Jersey Boys & Girls

The simple fact of riding together creates something that no account can adequately describe. Riding your bike, especially when everything clicks—excellent weather, a smooth running machine recently overhauled, the freedom away from work and home responsibilities—is a joy. But riding with friends adds another specialness that compounds the magic of a few hours on two wheels. Such was last month’s Jersey Ride. A wet spring gave way to brilliant sun and a crisp spring air. A beautiful riding day emerged after surprising spring rains and eleven of showed up for the venerable monthly club run to Tiburon.
It was a mixed crowd too—David Gaus and Peter Phares from the South Bay, Roger and I from the East Bay, and the rest from SF. It was mixed in another way too: we had two e-bikes present. For years Roger was the only member sporting an e-bike; a couple of years later the Den Daddy—who is, I believe, turning 87 this year—got one. Now Zach showed up with some uncertainty as to whether he’d be able to “keep up” on his new e-bike. He must have gotten an affirmative because he’s since become a Spoker. (Rumor has it that another Spoker, who lives in the East Bay and will remain nameless, has been gifted an e-bike! That’s make four, but who’s counting?)
It’s apparently becoming more the standard route to Tiburon for the Jersey Ride: we took the Corte Madera-Larkspur Multi-Use Path through Corte Madera instead of the road. That path didn’t exist back in the day and it’s a much more peaceful way to get to Paradise Drive. Everybody kept calling it “Nancy’s way” since she was the first person to take the Jersey Ride there. That and no one knowing its real name.
I guess enough decades have passed that Tiburon has finally decided to pour some cash into road repair because another section of Paradise Drive has been repaved into buttery smooth asphalt. If only the entire length were redone… But the ugly cracks and Frankenstein-like patches are steadily (and slowly) giving way to a more bike-friendly conveyance!
We mostly stayed together until we got to Paradise when Will Bir vanished into the distance and everyone spread out and handled Paradise at their own pace. We regathered at the Woodlands Market for lunch and enjoyed the warm sun on its deck. Did you know you can get pad thai-in-a-box at Woodlands? No one blinked an eye—god, do we live in a bubble. We had a nice, long lunch filled with aimless but enchanting chatter. Someone voiced the idea of going to Belvedere but when an actual vote was taken, almost no one wanted to head out that way either because been-there-done-that or the thought of a feisty climb right after lunch didn’t settle well on the stomach. So we all headed back at a reasonable pace. We rode back on Tiburon Blvd, which isn’t my fave—I prefer heading through Strawberry—and boy, has the car traffic grown. It was bumper-to-bumper from 101 to Camino Alto. We took Ashford and Lomita to get away from the cars and what do we get? Cars cutting that way too and getting pissed that they’re behind cyclists. Life is tough, isn’t it?
As is wont everyone spread out on Alexander, things not being helped by a ferocious wind. The bridge was pretty hectic and crazy as usual but nobody got hit. I did get passed by two groups of freds in full Rapha-mode. Seriously, you pass cyclists on the GG Bridge when there is oncoming traffic?? I’m so done with idiotic risky riding.
The weather was near-perfect, the company delightful, no one got flats or crashed. It’s enough to make you come out even on a Jersey Ride!

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Fun With Road Tubeless Tires, Part 5

Get plugged!

It’s been seven months since my last “lesson” in managing road tubeless tires. In many ways I’m glad I’m not a “fast” learner and I appreciate that my lessons are coming at long intervals rather than all at once since my lessons have always been hands-on, at inopportune times, and involved a lot of swearing and consternation. On the other hand the see-no-evil philosophy of bike care, for which I have great fondness, in the long run leads to more inconvenience. So there you go.

This time I decided to do a little preemptive maintenance and ended up learning something profitable. How many of us check our tires before or after a ride? It’s one of those items that is inevitably included in handy-dandy lists for beginners in Bicycling magazine (which they reprint practically every year). Yeah, me too—there is no way in hell I’m going to be that diligent after climbing up the hill to the manse. After doing a one-mile 10% grade at the end of a long ride, I’m not thinking a lot about how my tires are doing. Not flat? Great—throw the bike in the corner for the next ride. But this time Roger warned me that I had ridden through a big honking pile of glass. Uncharacteristically I hadn’t seen it, and even more uncharacteristically after having been told I had just piled through a splatterfest of future tire flatness I didn’t bother to wipe my tires down. They’re not flat? Great, dodged that bullet and keep on riding. But after returning home despite my innate lethargy and diminished mental capacity due to climbing El Toyonal, I thought I should check them just to be sure I wasn’t going to have a surprise the next time I rode.

