Ride Recap: Contra Costa Ramble to Clayton

September 17th, 2017 by tony

Those incessant East Bay heat waves took a break this week and we got a nice breather on Derek Liecty’s ride to Clayton. It was temperate and got only into the low-80s by early afternoon. That allowed the eight of us to enjoy a pleasant, slow ramble along the Iron Horse and the Contra Costa Canal Trails. Two newcomers attended—Lindsay, who recently moved to San Francisco from South Africa, and Jim, who didn’t recently move from South Africa and is a local boy from Pleasant Hill. When I asked Jim what got him interested in cycling, he said, “I wanted to eat more.” Jim, I think you’ll fit right in! Also in attendance were Lamberto and Joe, from literally just down the street; Roger and I; and Laura, a former Spoker, who is getting back into cycling after a long hiatus.

Derek, although not a founding mother of Different Spokes, was certainly one of the very first members. Derek’s connection with Different Spokes goes back to the original Gay Games in 1982, which was the impetus for our club’s formation. Derek being a soccer ref, was asked to help out with Gay Games and through it came in contact with the original Ur-Spokers who went on to plan and set up Different Spokes. He’s been riding with Different Spokes ever since and although considerably slower than he was at 50 he’s still able to turn the pedals at a goodly pace. And, with the help of his new e-bike he’s now able to put the club animals back in their place! Although he was a prolific ride leader back in the day he’s literally retired to Rossmoor and rides mostly with his age peers and infrequently deigns to lead a Different Spokes jaunt. Lucky us!

Both the Iron Horse and the CCC Trails are well used by cyclists and pedestrians and more so on weekends. We had plenty of company throughout the day, everyone from racing bros, beach cruisers, tandems, weekend warriors, and the endlessly fabulous. Eventually we left the trails and meandered through neighborhood streets in Concord and Clayton, including a short, dirt foray through a local park. In the meantime there was a lot of chattering going on that only a slower ride allows. Poor Lamberto, who was on call, had to field a work related emergency and then promptly got a flat. He ended up abandoning and heading home, conveniently allowing him to spend more time with his dog.

Clayton proved to be a busy burg with several large groups of racing bros heading towards Morgan Territory. We stopped at the Center Street Deli for a midday meal. We had the pleasure of encountering Mr. NRA in the ordering line. Wow, he was into Glocks like I’m into Masis. Don’t you just love this country? After lunch we took a faster route back but it meant riding on Contra Costa’s wide boulevards rather than trails. We were back at Walnut Creek BART in no time. Everyone seemed to have a good time, no one was worn out, and folks are looking forward to the Niles Canyon closure ride in two weeks!

Pfeiffer Bridge Opening Delayed: Still Time to Bike Big Sur!

September 12th, 2017 by tony

New Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge Taking Shape

This past winter’s road destruction has taught us that construction and repair timelines–if they exist at all–are truly works of fiction. Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge was previously scheduled to open late September but has now been pushed back “several weeks” into October according to the Monterey County Monthly. What that means is you have even more time to get down to Big Sur and enjoy Highway One with much reduced car traffic! To read how to do it, go here.

Redwood Road Update and Niles Canyon Stroll ‘N Roll 9/30

September 8th, 2017 by tony

After months of silence from Caltrans and Alameda County we finally have word on Redwood Road. Since it was shut last spring due to the road collapsing towards EBMUD’s San Leandro Reservoir, we had just been assuming that Caltrans was “working on it.” Apparently not, for now we have word that the reconstruction of Redwood Road will begin next Tuesday September 12. Getting those ducks lined up must have been one herding job! In any case the repair is expected to be completed by January 2018. Whatever that means–probably plus or minus a couple of months depending on unexpected problems they find during repair, unforeseen problems with the contractor, and what our weather will be like this winter. And yes, it’s going to stay shut until it’s completed. Speaking of weather, long range forecasts to date seem to believe that this coming winter will be neither an El Niño nor a La Niña type…which means they have no idea how much precip we’ll be getting.

On another topic entirely, we all have enjoyed riding in Niles Canyon, right? Well, except for the high-speed death machines who blow by inches from us because we essentially have no road shoulder. There have been at least two cyclist deaths in Niles in the past couple of years from cars hitting the cyclists from behind. Every time I ride in Niles Canyon I hammer as hard as I can to get the hell out of Niles as quickly as possible. Niles Canyon may have been a pleasant, scenic corridor 30 years ago but today it’s a major commuter corridor, making cycling there an iffy proposition if you value your life and safety. On Saturday September 30 Niles Canyon will be closed to all car traffic from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. From 7 to 8 a.m. only cyclists will be allowed to use the road; after that it’s open to everyone else. This is a special event put on by Alameda County Supervisors Richard Valle and Scott Haggerty to promote the creation of a “Class 1 trail” in Niles Canyon. You can see more information here. The club will be putting on a ride that day going through Niles Canyon to take advantage of the car-free day and to be able to enjoy Niles Canyon, which is actually quite scenic, without the threat of cars on this narrow passage. For details go to the Different Spokes Ride Calendar or click here. You can bet there are going to be a lot of cyclists there, including us!

