World’s Longest Road Closure: Crystal Springs Dam Road

October 19th, 2018 by tony

So, who among you remembers cycling across Crystal Springs Dam Road? If you don’t, it’s no surprise because we are approaching the 8th anniversary of its closing. Yes, Crystal Springs Dam Road has been closed for eight years: it closed on October 21, 2010—can you believe it? Admittedly the reason for the ridiculously prolonged closure is not entirely bogus. The construction of the replacement dam, which sits on the San Andreas Fault, had to be done conservatively. But as with Calaveras Road there is something about major public works projects that almost always causes them to spiral out of control and blow their timelines. The number of times San Mateo County Public Works has had to revise the opening date is embarassing. I just glanced online and saw one estimate as “2017”. Seriously? We are almost two years later!

The last estimate of reopening was September 2018 but at the last minute it was pushed back to “mid-October”. Their webpage hasn’t been revised since and we are now just past mid-October and there isn’t even an announcement of a date for the “grand reopening ceremony”. In other words, they’ve blown their deadline again and we haven’t a clue as to when they will reopen it. I emailed the Senior Civil Engineer, Carter Choi, a few days ago about a revised estimate and surprise, surprise I haven’t heard a thing (I didn’t hear from him when I asked the same question in August—I guess he’s too busy “working” to answer his email). I just called SM Public Works and their receptionist says “mid-November”. Of course the engineers weren’t available to talk.

So how believable is that “mid-November”? Does shit even get done at public agencies near the holidays??

San Mateo’s repeated bad estimates mirror that of another public agency, BART. The Warm Spring extension was initally projected to open in 2014, five years after groundbreaking. It didn’t open until 2017, three years late. We are now awaiting the opening of the two stations just to the south, Milpitas and Berryessa. Both were scheduled to open in December 2017. Then there were problems integrating the new electrical control system to the old existing system, and that pushed the opening to June of this year, which didn’t happen, and the new opening was set for maybe the end of 2018 but probably more like early 2019. (Didn’t they run into those same system issues with the Warm Springs station? If so, why didn’t they revise their timeline before?) So now they’re three years behind schedule for Berryessa.

Now comes word that equipment was installed in the two stations that was not “compliant” (they were used and not new) and has to be removed, replaced, and then tested again. Now the rough estimate is Milpitas and Berryessa won’t open any earlier than “late 2019”. The Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority has requested a FTA extension with a deadline to begin service of December 31, 2019. Of course they could easily refile for another extension. Earlier this year we were thinking we could use Milpitas BART to get to the start of the Mt. Hamilton in the Fall ride. That is off the table for next year as well.

We have no inkling as to the actual sequence of events that leads to these delays. Why do agencies continue to mouth overly optimistic opening dates? They should know from previous miscalculations that the error is, say, roughly three years and then add that to their public announcements. One wonders if the delays are due to truly unforeseeable circumstances or whether it is really due to mediocre oversight of contractors and/or inept planning.

Will I even be alive when BART opens these stations??

Jersey Ride Notes

October 14th, 2018 by tony

David Gaus led this month’s Jersey Ride. Besides David it was Roger Sayre, Roger and I, and guest David. We did a few nice diversions from the usual route, the Corte Madera-Larkspur path around the Corte Madera Shopping Center, and because it was a beautiful day after lunch we also trucked up into Belvedere to catch the great views of Sausalito and the Golden Gate Bridge, and finally instead of returning on Washington Blvd. through the Presidio, we dropped down Battery Caulfield to 14th and then back to Golden Gate Park. There were a billion other cyclists out and about.

Since the June Jersey Ride the City of Tiburon actually repaired significant sections of Paradise Drive. It’s not a full repaving instead being a patchwork of long sections of road that now have pristine asphalt. There are still degraded bumpy sections but it’s a lot less jarring (and annoying) than before. Wow. Maybe someone read the ChainLetter blog and saw my complaint! The other notable improvement was the return on the Bridge. It’s still jammed full of visitors looking uncertain, steering their rental bikes the way a fish swims upstream. but this time it seemed less dangerous. The equipment bulb-outs are still egregiously wide but perhaps the brisk breeze deterred the tourists from literally casting their fate to the wind because I saw not one with a phone or selfie stick in hand as they pranced across. I still wonder how many ambulance calls are made on weekends for the west sidewalk though.

