Looking for a Great Cycling Vacation? Sierra To the Sea or Cycle Oregon

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Here are a couple of supported bicycle tours that Spokers have enjoyed in the past, Sierra-to-the-Sea and Cycle Oregon. They are both a week long and make great cycling vacations.

Sierra to the Sea (SttS) has been offered for many years by Almaden Cycle Touring Club in San Jose (ACTC). They’re the same folks who put on the Tierra Bella Century every spring down in Gilroy. ACTC is a pretty big recreational club and they know how to put on a tour. This year SttS starts at Lake Tahoe and wends down the Sierras and through the Valley to the North Bay and ends at Golden Gate Park. It’s 420 miles averaging 60 miles per day over the seven days. The tour takes place June 15 to 22, 2019. The cost is $975 but you get a $50 discount if you register before Feb. 1. It’s fully sagged but you do have to camp. If you absolutely eschew sleeping tents and sleeping bags, there are motels near all the layovers but they’re not included in the price. All breakfasts and dinner are included except for one night in Calistoga where there are plenty of restaurants. Registration opens on January 15 and no more than 130 riders can participate. And they do sell out, so don’t delay if you are interested. ACTC offers an optional bus ride up to Lake Tahoe for $50 but you have to get to San Jose to join it; similarly there is a $35 optional bus ride from Golden Gate Park to San Jose at the end. Go to their website to get the details. What do previous participants have to say? David Goldsmith: “I would definitely recommend it to other Spokers. The pace is reasonable, the ride is not too difficult but challenging in spots, the campsites are OK (even though I’m more of a hotel guy), the crowd is friendly, and the route is interesting. At the time, the price was reasonable. (I don’t know what they’re charging nowadays.) I’ve ridden multiple Tierra Bellas and SttS (once) and for my money, ACTC always puts on a good show.” Nancy Levin: “I enjoyed it. I camped. It was cold/snowy up at Big Bear, but got less cold once out of mountain and then super hot going through the valley. Some of routes may have changed. [Tony: The 2019 route is new.] Generally good but one very bumpy one on the first or second day. Only issue is getting up to Big Bear – I went to San Jose or wherever and got the bus they went on. It was terrific to ride home.”

Most of you are probably not familiar with the other ride, Cycle Oregon, even though it’s super popular in the Northwest. Put on by the non-profit Cycle Oregon, the route changes every year and takes in different towns and areas of Oregon especially on the eastern side. Cycle Oregon seeks to showcase the small towns and pours money from the tour back to the communities. Next year’s tour will be announced on January 15 with registration opening up on January 31 and limited to about 2,200. They always sell out quickly. In 2018 Cycle Oregon cost $999. Cycle Oregon like SttS is a camping trip with full sag. The fee includes seven days of riding and all three meals per day are included. You can expect the tour to cover anywhere from 380 to 450 miles. Stephanie Clarke has done it and here is what she has to say: “I have done both Sierra to the Sea and Cycle Oregon.  [I did the] Cycle Oregon, 10th year anniversary edition from Sisters to Bend to Crater Lake, and back up.  Awesome.  Would highly recommend any edition of C.O. — great routes, good food, nightly entertainment, pizza oven, beer garden, wine bar for those nights when you just don’t want to deal with the food tent.  Big-time value for the money (~$1,000), and they still donate about 30% to the local towns that host the ride.”

If you are interested in doing either of these tours, maybe we can organize a Different Spokes contingent to go up and ride together. Let your ride coordinator know.

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Ottolock: A Fool and His/Her Money Are Soon Parted