Orinda Pool Party Recap

September 5th, 2017 by tony

We finally had an Orinda Pool Party that had heat in spades. Although SF denizens may think Contra Costa is a solar furnace  all summer, it is actually quite temperate most of the time. But during heat waves it can become blast oven uncomfortable. Every year Roger and I hope for at least some heat so that splashing in the pool provides relief rather than goosebumps. A couple of years we had marginally warm weather and were wondering if anyone would get in the pool. But between the sunshine and our somewhat protected back deck where the heat gets concentrated, people didn’t freeze and got their annual dose of real sunshine and water follies. This year the Orinda Pool Party coincided with a bona fide heat wave. The forecast was for the temp to exceed 100 degrees, no wind, and full sun. And that turned out to be the case.

Seventeen folks showed up including our President and First Lady, Sal & Jim; our Vice President David Gaus; and Secretary Roger Sayre. We were also graced by the presence of former President Phil Bokovoy, former Ride Coordinator David Goldsmith and his husband Chris. None other than the club’s oldest member (in age as well as tenure) Derek Liecty also attended. We had just one new member participate, Greg, who must have had a good time as he promises to return (don’t they all say that?) Greg, we have your number so expect harassing phone calls and to be stalked!

Originally we had two new routes planned due to the closure of the Canyon bridge, which prevents riding up Pinehurst. Despite my promise to keep making the long route harder and harder until no one chooses to ride it, it was just a tad harder than the short route this year (and a lot easier than last year’s long route, I might add). In the end due to the burgeoning heat, by executive fiat I told Maurizio and Greg, who were the only crazies willing to do the long route, that I was “gently encouraging” them to do the short route. So we all did the short one into Lafayette and Walnut Creek and back with just the icky hill up to the manse. That decision turned out for the better: despite taking it easy and having essentially no climbs we were pretty worn down by the heat. We did an unannounced stop at a minimart to down junk food and sugared water despite having hit several water stops beforehand. Then we stopped in Moraga for water and it turned into a long interlude, everyone bristling from the heat and steeling themselves for what was to come. By the time we hit the bottom of El Toyonal it was looking like a death march. Poor Maurizio was walking and said to me, “If I try to ride this, I’ll faint!” It was only a mile uphill but at the top Greg exclaimed, “If I lived up here, I’d move!” David Goldsmith, ghastly pale and wan, looked like death warmed over. David Gaus and Jacob wisely took my advice and went to their car at Orinda BART and drove up to the house thus avoiding Calvary. Well folks, next year we will back to doing the backdoor route and avoiding the climb. (And yes, Roger and I ride up that friggin’ hill every time we do a ride.)

I didn’t check the thermometer at the house but it was surely 100 F or more—you could feel the heat pulsating. Folks were huddling in the house—the air conditioning was on—rather than lounging (frying?) on the back deck. Only by putting food outside did people relent and brave the heat. Fortunately the grub was good and the pool inviting and refreshing, and eventually all but a few were al fresco. And yes, the pool was well used!

East Bay Road Update – August [Updated 9/5]

August 28th, 2017 by tony

News has been quiet on the various East Bay/Contra Costa road closures. But there have been some updates.

Palomares Road: “Alameda County Public Works Agency is extending the closure of Palomares Road to all traffic between Palo Verde Road, Castro Valley, and Niles Canyon Road, Fremont, through September 22, 2017. Crews have completed the slide repair, removed loose rocks and debris from the hillside, placed protective netting along the slope above the roadway, and installed rock slope protection along the embankment.  These measures should add protection from debris falling onto the roadway during future storm events. Both the Contractor and Public Works Agency crews are finalizing the installation of a debris barrier at the base of the slope, completing roadway surface repairs, and striping the travel lanes to enable reopening Palomares Road to all users.”

Calaveras Road: Calaveras Road was reopened by the City of Milpitas on Friday 9/1. Further repairs do not entail complete closing of the road but may necessitate temporary traffic delays.

Alhambra Valley Road: Earlier the projection for the repair completion was by the end of September–possibly just before the Fall Social! But the August 5 project update says the contractor is behind schedule, has no anticipated catch up schedule, and the end date has therefore been pushed to October 9.

