It regularly attracts 5,000+ riders. Consequently lodging at the last minute is scarce; book early or plan on sleeping far away. One year we couldn’t get a room any closer than Santa Barbara. Perhaps SCOR, the organizer, has heard some of the criticism because this year the enormous registration fee will include the bbq lunch at the end that they used to charge separately for. The rest stop goodies have in the past been merely perfunctory (think:they loaded up at Costco).

April

1 Saturday. Tierra Bella. $60 until 1/16/17. Registration is open. 35, 63, 100, and 123-mile routes. Cap of 2,000 riders. A club fav and it’s close by to, in Gilroy. Great roads that are not suburbanized yet. Post-ride meal is pretty good too.

8 Saturday. Bike Around The Buttes. $49 online/$56 mail in. Registration is open. 18, 40, or 100-mile routes. Starts in Sutter just west of Yuba City. If you didn’t make it to the Velo-Love Ride, this ride covers similar territory at a warmer and drier time of the year.

8 Saturday. Cinderella Classic & Challenge. $58. Registration opens Jan. 4. 65 or 85 mile-routes. Limit of 2,500 riders and they always sell out in advance. Starts in Pleasanton. Valley Spokesmen’s 41st annual women/girl only ride. Classic roads of Contra Costa County, which is rapidly being suburbanized. Male Spokers may want to do our Evil Stepsisters ride in lieu, or you could volunteer to work the event and support women cyclists!

8 Saturday. SLOBC Wildflower Century. $75 before 1/21/17. Registration is open. 46, 64, 76, and 99-mile routes. Starts in Creston. SLOBC also puts on the Lighthouse Century later in the year. Great roads in Central California. The Wildflower takes place the same weekend as the Eroica, so you can do both!

9 Sunday. Eroica California Gran Fondo. $150 before 3/31/17. 40, 73, 87 or 127-mile routes. Starts in Paso Robles. Ride mixed surface roads in Central California on your vintage steel bike. That would be…almost no one in Different Spokes. But you can always troll EBay for a classic bike although they are no longer cheap due to the Eroica! The original Eroica in Tuscany makes a lot of sense but these knockoffs in disparate locations such as California and Japan seem, well, forced, shall we say. But the dirt roads are truly awesome!

15 Saturday. Sierra Century. $64 before 4/1/17. 41, 65, 69, or 102-mile-routes. Starts in Plymouth. Scenic Gold Country route with the well-known Slug Gulch climb.

22 Saturday. Sea Otter Gran Fondo. $110 before 4/3/17. 51 or 92-mile road routes. Also offering a 22-mile mtb route or a 32-mile gravel route for $90.

23 Sunday. Primavera Century. $65 if before 12/31/16. Registration is open. 25, 63, 85, or 102-mile routes. Starts in Fremont, but is not BARTable because Sunday service starts too late to make any of the rides except the 25-mile.

29 Saturday. Mount Hamilton Challenge. $20? 125 miles. Pedalera BC hasn’t yet announced the 2017 Mount Hamilton Challenge but there is little doubt they will offer it again. It’s dirt cheap because you bring all your own food to be sagged for you. Starting in Santa Clara riders roll up Hamilton and down the back side and back.

29 Saturday. Motherlode Century. $75? 35, 66. 81, or 95-mile routes. This is another one that isn’t up yet. Unlike the venerable Mt. Hamilton Challenge, the Motherlode is of recent origin so perhaps it is already defunct. Last year registration opened on Jan. 1, so we’ll know shortly. This ride starts in Coloma in El Dorado County. It’s a longer drive than the Mt. Hamilton Challenge but it is a traditional century and won’t have to schlep your own food.

30 Sunday. Chico Wildflower Century. $75 before 1/31/17. Registration is open. 12, 30, 60, 65, 100, and 125-mile routes. This is a club favorite. A group usually arranges to have dinner together the night before. Booking lodging requires advance planning! If you can take Monday off from work, so much the better because you will almost certainly be whipped after the ride and the excellent post-ride dinner; driving back right after is just a chore.

May

6 Saturday. Wine Country Century. Fee? 35, 65, 100 and 125-mile routes. Registration opens 2/1/17 and it will sell out in a matter of days. If you want to ride this one, do not delay. This ride is great for tandems, and the food is excellent. In various years the rest stops have offered make-your-own burritos and fresh coffee—now these folks understand cyclists!