The front was fine but the rear tire had something embedded towards the sidewall. I tried to dig it out and it turned out to be a dried plug of sealant. Pop! and the tire started to deflate. I immediately spun the tire so the hole was facing down and sure enough, a spray of Orange Seal came out and shortly thereafter stopped. No problem! Just wait to let it seal up…

The next day I checked the tire and the pressure was down (duh!) but it seemed rideable. When I inflated it with a pump, the seal broke and the tire couldn’t hold pressure above about 40 psi. The hole was just large enough that even Orange Seal wasn’t going to work unless I resigned myself to riding at low inflation all the time. (For dirt it would be plenty but for pavement 40 psi is a little bit too cushy for me.) Since the tire was $70—a Schwalbe Pro One—I wasn’t interested in just tossing it and putting a new one on.

So this is what I did.

A long time ago in a Boy Scout moment I purchased tire plugs for tubeless tires just in case. Tire plugs, you say? Whazzat? If you’ve had a flat on your car tires, you know what these are: they’re big honking plugs of rubber that the repair shop jams into the hole the nail made in your tire using a special tool along with some rubber solvent. The hole seals up and you can inflate your car tire back to 28 psi or whatever. It’s a quick fix and it works on puncture holes typically. Well, they also make tubeless tire repair kits for bicycles. Mountain bikers know what I’m talking about because dirt riding went tubeless years ago. So there is a thriving cottage industry of tubeless tire repair kits—usually a plug jammer with some tacky plugs—just for mountain bikes. Those same plugs *mostly* work for road tires too. Being a cheapass amateur bike mechanic I of course bought the bottom-of-the-barrel brand, Genuine Innovations Tubeless Tire Repair Kit, for about six bucks. It’s the aforementioned plug jammer tool with about five plugs. The kit is two years old and I had never used it. Usually I’d go to YouTube if I were doing some new bike repair thing just to make sure I wouldn’t completely fuck up. But again in my new liberated state of oh-fuck-it-let’s-just-see-what-happens I opened the kit, put the plug sort of on the jammer, and tried to stick it in the hole in the tire. Of course it didn’t work.

Now, why is that you ask? Because (a) the tire plug, which is a short, strand of wound fibers dipped in tacky rubber, doesn’t like to go into a tiny hole without a lot of force, and (b) the jammer tool is rather dull and large. After several attempts at trying to get the plug into the slightly-too-small-hole (but not so small that Orange Seal could plug it), I came to the conclusion that the only solution was brute force since I was way too lazy to try to carefully ream out the puncture. If you’re an amateur mechanic, you know that resorting to brute force often leads to an unhappy ending (and you know I always like my repair sessions to have happy endings!) In a fit of frustration I had a boy-moment and just JAMMED that tool as hard as I could into the tire. And it worked: the plug went in and stuck in the hole like a condom off a limp dick. No leaking air. Voila! The last step is to cut off the part of the plug that sticks out of the tire with a razor blade and then I had a ‘flat’ tire again.

I went riding yesterday on my repaired tire and it worked like a charm.

Yes, tubeless road tires can be a pain in the ass. You’ve got to remember to put fresh sealant in them at regular intervals, put up with getting sprayed with sealant when you do get a puncture, you can’t use CO2 cartridges, and seating the tire on the rim can be Sisyphean. But boy, the pleasure of riding without worrying about flats is leading to a new, oh-fuck-it-all me.

If you want an even easier tubeless tire repair kit, there is Dynaplug. Their tire plugs have a sharp, pointed metal tip that looks like it would slip easily into even a small puncture—no need for brute force! You simply load a tip into the inserter and jam it in. The metal plug can’t be pulled out so it stays in place. The catch is Dynaplug kits start at $42. And that’s with just a tiny number of their proprietary plugs. As I said I’m a cheapass amateur mechanic so I won’t be including these in my repair kit anytime soon (unless they come at my birthday!) But they’ll look cool with your $15,000 Colnago and Zipp carbon wheels.

For more information:

Genuine Innovations Repair kit

Dynaplug

Fashion Makeover: The New DSSF Website!

Why The New Look? I’d like to say it was time for a “fashion makeover” at the House of DSSF. But in reality the real reason why your club website looks so fabulous is more because we had some real problems with the overall structure of our online communications rather than because we wanted to look more chic. But we do look prettier, don’t we?