Waistlines not Pacelines

October 9th, 2018 by tony

Oktoberfest training

 

Whatever illusions you might harbor about being able to Consume Mass Quantities because you cycle your pretty ass off, the truth of the matter is that bad eating habits are just that regardless of how praiseworthy your Strava KOMs/QOMs might be. There are a lot of cyclists (and runners and triathletes and swimmers and…) who regard their exercise as carte blanche to indulge in uninhibited voracity. For some Spokers having discovered they like to ride bikes is like a second Coming Out. But instead of the bathhouses it’s the nearest Burger King. And lord knows there are a lot more BKs and KFCs out there than there are saunas. Cycling might do wonders for your cardiovascular system. But weight? I’m not so sure. Cycling’s ugly secret is that riding often means more hunger and that means more eating with little effect on your waistline. You didn’t know cycling is a zero sum game, did you?

You know how those pro racers stay so trim? It isn’t just mega miles—it’s also adhering to very restricted diets. You know, the kind of diets you used to try and you absolutely hated. As in: being hungry all the time! Those low body fat numbers come from serious pushing back from the table and that takes real will power. Which is why cycling with the goal of becoming fabulously thin is elusive. Somehow the effort of cycling is supposed to supplant the effort of not eating while hungry. Hmm.

Which brings us to how we ended up at Gaumenkitzel last weekend for Oktoberfest. There are no illusions on Social A rides that your butch quotient is going to go up nor is there the sense that you’ll be able to throw giant wads of spaeztle or potato salad down your gullet without consequences. On Social A rides hedonism isn’t given an excuse, it’s a fact of life! No need to do penance for sin—we just sin with abandon. Our inclinations are distinctly Dionysian rather than Catholic. And that supermodel who claimed that “Nothing tastes as good as the way thin feels” is laughably disproved every time we eat at Gaumenkitzel: thin doesn’t stand a chance against the delicacies from the kitchen there! German food is the new thin.

The ride to Gaumenkitzel started with a single pedal stroke. And given the lack of hills—well, there were two actually—it didn’t take a whole lot more than that to get there. There’s the hill over St. Stephens between Lafayette and Orinda and then the short, nasty hill in El Sobrante just before the Starbucks hovers into sight. The ride was an exercise in herding cats, with one person after another missing the start and then missing the meet-up point. When all was said and done Roger and I were eventually joined by Suzan, Thomas, and David Goldsmith, with Roy and Bill just giving up and not making it. David’s husband Chris met us at Gaumenkitzel. He’s obviously a very bright person because he figured out that absolutely no cycling was necessary to enjoy Gaumenkitzel. The ride down the Ohlone Greenway didn’t take long—it’s a straight shot being underneath the elevated BART tracks. It’s a corridor well used by cyclists and pedestrians to get around the East Bay suburbs, not unlike the Iron Horse or the Contra Costa Canal trails. It’s perfect for leisurely cycling but you’re not going to set any speed records on it nor should you given its mixed use.

At Gaumenkitzel our table was waiting. The menu had a few Oktoberfest specials. Roger and I had to indulge in their German potato salad with pickled carrots and pork patties (it tasted much better than it sounds!). Chris had their delicious Jagerschnitzel. David had a plate piled with sausages. Others were more restrained. The food was delicious and filling. It was the kind of food you lingered over and definitely not something to dine and then dash off. Fortunately it was a short, flat roll from there to Rockridge BART requiring just enough effort to forestall food-induced lassitude. It was miles ahead of Burger King in taste but in calories probably not any less. Too bad Strava doesn’t have food KOMs!

San Francisco Water Torture

September 27th, 2018 by tony

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

 

Warning: this is an insipid rant.

Everything was “set” for the reopening of Calaveras Road, right? Until it wasn’t. After getting multiple assurances from SF Water that it really, really, really was going to reopen on Sunday, September 30, David Gaus beat me to the punch and posted a ride traversing it that day. That’s cool–we’re going to ride Calaveras, finally! Today I get an email from SF Water that, well, Calaveras really isn’t going to open on 9/30 after all. But it really, really, really will reopen Friday, November 2! Unless it isn’t. [Update: it’s now set to open on Saturday November 3.]

That’s been the story for a long time. SF Water always finds some reason not to open Calaveras. Although the closure is an inconvenience, what is more than irksome is the repeated obfuscation on the opening date and then reneging. Like a kid who just can’t stop lying, there’s little credibility in their press releases.

This is the last major road in Northern California that has not reopened after the winter of 2016-17. Even Highway One, which was inundated by over three million cubic feet of landslide was cleared and rebuilt before Calaveras. The winter damage to Calaveras was certainly a convenient excuse for SF Water to shut down the road to all traffic so they could try to catch up on their way-behind-schedule dam reconstruction.