7 Sunday. Delta Century. $45? 25, 62 and 100-mile routes. No information yet but registration is supposed to open this month. Last year the cap was 500. Starts in Lodi. If you’re looking for a flat century, this is it: the century has a total elevation gain of 37 feet!

7 Sunday. Grizzly Peak Century. Fee not yet announced; registration not yet open. 76, 102 or 110-mile road routes; 78 or 100-mile mixed terrain routes. Capped at 1,000 riders. Starts in Moraga. The GPC is most definitely not a flat route–it’s a climber’s ride. This one always sells out, so don’t wait too long after registration opens, which I am guessing will be around the New Year. Last year the GPC featured a mixed surface option; this year there are two mixed surface rides. See you there!

20 Saturday. Davis Double. Fee? Registration opens 3/1/17. There is only one route: 200 miles, baby! Starts in Davis.

21 Sunday. Strawberry Fields Forever. $65 before 3/16/17. 30, 61, and 101-mile routes. Limit of 1,200 riders. Registration opens 1/1/17. Starts in Watsonville and takes in the Santa Cruz mountains.

June

4 Sunday. Sequoia Century. Fee unknown. 100 and 120-mile routes. No information yet at the Western Wheelers site but this one always takes place. Route changes every year but starts at Foothill College and goes over to the coast and back.

Let’s Make Christmas Great Again!

December 9th, 2016 by tony

trump-xmas

Yeah right, you’re going to spend serious coin on cycling stuff for someone else. Admit it, you want to give yourself the holiday gift that no one else would think to give you: something drool worthy for the new “It’s All About Me” Trump age. And it’s our responsibility to keep those factories in Asia and Eastern Europe churning 24/7. It’s sad to say but I’ve actually used almost all of the items below, and my recommendations are therefore based on personal experience and in keeping with the post-truth, post-Obama theme, very biased.

edge-520

Garmin Edge 520. $265. If you do not need turn-by-turn navigation, this is the very good GPS-enabled cyclometer. And that’s a good thing because with the exception of the Edge 800, Garmin’s other navigation cyclometers all have fatal flaws. Despite being nearly three years old the Edge 1000 still has glitches that make it an unreliable device, not to mention that the battery life is absolutely abysmal. The Edge 810 is hardly better and suffers some of the same software flaws. But if you kick navigation to the curb, Garmin’s other devices such as the 520 become very usable devices. The Edge 520 is small, light, and fairly easy to use. The screen is very legible even in bright sunlight. I haven’t had any software glitches in the eight months I’ve been using it. However I don’t use any of the social media functions such as auto uploading to Strava/Garmin Connect nor do I connect it to my phone to get alerts and text messages. So I have no comment on how they work or don’t work. Battery life is much longer than the 1000, which dies around eight hours even with energy sparing (if I’m lucky). My typical rides run 3-4 hours and the 520 usually has about 70% battery left, so my guess is that it will last through a double metric. My one complaint/laudation is that it doesn’t have a touch screen. Garmin touch screens are unreliable, not seeming to work when you most need them to, so buttons are a good thing. (Aside: you should see the online complaints about the touch screen on the new Edge 820; it’s apparently worse than ever.) Unfortunately the buttons on my unit are stiff and have to be pushed quite deliberately to work. As a result I’ve splurged and gotten a Garmin Remote This little ANT+ device has three easily clickable buttons to control your 520 and obviates the need to thrash repeatedly on the buttons on the Edge 520 while zipping through traffic or hammering up the road. Another minus of no touch screen is that all the settings have to be done by multiple, laborious button pushes. It reminds me of when we used to text on flip phones: so much work for so little gain. But the unit is reliable! Also there is enough resident memory that I’ve even installed an open source map of the Bay Area. This is useful not only for ascertaining where I am on unfamiliar roads/fire roads but also for doing simple bread crumb navigation. Having enough resident memory is important because unlike the Edge 1000/810/800 there is no SD slot for adding maps or additional storage.

spurcycle

Spurcycle Bell, or Incredibell Omnibell. $50/$13. The Spurcycle Bell is the Hot New Thing. Remember when bells on bikes meant condemnation and scorn by your local self-appointed bike snob? Well thanks to hipsters at Spurcycle having a bell on your bike now makes you look cool. And it is a nice looking bell with a very nice ring. And it’s handmade in California, not Asia. But it costs $50. For a bell. I repeat: for a bell. It’s a goddamn bike bell, not a friggin’ curated art piece.  omnibell

