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.

2017: 35 Years of Different Spokes!

November 7th, 2016 by tony


2017 will be the 35th anniversary of the founding of Different Spokes San Francisco. My, how time flies when you’re having fun. The very first LGBT cycling club, founded by a ragtag bunch of touring and recreational cyclists in the same year as the founding of the Gay Olympics Games, officially opened for business with the first ChainLetter in November/December 1982. Of course, planning and organizing went on months before that. Somehow we’ve managed to survive, and survival is the name of the game these days for small clubs. It’s not like we’re part of a league such as Gay Softball or the Gay Bowling League—we’re just one club. Shortly after we were founded other LGBT cycling clubs sprouted up, some of them even adopting the same name. A few have vanished, including Sacramento’s Different Spokes and San Diego’s Rainbow Cyclists, but some seem to be doing well such as Different Spokes Southern California (which used to be Different Spokes Los Angeles) and Sydney Spokes in Australia. In the early oughts we were in danger of folding, but the proposal to dissolve the club and become a subunit of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition seemed to reignite a flurry of activity that has since revitalized our club. As with almost all clubs, a small group of fanatics enthusiasts keeps us afloat and we owe thanks to the various incarnations of our Board as well as generations of ride leaders for giving us an administrative and emotional home…and all the fun rides and events.

I’m very grateful that Different Spokes is still here. You probably are too whether you’re an oldster like me or a new member. How would like to mark this milestone? If you’ve got any ideas, respond back to the DSSF blog or to the DSSF Yahoo! Group. Planning for the 30th anniversary got off to a late start. I’m thinking that if we start planning now, we might actually be able to pull in some of les Anciens to help us celebrate. A banquet perhaps? Specific rides? Revive Guerneville or Tahoe? Let’s talk!

Ride Recap: Orinda Pool Party & Ride(s)

August 17th, 2016 by tony

2016 Pool Party pool2

            They was a splishin’ and a splashin’

            Reelin’ with the feelin’

            Movin’ and a groovin’

            Rockin’ and a rollin’. Yeah!

                                    –Bobby Darin

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

Just the facts, Ma’am.

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

2016 Pool Party ride

Prancing About.

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

2016 Pool Party food

Mouth Action.

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

2106 Pool Party gab

Howard’s End.

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

Riding Off Into the Sunset.

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

Hostesses With the Mostesses.

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

History of the Orinda Pool Party

August 1st, 2016 by tony
Yammering, not hammering

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ride Recap: Tilden Park Heaven Becomes Hell

July 28th, 2016 by tony

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

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

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

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

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

Ride Recap: Sawyer Camp Trail & Mediterranean Kebab

July 28th, 2016 by tony

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

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

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

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

June 19th, 2016 by tony

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

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

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

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

Ride Recap: Bay Vistas and Lunch at Tabla

May 29th, 2016 by tony

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

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

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

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

Ride Recap: Wine Country Century

May 9th, 2016 by tony

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

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

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

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

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

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