Morgan Territory Road: Steel soldier piles have been erected as part of the retaining wall to prevent the hillside from encroaching on the road. But the end date is still projected to be “mid-October”.

Redwood Road: No update. Roger and I rode out Redwood a few days ago to check it out. The K barrier has been moved up to the Marciel Road entrance of Chabot Regional Park since we were last there the day it closed. We took Marciel to Brandon Trail, which is a very nice wide fire road all the way to the golf course. Although it had a couple of short sandy sections and one moderately bad washboard section, it was still quite doable on road bikes. The return going uphill was fine too.

Canyon Bridge: no official update but an NBC news report refers to the projected date of the temporary one-lane bridge opening as November. The Lamorinda Weekly reports that the demolition of the Canyon bridge is delayed because Sprint has to reroute a cable under the creek and is encountering problems. The demolition is supposed to start mid-September as long as the permits are in order and the contractor will have just 21 days to finish. The city of Moraga plans to rent a metal bridge and is currently still seeking one. But the site will have to be prepped for the temporary bridge.

Skyline Boulevard on the Peninsula: not in the East Bay but an important byway for recreational road cyclists. As of May 25 the projected end date for Caltrans repairs is September 30.

Fun With Tubeless Road Tires [updated 9/10]

August 22nd, 2017 by tony

Schwalbe Pro One, 700×28, on Hed Belgium Plus rim


Last September I got a new tubeless wheelset for my road bike. This is a report on my experience for those of you who have been mesmerized by all the current hype on tubeless road wheels yet are not ready to make the leap. The bottom line is: it’s been a mixed bag—some good, some not so good.

For those of you who either don’t mountain bike or have been emulating Rip Van Winkle, tubeless tires are clincher tires that do not require an inner tube. Tubeless tires are somewhat common on mountain bikes mainly because they allow you to use lower tire pressures without risking ‘snake bite’ or pinch flats. With tire pressures regularly below 35 psi and terrain rough and rocky terrain, the odds of flatting when mountain biking are higher. Tubeless tires mitigate if not eliminate pinch flats entirely. Now they’re migrating to road wheels.

Tubeless tires are usually set up with sealant in lieu of inner tubes. There are many brands of sealant, the most well-known of which is Stan’s NoTubes. Sealants are usually liquid latex with particles. When you get a puncture, sealant flows to the cut and coagulates to seal it up. Depending on how large the cut is, the sealant may or may not be able to close the cut: the larger the cut, the less likely success. You can set up tubeless tires without sealant but then you forego the convenience of punctures self-sealing.

True tubeless rims and tires are designed differently from regular clinchers. The main difference is that tubeless rims have a different inner rim shape in order to lock the tire bead in place. Tubeless tires have tighter beads (or at least less variation in bead diameter), a coating to help keep air in, and often a particular bead shape to better ‘lock’ to the rim. It is possible to use regular rims and tires without tubes but the chance of success are hit and miss. I won’t go into that; I’ll merely say that mine were dedicated tubeless tires and rims.

Why would you want to use tubeless wheels on a road bike? That’s a good question. The hype is that road tubeless tires: (1) reduce flats, (2) allow you to ride when you do get a puncture, (3) roll faster and “feel just like riding a sew-up!” However you almost never hear about what hassles tubeless tires cause yet we know that there is almost nothing in life that is a perfect net gain—everything has a down side.

Before I get into my experience, here is the set-up I had. The rims were HED Belgium C2 rims and Schwalbe Pro One tires. (These rims are wonderful—I have those same rims on another bike that is set up traditionally with inner tubes.) They are light, seem to be strong (I haven’t dented them yet), and are wide thus increasing the tire’s volume. I had never used Schwalbe tires before let alone Schwalbe Pro One tires but they have an excellent reputation. I have no other experience on dedicated tubeless road tires with which to compare them. The rims were taped with Stan’s tape and set up with Stan’s sealant. The Schwalbe tires were nominal 28 mm in width. But on the wide HED rims they balloon out and measure out about 30 mm thus providing a cushier ride. I inflate them to 50 psi front/60psi rear, which is close to Frank Berto’s guidelines, although I have also experimented with lower and higher pressures. I’ve put about 1,900 miles on them since last year, riding them mostly on pavement but also on fire roads.