If your wallet howls at the prospect of springing for a Spurcycle, then opt for the Incredibell Omnibell. It’s a lot cheaper, as in $13. This gets you a nice silver bell with a good ring and sustain, an adjustable dinger, and an adjustable strap to fit any size handlebar. And why should you have a bell on your bike? Because it’s friendly and polite to alert peds and cyclists when you’re near or passing. And it’s a lot friendlier than screaming, “On your left!”

sks-race-blades-in-situ

SKS Raceblade Pro Fenders. $60. I’ve been using SKS Raceblade fenders for years on my travel bike. Using rubber straps they are easy to put on or take off and they fit my old-school bike with no problem. They’re not perfect: they’re short, so wheel spray is still a problem particularly with the front wheel. Now SKS has Raceblade fenders with built-in mudflaps that reduce spray. They’re still not perfect but they are better than their predecessor. (If you want more effective mudflaps, get the original Raceblade and buy some Buddyflaps to add to them.) If you don’t have a dedicated rain bike with fenders, this is a good, cheap alternative. And you’ll be able to remove those fenders quickly when the sun comes out.

showers-pass-classic

Showers Pass Spring Classic Jacket. $289. I’ve written about this jacket before. It’s now my go-to jacket for Bay Area rainy days. It’s light, has a snug-but-not-uncomfortably-so fit so that it doesn’t flap or make a lot of noise. It’s cut correctly for riding on the bike. And it is completely waterproof and surprisingly breathable, even having armpit zips for cooling. It’s meant for temperate climates so it works very well in the Bay Area. It’s a tad warm but that’s the nature of waterproof, breathable fabrics. For cold, rainy weather it’s near perfect especially paired with a merino wool base layer. It comes in fashionable black but the red is much more visible while still being easy on the eyes.

gore-power-trail

GoreTex Power Trail Short or Pearl Izumi MTB WxB Short. $149/$100.For rainy days I have a pair of GoreTex overshorts for the road that I got in London many years ago. It’s excellent for touring because it’s small and light and rolls up nicely into a back pocket. Because it’s Gore-Tex fabric and seam sealed it is completely waterproof, and it’s easy to slip on over cycling shoes when it starts to rain and easy to take off when it stops. They keep your lower back, butt and thighs dry—the most critical areas—and your legs aren’t covered so you can easily vent heat from the effort of cycling. For certain days shorts work better than full rain pants especially if your bike has fenders. Rain pants keep your legs dry as well but I’ve never had a waterproof pair that didn’t get steamy at anything above an easy effort. Unfortunately those Gore shorts were never brought over to the US. Well, now Gore sells a waterproof mountain bike overshorts in the US. They’re not as nice as the ones I have but they do have longer legs, coming down to the knees. For rain that’s probably a good thing. pi-wxb-shorts

If you don’t want to spend $150, Pearl Izumi also makes a waterproof mountain bike, the MTB WxB Short, which is also waterproof and seam sealed. Instead of an elastic waistband as on the GoreTex Power Trail it has an adjustable waistband. And it’s “only” $100.

rp-exception

Rudy Project Exception. $375. Cycling eyewear for some reason—probably fashion—can be ridiculously expensive. And these Rudy Project Exception sunglasses are near the top at $375 (the Assos Zegho does jump the shark: it’s $479!) But if you wear prescription eyeglasses, these are definitely worth considering despite the cost. They take prescription inserts and the sunglass lenses flip up. If you go indoors and say, need to read a restaurant menu, or you need to inspect your tires for a flint, or go into a tunnel, or just get caught out after sunset, the dark lenses flip up and out of the way. They’re decent looking and you can get different lens colors.

flare-r-lightcygoliteBontrager Flare R/Cygolite Hotshot Pro 150. $60/$50. Taillights aren’t just for night riding. In an era when distracted driving is a commonplace, having a bright taillight for daytime use is cheap insurance against getting rear-ended. Light companies are starting to sell daytime taillights, and some are definitely better than others. These two taillights are two of the better compact ones. At 200 yards they’re both quite visible in broad daylight. That isn’t to say they’re blinding enough to someone in a car staring at their iPhone (for that you need a DiNotte Daytime taillight, at $259!). But they are much brighter than your run-of-the-mill taillight. They both have rechargeable batteries and the run times will get you through at least four hours of riding at their brightest.

