July 31, 2014

Extreme Commuting

July was a banner month. With the exception of one day (when, sadly, I needed my car), I commuted by bicycle on every day that I worked: 18 days, in all.

Along the way, I crossed paths with three cyclists I know. One ride buddy went out of her way to join me on the morning commute, just for fun.
Commute bike posing in the fancy new green bike lane.
I rode in my first green bike lane, which popped up this week on a busy, freshly-repaved thoroughfare.

I saw deer and bunnies, and so many birds—including the low-flying Canada geese that barely cleared my head tonight.

Memorial to fallen veterans, with scouts lowering American flag.
I discovered the namesake memorial to fallen soldiers at a community park, and watched some scouts learning to handle the American flag.

Commute bike poses trackside, with No. 2 steam locomotive approaching.
I smiled and said “Good morning!” to lots of solo walkers, and paused to wave to the engineer running a beloved steam locomotive through a local park.

Gbike more than four miles from the Google campus.
I swept up broken glass, alerted maintenance crews to graffiti and spent firecrackers, and reported the occasional wayward gbike that had left the Google campus.

I wore out the rear tire on my commute bike, down to the threads, after some 7,900 miles over 7 years. The front tire carries less weight and is still going strong. (Continental Sport Contact, if you were wondering).

Railing on the Mary Avenue suspension bridge casting a shadow dead center on the deck.
I realized that a shadow cast by the rail on our soaring bike bridge is a sundial, of sorts. The days are unmistakably growing shorter.

I burned an estimated 28,000 Calories, which I offset with pancakes, French toast, bacon, and plenty of dark chocolate. (OK, yogurt and fresh fruit, too.)

Factoring in some recreational excursions, I managed a 7-day streak of daily rides totaling 219 miles.

Counting all rides, I tallied 239 miles in my best calendar week. For the month: 902 miles, with more than 27,000 feet of climbing.

I spent about 77 hours bicycling. Sure beats sitting in traffic.

July 30, 2014

The Broom Wagon

Years ago, on the other coast, my co-workers and I would enjoy lunch al fresco during the warmer months. We had our favorite places: a magnolia-rimmed plaza with a huge fountain, a tree-shaded lawn, even the local cemetery. We would always leave a place cleaner than we found it—removing litter that had been thoughtlessly tossed by others.

As I climbed the ramp to the second bike/pedestrian bridge on my route on Monday, a wide swath of shattered glass glistened in the morning sun. There was no way to ride around it. [Lovely.]

I meant to alert the town's Public Works Department, but that slipped my mind until I faced my second trip through the field of glass on my way home. After picking a half-dozen fragments out of my tires, I filled out their online form.

I meant to pack a small broom on Tuesday morning, but forgot. I grimaced on my third trip through the glass. The Public Works folks dispatched a crew to sweep up, and I was relieved that I would have a clean ride home. [Not.]

In sweeping the ramp, they managed to disperse the glass over a wider area (and remove little or none of it).

Whisk broom under cargo net atop bag mounted on rear bicycle rack.
On Wednesday morning, I tucked a well-worn whisk broom under my cargo net (a recent acquisition). I parked my bike on the ramp and proceeded to sweep both sides of the path, from the center line to the edge. Shards of clear glass were scattered over some 15 feet of the ramp.

Five passing cyclists thanked me.
You're a very good person!
One pedestrian was impressed and stopped to chat.

It was a slow, tedious job with my little broom, but my calculation had been more selfish than selfless. Spend 20 minutes to sweep the bridge once, or spend time every day picking glass out of my tires (or worse). Dealing with just one punctured tube would take more time.

I remembered to send some polite feedback to the Public Works Department. They needed to know that their clean-up attempt was not only ineffective—it made matters worse. And I wanted to make sure they didn't re-distribute the glass the next time they swept the bridge.

They got the memo. On my way home, the glass was gone, gone, gone!

July 26, 2014

Up on the Ridge

Sunlight filtering through redwood trees.
Where would you like to be on a hot summer day? (Hint: A swimming pool is not an option.)

Some of our club members headed for Henry Coe State Park. Such a long, exposed climb was not enticing; a frolic in the redwoods sounded much more appealing.

Our convivial band of riders hung together pretty well, with faster riders doubling back at times to check on the slower folk.

There was no drippy fog to cool us, but ample shade as we headed into the Santa Cruz Mountains. We dipped over the summit before returning to the ridge, and found a bit of a breeze as we traced our way south. Heading back, we looked down at a freeway clogged with cars heading toward the beach. Descending toward the valley, our last mile felt like riding toward a blast furnace.

At a comfortable pace, we climbed some 3,205 feet over 39 miles. My backyard thermometer topped out above 98F. Nothing that a bowl of ice cream and a cool shower couldn't fix.

July 20, 2014

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Peak Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
I had longed to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park for years ... but it is so far away. When I aspired to ride the Fall River Century, I saw that I could make a mini-vacation out of the trip and realize my dream. Better still, my biking (and now, hiking) buddy was of a similar mind.

