Ragging on BART

Waiting for Godot…

If you follow the local news, you can’t have missed the stories about BART’s problems with rampant fare evasion, phone theft, human waste in cars/elevators/stations, homeless people using BART as daycare, drug use on trains, problems with the new trains that were going to make BART oh-so-better, and the now ordinary—almost routine —service delays. BART has managed to wrangle the poster boy status of—literally—crap transportation away from SF Muni.

I’m so cynical that I wonder if all of this bad news actually helps BART in other ways, like in keeping people’s attention away from the delay in opening the extension to Milpitas and Berryessa stations. Those stations, like the Warm Springs station that preceded it, are now three years late in being opened. I ragged on BART last year about the delay in opening these extensions. But because their opening had again been put off to an indefinite future it fell of my radar until the recent track maintenance started on the Antioch line.

Track maintenance? Three weekends ago BART started long term work on track repair on that line, starting at Lafayette station, which is near where I live. The prospect of this made me groan because they’ve done this before. Actually they did it for what seemed like years: on weekends they’d suddenly announce track maintenance and then service through Contra Costa singletracked and became delayed. BART had a nasty habit of not announcing they were doing work until shortly before the date, making any planning (e.g for rides) difficult. Why there was so little repeated track maintenance happening anywhere else in the BART system was a “puzzlement”, as the King of Siam said. The fact that this one section required so much work makes me suspect that something very serious has been festering there for years. You may recall that during the last BART strike the workers who got killed by the train being run by a scab were also working on that line. They wouldn’t have been out there during a strike, when resources are limited amidst the labor turmoil unless something really needed to be addressed.

In any case after years the track work abruptly stopped and we’ve had a couple years of respite. Now they are restarting, and seemingly as if nothing was learned BART announced that lanes of Highway 24 might be shut down to facilitate work although they never mentioned when they would do that. We found out exactly when: smackdab in the middle of a Saturday, all day. Although a weekend day is a better choice than a weekday, that didn’t seem to matter as traffic backed up as if were the commute hour. WTF!? I just looked at the announcement at the BART site and see that they’ve carefully changed it (without indicating it had been updated) so that lane closures will be happening on “select” weekends. Although night work would be a better time in terms of highway impact, I suspect they can’t do that because for some reason they need to work on the track during daylight hours. (Yet Caltrans manages to work on highways at night regularly.)

Anyway enough of the digression and back to the main story: the Milpitas and Berryessa station openings. This past June Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) finally finished its part of the work and handed over the stations and tracks to BART for testing. The construction of the new line and stations to San Jose is being done by VTA and as each section is done it hands it over to BART for testing before it can open. The Warm Springs station, which was the first one on the line extension, was also delayed for years with one snafu playing a major part: integrating the new electronic infrastructure with the old turned out to be replete with problems. Now BART is saying Milpitas should open by “late 2019.” That will be too late for the Mt. Hamilton in the Fall ride, which usually happens in early November but this year is taking place on Oct. 27. That’s too bad because the Berryessa station is close to the ride start. (Since BART opens late on Sundays, if you choose to ride to the start you will have to disembark at Warm Springs and ride quickly to make the start of Mt. Hamilton.)

Are we to give credence to this news? BART skeptics already know the answer: if you believe it, I’ll sell you a bridge. The chronology of delays is depressingly familiar. In April 2017 Milpitas station was “96% complete” and testing was to begin and it would “open ahead of schedule” in June (even though by that time it was already late for the original 2016 date!) Oops, in August 2017 BART said there were delays in testing and it would open June 2018. In January 2018 BART reiterated that Milpitas would open in June. But in March BART said delays in testing, lack of personnel, and “breakdowns in communication” between BART and a contractor would delay opening. In fact VTA hadn’t handed over the station even by April 2018 (!) so June seemed impossible. BART was changing the control systems at Warm Springs so that caused delays for the new stations downstream. Furthermore BART apparently did not have enough staff to work on both Warm Springs and the two new stations and they couldn’t find any knowledgeable consultants to fill in the gap. In February 2019 BART said the new stations could open by November 1. In June VTA did indeed hand off the stations to BART and now we’re hearing more mumbo-jumbo estimates on opening: now it’s “late 2019”. BART has an ingrained habit of setting amazingly ambitious target dates (as in: “Of course we won’t run into any problems and everything will happen in the most optimal fashion!”)

