February 26, 2011

Top Speed

I didn't mean to do it. Honest. It just turned out that way.

Smooth pavement. Wide and straight. Deserted. Clear view in all directions. No side streets. Some tricky crosswind gusts, but good aerodynamics contribute to good handling. Tires? In good condition. Brakes? In good working order.

This was no contest; that would be dangerous. I launched before any challenger might think to pursue me. I will not feel responsible for anyone else's lapse of judgment.

To get to the top of that hill, it was worth sustaining a heart rate of 173-178 bpm for a solid seven minutes.

The temperature was cold enough to keep me from overheating in my fleece-lined winter tights, even on the climbs. The promised snow had not fallen at our lower elevations overnight. We played it safe and climbed no higher than 820 feet. In our group of nine, only one rider begged for more. Tempting as it was to turn onto Mt. Hamilton Road, we passed it. The driver snapping photos of the sign at the bottom would discover soon enough that the road was closed at Joseph Grant County Park, well below the snow level.

Thirty-one miles, 2,670 feet of climbing, and a new top speed.
On a bicycle, that is.

February 17, 2011

Road Hazard

A good user interface is one that you take for granted. Consider, for example, the automobile. When you step into an unfamiliar car, the gas pedal is on the right, the brake pedal on the left, and you turn the wheel in the direction you wish to travel. Do you need to think about it? No. You insert the key into the ignition, put your foot on the brake, turn the key to start the engine, put it into gear, and drive away. Simple.

Unless the car is a Prius. Then, it is ... well, complicated.

Whatever would possess me to drive a Prius? Needless to say, this car is not on my short list.

I needed to run a daytime errand, and I did not drive to work. In this case, I could borrow a car: The Toyota Prius.

I have been a driver for quite some time. Various makes and models. American, British, German, Italian, Japanese, and Swedish. Manual transmission? I prefer it. Put me behind the wheel of a Trabant, and I'm told I wouldn't know what to do. The Prius? Not without reviewing my notes.

There is no key. Look for a little cubbyhole in the dash, insert the plastic not-a-key-fob into that slot.

The brake pedal is in the right place. [Whew]. Put your right foot there. [Normal.]

The parking brake is operated by a pedal on the far left; press that down with your left foot to release it. [This style of parking brake is still manufactured?]

The "shift" lever is in the middle position, which appears to be Neutral.

Press the Power button. Various elements on the dashboard light up. Adjust the mirrors. [Can you say, limited rear view?]

Move the "shift" lever to the "D" position (Drive). It snaps back to the center. [Huh?] Do not be misled by the position of the lever; the car is now in gear.

Or maybe not. You need to press the Power button once, maybe twice.[Huh?] Doesn't that mean you're turning it off? Maybe. Maybe not.

The gas pedal is in the right place. The steering wheel behaves as expected. Drive.

Uh oh. The heat is set to some high temperature and the fans are blowing full blast. Reach for the knob.

There is no knob. No buttons. No lever to slide. No apparent controls of any kind.

While stopped at the first traffic light, study the dash more closely. The display screen is flanked on both sides by rectangular buttons. Press Climate. The display switches to a busy array of icons to control the fans and temperature. The display is a touch screen? Were the designers out of their minds? If the windshield fogs up, do they expect me to pull over and stop the car first, or just stop watching the road to play this little video game?

Pull into a parking space. Keep your right foot on the brake. The "shift" lever has no position for Park. Find the button on the dash labeled "P" (Park); press that. Engage the parking brake. Press the Power button to turn off the car. Slide the not-a-key-fob out of the dash.

It won't budge. [What did I miss? Can't that fancy display in the dash give me a hint?]

Confirm that the parking brake is engaged. Depress the brake pedal. Move the "shift" lever horizontally to confirm it's in Neutral. No joy.

Sigh. Feel defeated. Scratch head. Press the Power button again. Bingo!

You need to press the Power button once, maybe twice. It's right there, in my notes. In case I ever need to drive a Prius again.

February 13, 2011

Social Sunday

Having devoted my Saturday to the Mega-Monster Enduro, I slept in and joined a leisurely Sunday ride. With winter weather forecast to return to the Bay Area this week, a warm sunny day was not one to squander.

Biking to the start warmed me up, and with a slight downhill advantage I was immediately off the front. I backed off the pace to keep more of the group in sight, and by the time we reached the base of our climb for the day, we were all back together.

Our destination was the upper reaches of Bernal Road, which pitches up uncomfortably two or three times before the public road ends at the gate marking the boundary of IBM's private property. Across the valley to the east, the white domes of Lick Observatory were gleaming atop Mount Hamilton. Our vantage point also afforded a clear view of the highest peak to the west, Mt. Umunhum, clearly distinguishable by its monolithic relic of the Cold War.

After last week's private Enduro on Mt. Hamilton, this route was oh-so-tame. The hills I climbed on the way to and from the start were actually responsible for most of the day's vertical accumulation (1,655 feet, 31 miles).

Tonight, the winds that are the harbinger of the approaching storm front have arrived. Rainy week ahead.

February 5, 2011


Kincaid is a long lonely road that forks off Mt. Hamilton Road about five miles from the summit. Years ago, my first ride with the club included the upper half of Mt. Hamilton and Kincaid. I had little solo cycling experience at that point, and I remember how unnerved I felt out there. The road descends to Isabel Creek and then climbs again, with public access ending at a cattle guard and gate. Separated from the fastest (and slowest) riders, I was edgy.

Today I explored this isolated canyon with fresh eyes and more confidence. Still, I would hesitate to ride it alone: a twisty six-mile dead-end road, with spotty cell phone coverage and a few gated dirt roads leading to cattle ranches. Getting there is not easy: by the time I reached the intersection with Mt. Hamilton Road, I had already traveled more than 14 miles and climbed 2,790 feet.

Unlike my first visit, I was not eager to return from the solitude of the canyon. As I drew closer, Mt. Hamilton Road sounded like a motor speedway. This unseasonably warm and sunny day in February drew a veritable parade of motorcycles and sports cars to the mountain.

The summit was little more than five miles away; it would be wrong to head downhill. The wind up there was a steady 23 mph, with roaring gusts to 42 mph. Needless to say, this added to the challenge of controlling the bicycle and making forward progress—but was well worth the effort.

A young couple greeted me with a thumbs-up and praise for biking up the mountain. I shared the sunny courtyard with a fellow cyclist and the toddler he had hauled up the hill in a trailer (filled with toys and other necessities). An elderly couple emerged from a back door at the observatory and slowly climbed inside their late model black Mustang. A stout rider with a wild gray beard and a head scarf (no helmet) caught up to me on his bike with tri-spoke carbon wheels, easily matching me turn-for-turn as I rocketed down the descent. Our pace slowed by an ungainly Ford Expedition, he pulled out and passed us both, never to be seen again.

Fifty-one miles, 6,965 feet of climbing, some 2700 Calories burned. Followed by a delectable six-course dinner prepared by friends, I still managed to end the day at a caloric deficit.