assos-ij-habu5

Assos IJ Habu5 Jacket. $379. How could a holiday gift list not include at least one Assos item? The Assos IJ Habu5 Jacket is expensive and you could certainly get a decent winter jacket for Bay Area conditions for half the cost. But this jacket is very comfortable—it feels like pulling on piece of tailored clothing. This ‘jacket’ is really more like a beefed up long sleeve jersey. The front and arms have a windproof layer but the sides and back are fabric only. If you’re riding hard in cold weather, it’s fine. But if you wear this in the coldest weather we get around here, 32-29 F, you’ll likely want something with a more insulated back. This fall I’ve been riding in 50-60 F weather and it’s comfortable. Unfortunately Assos styling often means you have to like black though you’ll look really PRO when you are being mowed down by a car. But that’s why you have a bright daytime taillight on your bike, right? Then you can wear all the black your heart desires. The black is definitely cool looking but you can get it with red or white accents. It’s warm enough to wear with just a base layer. You wouldn’t want to wear a long sleeve jersey underneath because this jacket is very form-fitting. But a thin vest such as the Assos Falkenzahn fits nicely underneath and would be a perfect colder weather accessory—just another $280!

continental-cyclocross speed

Continental Cyclocross Speed tires. $45. At 700x35mm these tires won’t fit most modern road bikes. The clearance underneath the fork crown and between the rear stays block most tires that are bigger than 700x25mm. Also most modern caliper brakes have a hard time clearing a 700x28mm tire let alone a 35mm. However if you have an older road bike with “long reach” caliper brakes or have disc brakes, these tires may fit. I’ve been riding these tires for about two years and they are a revelation. They’re fat for road bikes so I run them around 40-50 psi—that’s really low for road tires! But they’ve held up well and they are super cushy. They stick like glue in the corners but they are slower than standard road tires. They’re perfect for mixed surface rides as long as you avoid mud. In mud those tiny tread blocks just get clogged up. But for dry or damp conditions these tires allow you to ride on pavement, dirt, or grass without second thoughts. At 360 gm per tire they aren’t that heavy either. And they’re hardy too—I’ve had just one flat in several thousand miles and that was due to a goathead thorn, which would have done in almost any tire. The little knobs in the center have worn down but that’s actually made the tires roll slightly better on the road and I still have plenty of knobs off-center, which is where you really need them when you’re on fire roads anyway. The only bummer is that they are not (yet) tubeless. And if Continental made a 28mm version, they’d sell like hotcakes.

 

The Roads Less Traveled: Sibley to Fish Ranch

December 6th, 2016 by tony
A fire road through Sibley to Fish Ranch Road, a challenging climb.

A fire road through Sibley to Fish Ranch Road, a challenging climb.

 

One of the most popular cycling routes in the East Bay hills is the loop encompassing Pinehurst, Skyline, Wildcat, and San Pablo Dam Road. From the Berkeley side, riders usually head up Tunnel Road or come over Wildcat; from the Contra Costa side, Orinda BART is a convenient starting point. The loop is roughly 30 miles and makes a nice, quick training ride with a mixture of everything—short and medium climbs, fast descents, and a good, long flattish section. Despite being a well-used route, car traffic is usually low except on San Pablo Dam Road (which becomes Camino Pablo and then Moraga Road). The ascent up Canyon and Pinehurst is, by Bay Area standards, pleasantly isolated even though it’s actually embedded in the heart of the suburbs. It makes for a pleasant escape being buried in the redwoods, conveying a false impression that you are far away from civilization and the stress of modern life. If you have attended the Orinda Pool Party ride, then you have already done this loop and know that it is scenic, entertaining, and at times challenging.

The East Bay is fortunate to have a substantial amount of open space and parkland, and we have to thank the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which controls huge acreage of watershed in the East Bay, and the East Bay Regional Park District. In the Berkeley hills EBPRD alone oversees Wildcat, Tilden, Redwood, Joaquin Miller, and Chabot parks. That is almost the entirety of the Berkeley hills ridgeline! This is where East Bay mountain bikers go to play. But what isn’t commonly known is that these parks also have fire roads that road bikes can traverse easily. In fact it is possible to put together an incredible Berkeley hills ride that connects easy fire roads and paved roads from Richmond all the way to Castro Valley, all of them doable on a road bike. One of EBPRD’s smaller and less well-known properties is Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, which sits between Redwood and Tilden Park. The entrance is just before where Skyline intersects Grizzly Peak Blvd. as you’re traveling north. This is the water and bathroom stop for the Orinda Pool Party ride and you may not have given it a second thought. However if you have continued to ride north along Grizzly Peak you may have glanced to your right and in the distance seen a dirt road dropping towards Highway 24. That road runs from the entrance of Sibley Preserve down to where Fish Ranch Road enters Highway 24 heading east. In combination with the subsequent climb up Fish Ranch it makes for a short, delightful romp and adds another challenging climb to the Pinehurst loop.

