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South Bay/Peninsula #7: South Bay loop (10/3/2009)

Meet time: 7:30 a.m.
Ride-out time: 8:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 3 - rolling hills with one steep climb
Miles: 87

We wrap up our South Bay/Peninsula rides for this Seismic Challenge season with an epic loop around the South Bay. We start by heading via Menlo Park to the Dumbarton Bridge and through Newark, Fremont, and Milpitas. From there, we head down the east side of San Jose toward Evergreen Valley. Then, get ready for a steep 1-mile climb (worst quarter-mile is 9% with a short segment of 16%) and a thrilling descent on Silver Creek Valley Road, and we'll close by returning on Highway 9 through Los Gatos and Saratoga on our final return into Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View.

If you don't want to ride the full 87 miles, you'll be able to take VTA light rail to cut the total distance to about 55 miles. Bring cash and patience, because the light rail isn't much faster than cycling.

Total climbing on this ride is about 2,300 feet. We will have one SAG vehicle providing limited services along the route.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Larry L'Italien, Maggie Vande Voorde

RSVPs are requested but not required.

They laugh at me when I descend ...

... but thanks to my extremely cautious (some would say overly cautious) technique, I'm here tonight in one piece, able to tell you about what happened.

Just past the summit on the freeway outside Carson City where I stopped to take this picture of myself, the highway descends into the valley below. For nearly a mile and a half, the road drops at a fairly steady 5% to 6% grade on long, sweeping curves with picture-perfect pavement and impeccably wide shoulders. In other words, this is where a lot of cyclists love to let it all hang out. While the 65 mph speed limit is probably unattainable on a bicycle, I suspect that breaking 50 mph wouldn't be that difficult at all. More power to those of you who can do it safely and enjoy it.

But that's not me. Perhaps I've just seen too many bad things -- or perhaps I'm just a klutz -- but I take my descents much more carefully. On a typical AIDS/LifeCycle ride, my top speed is usually only about 31-32 mph, and on training rides I usually have a slower maximum speed. And when I'm on a road that I've never bicycled before, I'm even more cautious. In fact, if I'm at all unsure about a descent, I'll unclip my right foot before starting down. My goal is always to have a Plan B available if need be. This time, I needed.

At about the halfway mark down the hill, I was feathering my brakes and keeping my speed somewhere between 20 and 25 mph. Then I heard the extremely loud noise from behind me ... followed by rattling and all sorts of noises I couldn't decipher in about the half-second of reaction time I had available to me. My first reaction was that a major component on my bicycle had failed dramatically. But the first order of business was stopping. Because I had one foot already not attached to the bike, I saved a precious fraction of a second. I was starting to slow down, but I didn't want to look back or down to see if I could identify the problem quite yet. All I knew was that the sound was very scary, and I was wasting precious thinking time on the possibility of being stranded out here on the freeway without a working bike.

Had my tire failed again? The temperature was somewhere north of 90 degrees, and my new bicycle has seemed more prone to tire failure (which I've documented here several times) than my old one. A destroyed tire, while not a ruined bike, would still leave me with few immediate options.

I finally came to a stop, quite some distance down the hill -- far enough that I didn't want to walk back up the hill against high-speed traffic to see if there was any sign of what happened. Sure enough, my tire was flat. Amazingly, though, a quick check of the tire itself didn't reveal any of the tell-tale rips and tears that I've previously had. What about the other mystery noises? Again, a cursory visual inspection didn't reveal any damage, and the chain (which was new just two days before) was still in position.

Adrenaline in overdrive, I decided that the best immediate course of action was to get off the freeway -- and out of the blazing sun -- as soon as possible. I walked the remaining 0.4 mile or so to the bottom of the hill and the beginning of roadside development, where across a sandy field I found a partially disused strip mall with a shaded service area in the rear, secluded from any prying eyes or direct sunlight. After I removed the rear wheel and tire, I checked the tube, and there was only a tiny puncture in it (it wasn't ripped wide open as I had suspected it would be) -- and nothing was lodged in the tire at all.