If you’re a betting man/woman, BART is not the place to wager if you like to win. But you know it will always be later rather than sooner. Since it’s already three years behind, what’s the diff if it’s another year or two? Mt. Hamilton 2020 or 2021?

I’m sure construction projects routinely run into unforeseen problems. But project managers never seem to factor their track record into estimates on the next project. If you’re three years late on the Warm Springs station, then why should we expect anything less for Milpitas or Berryessa? Maybe because you’ve learned from your past mistakes? Nah!

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What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits: the Orinda Pool Party 2019

Yes, I’m going to a party, party!

If you missed it yesterday, you will have to wait another year, the Orinda Pool Party and Ride that is. We had eleven people do the ride and eighteen at the party. I would love to give you a full report on the 10th edition however I missed the ride part due to a broken collarbone from a mountain biking accident. And no, it was not as David Go. remarked, “He broke it when he fell out of the sling!” although I was indeed sporting an arm sling as my new fashion accessory (basic black, of course, from the House of Kaiser!) Since everybody who rode made it safely to the manse with smiles, I assume that the ride was fabulous and that copious, gay chatter along the way added to everyone’s delight. Thanks to David Gaus and Stephanie Clarke for leading the ride and making sure the sheep did not go astray (and you know they like to stray).

So I’ll confine my remarks to the only part of the day I witnessed and that really mattered, the pool and the food! Special thanks to Jim Lemburg for assisting us with setting up for the party as lifting chairs and lugging food and daypacks around was a little bit too much for my bum arm and Roger had already been doing double-duty in prepping the garden, pool, and deck when I couldn’t help him much (if at all).

After almost a decade of the same menu—pesto with basil from the garden, Aidell’s sausages, and Caesar salad—we gave the meal a facelift- er, “meal-lift”. It’s not like we were still serving retro-fabulous dishes such as Baked Alaska, Vichysoisse, or Crab Rangoon (and if you don’t know what those are, you are not ‘of an age’) but almost as bad since pesto is so…1980s. And yes honey, it does taste delicious but as they say, how can you miss me if I don’t go away? That said, several people came up to me during the meal and expressed their sincere fondness for the homemade pesto, and perhaps next year it will launch a comeback tour!

What was the new menu? We decided to go full Americana—smoked pork ribs, cole slaw, and potato salad—to fit with summer. Some years ago we were invited by family friends to a barbecue where the son-in-law was smoking up a storm. We had a long conversation with him about smoking at home, and in a moment of stupendous lucidity Roger ordered one immediately after we arrived got home. After years of practice and experimentation now Roger has smoking ‘skilz’ and they were fully on display with the ribs. Everyone (well, except the vegans) was commenting on how delicious and tender they were, how the ‘meat fell right off the bone’, ‘those ribs had so much meat on them!’, ‘you knows I like to chew on tasty meat!’, etc. This time Roger used apple wood for the smoked flavor. The potato salad was the ‘hippie’ version with whatever we had in the fridge being chopped up and thrown in along with plenty of weed- er, herbs. The homemade cole slaw was, well, nothing special and I didn’t see anybody spitting it out after tasting it, so it must have been palatable.

More than quiche and mimosas?