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Unfortunately I am one of those fools: I put down $65 at REI for one of these locks, the 30-inch model a month ago. It’s really light, lighter than one of those inexpensive cable locks you see at Ace Hardware (don’t you just love that name?) for about $15 and which I have been using for years. But it turns out it’s no more effective at thwarting bike theft than the $15 type—just a lot more expensive. So much for disruptive technology; about the only things that will be disrupted are your wallet and your ride when you find your bike has vanished from outside Starbucks. It has steel and Kevlar but so what if it doesn’t stop a thief. The Bike Picking Lawyer posted a video showing that you can cut one of these idiotic locks in much less than a New York minute with a pair of $10 tin snips from Home Depot—see the video. Years ago when videos showed up on the Internet showing you could open a Kryptonite U-lock with a Bic pen, Kryptonite revamped their locks and to their credit undertook a massive years-long recall. I’m not sure Ottolock is going to be able to pull off a similar apologia because the raison d’être of their locks is ultra-light weight. Plus, Ottolock is a child of Kickstarter, i.e. it’s young and not well capitalized. However when a complaint was raised to Ottolock about how you could actually palpate the tumbler to detect the numbers used in the combination lock, apparently they did improve them so that you can’t do that anymore. So maybe there’s hope.

That said if you are in the habit of using a cheap cable lock for your coffee stops [for the record I never let my bike out of sight when I’m on a ride] the Ottolock will be lighter. It just won’t be safer. If you do use an Ottolock, like a cable lock it will only delay a thief momentarily. So you should use the usual tricks in combination with the lock (wrap helmet straps around wheel/frame, use more locks, put bike in high gear, pile bikes together, etc.) And by no means think that an Ottolock (or cable lock) allows you to dawdle inside a store for a few minutes. That’s plenty of time for your bike to be whisked away. Just hope the bike thief goes after easier prey, i.e. a nearby unlocked bike.

It Was 40 Years Ago Today

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For better or for worse having lived through a historic event inclines one to dwell on it or perhaps incorporate it as a seminal touchstone from then on. In November 1978 two such events took place for me: the Jonestown mass suicide and the assassination of Harvey Milk and George Moscone by Dan White. I didn’t personally know anyone who was part of the People’s Temple or Jonestown nor did I ever meet Milk or Moscone in person. But Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and George Moscone touched many lives in the Bay Area and they definitely were part of the post-60s ethos: radical Christianity of the poor, identity politics, and violence as a reaction to the cultural throes we were experiencing. It was like the end of a dream and left a withering cynicism among some and acted as a call to greater action to others.

40 years is a long time. I think about how Pearl Harbor, undoubtedly a turning point in the lives of the Americans who lived through it or during it, yet to me it was just another distant historic event, on a feeling level no different than the American Revolution or the Civil War—abstractions. So it is with the Milk/Moscone assassinations for many of you.

I had never been to Milk’s memorial at the SF Columbarium nor to Moscone’s grave in Colma. To give you an idea how long it’s has been on my mind, about ten years ago I was thinking of leading a ride to see them. But it just didn’t come together; I was busy chasing high heart rates and had a busy work schedule as well. About a month ago I suddenly realized it was 40 years ago when those events took place. Wow, a lifetime. So I made it happen and on time, which is contrary to my usual MO, i.e. to completely forget about an anniversary until a week later.

Fortunately the Camp Fire smoke ended and the rains did as well. Roger was going to miss the ride for medical reasons but at the last minute threw caution to the wind and came along.

We took BART to the City and rode from Civic Center to McLaren Lodge. I’ve done it many times since moving out of the City, but this time I was noticing the changes along the way. Long time businesses that were there in 1978 were no more. There are now so many more cyclists plying the streets than 40 years ago. Ah, but the old Freewheel Bike Shop is still there on Hayes!

Starting a ride at McLaren Lodge is a real throwback. In the early days of the club it was THE place to start a ride, that position having been usurped by Peet’s in the Castro. I remember meeting Michael John, Bob Humason, Dennis Westler, Abel Galvan, Walter Teague, Ron DeCamp, and many others—some now ghosts—at McLaren to head out on rides. In any case no one else chose to join us for a stroll to the boneyards so off we went to Colma.