It’s actually a side benefit of moving the website over to Club Express that we got to play around with the graphics and style, thanks very much to Nick. (That boy has some real fashion sense!) Jerome built us a pretty good website that got the work done. The problem was it was built around the idiosyncrasies of Yahoo! Groups for communication. Our site did most of the heavy lifting—publishing rides, hosting our resources, showing our pictures, and partly communication and partly membership. And it was the “partly” part that got us in trouble. The details are gory, semi-impenetrable, and frankly boring. But in a nutshell trying to coordinate membership between the Yahoo! group and the website was a mountain of unnecessary work, and since access to the Yahoo! group depended on membership that put a crimp on our communications since we could no longer tweak the Yahoo! group into what we wanted. The bottom line was we couldn’t communicate with you, our members, effectively and without a ton of work. No wonder more than half the membership wasn’t accessing our Yahoo! group.

That’s all about to change with the new DSSF site because membership, communication, ride calendar, and to some extent finances are all in one place. Plus, maintaining the membership list will be mostly automatic (since you do it!) rather than cross-checking different email addresses and lists. That Yahoo! email address you had to create in order to access the DSSF group? You won’t need it any longer (at least for DSSF). Instead of wrestling with the craziness of Yahoo! groups and email, that time will be better spent keeping you up to date on club plans and events, and also for board members to actually get out and ride!

At the moment the only component that continues to exist externally is the Different Spokes ChainLetter aka “the DSSF weblog”. It’s still hosted by WordPress rather than CE. But that may change in the future.

The new DSSF site was only a twinkle in the eye until this January—basically, we got a new website after three months of off-and-on again volunteer work. Although the current and previous boards both contributed to where we are today, the heavy lifting was really done by Nick, who put a crapton of hours into designing, laying out, and getting feedback from the other board members and implementing it. The other guy who put the pedal to the metal was David Goldsmith, who put a ton of work into coordinating the transition, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s as well as making sure we didn’t have any egregious errors or oversights in the website. Many thanks to Jerome for assisting in the handoff and for many years of volunteer webmeistership.

And wait there’s more! The website is up and running but the board is working on the improvements that are yet to come…

If you haven’t yet seen the site, go there now. If you’re a current member, you should have received an email giving you temporary access to the site so you can go in, check your personal contact information and emend it, and set up your login. If you haven’t received an email message (and you’re sure you are a current member), please contact David Goldsmith or Nick Kovaleski (see the Leadership page at the site). And if you’d like to join DIfferent Spokes, go the website and click the “Membership” link.

Where to Ride, Pt. 2

Jammed Tokyo Subway2
“There’s room for more–pack ’em in!”

It’s just beginning to dawn on residents of the Bay Area that it is nigh impossible to build our way out of traffic congestion. Folks realize that the land available for high speed road and freeways just isn’t there—the core of the Bay Area is not going to get any major new roads. Currently CalTrans and local agencies are trying to extract “efficiencies” from existing roads by trying to engineer the hell out of our existing infrastructure. So what we get are reductions in freeway shoulders and medians in order to add a lane, synchronizing traffic lights, metering lights to optimize traffic flow at onramps, and speed studies of roads to bring speed limits up to the 85th percentile rule. For the most part these efforts accept that car driving should not be impeded unless absolutely necessary. Of course this isn’t completely true: for example freeways such as the Central and the Embarcadero have been torn down. I’m not sure that removing either of them reduced congestion. Push back from cycling advocates has produced more bike lanes, some at the expense of car lanes. But generally what commuters want is faster commutes by car, not mass transit or bikes. So transit agencies are loathe to do overt social engineering to force drivers out of cars. Instead they attempt to alleviate the pain that comes with driving a car on congested roads.

It’s equally difficult to expand mass transit infrastructure such as BART, Caltrain, or high speed rail. Perhaps there is a naive belief that mass transit expanded ad infinitum will solve congestion. We hear talk of a second transbay tube for BART and extending the BART system further eastward into Brentwood (Pittsburg-Bay Point line) and Livermore and beyond to the Central Valley (Dublin line). The reasoning seems to be, “If we have BART go to cities where commuters flee, then they’ll stop driving their cars and traffic congestion will go down.” I used to believe this: building more BART/Caltrain/SMART/etc. will get drivers off freeways. But I don’t believe it anymore.

Just as road building is growth inducing—building more roads to reduce congestion actually leads to increased traffic and fills to capacity—we can expect the same effect with BART. Assuming that BART can even catch up with existing demand–that’s a big if–building more BART may temporarily reduce congestion (both on the freeway and in getting a seat on BART). But more capacity will likely induce growth in transit use and lead to…more congestion. As it becomes more tolerable to commute by BART from Pittsburg, and then Antioch, and then Brentwood, and then further east, it exacerbates the growth pressure on those communities. That will drive housing prices up as those communities now have an asset—shorter commutes by BART—that will then drive growth further eastward.

There’s no end to this process.