Fortunately for the vegans we had some delicious non-animal dishes as well. We provided vegan cole slaw and potato salad in addition to the regular kind; Lamberto and Joe brought vegan chili (“We used the Instant Pot!”); and Jim made a delicious lentil dish.
This year the A-M group had to bring desserts and because we were A-M heavy we had a lot of desserts. I didn’t taste them all but the homemade lime bars that Chris made were OMG “oishi” and Darrell’s chocolate brownie cake was “sugoi!” And Stephanie, was that incredibly sweet melon and delectable prosciutto a “dessert”? No matter. The prosciutto was “rustic” (cinghiale?) and fantastic. (She must have smuggled a stash home of The Real Stuff on their last trip to Italy!)

Besides the splishin’ and splashin’ in the pool, the lunch was long with conversation; we didn’t break up until the sun had moved well towards the horizon and no longer needed the awnings to keep the back deck from feeling like the portico to hell.

Tubeless Road Tires, Pt. 6

I have a post coming soon with some final thoughts on road tubeless tires but I thought I’d pass along this article that the Technical Editor at Velonews, Lennard Zinn, penned about a month ago about the dangers of accidently burping tubeless road tires. You can find the full article here.

It is not a secret that you can burp tubeless tires if the pressure is too low or say, you’ve done a ‘ghetto’ tubeless set-up with rims not designed for tubeless use. In the past I’ve heard these stories associated with mountain bike or fat tire wheels. But this article seems to show that burping road tires is also possible and that the consequences can be devastating. No one wants to crash and when it’s caused by equipment failure you really begin to look at and question your equipment choices.

That said, this story has to be framed against the overall picture: there have been plenty of crashes on sewups and clincher tires. No one I know in Different Spokes is still using sewups or even has any experience with sewups. But I did. I stopped using sewups not because of safety but because they’re really a lot more work to maintain than clinchers. Sewups are glued to a tubular rim. Those of us who did use sewups knew that the glue job had to be carefully done in order not to peel a tire off in a turn because it could be devastating just as in the story above. In the 2003 Tour de France Joseba Beloki had a terrible career-ending crash due to a sewup tire coming off his rear rim. (Video here, at 1:44 minutes). If you glued a sewup, you let it cure for days in order to make sure the solvent in the glue was completely evaporated and the adhesion was good. Yet as the Beloki incident shows even glue jobs at the highest level of the sport can fail.

Clinchers have a similar story. Catastrophic failure of clincher tires due to blow-outs are not unknown. If you hit a rock hard at high speed you can instantly deflate it, and since nothing holds the tire on the rim except air pressure you risk crashing just like the dude above. We had exactly this experience on our tandem while touring in France many years ago. We hit a rock with our front tire at high speed (>40 mph) descending and our front tire went flat very quickly. But because of luck and Roger’s excellent tandem instincts and the fact that the curve we were in was very broad he steered the bike straight to a stop just off the road by applying only the rear brake. The tire (and tube) did not come off the rim. Fortunately we did not run out of road.

So yes, you can burp a tubeless road tire and because the tire’s air volume is small you risk deflating it to the point it comes off the rim. Note that Zinn calls a rim with spoke holes “standard” in contrast to “tubeless-specific” rims, which he takes to mean ‘has no spoke holes’. The general point he makes is a good one: be careful when it comes to marketing lingo. Many rims are called “tubeless compatible” and what that means is vague. A rim may have no spoke holes and still not be “tubeless-specific”. The HED Belgium rim in the above story is a “tubeless compatible” rim whatever that means. That said, I use exactly those rims in my tubeless setup. What Zinn doesn’t explicitly mention is the Universal Standard Tubeless (UST) rim and tire combination. This was invented by Mavic, Hutchinson, and Michelin originally for mountain bike tires but they now have moved that over to the road. This has a very specific rim and tire bead shape to help the two interlock and so mitigate the danger of burping and rim-tire detachment. If the above story gives you pause but you still want to try road tubeless, consider using official UST rims and tires. Just know that you will be limited to a small subset of available wheels, rims, and tires, as the UST has not taken off either for mountain or road bikes.