To make a long story short (well, it's really too late for that already, isn't it), I replaced the tube, reinstalled the tire, and found that everything on the bike appeared to be OK. I continued with the remaining 35 miles of my 62-mile ride without incident.

But my takeaway from this episode is that I'm more satisfied than ever with how I descend. Had I been going at the 40-45 mph that pretty much any cyclist can achieve on that hill, I strongly suspect that I would not have been able to stop without catastrophe. Again, if you have the skills and experience -- and desire -- to descend faster, you have my respect.

But please, if you don't ... do not feel pressured by other cyclists to ever descend faster than you're comfortable descending. A 1-mile hill at 20 mph takes 180 seconds to descend. At 40 mph, the same hill takes 90 seconds. For me, the bottom of the hill is still there, waiting for me when I arrive 90 seconds later. And I'm OK with that.

Benicia Bridge bike lane official opening

Here's the info about next Saturday's scheduled opening of the bicycle/pedestrian path on the revamped Benicia Bridge.
Saturday, August 29
8:30 AM to 12:30 PM

Closing a gap in both the regional Bay Area Ridge Trail and San Francisco Bay Trail, the new 1.4 mile pathway across the Benicia-Martinez Bridge allows bicyclists and pedestrians to cross the Carquinez Strait between Contra Costa and Solano counties, and provides a spectacular view of the Suisun Bay.

Several area bike clubs are apparently planning rides for that day that use the bridge as part of the route.

I probably won't be there on opening day, but it's only a matter of time before someone organizes an ALC (and/or DSSF?) ride that includes both the Benicia Bridge and the Carquinez Bridge in a wonderful loop.

Photo by "cmburch" of bikeforums.net.

Bike is in the shop

We had a fantastic group of 12 riders on today's Seismic Challenge training ride that went through hot weather, cold weather, and windy weather.

Alas, my bicycle didn't fare quite so well. Around mile 35 of the 55-mile route, I started having nonresponsive rear shifting, followed by some phantom shifting. Nothing looked obviously wrong, and I got some help at a rest stop to at least keep my lower gears mostly operational for the final 10 miles back to Mountain View. Took the bike directly to the shop (even before coming home), where it sits until Wednesday. A good opportunity for a six-month checkup -- and a couple days of rest -- anyway.

Sunday weather watch (updated Saturday night)

Despite the showers moving into the South Bay tonight as I write this, the chance for rain tomorrow has pretty much disappeared from the forecast. We should be good to go, although temperatures might be just a little bit cooler than normal -- some of you might want leg warmers for at least the early part of the ride.

If the situation changes, I'll update the blog as necessary.

A nice idea, but ...

On a recent ride to Menlo Park, I noticed some new signage along Willow Road and Middlefield Road: official trailblazers for the popular San Mateo County North-South Commuter Bike Route from San Francisco to Palo Alto.

I was immediately pleased and excited because parts of this 26-mile route can be especially tough to follow unless you've brought a copy of the route map with you. The southern part isn't that bad, but things change quickly north of Bay Meadows. (And I'll admit that I have not even attempted the far northern end of the route in more than a couple of years, mostly because I generally dread the San Francisco riding that awaits in any direction beyond the end of the route.)

So one afternoon last week, I decided to head up the Peninsula to see how well the new signs would guide me. The answer: Not very well -- or far -- at all. It looks like only Menlo Park has erected any signs in the lower part of the route. After the signs ended, however, I continued through Atherton and into the unincorporated retail district -- a rather unpleasant part of the route with diagonal parking, no bike lanes, a nasty railroad crossing, and other annoyances. From there I continued up Middlefield Road into downtown Redwood City, where I quickly lost the intended route and ended up on city streets that lacked any bicycle-capable signal sensors. North of downtown, I was able to navigate back onto Old County Road -- the designated route for the entire haul up to Bay Meadows -- but at that point I gave up and found a more pleasant way to get back home.

For those who need to regularly commute on the Peninsula and don't want the challenge of the longer foothills route, the North-South Route is useful if not particularly scenic. On weekends, it might even make a reasonable pleasure ride -- perhaps combined with a longer return along the Bay Trail through Foster City and Redwood Shores. But the signage project needs to be completed along the trail's entire length -- something that no doubt requires money that most of the host cities don't have.