Volcanic Trail, a wide fire road.

Volcanic Trail, a wide fire road.

It’s possible to ride Sibley-Fish Ranch in either direction. But if you like to climb up Pinehurst then you’re most likely to be starting it at Sibley Volcanic Preserve staging area. There are two paths to enter Sibley, one to the left of the restrooms and one to the right. The left trails are for walkers and equestrians only; instead you will want to take the asphalt road that goes up to the right side of the restrooms. It’s moderately steep but it’s only a quarter-mile, where you’ll have a choice of continuing straight upward on the paved road, taking a fire road to the left, or one to the right. Take the fire road to the left. The two fire roads are actually the same path, the Round Top Loop Trail, however bikes are only allowed on the left branch. For almost a half-mile you’ll be on a flat, wide fire road that has a couple of short rocky sections. The rocks are small but some have sharp angular ridges. So just slow down and take your time rolling between the rocks and avoiding the sharp ones. The narrower your tire, the more carefully I recommend that you wend your way. After that you will intersect the Volcanic Trail, which bears to the left (i.e. north). Volcanic is again a broad, flat fire road with excellent surface. It rolls along a ridge for about 0.6 miles. Eventually you end up at a large flat area, what appears to have been in another age a parking lot. Here you will find the beginning of Quarry Road, which is paved. It drops precipitously through a few hairpins for about a quarter-mile. A half-mile later you’ll arrive at the Old Tunnel Road Staging Area. The total distance from entering Sibley is only about 2.2 miles.

Hairpin descent down Quarry.

Hairpin descent down Quarry.

After going through the gate at the Old Tunnel Staging Area, drop down Old Tunnel Road to where it ends at Fish Ranch. (Sidenote: Old Tunnel Road is the road to the original tunnel from the Berkeley side over to Orinda and which was later replaced by the current Caldecott Tunnel. Alas, the old tunnel was closed, for it would have made a fantastic cycling route to Oakland.)

Now here is where the fun begins! You won’t have any more fire road but instead you’ll have a relentless and steep paved climb up Fish Ranch to Grizzly Peak Blvd., where you reconnect with the Pinehurst loop. It’s less than a mile to the intersection with Grizzly Peak Blvd. but the average grade is 9.5% with the middle section hitting 11%. There is a decent shoulder but there usually isn’t much traffic exiting Hwy. 24 and heading up Fish Ranch. Of course when you get to the intersection with Grizzly you will still have to climb up to Lomas Contadas, about another 360 vertical feet over a little more than a mile. So even though the hard stuff is over with Fish Ranch, you had better have some gas in your tank for the “easy” 6% grade!

The total distance from the Sibley entrance to the top of Fish Ranch is 3.3 miles; if you were to stay on Grizzly Peak Blvd. the distance would have been 2.6 miles. So, the minor increase in overall distance—about 0.7 miles—is more than made up for by the serenity of riding in Sibley and the feeling of conquering Fish Ranch.

All the East Bay parks are heavily used on weekends. While in Sibley be sure to watch for walkers and their dogs. Dogs need only be under voice control and are usually off leash. Although Sibley is open to equestrians, I have yet to encounter horses there. But if you do see equestrians, keep in mind that some horses are skittish of bicycles. So slow down and stop until the riders let you know it’s safe to proceed or until they pass.

You can see the route and cue sheet here.

Three Peaks In A Day

November 30th, 2016 by tony

Mt. Tam

Mt. Diablo

Mt. Hamilton

 

Looking for a challenge? How about riding Mt. Tam, Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Hamilton? In one day, that is.

The Bay Area is blessed with three major mountains within riding distance of each other, Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Diablo, and Mt. Hamilton. These are not the highest peaks nor the only ones—there are many in the Santa Cruz Mountains alone including some that are higher. However these three do stand out because of their relative separation from other nearby mountains and because they have paved, public roads that go to their summits. You’ve probably climbed to at least one of these peaks, if not all three. If you like to climb hills, you have probably contemplated the idea of doing all three in a day. That’s what this article is about: planning an assault on all three mountains for next spring or summer when the days are longer and the weather pleasant enough.