Taking The Ferry To Your Ride

Better than BART!

Whoa folks, SF Bay Ferry announced that it is now running ferries between San Francisco and Richmond on weekends, not just weekdays! There are five runs each direction and you can get the schedule here. If you use Clippercard, a ticket costs $7 and it takes about 35 minutes to do the crossing. This comparable to BART: if you were to take it from Embarcadero to the Richmond station it would be about 36 minutes and cost $5.30. But then you’d have to be on BART and we all know how enjoyable it is to ride that rolling urban blight! Keep in mind that the weekend SF-Richmond ferry is an experiment and how long it lasts will depend on whether enough people use the run to make it profitable.

The first ferry from Richmond is at 9:30 am and gets to the Ferry Bldg. at 10:05. So you’d be able to do a ride in SF mid-morning although not the common 10 am rides you see on our ride calendar. That ferry turns around at 10:15 am and gets to Richmond at 10:50, still mid-morning.

If you live in SF or the Peninsula, you’re thinking, “Now why do I want to go to Richmond to ride??” Here’s the reason: the Richmond ferry dock is at the old Ford Motors assembly plant on the Bay. This is also the location of the Rosie the Riveter Museum as well as Assemble restaurant (yum!). It’s right on the Bay Trail and you can take it along the Bay to Emeryville and then all the way to the San Mateo Bridge for a good, long flat ride. You can also head north to Pt. Richmond along streets, where eventually you’ll be able to ride to Point Molate by bikeway. Don’t forget you can also exit the Bay Trail to get to the Alex Zuckerman Path on the Bay Bridge, which will take you to Treasure Island. You could make a great out-and-back ride from Richmond to TI and back. Or just cut it short and ride to West Oakland BART.

Weekend Richmond service joins the already existing service lines from SF to Vallejo, Alameda, Mare Island, and Jack London Square in Oakland, which already have weekend service.

Happy Trails

Have you ever wondered what happened to a Spoker you knew that dropped out of sight? A lot of folks have come through Different Spokes since 1982 and that means we have a lot of former members. What happens to them? I’ve been thinking about this because part of building the new website has been porting over the enormous photo gallery from the old website. We have digital images going back into the early ‘90s but most of them have been since 2004, and I’ve been going through the pictures one by one from 2004 through 2006. Unfortunately the pics on our site gallery had no narrative or names. At the time it hardly seemed necessary since members knew each other, mostly. But years later it’s sometimes a mystery who these people are. I’ve been trying to annotate the images as best I can and that’s gotten me thinking about people who used to be so active in Different Spokes but are no longer members and don’t bother to come on rides. Why is that?

In the early days of the club members disappearing often meant one thing: they were sick with HIV. Like many gay institutions of the ‘70s and ‘80s the club was hit very hard. But that is much less the case now. Obviously people move away and leave the club. The most notable example of that is Bob Krumm, our first president and one of the original members who was instrumental in the club coming into existence. After he helped form the club and get on solid footing he moved away to New York and continues to live there today. But most lapsed members leave the club for other reasons. Some people come to the club looking for a relationship and if they find it, then the club becomes less important to them and they leave; others (probably most!) don’t find a boy/girlfriend and move on to another social venue.

I wonder how many leave for other disparate reasons. Whatever need the club met it no longer was important. A long time ago we had a very active member, Abel, who rode all the time. But then he got into—of all things—Scottish dancing and Highland games that became his first love! He would occasionally ride his red DeRosa but he just found another outlet for his physical expression. Did he “outgrow” the club? Maybe. It was a “stepping” stone for him.

Some move on because the kind of cycling they like changes. If you’ve become enamored with really long rides—brevets and randonneuring—there aren’t many other Spokers who love to ride all day (and night) nor do they offer to lead that kind of ride. You’re most likely to gravitate to SF Randonneurs for that activity. If you’re into fixies and alley cats, you won’t find that in Different Spokes and no racing of any sort either. So maybe you start looking for a racing club.

