July 12, 2014

Milling About

Close on the heels of last week's Pancake Breakfast, our club hosted our annual Ice Cream Social today.

View of the valley and San Francisco Bay from Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, CA
The party site was convenient for launching a foray up to Skyline along a route I have not traveled in a while: Page Mill Road.

We avoided the high-speed traffic heading for the freeway by forking onto Old Page Mill. I kept expecting the grade to get steeper; it is a climb, after all. I arrived at the merge back onto Page Mill feeling puzzled. [Not that I should complain about an easy ascent.]

Bicycle caution sign, steep downhill grade. Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, CA
“I'll stop on my way back,” I called out to the kids hawking lemonade with their grandma at the side of the road. [And I did.] One dollar for a cup of ice-cold lemonade and some trail mix. What a deal.

The temperature was in our favor; the steeper parts of the climb are exposed and no fun on a hot day. Whether they are fun on any other day, well ... let's just say that might be in the eyes (and legs) of the beholder.

In solidarity with my compatriots in Markleeville, I sported my Five Pass Finisher jersey. My outing would be considerably less daunting or scenic, climbing a mere 2,600 feet over some 28 miles, affording ample time to enjoy a bowl of ice cream (or two) and assist with the clean-up.

Strawberries. Blueberries. Gooey home-made brownies. Sprinkles and nuts and chocolate bits. And of course, Rocky Road.

July 9, 2014

Bike Go Fast

Weight matters.

Road bike SPD pedal and right crank
Instead of the workhorse, I rode the racehorse today: unladen carbon-fiber road bike instead of steel frame hybrid with its rack and bag. The comparison? Night and day. Think sports car vs. minivan.

My typical pace heading to the office lately has been 12.4 mph on the hybrid. On the road bike today? 14.4 mph. My average heart rate was a tad higher. [The bike made me do it.]

There was a reason for commuting on the road bike, and that reason was The Bike Doctor.

I think it's important to support our local bike shops. Over the years, I have entrusted my bikes to the mechanics at seven different shops, including four in the town where I live. [Two of those are no longer in business.] Even at a single shop, the quality of the work has been uneven—a good mechanic works on the bike during one visit, a not-so-good mechanic handles it the next time.

My last visit to a shop in town went like this: I wheel the road bike into the shop first thing on a Saturday morning; it needs a new chain. Best case: they'll install it while I wait, or at least on the same day. Reality: They tell me it won't be ready till Monday. [Sigh.] “Is it slipping?” they ask. “Sometimes,” I reply. A mechanic mounts it on a stand, spins rapidly through the gears, and announces that I need a new cassette. [$$$] “Let's start with the chain,” I reply dryly.

And that was the last time I will bring my bike to that shop for service.

I did not need a new cassette. I did not wear the chain to the point of damaging the cassette. When I did get the bike back, it was badly tuned and occasionally the chain jammed when I up-shifted the front dérailleur. Was that a deliberate misadjustment to send me back to the shop, thinking I needed that new cassette? Or just bad wrenching?

The Bike Doctor is a local bike shop (in a sense). His shop is a truck (low overhead). He visits various corporate campuses in the Bay Area on a regular schedule; he also makes house calls. You schedule an appointment, he fixes your bike, and you get it back within hours (not days). He is a good mechanic, he's honest, and his prices are fair.

And that is why I pedaled the road bike to the office today. Its dérailleur cables were two years old, and I would prefer not to suffer another snapped-cable incident. “Ah yes, Shimano cables will do that.” He understood.

He was on the phone delivering the bad news to another customer when I picked up my bike. The chain on that bike had worn the teeth on the cassette so severely that he marveled it would work at all. He showed me the effect—on some rings, the teeth were barely nubs.

I hopped on my well-tuned bicycle, shifted with my new cables and returned to my building, a happy customer.