Hey, SF Water, Calaveras is not your private road.

The Bleeding Edge of Old Fartdom

August 31st, 2018 by tony

On the most recent Social A ride the topic of conversation was…retirement. On club rides you never know what you’ll end up chatting about. More often than not it’s the usual stuff—bike porn, catching up with recent life events, and politics. When I was younger it was usually a running commentary on the hot men we saw as we pedaled along, club gossip, and who was too hung over from partying last night that they missed the ride. But on this ride we broached a topic that never would have passed our lips in the early days of the club. Boy, have things changed. Back in the day the senior crowd in Different Spokes was really small. Only Walter Teague and Gene Howard and maybe a few others were retired due to age. I wouldn’t say the club was uniformly young, but the age distribution was probably centered on the mid-thirties. That isn’t the case anymore and it wasn’t the case on this ride! We were a decidedly older group even if we weren’t all retired.

What provoked the talk was Roy’s imminent retirement and move to Thailand. Retirement may be common but moving overseas to enjoy it much less so. He’s been planning it for years and he’ll be heading for that distant shore this fall. Perhaps we’ll see a local chapter of Different Spokes soon in Chiang Mai? Joe and Lamberto are talking about retiring to Panama or maybe Colombia so notes had to be shared with Roy. Why Thailand? What’s the cost of living? Weather? Many ex-pats there? etc. etc. Roger and I commented on the numerous retired Americans we saw in Costa Rica enjoying the tropical clime and idling away the day playing duplicate bridge. Howard chimed in with his research on retirement communities in the Bay Area. Tiring of maintaining his home he’s thinking of following the Den Daddy’s lead and ditching the single family dwelling with all its irksome repairs and unexpected expenses for essentially a condo that the association maintains so that he can enjoy his idle hours in play rather than work.

In what has to be a record that one topic consumed the *entire* ride and it was the most voluble and chatty Social A ride in history!

Pool Party Proves Perfect

August 20th, 2018 by tony

 

Roger and I—as well as those who participated last year—breathed a sigh of relief when the weather forecasts for the Orinda Pool Party & Ride all came in with moderate temperatures. Last year we endured a sweltering 100+ F day that had the girlie men and manly girls cowering in the shade licking the last drops of water from their bottles; we even took an emergency rest stop at a convenience store to stick our heads in the refrigerated coolers and buy additional cold drinks. In complete contrast this year we had perfect weather from start to stop. Those who came from locales without a real summer gasped in awe at the sunshine and lack of fog we have regularly here in Contra Costa. Some remarked that they saw shadows for the first time in months; others with pale and ghostly complexions finally understood what “sunscreen” was needed for. No need for windbreakers yet no need to break into an unsightly sweat either—it was Goldilocks weather.

Fourteen came to ride and due to the lack of a suitable volunteer to lead the Daddy route, it was summarily cancelled with nary an objection. Those who expressed an interest in proving their girlihood by tackling Daddy were either too intimidated or awed by Daddy’s very big—some would say Huge—climbs and decided that they’d rather have a date with the Twink whose charming good looks were much more appealing than Daddy’s rough demeanor. Pinehurst was beautiful as ever with its towering redwoods providing the illusion that one was riding in Humboldt rather than in the center of the Bay Area. The sun broke out over Oakland and Berkeley as we rode along Skyline and Grizzly Peak Blvd providing beautiful vistas both west and east (well, except for the layer of smoke ominously hanging over Contra Costa). Roger Sayre and David Goldsmith did leader duties and kept everyone safe and in line by cracking their feather boas. Back at the manse Roger and Jim completed final decorations to have the lunch setting suitable for kings and queens. Nine additional folks decided that riding didn’t seem nearly as alluring as reclining on a chaise longue by the pool with a fabulous view of the garden. When the riders arrived almost everyone ended up in the pool for more than a refreshing dip—it looked like actual conversations were happening—and lingering by the pool became the highlight of the day despite the lack of hunky pool boys and girls to entertain by cleaning the pool…slowly.