ALC9 season is officially open

As you can see from the revitalized and reset donation link over on the left side of the page, fundraising for AIDS/LifeCycle 9 is now open. I promise to keep it low-key for now.

30,000 miles of bicycling

With today's 54-mile ride (a test ride for next month's DSSF Dublin-Concord ride), I've now exceeded 30,000 miles of bicycling since June 1, 2004, the day I officially re-entered semi-serious cycling with the purchase of my previous bike.

Although I guess 30,000 miles makes me "serious," the numbers confirm that I'm not really all that special when it comes to riding. Since June 1, 2004, I have bicycled on 855 days, and I've kept a far-too-detailed log of every ride. (On the rare occasions where I did two separate rides on the same day, I counted them as one ride.)

How long were my rides? Usually not all that long!

Distance# of rides% of ridesCumulative %
1-10 miles172.0%2.0%
11-20 miles25830.2%32.2%
21-30 miles19122.3%54.5%
31-40 miles15117.7%72.2%
41-50 miles748.7%80.8%
51-60 miles394.6%85.4%
61-70 miles536.2%91.6%
71-80 miles252.9%94.5%
81-90 miles151.8%96.3%
91-100 miles131.5%97.8%
101-110 miles161.9%99.6%
111-120 miles10.1%99.8%
121-130 miles10.1%99.9%
131-140 miles10.1%100.0%

Mean ride length: 34.8 miles
Median ride length: 28 miles

In fact, I think it's precisely those mid-length rides that are the best for me. They generally don't do crazy things to my metabolism afterwards, which is still quite the issue for me on the very long rides. (How else can one explain gaining so much weight while riding 30,000 miles? A new study released last week talked about such things.) In fact, a whole 7.1% of my total miles in the past five years have been during the weeks of AIDS/LifeCycle!

And although I've broken the magical 200-kilometer barrier exactly twice, I've still not had the opportunity or the motivation to even attempt the next step, a 300-km ride. That demands an entirely different level of commitment and training, not to mention really good lighting.

South Bay/Peninsula #6: Coyote Valley (9/20/2009)

Meet time: 8:00 a.m.
Ride-out time: 8:30 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 2 - rolling hills
Miles: 69

This long route is a perfect sampler of the many different types of riding you'll encounter during Seismic Challenge. We start by taking a moderate route into Saratoga (no Mount Eden) and Los Gatos. From there, we traverse south San Jose before heading around Calero Reservoir and down the Bailey Avenue hill. We return along Santa Teresa Blvd. and then go back through Los Gatos, Saratoga, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and Los Altos Hills on our way back to Mountain View. This ride has a wide variety of road conditions and traffic levels. Total climbing on this ride is about 2,200 feet with no excessively long climbs.

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Tim Huang, Larry L'Italien, Maggie Vande Voorde

RSVPs are requested but not required.

South Bay/Peninsula #5: Sunol (9/5/2009)

Meet time: 8:30 a.m.
Note the earlier meeting time!
Ride-out time: 9:00 a.m.
Meeting place: Three blocks west of the Mountain View Caltrain and VTA station, in the overflow parking lot at the corner of Evelyn Avenue and Franklin Street. (map)
City: Mountain View
Rain policy: Rain cancels
Category: 2 - moderate pace (10-12 mph)
Terrain: 2 - rolling hills
Miles: 63

For our first metric century of the season, we're going to the quaint East Bay outpost of Sunol. We'll take the easy route through Palo Alto to the Dumbarton Bridge and through Fremont. From there it's up Niles Canyon Road to Sunol, and then back via a short climb into the Mission San Jose area of Fremont, with a return through McCarthy Ranch, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale. Total climbing on this ride is about 1,550 feet.

Sorry, but due to the earlier start time, you no longer can take Caltrain to get to the South Bay/Peninsula rides starting with this one -- the trains don't run early enough. (You can still take VTA light rail, though, if you're coming from the south.)

Leaders: Chris Thomas, Tim Huang, Larry L'Italien

RSVPs are requested but not required.