July 6, 2014

Ornery Arnerich

Winding section of Arnerich Road, Los Gatos, CA
The crux stretch on Arnerich is steep. Painfully steep. With my heart rate at 186 beats per minute, I took refuge at the base of a driveway. No strenuous exercise for 24 hours. This was almost exactly the 24 hour mark since I donated a pint of blood. [565 grams, actually. They weigh it.] Time for a little recovery before continuing up the hill.

As if Wednesday's demonstrations of idiotic driving weren't enough, a white SUV gave us a refresher course. On a deserted little side street between two busier roads, a white SUV pushed the pedal to the floor to roar past us. Except that we were nearly at the intersection, our left arms outstretched to signal our turn. Seven cyclists, one SUV. In a fit of bad judgment, the SUV swung past us, over the double yellow line. When she arrived at the stop sign, there she sat: completely on the wrong side of the road as we finished our left turn. (She wanted to turn right.)

What goes through the mind of such a driver? I hope she felt like a sitting duck, set up as she was for a head-on collision. I count four moving violations there: speeding, unsafe passing, crossing a double yellow line, driving on the wrong side of the road. All this before 10:00 on a Sunday morning.

Arnerich got the better of one cyclist; walking, she announced that she wouldn't go to the top because she didn't want to ride back down it. “Yes, it's a tough one,” I reassured her. Quite the view, though.

Most faces in the group were familiar ones, yet I learned something new about each one today as we regrouped at the top of each climb. I begged off when they headed for a post-ride snack, wanting to stock up for the coming week at the local farmers' market.

For the day, a mere 14 miles with some 1,740 feet of climbing (by bike) and another 3 miles on foot (half of that, laden with produce).

I figured that old “Don't food-shop when you're hungry” adage didn't apply today. After filling my basket with fresh fruit and salad fixings, I settled in the shade of a redwood tree with a savory crêpe and cold raspberry lemonade. [Yum.]

July 4, 2014

Powered by Pancakes

It was time. Time for Redwood Gulch. I didn't climb it last year. Or the year before that. The first time I climbed it, my heart rate peaked at 199 beats per minute. I zigzagged across the grade and paused after each steep section to recover. At least I didn't topple over.

First order of business was our club's annual Fourth of July Pancake Breakfast. After a couple of pancakes and some fresh fruit salad, I set out with three ride buddies to climb a few hills. They were itching to climb Montebello; if I followed them, I knew that would be my only climb for the day. I wanted to explore some less-visited (for me, at least) terrain.

There was not much water in Stevens Creek; the creek bed was completely dry in places. The pavement continues beyond a gate at the end of the road. I was curious, but decided to save that for another day. Heading back down, the stop sign came into view much sooner than I expected. Was there a one-way control I overlooked as I climbed through the canyon?

No. This was it. Redwood Gulch. I shifted down and made the turn.

As another cyclist remarked at breakfast, it's as steep as ever. But I am in better shape. No need to tack across the grade. No need to stop. No risk of toppling over. And my heart rate peaked at a manageable 181 bpm. I was drenched with sweat, but happy. The familiar landmarks are undisturbed. The most curious sight was a faded plastic toy, a model of the Golden Gate Bridge, standing upright next to the road. (Too steep to stop for a photo.)

Why not tackle Sanborn, too?

Algae-choked pond, Sanborn County Park, Saratoga, CA
Let me tell you why. You make the turn off Highway 9 and there it is before you: straight up. I didn't climb this one last year, either. This time, I ventured past the gate and the algae-choked pond to the Youth Hostel (closed since 2010). The building (now 106 years old) appears to have been shrink-wrapped in white plastic. It is unclear what its future might be, and I'm sad that I didn't see it before they shuttered it.

I was surprised to discover that the paved road continued. Uphill, of course. San Andreas Trail, read the sign. (Yes, that San Andreas—the fault.) I turned back at the bridge over Todd Creek. The pavement was pretty sketchy by then, and the road ahead looked steeper than I might want. I wasn't far from the end at that point.