View of Lake Almanor from Lassen Peak Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Our research suggested a few sites to visit in the park, given that we could afford a single day: Lassen Peak, of course; and then the volcanic action at Bumpass Hell.

Our cooler packed with ice and sandwiches from the local market, we headed for the park on some roads that were familiar from yesterday's bike ride. First hike: Lassen Peak. Regrettably, our visit did not coincide with one of the days when the trail to the summit is fully open. We enjoyed our climb nonetheless. I made it to the turn-around point at Grandview, which was just below the level of the remaining snow fields (elevation: ~9,400 feet). Fellow hikers, who have frequently visited the park, told me that this was the first time they had seen Lake Helen without a surrounding ring of ice.

Steps lead to the upper (closed) segment of the Lassen Peak Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
The landscape is fragile; near the bottom of the Peak trail, there are signs describing the “scar” on the mountain created by defiant visitors who trek straight up the rocky slope, off-trail. You would think that people making the effort to visit a National Park would have respect for the land.

And you would be wrong.

Scar on the rock slope, view from base of Lassen Peak Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
As I descended the trail, I came upon three dusty young people. One was clinging to the branches of a tree, scrambling to reach the trail. “Are you okay? Did you fall?” I asked. No, they had come up the rocks—tramping the scar yet deeper into the hillside. They had not gone without notice, however; I met a pair of rangers hiking up the trail to find them.

Deer crossing the Lassen Peak Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
I re-joined my hiking buddy, who had paused at a lower elevation, and we continued over to Lake Helen. True to all accounts we had read, this park is not crowded with visitors. We enjoyed our picnic spread at a table with a view of the clear blue lake and the peaks beyond.

View of Lake Helen from our picnic table, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
We were next determined to witness some volcanic activity first-hand, so off to Bumpass Hell we went. A whiff of sulfur and the loud hiss of steam venting from the earth heralded our approach to the site. And what a sight! Bubbling circles of mud, oddly-hued streams and pools, and clouds of sulfurous steam thick enough to condense rapidly on your skin. A vivid reminder that our planet is alive, and harbors strange and wondrous secrets underground.

Acidic landscape, Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
The hike to Bumpass Hell is relatively easy, and the volcanic features draw a crowd. We chatted with a pair of hikers who trailed us on the approach. “You did what yesterday? Biked 86 miles?!” We're only here for the day, we explained. “And you hiked Lassen Peak before this?” they exclaimed. Only halfway, of course, the upper part of the trail is closed. These exertions did not seem extraordinary to us, and so we decided to leave the crowds behind and venture past Bumpass Hell.

Sulfuric steam venting at Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Pep at the turnaround point above Crumbaugh Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Cold Boiling Lake was our destination. The terrain had changed completely, from the barren, rocky slopes of Lassen Peak and the fumaroles of Bumpass Hell to alpine meadows of wildflowers and towering evergreens. The trail became progressively rockier, narrower, and more overgrown.

Wildflowers along the trail above Crumbaugh Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
With no markers to hint at the distance remaining, we prudently chose to turn back when we reached a point above Crumbaugh Lake. [We had made it about halfway to Cold Boiling Lake, as it turned out.]

Crumbaugh Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
For the day, about 8 miles of hiking—and some very sore legs. Biking muscles are not hiking muscles, for the most part. More cross-training needed.

July 19, 2014

Burney Falls

View of Burney Falls framed by trees.
Given that our sojourn in Fall River Mills would be brief, it was a hard task to choose which sights to see. After biking back to the motel and getting ourselves cleaned up, there was plenty of daylight left to head back to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park (this time, by car) to see the famous falls.

That's right: After biking more than 86 miles in the heat, we went hiking. [Crazy people.]

There is a parking lot near the falls, and it is safe to say that most visitors don't venture much farther than the overlook, or the vista point near the base of the falls. We followed the Falls Loop Trail counter-clockwise, descending to the base of the falls before heading downstream, across some bridges, and then climbing back above the falls. Hiking 1.2 miles in the cool canyon felt great. [Seriously.]

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the McArthur family for having the foresight (and the means) to preserve this natural masterpiece for the generations to follow. If not for them, PG&E would have constructed a dam to generate more hydroelectric power, cutting off the flow to the falls. With some 100 million gallons of water pouring over the cliff each day, it is easy to understand why. The water ends up in Lake Britton (created by the Pit 3 dam we crossed earlier in the day).

Pair of ospreys in their nest atop a dead tree above Burney Falls.
On the opposite bank, high above the falls, something out of the ordinary caught my eye. A pair of birds surveyed the activity below, sitting in an enormous nest at the top of a very tall, very dead tree. From a distance, they were mere silhouettes. Without a ranger to consult, I tried a worker in the gift shop—clueless. [Do you look at the world around you? I wondered. Silently.] At full resolution, my trusty point-and-shoot had the answer: Ospreys.