So what does all this have to do with cycling? If you throw your bike in a car and drive to a ride start, it’s not going to get better. You’re still going to get stuck in traffic unless you drive during off-peak times and the likelihood of you spending even more time in the car is going to go up. Short of a dramatic economic downturn, I don’t see how it can get better and it sure isn’t going to stay the same. If and when BART expands it will make it easier to go further away from the central Bay Area. But what the roads at those end points will look like is a dreary prospect; the roads will be built for suburban traffic. If you want to see what that means, go to Antioch today. You’ll find wide boulevards with occasional strip malls dividing up the subdivisions, in other words nothing much you’d want to spend any time riding on. Antioch city roads are designed to speed car commuters quickly to the next arterial.

What about the roads close to home? Infilling and taller, denser housing are going to mean more people, which means more cars. Do you really think people will give up car ownership even if their condo doesn’t have a dedicated parking spot, even with Uber and Lyft? I don’t think so. Since roads won’t be increasing, it means more traffic congestion and very likely more traffic on the roads we like to cycle as commuters forsake clogged arterials for secondary roads. Even when traffic is nightmarish people still drive. The future doesn’t look good for us.

I’ve come to believe that the mantras about better roads, better mass transit, more housing, and especially more housing equals less commuting are all bandaids for the real problem: growth. None of these pie-in-the-sky solutions is going to make it better—they perhaps stand a chance of making things less worse in the shortrun. Accommodation for growth allows more growth. At what point does it become so unlivable that people stop coming to the Bay Area? Unless growth itself is addressed we as cyclists better get used to riding on more dangerous and no less congested roads.

Different Spokes Chiang Mai!

“Wearing our freak flag high”

IMG_20190221_200518817
“Wearing our freak flag high”

This past winter longtime Spoker Roy Schachter ditched the 40+ hour per week grind to retire to Thailand, specifically Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Of course one of the difficult parts of his move was, “Gee, which bikes should I take to my new home??” [The only right answer is ‘all of them!’]

“Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”

IMG_20190226_174916044
“Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”

You’ll find him there now enjoying the hella good life, studying Thai, riding his bikes when it’s not incredibly hot and the air quality is tolerable, and brushing up on the typology of Thai boys.

While it’s raining like heck here, it’s 96F and 90% humidity in Chiang Mai…

Where To Ride, Pt. 1

The San Francisco Bay Area is enormous and becoming more enormouser every day. The tentacles of growth are slithering in every direction and not just east to the Central Valley where land and housing are cheap(er). Housing development has meant some of our favorite riding areas have changed, usually for the worse. Morgan Hill used to be a farmtown; now it’s a suburb of San Jose, and Gilroy further south is quickly being suburbanized. People who work in San Jose even consider Hollister a reasonable commute. In the north, quiet Sonoma towns such as Sebastopol are no longer sleepy and are putting in higher density housing to meet demand. The SF-Sacramento corridor is turning into one long suburban tract where it all used to be farmland.

As the Bay Area puts more land under development there are fewer and fewer quiet places to ride road bikes. Many places that used to be rural are now surburbs or even bona fide cities with downtowns, witness Walnut Creek. When I was in high school in the late 60s we used to ride to Cupertino and Saratoga—it was all orchards. Today it’s completely built over and Cupertino’s tasty fruit has been superceded by a very different kind of ‘fruit’. When Different Spokes was formed Contra Costa County was mostly ranchland east and south of Lafayette. We used to ride on empty “back” roads such as Sycamore Valley Road or Tassajara, which today are motor-filled boulevards full of commuters. The complete paving of Contra Costa County is taken for granted today despite the rearguard actions of the Greenbelt Alliance.

Nonetheless the forethought put into preserving some open space has saved us some pretty nice areas to ride without having to pile into a car and drive miles and miles to find greenery (or brownery in summer). Most Spokers, when they want to escape city streets, ply west Marin roads precisely because they’re fairly close by and easy to get to by bike from SF. We are fortunate that much of west Marin is an agricultural preserve locked out of development. Did you know that the Marin Headlands between Rodeo and Tennessee Valleys—called Gerbode Valley—was slated for 30,000 residents and even skyscrapers? That idea was quashed and it remains open space today. San Mateo has a similar situation with its coastside where development is tightly constrained preserving beautiful roads such as Stage Road and Tunitas for cyclists to relish. Where I live, the East Bay, has two entities—the East Bay Municipal Utility District and the East Bay Regional Park System—that control significant swaths of land that cannot be developed thus conserving open space and parks. Although these lands don’t have many roads open to road cyclists, the adjacent roads are often pleasant to ride, for example Pinehurst and Redwood roads.