My return to civilization was abrupt. Stopped at the lower one-lane traffic control light on Highway 9, four rude motorcyclists advanced themselves to the front of the line. All the windows rolled up in the leading car, but I had no way to seal off their noxious exhaust. I could move, though. Just far enough to be ahead of them—technically, off the road. [Whew. Fresh air.]

Let me say this: I won't be visiting Highway 9 again soon. When the light turned green, I waited for the line of cars to pass. Two stragglers approached ... one got through, and the light was already red. Yikes! I had pressed the button, back at the light, which supposedly allows more time for cyclists to pass through. Now what?

I decided to go for it, and that was the right choice. The one-lane section was longer, and narrower, than I expected. But the signals were red in both directions [thanks to that button press]. The line of cars waiting to head uphill was ... long. Really long. Let me say this: I won't be visiting Highway 9 again soon.

For the day, 41 miles with a virtuous 2,670 feet of climbing. Powered by pancakes.

July 3, 2014

Low Maintenance

People pass me along the multi-use trail on every commute. I'm used to that. One day last week, I spied a very capable rider in my rear view mirror, sitting on my wheel. Drafting me at 15 mph is so not worth it. Was he angling to flirt with me? He looked age-appropriate.

It was my bicycle that he was ogling. “Your bike is a classic!” he said. “Great for commuting,” I replied. Then he sped off.

A good bicycle can last a lifetime. Some parts will wear out and need to be replaced, but even a neglected bike will transport its rider from point A to point B for years. I spotted this vintage machine on a rack at the office recently. I'd wager that most of those parts are original, from the plastic bar grips to the rust-speckled brake levers and wheel rims. The drive train, however, was well-lubricated—that's key.

My classic bike, a Trek 720 “hybrid” circa 1992, has had an easy life. I racked up a few miles (very few) before moving to the west coast. I had its fossilized brake pads replaced in 2002 and rode the short course in the Tour of Napa—its most ambitious outing to that point. When I started cycling in earnest in 2005, I quickly realized I needed a lighter-weight road bike to stay with the pack on club rides.

I dusted off the hybrid in 2006 when I began to dabble in bicycle commuting. I swapped its (original) knobby tires for slicks in 2007. Sometimes it would occur to me to wipe down the frame and lubricate its chain ... once a year, maybe. Last year, I treated it to its first service since 2002. I watched the Bike Doctor measure the chain for wear; it wasn't due.

One year and more than 2,000 miles later, the chain would occasionally slip. My chain tool found the links within spec. The Bike Doctor's chain tool found the links (just barely) within spec. “It's time,” I said. He was not convinced. “It's the original chain,” I told him. He did not believe me. “The bike has upwards of 8,000 miles on it.” I know how improbable that sounds. But I have no record of replacing the chain. I have racked up more than 8,000 miles commuting to my current workplace, and the bike was serviced only once during that time.

He humored me. “You won't get 8,000 miles out of this chain,” he joked. “That's okay,” I smiled.

What a workhorse.

July 2, 2014

Stayin' Alive

Today was the sort of day that keeps my non-cycling friends, and even some non-roadie friends, off the roads.

Early evening in Vasona Lake County Park
Years ago, I observed the day-by-day antics of a small brood of mallards at a sheltered little pond in an office park. One day, Mama Duck swam to the edge of the pond and climbed up the rocky bank, a line of ducklings trailing behind. Save one. Said duckling turned around to find an empty pond; much panicked quacking ensued. The size of the brood dwindled over time. Did the aforementioned duckling survive? [Doubtful.]

I allowed myself a later start this morning; this being a holiday week, traffic has been lighter. Unfortunately, the Stupid People also get a later start.

Either that, or I failed to get the memo that today was Right Hook Day. I thought I would illustrate this post with one of the many images provided to cyclists about the hazards of the right hook, but they are all crafted to teach the cyclist how to avoid this crash by not hugging the curb at an intersection.