Hazy, Hot, and Homey

Twenty years ago, a few cyclists up in The North State thought they might attract some tourists if they hosted a biking event. They were right. The Fall River Century made it onto my radar screen three years ago; this year I was determined to do the ride. One of my ride buddies took the bait: Road trip!

Flats of juicy peaches from the Burlison Fruit Stand, Dairyville, CA The festivities began on Friday evening, with early check-in and local fare (live music, fresh produce, and barbecue). Some riders choose to camp; these two riders chose the comfort of a local motel. We kept bumping into a retiree who had returned for the event; he was a fount of knowledge about Fall River Mills, being a third-generation (former) resident.

Roadside flowers match the yellow flower on my bike's saddlebag near McArthur, CAOur plan for the day was to follow the 100-mile route, trimming off a 20-mile segment that was conveniently out-and-back. The total climbing for the day was not a challenge, but we knew the heat would drain us. The longer we were out there, the hotter and less happy we would be.

The Lions Club served up pancakes, eggs, and more for breakfast. Chatting with a couple from Ashland who happened to sit at our table, we were stunned to discover that we had mutual (non-cycling) friends. [We then surprised them by sending a picture of the three of us, in our biking attire.] What are the odds?!

Rainbow powered paraglider overhead, McArthur, CA.
We rolled out at 7:00 a.m., buzzed overhead by a colorful flock of powered paragliders. We would see few other cyclists en route; with a little more than 300 participants spread over four courses, that was not surprising. The longer-distance riders got an earlier start. So did the people who wanted to beat the heat.

At the first rest stop, a SAG driver started chatting with us. “Were you the folks I saw on 299 this morning, riding to the fairgrounds?” [Indeed.] By the time we would have loaded the bikes, driven there, parked, unloaded the bikes, and assembled our gear ... well, we did the math. Just bike it (4.5 miles).

The first 13 miles of the course were ... flat. We made good time, despite some lollygagging to admire the scenery. I had been dreaming of riding around all day with glorious views of a snow-capped Mt. Shasta. Alas, that was not to be. The air was hazy, and sometimes thick, with the smoke of a distant wildfire.

The big climb of the day came early. I watched a fellow rider serpentine up the hill, which presented us with a whopping 3.6% grade for four miles. [No, I didn't forget a digit there.] The descent was splendid! With smooth pavement, clear sight lines, and no traffic I topped out at 42 mph.

Bridge above the dam at Lake Britton
Before entering McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park, we followed the shoreline of Lake Britton and crossed the bridge above the Pit 3 Dam. We looped back toward Fall River Mills and were a stone's throw from our motel at mile 61. The temperature had climbed well into the mid-90's. I checked in with my ride buddy: Keep going, or call it a day? She was a trouper. She doused her arm coolers with cold water and we pedaled on.

We nearly bypassed an unexpected water stop until they called out “We have ice!” They told us a climb was ahead, and explained how we could bypass it. We were having none of that.

Red rock lava flow, Lassen Bench, CA
We crossed from Shasta into Lassen County. The volcanic terrain of Lassen Bench was other-worldly. And exposed. And baking. Climbing up the Bench, the whir of my tires was different. A hot day leads to hot pavement leads to soft rubber leads to ... easy punctures. My front tire was completely flat. Had been flat for some time. No wonder I was crawling up the hill.

Just then, the maroon pickup of our friendly SAG driver came into view. Was it a mirage? “We're less than two miles from the next rest stop, do you mind if we head there and fix the flat where there's some shade?” I scrambled into the air-conditioned comfort of the cab. He offered a lift to my ride buddy, too, but she was having none of that. By the time she arrived at the rest stop, my bike concierge had my bike ready to roll again.

Red barn adorned with three skunks flanked by two cows.
Triumphant, we arrived back at the fairgrounds for the post-ride feast. Our SAG driver was relaxing with his buddies, and I thanked him once again. I told them we'd seen a buck on a rural road near the fairgrounds. He had run through the field, stopped in the middle of the road to eye us, and then leapt away. Everyone laughed. “The tourists are coming, roll the buck!” one of them joked.

One of the volunteers asked if I had enjoyed the ride. “Very much,” I gave him two thumbs up. A few minutes later he delivered a gift—a huge bag of leftover strawberries.

A few minutes later ... I remembered that we had biked to the start. [Sigh.] I looked longingly at those luscious berries.

A bit of begging scored a paper grocery bag, with handles. I looped it over the left side of my handlebar and tested my balance. The lower curve of the bar conveniently kept the bag from swinging into my front wheel. This just might work! My ride buddy fretted that I would crash. “I'll take it slowly.” [As if I would be moving fast in that heat anyway. Ha.]

For me, 86 miles and 3,300 feet of climbing for the day.

Sunset on the Fall River, Fall River Mills, CA
The small-town hospitality extended through the weekend, with our retired friend insisting that we join him for breakfast on our last morning in town. He led us on a brief local history tour, giving us a deeper appreciation for this old town that is unknown to anyone who just passes through.

We journeyed to Fall River Mills with no greater expectation than to enjoy a biking adventure in new territory. We got so much more.

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.