So, where do we ride? If we stay within the confines of the Bay Area we are left with urban and suburban roads. They’re convenient because we can step outside our front doors and go for a ride. With so many of us pressed for time that’s the choice that makes sense. But increasing traffic means increased danger too. Very close to where I live there are several examples of roads that were pleasant to ride on but are now nerve-wracking at certain times of day. I’ve written about Pinehurst before, a very quiet redwood-shaded road up to Skyline. It always has been used as a cut-through to bypass the Caldecott Tunnel. But with Waze and Google it has become much more widely known. Most of the time the car traffic is nonexistent except for locals coming and going to the tiny “town” of Canyon. But during commute hours or whenever the eastbound bores are jammed, cars race down this narrow, curvy road at 30-40 mph to make time. With no shoulder and some terrible sight lines Pinehurst is an anxious place to ride from about 2:30 to 6:30 pm on weekdays. Even with the one-lane Canyon Bridge still in place commuters find this way quicker than sticking to the freeway. Pinehurst is just one example: streets that cars rarely used are becoming commuter roads, forcing cyclists either to put up with the increased danger or discouraging us so much that we search for other roads to enjoy.

How do we respond? One could stop riding outdoors at all—just stay on your trainer! With TrainerRoad, Zwift, or the old Computrainer you can do a faux road ride at home or at the gym. Car drivers would love that: get all the cyclists off the road, period. Another is to give up on road riding and go where cars can’t, i.e. dirt roads by mountain bike or all-road bicycle. But getting to trails and fire roads require that you either drive or…ride your bike on roads to the trailhead. A third way is to drive out of the Bay Area to where the roads are less crowded. That might work occasionally but on a weekday driving out of the Bay Area is easier said than done. Another strategy is time-shifting: ride when fewer cars are around. When I lived in San Francisco and had to work into the evening (sometimes until 10 pm), I would go for a ride at night and there were certainly fewer cars. It was quiet and peaceful! The trade-off is statistically you’re five to seven times more likely to have an accident at night than during the day because car drivers can’t see you (and/or they’re drunk).

Saddle Challenge and Project Inform

If you pledge or collect money for Saddle Challenge, your funds go to Project Inform. Project Inform has been our sole beneficiary because in 2003, the second year of Saddle Challenge’s existence, the club decided to support the Ron Wilmot Ride For Project Inform. Although the RWRFPI was a separate event held later in the year, the board apparently felt strongly enough to raise money for it separately rather than just encourage members to participate in the RWRFPI. I’m guessing that since the RWRFPI involved doing laps in GG Park—not unlike AIDS Walk—it was going to be a lot more fun and interesting to ride elsewhere for a month!

Ron Wilmot was a member of Different Spokes in the early ‘80s and ‘90s and eventually died in 1997 but not before raising an insane amount of money for AIDS services through the AIDS Bike-A-Thon and then starting his own ride in 1995 after BAT vanished. Ron’s ride raised over $750,000 for Project Inform from 1995 to 2007. Although Ron was well-connected, he simply announced his event and convinced a lot of his friends and acquaintances to do it. His event—like Saddle Challenge, Bike-A-Thon, and Double Bay Double—was done with very little overhead. Thus the maximum or near-maximum amount of contributions could go directly to Project Inform. It was truly grassroots fundraising done by an one individual who was able to inspire many others.

Project Inform was one of the first AIDS service agencies that popped up in the San Francisco at the early stages of the epidemic, in 1985. Every year the club selected about a dozen beneficiaries out of the many AIDS services to whom riders could forward pledges. PI was at times one of the organizations that we selected. PI differed from other agencies such as the AIDS Foundation, AIDS Emergency Fund, the Stop AIDS Project, and Pets Are Wonderful Support. Instead of focusing primarily on direct care services and support, PI developed as essentially a research and information clearinghouse. Information about AIDS and HIV, medication and treatment, and clinical trials was difficult to access and ignorance and misconceptions were rife. PI formed not only to organize and disburse information to the community but also to medical professionals. Today PI also focuses on Hepatitis C information and treatment.

Note that PI was and is not simply a “neutral” information center providing education. PI has long had a history of advocacy by fighting for streamlined drug approval, representing the HIV/HepC community to the government, and making sure health care is available to all who need it. PI’s role is thus not only educational but in policy advocacy and improving public health. What made PI interesting is that it was truly community based rather than set up on high by a medical or scientific organization and thus under the control of those whom the epidemic hit the hardest.

For more information, please go to the Project Inform website.

If you’d like to support Project Inform, please participate in Saddle Challenge in March! You can sign up at our website.