There are several ways to go about an assault. I’m going to go through each one in some detail below.

The Full Monty. The real deal is a full-on ride to all three peaks and return to the start in a continuous circuit. If you start in San Francisco, that means eventually returning to San Francisco by bike. This would be more challenging than Bay In A Day because it involves not only circumnavigating the Bay but also climbing three peaks. A rough estimate of this route is 276 miles and 21,000 feet of climbing! One could make this less painful by splitting it up into two days.

Realism. A lesser if not equally noble goal is to ride up all three and back down, say starting in SF and ending back at the bottom of Mt. Hamilton in Milpitas. This gets all three peaks completely by bike. Using San Francisco as a starting point, this would mean, for example, riding up Mt. Tam, riding over to the East Bay by Highway 37 to do Mt. Diablo, and then riding south to go up Mt. Hamilton. However, getting over to the East Bay the shortest way still entails riding on Highway 37, which has high speed motor traffic—not the safest route! This is roughly 210 miles and about 2,000 feet less climbing.

Realistic and Safe. More practical assaults would use public transportation—either BART, the BART bike shuttle, or a ferry—to avoid having to pedal over to the East Bay by Highway 37, with the most honest route minimizing use of BART by getting on at Embarcadero and exiting at West Oakland; another possibility is to get a car ride over to Treasure Island from the Embarcadero and then begin the eastern stretch there or perhaps catching a ferry at the Embarcadero and arriving at Alameda or Jack London Square. Starting in San Francisco and ending at the Warm Springs BART station in Fremont this route is about 208 miles and just 17,200 feet of climbing.

Realistic, Safe and a Bit Shorter. This option cuts out riding through Oakland and takes BART directly from SF to Walnut Creek. Starting in San Francisco we would ride to Marin and ascend Tam and return to SF and take BART to Walnut Creek, go up Mt. Diablo and then ride to Mt. Hamilton and ascend, probably up the front. This route is 185 miles and has 15,700 of ascent.

Keep It Simple Stupid. Instead of riding from Mt. Diablo to Mt. Hamilton, we could take BART from Walnut Creek to the Warm Springs BART station, which should be open by this spring. This cuts down on the ‘junk’ mileage. This route is 152 miles and 14,800 feet of ascent.

Keep It Simplest Stupid. However, ascending all three peaks by themselves requires climbing well over 10,000 vertical feet. You could reduce the effort by just riding up the mountains and skipping the mileage to get between each one. For Mt. Tam this might be beginning the ride either at Tam Junction or Mill Valley and ending there; for Mt. Diablo, beginning at the Athenian School at the base of South Gate Road (North Gate is a longer route with slightly more vertical); for Mt. Hamilton, beginning at the base of Mt. Hamilton Road. This route yields about 11,500 feet of vertical ascent over 83 miles. Note that these routes require having a car in order to start the ascents at their bases.

A full circuit of the Bay and the peaks is beyond the reach of all but the most stubborn randonneurs. Using a car to reduce the mileage just to climbing up the ascents by the shortest means possible (Keep It Simplest Stupid) seems like cheating because of the liberal use of a car. That leaves the middle three as distinct possibilities with the Realistic, Safe and a Bit Shorter alternative as the ultimate goal. Even this option is super strenuous: doing a double century such as the Davis Double, which is fairly flat, is an all-day affair with the likelihood of needing to use lights. Now add three peaks and no organized support: even on the longest day of the year you’re very likely going to be riding in the dark either at the start or the end.

The most realistic option is Keep It Simple Stupid. At 152 miles it is longer than a double metric and boasts total vertical that is only a bit below the Death Ride. Even with an early start it will be a long day and logistically one would plan it around the Summer Solstice in order to maximize daylight. However unless the weather cooperates and is unusually mild Hamilton and Diablo are likely to be very hot in June. In order to avoid draining heat it would be better to plan this assault for late April or early May, which shortens the day but reduces the temp.

As training for the assault, doing a few  doubles would be good practice, e.g. Tam plus Diablo, Diablo plus Hamilton, or Tam plus Hamilton. These are pretty doable and cut the mileage and elevation gain by about a third from Keep It Simple Stupid, making for a 100-mile day with about 10,000 feet of gain.