The former Spokers I wonder about are those who were really avid cyclists and came on so many rides, and then stopped attending. Did they leave cycling? Or, did Different Spokes just lose its appeal and if so, why? Is it that cycling ceased to be important or did Difference Spokes no longer fill the cycling heart they had? In some ways it’s like breaking up with your lover: you move on and other than occasionally passing each other on the street you no longer occupy each other’s attention. Maybe there is some bitterness there and probably many fond memories. Perhaps the “drama” just got tiring and for your sanity you had to break up.

But affections are not abstract—if someone spends a lot of time with us it must be because they enjoy the company and have formed friendships. Sometimes those friendships end up moving outside of Different Spokes—you’ve found your riding buddies, those with whom you ‘click’ (clique?), and you start riding with each other outside of Different Spokes. Soon you realize you don’t need the club anymore. Perhaps it’s partly the transitory nature of Bay Area life: rootlessness and a certain measured disconnection from relationships due to constant job change and moving are more the norm?

“Making Communities Stronger Through Bicycles”

I don’t make it a habit of writing about other junk I see on the Internet (other than stuff you should either buy or avoid). But this morning I saw something on Seth Davidson’s blog that summarized a myriad of thoughts that have been running through my mind for several years:

“I also got to hang out with Will Holloway, the founder and big boss of S. O L. A REAL RYDAS, along with his lieutenants Henry and Gee-Man. Will, like John Jones, has a vision for making communities stronger through bicycles. “People have to get out of where they are comfortable and meet other people,” he said. “The bike wheels make a rotation, and that rotation, going round and round, is what brings us together. You gotta keep the rotation going.”

I and a few others have thought that Different Spokes was more than just a LGBT-positive venue to ride bikes/talk bikes/fondle bikes–it’s a community. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a community but it is. That’s not a part of our original vision and mission statement but maybe it should be. How can you make your community stronger?

Depending On The Kindness of Strangers

One of the changes I’ve seen in cycling culture is the diminishing interest in bicycle repair. Back in the day learning how to do basic bicycle maintenance was a part of becoming a cyclist. Fixing a flat was something I learned shortly after I learned to ride a bike. Although I don’t have any distinct recollections, I almost certainly was shown how to do it by my father who, by the way, was not a cyclist. Learning my way around wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers was a part of growing up.

But it wasn’t until I was in high school and fell in with a group of budding cyclists that I learned how to tear apart a bike and put it back together again. This was long before I was able to afford a decent 10-speed but that didn’t matter: we wanted to fix our bikes. John Youden, a high school buddy, suggested we spend a Saturday ‘cleaning’ our bikes and by ‘clean’ he didn’t mean just spit-and-polish; he meant take apart every screw and bolt, clean each part, regrease, and then put it back together. Keep in mind that neither of us had ever done it before but that didn’t matter. Either out of sheer ignorance, unproven boy-competence, or bravado, we spent an entire day disassembling our bikes down to the bolts. Have you ever disassembled an entire center-pull brake, or how about a freewheel? (You probably don’t remember freewheels because they disappeared from decent road bikes in the mid-80s.) We did it at John’s house on his outdoor patio (!) one summer day. We were almost out of our league even though we had very modest bikes; I had a 30+ lb. Schwinn Continental and John had a really cheap Ross. One thing we learned is that bikes have a lot of small parts and you best keep track of them all. Oh, and an outdoor patio is not a great place to spread a hundred bike parts! The big fun was disassembling a freewheel and having a few dozen extremely small ball bearings come tumbling out onto the concrete and pawl springs fly in the air. Somehow we got it all put back together after cleaning (hint: dental floss!). But I do recall it took us a lot longer than we ever expected and it was getting dark by the time we finished up.