At 8:12 a.m., I was approaching an intersection where the road widens into two lanes. Two or three cars were already stopped; the traffic signal was red. Since I would be going straight, I abandoned the bike lane for the center of the road, staying to the left of the right-turn lane. This is exactly where I needed to be to avoid the dreaded right hook—which happens when a vehicle turns right in front of a cyclist who is proceeding straight.

Twenty yards from the intersection, a multi-ton truck from a local lumber yard overtook me on the left. But he was not lining up to make a left turn, or even to go straight. His right turn signal was flashing. I was able to stop safely and let the stupidity unfold. He crossed in front of me—into the right-turn lane—and made his turn.

What might I do differently, in the future? Tough call. I could move farther left, to take the full lane for straight-through traffic; but that would likely aggravate any drivers headed that way.

The next bit of stupidity was a dog-walker on a multi-use path. The ill-trained dog was wandering back and forth across the trail. “Brring brring!” went my bell. The dog, at the end of his leash strung across the path, turned around; the owner did not. Anticipating trouble, I had ample time to stop. But not without making a deliberate impression on the human: my mis-aligned brake pads generated a loud, exaggerated screech. That got the human's attention. He even apologized.

The most dangerous incident would unfold on my return commute, a few miles from home. I made eye contact with the guy in an SUV on a side street; he would not pull out in front of me. A sedan was approaching from the opposite direction, its left turn signal flashing. I was wearing a bright orange jersey, a bright flashing white light mounted on my handlebar. [Always assume you are invisible.] I slowed my pace. The driver, a white-haired elderly woman, turned left onto the side street without even slowing down. This hazard is known as the Left Cross. I still needed to brake, but gently. The guy in the SUV shook his head at the stupidity.

Having had much more than the usual commuting excitement, I looked forward to the serenity of the county park. I passed through the side gate and started down the hill. I saw the white SUV heading out of the parking area to my left. I guessed, correctly, that the driver would pull out without looking to her right. I calculated, correctly, that I had sufficient speed to stay clear. And I predicted, correctly, that I would make a vivid impression when I flew through her field of vision. She stayed far, far behind me after that.

Don't be that duckling.

June 28, 2014

The Golden State

Oaks and rolling golden hills at summit of Willow Springs, Morgan Hill, CA
We gathered today to bid farewell to a club member who is moving back to the Pacific Northwest. There could be no better send-off than a group ride (and, of course, lunch). My ride buddies and I got a head start; the rest of the group caught us at the top of the first significant climb. Lagging behind after that, we managed to arrive in time to catch the lunch party winding down.

More often than not, I have seen deer in the brush as we pass from Sveadal into Uvas Canyon County Park. Today's encounter was exceptional: a multi-point buck and his doe stopped to study us as they crossed the road. Fortunately I have only met them while climbing this stretch.

Chesbro Reservoir, Morgan Hill, CA. Water level at 4.8% of capacity.
The water level in the Chesbro Reservoir is at 4.8% of its capacity. If the people who drench their lawns with drinking water saw this, would they finally let their grass turn brown?

Fresh arrows on the road and a red silhouette of the Statue of Liberty suggested that an organized event was underway. We met three riders following the course of the Morgan Hill Freedom Fest Bike Classic. “The guy at the rest stop said this just kind of rolls,” one complained at the top of Willow Springs. I smiled and reassured them that they had ascended the easier side and could look forward to a nice downhill. (Before climbing Llagas. I didn't mention that.)

Whereas we were (not) looking forward to the stiff headwind we would face on our return to San José. It is ever so. Relentless. Eleven miles. A truck hauling tandem trailers stacked high with bales of hay briefly sucked me toward the lane of traffic as it passed, and I caught an unexpected taste as stray pieces swirled around me.

Some 51 miles with a modest 2,085 feet of climbing through the redwoods and golden hills of summer. I would not want to relocate.