Those of you who had better roads to ride missed out and you’ll just have to wait until next summer. Maybe there will be a menu refresh too…

Not Dead Yet

August 15th, 2018 by tony

July Jersey Ride had 13 riders

 

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Road Tubeless Update

August 4th, 2018 by tony

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

 

For almost two years I’ve been running road tubeless tires on my bike and I’ve commented about my experience here and here. It’s been an experiment on several fronts. In addition to using tubeless tires I have also been using sealant, which is optional although often recommended. I have the tires set up on HED Belgium rims, which at 25 mm are much wider than standard road rims usually at 20 mm. This allows the tires to take less of a “lightbulb” shape and actually increases the volume of air. This means I can run lower pressure and get a cushier ride. Whereas I usually run rims about 85 to 105 psi, I have been running the front tire at 45-50 psi and the rear tire at 55-60 psi without risk of bottoming or a pinch flat. Finally I’ve been riding on fire roads and some easier mountain bike trails with these tires despite running a strangely low spoke count of just 28 (32 is most common). The tires are Schwalbe Pro One, which are nominally 28 mm in width but on the wider rims they measure out about 30 mm. I think the only person in the club running a fatter road tire is Nancy on her 32 mm Continentals!

The bottom line is that these tires have been reliable after the initial teething issues I wrote about and have held up well on dirt. I’ve put almost 3,300 miles on these wheels and the tires are still going strong. I’ve had only two noticeable punctures both in the rear tire. I say “noticeable” because it is possible I’ve had more punctures but they may have sealed so quickly that I never saw them. That said I do check my tires after nearly every ride for signs of sealant, embedded objects, and lowered pressure and I haven’t noticed any other punctures. But two punctures in nearly two years is low for me. So I am guessing that in reality I have had other punctures but the sealant took care of them so quickly that I never had to deal with them.

At this point I can cautiously recommend tubeless for road. The main convenience is the ability to ride even after a puncture and without having to stop and replace a tube. The main inconvenience is getting sprayed with sealant after a puncture; fortunately sealant seems to be easy to wash out of clothes and it’s fairly easy to remove from your bike. If you run fenders, which I did in the winter, then you won’t have this problem. There is a problem that I yet to encounter but is a distinct possibility: getting a tire gash or a large puncture that sealant cannot plug. Guess what? You either walk home, call for help, or put in a new tube. If you’re the Boy Scout type, you’ll still be toting a spare tube, pump, and levers thus obviating any weight reduction by going tubeless. (You’ll need to carry a pump regardless because you never know how long it will take a puncture to seal. In one case the tire was down to 28 psi before sealing!) By the way putting a tube into a tire coated with sealant is messy, so pack a couple of latex or nitrile gloves too. You may have read about struggles others have had with tight beads on tubeless tires making it difficult or impossible to mount a tire. I haven’t had any issues with my set up.

The last thing I’ll say if you are contemplating going tubeless is that the paeans you read in cycling rags about the ‘magic carpet ride’ of tubeless road tires—“it’s like riding sewups!” is greatly overstated. Good tubeless tires have heavier casings than regular clincher tires and that makes the ride less supple. Another wheelset I have, which is very similar to my tubeless set, has expensive Michelin tires and latex inner tubes and it has an even cushier ride that IS just like setups! Of course when I get a flat on these tires it’s all old-school repair. But it’s clearly the better ride despite not being tubeless. An increase in comfort is primarily going to be function of the sophistication of the casing and the inflation, not because it’s tubeless.

The First Gay Pride

June 27th, 2018 by tony

Our 1983 Parade Float with Spokers

The year was 1983 and the club had only been in official existence a few months, since November 1982. But the Founding Daddies & Mamas had a goal to have Different Spokes participate in the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade. Mission accomplished! Our “float” may have been decidedly homemade but it fit in with the ethos of the club, plus we didn’t have money anyway. From the August 193 ChainLetter:

“The Sunday Decide & Ride on June 26 was already decided for us nearly a year ago when we established as a long-range goal our club’s participation in the 1983 Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade. Rising at the crack of dawn, nearly 30 of us assembled at our South of Market “slot” in the parade at 9:00 a.m. and began decorating our bikes and our bodies for that glorious gait down Market Street and all the gaiety that lay ahead. Dick’s truck, topped off with all the great looking bikes, added an element of butch appeal to our motley crew! Our buddy Hal kept a tight reign [sic] on things, his tail perched on the tailgate of Dick’s truck and his broken leg cast out to the thousands! Meanwhile, our mobile members pedaled continuous rings around the truck as we paraded down S.F.’s main drag, all the way to Civic Center, flashing all the way! Shay, David, and Ron spent the day at the booth and reported a lot of interest shown in the club as a result of all the fanfare. Thanks to Dick for the use of his truck, to Bob, Derek, and Peter for engineering the affair, to Lenny for securing the contingent monitors, to David for setting up the booth, to Shay for Parade Committee liaison, to Bianchi/Vespa for sponsoring us and providing our sign, and to everyone who participated in any way to make the Parade such a big success! It was a parade unlike any other I have ever seen, except the 1980, 1981, and 1982 Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parades…the difference was that you WERE THERE (and Walter Cronkite wasn’t for a change)…And we were SINsational!”