After that experience I felt I could repair anything on my bike as long as I had the right tools. Years later I got my first good road bike and I did exactly the same thing: I took it apart to the bolts, cleaned it, and put it back together. In this case though it was all Campy and it was then that I started to collect real bike tools like a Campy t-wrench, Campy crank bolt wrench, and Campy bottom bracket wrenches. These, by the way, were and are not cheap.

In the early days of Different Spokes we had members not only with different levels of cycling ability but also different expertise in repairing bikes, from absolutely no knowledge at all, to self-made sorta bike mechanics, to the real thing like Lennard, who was the head mechanic at Avenue Cyclery, and Jerry Walker, who owned the Freewheel Bike Shop on Hayes. Jerry offered evening repair sessions at the Freewheel Bike Shop. He came out of the hippie era with a funky bike shop that was really more of a community resource than what we think of as a bike shop today. Jerry didn’t look like a hippie but he sure thought like one. The Freewheel somehow made him a living but it must have been rather modest. He sold bikes but looking at his stock you would have thought it was mostly used bikes and he had nothing flashy or chic, just ‘regular’ bikes. That sort of bike shop is somewhat on trend again today selling commuter bikes rather than $10,000 Pinarello Dogmas. But Jerry’s bread-and-butter business was repairs and selling repair items like tubes, tires, and chains. Jerry thought it was important that folks knew how to do repairs themselves and he taught classes and held repair nights where you could bring in your bike either to repair yourself or be shown how to repair it. His store had an open area with several workstands to throw bikes on. He sold memberships to the Freewheel that allowed you to use come in and use the stands and his tools and he also charged a one-time fee if you just wanted to come in occasionally rather than regularly. For Different Spokes he hosted a no-charge evening session about once a month. A lot of Spokers learned the basics at this shop and of course there was nothing more fun than learning about ‘tools’ from a bunch of giggling queens.

A few years ago I was chatting with Bing about fixing a flat. “A flat?” he responded, “I just take it across the street to the bike shop.” My jaw metaphorically dropped. Last summer President David was on a ride we were leading and he got a flat. As he popped a spare tube and a CO2 cartridge out of his saddlebag he mentioned that he had never done this before. Hmm. Somewhere along the line the ethic of being able to take care of your bike started to fade. When people take up cycling these days, no one has bothered to demystify bicycles for them. Admittedly bikes are more complex than they were when I learned. Today we have new technologies that threaten to turn bikes into ‘black boxes’ that only certified mechanics should touch, gracious! Electronic shifting is the best/worst example. Don’t bother trying to fix a broken shifter or derailleur—just order a new one and have your mechanic install it and set it up! Although hydraulic brakes are hardly computer chips, they’re a royal pain to manage compared to regular cable brakes. Of course the same moaning was heard when indexed shifting appeared—what happened to the simplicity of the bike?! With carbon parts becoming common, torque values matter a lot more when overtightening means cracking a $300 carbon fiber stem. How many of you own torque wrenches? Understandably people avoid learning bike repair for fear of making a bad situation worse.

Nonetheless there are a plethora of minor repairs that you can do yourself such as replacing a chain, a cassette; adjusting derailleurs, saddles, stems, and handlebars; and replacing cables and brake pads, let alone fixing a flat or replacing a worn tire. And guess what? Local bike shops still offer repair classes. Check in with your local bike shop to find out if they offer a class. REI has ten store locations in the Bay Area and it regularly offers flat repair classes including classes just for women. In San Francisco the Freewheel continues to offer bike maintenance classes as well as memberships to use its tools and workstands. Also in San Francisco is the Bike Kitchen, a non-profit cooperative that’s trans- and women-friendly with a separate WTF (Women/Trans/Femme) night. In the East Bay the Missing Link in Berkeley is another cooperative that offers classes (although at the moment none seem to be scheduled for the summer). And if you’re a real DIY-type person there is always YouTube, but keep in mind there’s a reason we don’t go to school by watching TV…