I’ve inspected each tire after practically every ride in order to detect any foreign objects embedded in the tire because with sealant it is possible to have a puncture and not know it at all if the sealant is able to seal it quickly, most likely with pinhole type punctures rather than cuts. I finally incurred my first puncture a few weeks ago, on the rear tire. Oddly it was a cut less than 1 mm and there was no sealant leaking out and no foreign object embedded. The tire pressure was about 25 psi. I pumped it up to 60 psi and it seemed to hold, but during the subsequent ride it deflated again to about 25 psi. Because I didn’t see any sealant exiting the cut, I presumed the problem was insufficient sealant. Sealants are water based and eventually dry up; I had checked my tires over the previous nine months and they always seemed to be fine. So the next step was to add more sealant. I added roughly one more ounce of Stan’s to the tire, rotated it to spread the sealant around and then pumped it up. Immediately sealant started to ooze out of the small cut. Eventually it stopped around 45 psi. I left it overnight and it seemed to be okay, so I pumped it up again to 60 psi. No leakage. So I went for a ride and halfway through the ride noticed that the tire was soft. Looking at the tire I could see I had sealant sprayed all over the back of the seat tube, the chainstays, and the saddle bag. Also there was a noticeable patch of flattened, semi-sticky sealant around the cut area. Pumping up the tire seemed to work but later down the road the tire softened and I had more spray and gunk on my bike and tire. When I got home the pressure was about 35 psi. That incident highlights some of the problems with tubeless road tires. First, since the tire pressure in road bikes is quite high compared to mountain bike tires, it’s a much harder job for sealant to seal a puncture even one as small as one millimeter (which is supposed to be possible with Stan’s). And Stan’s is the most popular and supposedly a very reliable brand. Second, the degree of sealing isn’t all or nothing but variable. The first time I was riding on about 25 psi; the second time about 35 psi. During the day as the temperature of the tire increases with the ambient environment and with friction, the pressure goes up. Also, as you ride the tire flexes. Both seem to affect how good a seal you achieve. Since I’m pretty light and I was aware of the low pressure, I was able to ride very carefully over bumps to avoid bottoming out the tire and getting a pinch flat. But I was paranoid the entire time.

The Stan’s sealant just wasn’t working. So I took the tire off and cleaned out all the sealant and put in other brand, Orange Seal, which is supposed to close up bigger punctures.

Before I get to the rest of my story, let me digress slightly about removing a tubeless tire: it can be a lot harder than a regular clincher because the tire beads are more inflexible. I tried putting both beads in the wheel well to create ‘slack’ and that didn’t work. I had to use tire irons to get the damn thing off. Try doing that by the side of the road without getting covered in sealant! The other hassle is that airing up a tubeless tire can be impossible with a regular floor pump let alone a hand pump; you just can’t pump enough air in fast enough to blow the beads against the rim wall to seal. Fortunately I was doing this in the shop and not out on the road, and I happen to have an air compressor that was able to do the job. If you flat a tubeless tire when you are out riding and the sealant doesn’t work, then you’re going to have to put in an inner tube to get home, which means you have to remove the tire. But you’re not going to have an air compressor when you’re out riding. You can try a CO2 cartridge to blast the beads in place. However CO2 is not recommended for tires with sealant because the rapid cooling induced by the CO2 sets off a chain reaction that turns solidified the latex in the sealant. If you’re putting a tube in, then this is irrelevant.

Back to my story: once the tire was pressurized to 60 psi, sealant began bubbling out of the cut. Eventually it stopped. I let it sit overnight, pumped it back to 60 psi the next morning and no sealant leak. Apparently Orange Seal worked. I’ve been riding that tire since on asphalt and dirt and it’s holding air fine.

Moral of the story:

  • Tubeless tires may save you the hassle of an occasional flat. But when you do get a flat it can be more hassle than using inner tubes. First, if you’re using sealant, you and your bike are probably going to be sprayed with sealant. Fortunately sealant dries and you can remove it easily; including rubber gloves and some paper towels in your repair kit is advised. Second, getting a tubeless tire off of a rim is harder and sometimes near impossible. Not good if you need to insert an inner tube by the side of the road. Third, sealant may seal a cut but you may not be able to run your regular pressure. With a soft tire you need to ride carefully especially when you corner or go over bumps. Note that by road standards I run pretty low pressure already—45 to 60 psi. Higher pressures make it even harder for sealant to work. If you regularly run 90+ psi, sealant may not work except for the smallest of punctures. (There is another danger of completely blowing a tubeless tire off the rim at those pressures.)
  • Regarding ride quality I was disappointed to find that it was just so-so. As I mentioned, I have another Hed Belgium+ wheelset on another bike but it has Michelin Pro4 Service Course tires, 700×25, with latex inner tubes. The 25 mm Michelins balloon out to 30 mm (!) on the Hed rims, so they are the same width as the Schwalbe tires. (I’ve found Michelin tires to run wider than they are specced even on regular rims.) The Michelins have a deliriously smooth ride that are so close to that of high quality sew-ups. So the difference must be in the Schwalbe tire casings. I am guessing that in order to beef up the casing for tubeless use Schwalbe compromised their tires’ suppleness. Or, it could just be that Michelin makes better casings than Schwalbe. I’m not saying the ride quality of the tubeless Schwalbe is bad, just that it wasn’t as good as the hype would make it be!
  • I’m going to continue to run tubeless tires for a while as an experiment. It’s too early to say that they really reduce the number of flats I get, as I just don’t see any other cuts or punctures in the tires that were sealed by the Stan’s. We shall see. With only so-so ride quality I’m inclined to swap these out for Michelins with latex tubes at some point. Inner tubes may be an inconvenience but they will get you home albeit later than you had planned; with tubeless tires and sealant you may fewer flats, but you could be in world of trouble if you do get one out on the road.