Transportation projects in the Bay Area

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has released its proposal of projects for the next 25 years, "which specifies how some $218 billion in anticipated federal, state and local transportation funds will be spent in the nine-county Bay Area." Today's edition of the San Mateo Daily Journal has an article about this report, but it only gives passing mention to some projects that might be of great interest to bicyclists.

One such project includes the addition of a second uphill lane on Highway 92 from I-280 to the summit at Highway 35 -- the traditional major climb of Day 1 of ALC. Other interesting things I found in scanning the 46 pages of projects include conversion of Willow Road to an expressway from Highway 101 to Highway 84. There are hundreds of projects listed, and I suspect you'll find a pet project of yours somewhere in there.

Of course, how much of this actually becomes reality is anyone's guess.

On a related note, if you're looking for hours of nerdy reading enjoyment, I refer you to the MTC's 2009 regional bicycle plan. If you want to skip the words and get right to the pretty pictures, the maps begin on Page 39 of the PDF.

Saturday's route appears to be set

I've been up in Los Altos Hills every evening for the past few days, trying to keep tabs on which streets are torn up, which ones have shiny new pavement, and which ones aren't going to be touched. And it looks like I've come up with a good route that's immune from construction problems.

It's only half a mile longer than the original route, and it's only got about 120 extra feet of climbing. There's an extra bonus, though -- from the top of our last hill of the day, there are absolutely amazing views of the valley and bay that I'd never seen before, even though we'll only be about 600 feet up. Bring your camera!

Just to be safe, however, I'm not publishing this route sheet in advance, just in case I have to change something else at the last minute. Never fear, though; I'll bring enough route sheets for everyone.

But here is one important tip for you. This ride has a lot of turns and special instructions. In fact, the route sheet is completely full. I highly recommend that you use a map holder like this one (the one that I use), binder clips, or some other type of handlebar-mounted device. You'll need to refer to your route sheet often, and you can't always assume that there will be someone nearby to warn you of a turn. This is a useful accessory that will serve you well on other training and club rides.

Hang tight about this Saturday's ride

I went up to Los Altos Hills tonight and, much to my unpleasant surprise, discovered that the town has begun a massive repaving project that affects nearly our entire scheduled route through Los Altos Hills this weekend. They've run a pavement-grinder over the streets, rendering them especially dangerous for cyclists ... particularly on the descents.

It's unclear how much of the repaving will be done by Friday night, so I'll keep an eye on things. If need be, I have an alternate 50-mile route in the can (with just a little bit more climbing than advertised) that we can ride instead.

Update: The blog problem I reported in this space Tuesday night appears to be fixed, and Google has now apologized for the difficulty.

New bicycle map for San Mateo County

San Mateo County has been lacking a current bicycle map for quite some time. But that's been rectified, and despite what you might have read on a certain bicycle-related mailing list, PDFs of the map are available online.

You can get the whole map in two giant pieces (one for each side), or divided into page-size bits in the PDF. As a bonus, the map covers the entire county, including the coast, which means that this is especially useful for folks who are just beginning to venture beyond the usual confines of the bayside.

Go here and scroll down to "San Mateo County Bicycle Map":


Weekday closures on Cañada Road

If you sometimes head up to Cañada Road for a midweek ride, you might need to think again. Next week, most of the road will be closed all day on Thursday and Friday, and again on the following Monday, for the 2009 Summer National Senior Games:
Thursday, Aug. 6, and Friday, Aug. 7

9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Full road closure on Canada Road in Woodside between Runnymede and State Route 92 for bicycle races. A service lane via Jefferson Avenue allows access to homes for residents. Emerald Hills residents are asked to detour via Interstate Highway 280 and Farm Hill Boulevard. Residents should expect five- to 10-minute delays if using Canada Road.

Monday, Aug. 10

9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Full road closure on Canada Road in Woodside from Edgewood Road to State Route 92. Access to Filoli Estate is open via Edgewood Road. Residents should expect five- to 10-minute delays if using Canada Road.

More info (but not much more) here from the Palo Alto Weekly.