Hal Baughman (broken leg) on our float

The club T-shirts had just been designed by Michael John (D’Abrosca) and everybody was sporting them. We did not have a jersey yet.

Jamie, a very young Den Daddy, two others, and Dick

Jamie (love the mullet!), Luis, and Curtis

Pride Goeth Before A Fall

June 24th, 2018 by tony

2018 Pride Ride Crew

 

The Pride Ride is a fairly new Different Spokes regular event, offered every year on Pink Saturday. Back in the day there was no Pride Ride for the simple reason that the club used to have a parade contingent (with float!) and run a booth at Civic Center on Pride, and preparation consumed all the energy (well, at least until party time Saturday evening!) The turnout for the Pride Ride seems to run hot and cold, probably partly due to the weather and partly due to whether folks flee the crowds and weekend festivities or dive in deep. Last year it was just two people including the ride leader. But this year we had 15 cyclists turn out including at least one non-member who saw the announcement of the SF Pride website; David Gaus posted the ride on Facebook and that probably brought out the numerous ALC folks. The weather, lucky for us, cooperated with fine, sunny skies and moderate temps making a stroll through San Francisco a real delight rather than a struggle.

For me the highlight was seeing some old faces: Ann Dunn, Laura Petracek, and Nancy Levin. Ann isn’t a “real” old-timer since she joined in 1991 but she qualifies in my book because she was a member during the club’s heyday with Bike-A-Thon (also in the Den Daddy’s book because he invited her to the Old Farts Ride). I hadn’t run into her in several years, the last time being when she showed up unexpectedly on a ride I was leading in Orinda. Ann was one of the strong women who knew how to put down the pedal in earnest. Many former members of Different Spokes such as Ann drift away from the club; I’ve never gotten around to asking her why. For some the club is a temporary port—cycling served a purpose in one phase of life and then it no longer did—but cycling is no fad for Ann; she’s in it for life. She showed up at the Pride Ride on an upright hybrid with flat bars and flat pedals rather than her racing bike. She confessed to me that she had crashed no less than three times in 2016 and since then has been rather timid. We commiserated about the indignities of aging that make cycling in our dotage a real challenge. Of course, once we were afoot she promptly went to the front, flat pedals and all! I love it when we oldies can fool fate maybe just for an afternoon and pretend we are young once again by dropping you youngsters!

Laura Petracek also drifted away from the club. She came to the club through CAR or ALC, I forget which. But having a hectic job—at a prison no less—and taking care of a family meant she was riding less and less. But now she was back…with a new job and a new hip! She is just six months post-surgery from a hip replacement and here she was riding her bike. She did pretty damn good for just the fourth time back on the bike. She may not have been the fastest (well, actually she was the slowest) rider but she kept a steady pace all the way back to Peet’s. One of the things I love about Laura is her undeniable positive attitude despite all the crap she’s had to put up with. And she never complains.

Nancy Levin has been pretty scarce on club rides recently. She’s another Spoker who’s had some unfortunate crashes and has gotten a bit gunshy. But you couldn’t keep her away and she’s back riding again. Nancy is the Ann Dunn of this era: she’s often the lone female who shows up on a “boys” ride and isn’t afraid to do the nasty up Mt. Diablo or any other ridiculously hard ride. Nancy also likes to bike tour, so we’ve had many a conversation about international touring as well as the state of the club while we’re climbing together.

The Pride Ride careens around the west side of SF, through the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, down the Great Highway and up Mt. Davidson. As you would expect from a large group the pace was all over the place. Some blasted away and others strolled but we had several regrouping spots that gave plenty of time for chitchat, posing, and looking fabulous. Eventually we all assembled again at Destination Bakery for well deserved noshing and a long break. By the end it was just Roger Sayre, David Gaus, Laura, and Roger & I to head back to the Castro. When we hit Valencia Street the relative quiet we had until then was replaced by rampant car traffic, most of which was making its way to the Castro for Pink Saturday and the Dyke March. The only misfortune was David getting ambushed with a flat on Valencia just before the end. The Pride Ride may not be a long ride or a hard ride but it put us all in the right frame of mind for Pride Weekend. See you next year!