UPDATE 9/10: Well, I had a second flat a few days ago, merely weeks after the first one. This was also in the rear tire, a 2mm cut off-center. I was immediately aware of it, hearing the swish-swish-swish of leaking air. It also stopped! The Orange sealant was able to stop the leak at about 25-30 psi. I tried pumping more air in and sealant just oozed out. So I rode it about five miles more and checked again: no leak and instead of having an oozing sore on the tire I now had an odd looking ‘scab’–more of a dried plug. I pumped up the tire to 60 psi and it held! No problems since then. I conclude that for a 2 mm cut Orange Seal does indeed work but not immediately. It needs time to flow to the site, set up, and dry. In the meantime you’re stuck riding on a road tire at very low pressure. Or you could take a nice break. Although moderately convenient (after all, I was able to keep riding albeit carefully), it wouldn’t have been a hassle just to change an inner tube and pump it up to the correct pressure. Of course I don’t have to deal with patching an inner tube, so that counts for something.

SMART Start, Finally!

August 21st, 2017 by tony

This Friday, August 25, the Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit  or SMART train will finally commence services. After a lengthy delay SMART received approval from the Federal Railroad Administration for its Positive Train Control system, which is designed to prevent accidents. There will be an opening ceremony at the downtown Santa Rosa SMART station at 9 a.m. with full service to begin at 12:49 p.m. All trains are free that day and then fares will be 50% off through Labor Day.

SMART runs from San Rafael to the Sonoma Airport, which is just northwest of the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, which you probably know if you’ve done the Wine Country Century. Eventually the system will run to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and all the way up to Cloverdale. A trip from one end to the other should take 67 minutes and cost $11.50. There are 34 trips per day planned for weekdays and 10 per day on weekends.

And yes, bicycles will be allowed on SMART but how many will depend on how crowded the cars happen to be. There are up to 24 spaces for bikes per train but some of those slots are also designated for wheelchairs or have fold-down seats. In other words, there isn’t as clear a policy on bicycle access as there is for BART. For the details, go here.

The importance of SMART for us is that it gives cyclists another option to get out of the central Bay Area and ride in northern Marin and Sonoma counties without having to drive up there. Instead of biking from SF to Healdsburg, Guerneville, or Calistoga–all of which would be lengthy,  day-long trips–you can ride to San Rafael and board the train and take it to Sonoma Airport to begin your northerly explorations. You can view the weekend schedule here. Note that the first northbound train from San Rafael on weekends is at 11:52 a.m. and it arrives at the airport at 12:59 p.m. That’s a bit late for a big ride up north but still reasonable for shorter club rides. And of course if you’re not going that far up, then the time you debark is even earlier. Weekday trips are much better connection-wise: there are more trains and they run earlier. Also, the northbound trains shouldn’t be crowded since commute traffic will be heading south to SF and the reverse will be true in the afternoon too.

And once the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge has a bike lane a truly intriguing East Bay to Sonoma County multimodal ride becomes possible. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

August East Bay Road Update

August 12th, 2017 by tony

It’s well into summer, it hasn’t rained in months, and you’re thinking, “All those closed roads in the East Bay should be open by now!” Unfortunately that is not the case and for some roads, if the end is in sight the counties are being very mum and not willing to announce an expected completion date. So here’s the skinny.

Calaveras Road. Absolutely no word. Are the seismic issues anywhere near being resolved? Who knows. Calaveras is closed 24/7 to all traffic for the indefinite future.

Redwood Road. No word at all. On the Valley Spokesmen listserv there has been mention of members circumventing the K barriers and then getting ticketed. If you need to get through Redwood, then take the Brandon Trail, which connects with Marciel Road, to get around the closure. The Brandon Trail is a road bike friendly fire road and it’s short.

Alhambra Valley Road. The repair is underway but there is no recent update and the only word is “end of September”.

Palomares. Work on the landslide is proceeding but slowly because of the hazardous conditions. The latest word is repairs will continue “through August”.

Canyon Bridge/Pinehurst. The City of Moraga will be receiving Caltrans/FHA emergency funding to construct a temporary one-lane bridge. But the timeline for funding/bid out/start date is unknown. Don’t hold your breath. The ad hoc diversion through East Bay Regional Parks land just might get you a ticket if the rangers are around. If you must ride Pinehurst, consider using Skyline/Redwood instead. Update here.

Morgan Territory Road. The repair is underway and consequently the road is closed to all traffic through mid-October. There is a diversion, Leon Drive, but it is technically for residents only. You need a pass issued by the Sheriff’s Dept. to use the diversion because the road crosses the Detention Facility. Use at your own risk. For more info go here or here.

Maybe they’ll be open just in time for another wet winter!

Ride Recap: Year Of The Cock—Finger Licking Good!

July 31st, 2017 by tony

Oh, Bite Me!

The Year Of The Cock Ride managed to combine pain and pleasure in the best way possible. Our C-paced ride ended up being a D-pace, which at my age is a hard thing to do. Neville from England, a mere whippersnapper, likes to go fast and he showed it. We were climbing at a 10+ mph pace and the flats were 20+ mph. When we had a headwind, Roger showed us what his e-bike could do: at one point we were doing 24 mph as he dragged us along literally in his wake. Don’t ask me about the downhills because David and Neville bombed down them and disappeared in the distance leaving Roger and me in the dust. Despite the literally breathtaking pace we managed to have lots of delightful conversation but mostly when we had regrouped. The day was forecast to be hot but it never materialized: it wasn’t even 80 degrees in Yountville! The negative of the day was the robust traffic on Highway 121 and 128, boaters heading to Lake Berryessa. We also took in an amazing Porsche rally on Sage Canyon Road—there must have been 50+ cars that passed us (at least they know how to drive).

The highlight of the day was lunch at Addendum. Yes, the buttermilk fried chicken lives up to its reputation: cooked perfectly (i.e. not dry!) with a breading that was crumbly, flavorful, and ample. The side dishes were an uninteresting macaroni salad and a really delicious slaw. Yum! For some reason that I did not fathom neither David nor Neville had chicken, opting instead for pork. Hmm, Year of the Pig perhaps? I think next time I’m going to order a small bucket of chicken; after all it was only eight flat miles back to the car. Lunch at the outside picnic tables at Addendum under the trees was most pleasant! Either a short nap in the shade or a stroll down the street for an espresso would have topped off the afternoon.

The postprandial ride section took in the new bike path, the Vine Trail, which parallels Solano Avenue and Highway 29. It’s excellently executed and worth doing. We also got to race the Wine Train (it doesn’t go very fast). We ended with post-ride refreshments at Starbucks and more juvenile conversation on the patio.

A Big Sur Adventure

July 25th, 2017 by tony

Big Sur Coast

As you know a sizeable section of Highway One along the Big Sur coast has been closed to traffic due to massive winter landslides and the destruction of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge. Last Thursday we went down to Big Sur to ride Highway One before everything opens and the full onslaught of traffic hits what is now a strangely placid tourist zone. The reconstruction of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is the northern closure. To the south Paul’s Slide near Lucia and the Mud Slide near Gorda are the southern closures. We were hoping to go before Paul’s Slide was cleared, resulting in the opening of the southern end of the Big Sur area to traffic coming over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Caltrans originally planned to have it open by the end of July; then it was moved to July 20. But they managed to have it open two days earlier! We were pretty sure that despite this good news that there wouldn’t be much car traffic coming from the south and it turned out we were right.

We had to get up pretty early to make the drive—almost three hours from the East Bay—and avoid the South Bay commute madness. Traffic was light until we got to Monterey, whose commute hour we managed to hit. We decided to go on a weekday because we surmised that the weekend would, despite the closure, bring out a horde of visitors to enjoy the scenic coast. Nonetheless we were only mildly surprised when we encountered a fair amount of car traffic heading south out of Carmel. Where could they all be going except Big Sur? There’s not much else south of Carmel Highlands. Despite a winter that brought no less than four major slides to Highway One, Big Sur is still a busy area—it’s just the busyness is confined to Highway One only so far as Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, where the bridge is out. A quick scan of license plates showed that some of them were definitely from out of state. But so many tourists have rental cars, that having a CA plate is no guarantee it’s being driven by a local. By the time we got to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park traffic had mostly petered out. However the crowd must have been there because the Park campground was completely sold out.

We weren’t exactly sure where the Community Bypass Trail started. But a visit to the Big Sur Station Visitor Center, which is conveniently right where the road closure starts, quickly answered that question: it starts not at the road closure but inside the State Park. We were able to park the car by the side of Highway One and ride into the Park to the trailhead.

The trail is about a half-mile long and it’s almost entirely a series of switchbacks up a steep hillside. It’s hard to believe that locals were hiking up and down the trail with groceries and goods for months before the State Park improved the trail. It’s now fairly safe to walk even with your bike: it’s wider, has a level surface for the most part, and has steps and rails. We started up the trail at about 9:30 a.m. and we encountered little foot traffic. We did however run into a couple of cyclists from Santa Cruz whose intent was exactly the same as ours. After about 200 vertical feet of ascent you’re back on Highway One where the construction is taking place; two large cranes were at work and lots of cars were parked there, no doubt belonging to the Caltrans crew. Were they really driving all the way around over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road? That’s a long commute!

We headed south and were immediately struck by the quiet; Big Sur is a different experience when there are almost no cars and you have the entire road to yourself. In the summer time Highway One is a non-stop parade of tourists zooming down the road, a mixture of RVs, rental convertibles, and pickup trucks. It’s not exactly conducive to a peaceful bike ride but perhaps more in line with a near-religious experience as one contemplates being edged off the cliff by yet another punishment pass. But this time was entirely different: the only cars were an occasional local, Caltrans vehicles, and a few who apparently came over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. That isn’t to say things are fine and dandy: one pickup came zooming up the road at 70 mph, and one car seemed to think it had the road all to himself as it strode up the middle of the road.

But overall it was a glorious ride. The day was sunny and clear, a bit of wind but not too strong, about 70 degrees. The Pacific was placid—no white caps and just the rhythmic waves coming from the horizon. It was quiet enough to hear the elephant seals barking far down on the rocks. Caltrans had taken the opportunity to do a host of minor repairs to the roadway. The repairs weren’t the typical fill-a-pothole type but substantial repaving of sections, making the roadway rideable along sections that no doubt were damaged by winter rains. That section of Highway One will probably never be in such good shape again! There are plenty of vista points to pull over and take in the view and a few snapshots. Without the terror of riding next to cars, the lack of exhaust fumes and the incessant drone of engines, riding in Big Sur was a joy!

Not that everything is easy-peasy: Highway One rolls up and down all the way down the coast with only a couple of “flat” sections. None of the ramps is especially steep but there are plenty in the 7-9% range, none of them too long. By the end of the day we had about 4,700 feet of vertical from riding down to Lucia and back (about 50 miles altogether). About 200 of that was from walking up the Bypass Trail. The uphills may have been challenging but those downhill sections were awesome!

Big Creek Bridge at Big Sur

Things To Know About Riding Big Sur

Once the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is completed—currently expected at the end of September—the opportunity to ride your bike down Big Sur mostly free of car traffic will almost certainly end. At that point car traffic will be able to flow south and over Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. So set aside a day to go there before it’s too late.

The Community Bypass Trail. The trail starts in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, in Campground 4 near campsite 31. The trail is about a half-mile long and ascends about 200 vertical feet over a series of switchbacks to Highway One. The trail is dirt but has been improved to a Class I trail, i.e. flat surface, steps, and railing when necessary. To find the trail, enter the park and go straight past the entrance kiosk (do not go left or right at the first intersection inside the park—go straight). If you’re driving in, you will have to pay a day parking fee of $10 to park in one of the lots (if you can find a space). The entrance kiosk also has directions to the trailhead. Take the bridge on the right across the Big Sur River and enter the campgrounds. At the T-intersection, go left to Campground 4 and look for site 31 on the right. There should be a trail sign there. Dismount and walk up the trail. Depending on the time of day you may run into trail traffic. Early morning the trail seems rather deserted. But as the day progresses more people get up and decide to check out Nepenthe. The shuttle service from Andrew Molera State Park also drops off groups at the trailhead. In the afternoon workers are dropped off at the top of the trail to walk down and take the shuttle back to their cars. Although the trail is improved, it can still get tight with walkers passing each other. Be sure to step aside when possible to let those faster pass you and your bike. If you have a regular road bike, you won’t have any problems getting it up the trail. You can roll it on the ramps but you’ll have to lift it up the steps. If your bike is heavy—let’s say you decided to bring your e-bike—then you are in for a workout. We got Roger’s 40-pound e-bike up the hill but we were both pretty sweaty! You may not want to walk up the trail in your cycling shoes. If you’ve got MTB shoes, they’ll work fine. However I brought tennis shoes and simply switched shoes for the hiking portion. Another cyclist did the same and he was even brighter: he stashed his shoes in his daypack at the top so he didn’t have to ride all day with a pack on.

Where to Park. Day parking in the State Park is $10 per vehicle. On weekends it is likely to fill up before noon. You can park on the sides of Highway One as long as your car is not in the roadway, and then enter the park by bike and avoid the fee too. But on weekends you will probably not find much parking by the road unless you arrive early. The safest bet is to park at Andrew Molera State Park. The shuttle to the Community Bypass Trail uses the Molera parking lot even though the park itself is closed. I’m not sure if there is a parking fee (but there probably is). From Andrew Molera it’s about a 4-5 mile ride to Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and the trailhead.

Bikes on the Trail. Technically bikes in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park are allowed only on the roads and not the trails. And this may be the belief of many passersby. However Big Sur Station clearly stated to me that bikes ARE allowed on the Community Bypass Trail as long as they are walked and not ridden. Do NOT ride your bike on the trail even at the beginning where it is flatter!

Services. Once you are south of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge construction site there will be very few services. As time goes by and the word gets out that Paul’s Slide is gone, more businesses south of the bridge may open especially on weekends. Of note: Nepenthe is indeed open for business! Uncharacteristically it was not crowded and therefore made for a truly pleasant lunch. The inns south of the bridge and their associated restaurants do not appear to be open at least during the week. The only place we found to get a snack is Lucia, which is just before Paul’s Slide, at the Lucia Lodge store, 23 miles after the bridge. Note that there isn’t anywhere to get water before Lucia—Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is closed—so bring all you’re going to need.

Cars. There should be very few cars. The few that you will see are likely to be locals going back and forth. But the word is getting out and some tourists are braving Nacimiento-Fergusson Road to get to the coast. There is also some truck traffic related to the bridge construction but it is infrequent. So the good news is that you have all of Highway One mostly to yourself. I say “mostly” because the fact that there is little traffic means that some idiots in cars think they have the road “mostly” to themselves. Like the numbskull who passed us in his pickup doing over 70 mph. And then there was the bright bulb in a SUV who drove down the middle of Highway One, clearly relishing his moment of anarchy and freedom from the Man. Speaking of the Man, it seemed there aren’t any police or fire stations let alone towns, so you are unlikely to get assistance of the legal or EMT kind if you should have a run-in with one of the aforementioned harebrains. So exercise caution!

Nepenthe. Nepenthe is the logical, if sole, place to get a meal on the south side. Before the bridge went out, a typical weekend lunch at Nepenthe would perhaps mean having to wait a while for a table and the tables on the outside deck overlooking the cliffs were bound to be full. With the bridge gone, the clientele was much reduced and we were able to get a table on the deck immediately. Keep in mind we were there on a weekday. There did seem to be foot traffic from the Bypass Trail, which is only two miles north of Nepenthe. There is also a shuttle that ferries people to the trail and back. The food is as good as ever—and as expensive as ever: remember you’re paying for the ambience, and now you’re paying for their high cost of getting supplies. Keep in mind that Nepenthe, like all the other businesses along the Big Sur coast, has taken a huge economic hit with the closure of Highway One. People parked and locked their bikes in the lot. But we saw a couple of cyclists park their bikes on the restaurant level within easy eyesight. The restaurant staff didn’t seem to mind but it also wasn’t packed with a crowd either. There is also a handicap access parking lot in the back and it is possible to park your bike there where it is out of sight and less likely to be nicked.

What if you don’t want to bring your bike? The prospect of schlepping a bike up the hill can be daunting. It’s really not that hard. But if you don’t want to bring your bike yet still want to ride, you can instead rent an e-bike at Big Sur Adventures, which is just south of the bridge closure. We saw plenty of folks riding them down the coast. And they make going up the rolls much easier. What a cool way to explore Big Sur!

Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. You might be tempted to ride down Big Sur and go up Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. In other times this would be a great if challenging ride. But the characteristics that make this road most excellent for cycling are now a liability—it is narrow, steep in sections, isolated, and has plenty of curves. Heavy trucks bringing construction earth and supplies for the bridge repair are using the road. Tourists are starting to come over because it’s the only way to access the Big Sur coast due to the Mud Slide near Gorda. If it is not obvious, this is a dangerous mixture and I would not recommend it: more car traffic, heavy trucks, crazed tourists not paying attention to the road, very narrow road—you be the judge! Nacimiento-Fergusson Road is unlikely to return to its quiet isolation until after the Mud Slide is cleared and Highway One fully reopened from Cambria to Carmel. The Mud Slide is so massive that the current Caltrans estimate for reopening is summer 2018, presuming that it is not worsened by another horrific winter. David Gaus’s already long-delayed tour down Big Sur and over Nacimiento-Fergusson now looks to be postponed yet another year. Sigh.