Getting to Colma is pretty easy and we decided to take the ‘scenic’ route: through GG Park to the Great Highway and then down the coast to Westlake Shopping Center, and then cutting through to Hillside Blvd. By now the fog had lifted and it was a beautiful blue sky day, perfect for a visit to the cemeteries. Once in Colma housing and businesses abruptly stop at the city limit and are replaced by miles and miles of green lawns of the various cemeteries. Some of them have their origin in being kicked out of SF, the land being too valuable to leave to the dead. George Moscone is buried in Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery but there are plenty of other well-known figures interred in Colma and why not pay them a visit as well? Our first stop was Woodlawn Memorial Park where Jose Sarria a.k.a. the Widow Norton was laid to rest. You may have heard of Jose Sarria from his drag doppelganger, the Widow Norton, a drag gag take on the famous SF eccentric, Emperor Norton. The latter declared himself the ruler of the US and Mexico in 1859 and was treated deferentially by Barbary Coasters despite being a bona fide bum. The Emperor Norton was interred at Woodlawn and by coincidence the plot directly in front of his was available and that is where the Widow Norton is buried! You may not know that Jose Sarria was much more than his drag persona. Before Harvey he was the first openly homosexual candidate for the SF Board of Supervisors back in 1961. He came in 9th out of over 30 candidates and got 6,000 votes. Sarria also founded an early LGBT rights organizations, the League for Civil Education. He got his taste of discrimination when he was busted for cruising in a tea room and the morals charges prevented him from becoming a public school teacher. He ended up working as a waiter at the infamous Black Cat bar at the edge of North Beach, a gay hangout, that was repeatedly raided by the SF Police because it was then illegal to sell alcohol to homosexuals as well as to “impersonate members of the opposite sex.” When he was dolled up as the Widow Norton or any of his other drag personae, he wore a button that said “I’m a boy” to get around that idiotic law.

Finding Sarria’s gravesite took some effort. Woodlawn isn’t on Hillside Blvd. where all the other cemeteries are located, rather it’s down off of Junipero Serra. We eventually found it and the office kindly gave us a map. We had to climb up a steep hillside to get to his plot and we only found it after scurrying around on a very wet lawn for about 20 minutes. But there it was. On his tombstone it says, “United we stand, divided they catch us one by one.” Someone else had recently visited because  fresh flowers were on the site.

Sarria“God save us nelly queens!”

A quick descent to Junipero Serra and then a slog back up to Hillside took us to our next stop, Hills of Eternity Memorial Park, to look for Wyatt Earp’s and Levi Strauss’s sites. But when we got to the entrance it was chained. What kind of cemetery isn’t open on Sundays?? After looking for a second entrance (there isn’t one) we gave up and headed south to Holy Cross.

Besides George Moscone Holy Cross has a slew of famous people buried there. You could spend the better part of a day hunting for all of the sites. But today we were looking just for Joe DiMaggio, Vince Guaraldi, and Benny Bufano. Holy Cross has two entrances and unfortunately the one I had planned to use was closed. The other entrance was open but I was disoriented because we were now off-route and Holy Cross is a bit of a warren. We rolled right by Joe DiMaggio’s grave but didn’t notice until we were further along. Oh well, another time. Finding Vince Guaraldi’s was easy. You probably know him as the composer of the music for the Peanuts special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” But he was a very well-regarded jazz pianist and a SF native as well. His grave is very modest and like a good Italian boy he’s buried along with his mother, who long outlived him. He died in 1976 at the early age of 47, a real loss to the jazz community.

After paying our respects we rolled off to our real goal, George Moscone. His site was also fairly easy to find and like Vince Guaraldi’s, a very modest bronze plaque on the ground. You would never know a Mayor of San Francisco was interred there, a nearly anonymous plaque amongst thousands. On this day hardly anyone was visiting cemeteries. Was it the good weather that turned people’s minds to other forms of pleasure and amusement? On his plaque it read, “We love you, Dad.” If you aren’t old enough or local enough, Moscone is merely a name of a historical figure. But in the 1960s and ‘70s he was a liberal politician aligned with the Burton brothers and their allies who included Willie Brown and Nancy Pelosi. He was an ally of the LGBT community during a time when being an ally was politically costly. He was known for sponsoring legislation for the first school lunch program in California as well as repealing the anti-sodomy laws. When he ran for Mayor in 1975 he beat out a terribly conservative real estate broker, John “Garbage-alotta” Barbagelata, as well as Dianne Feinstein, who to this day has never attended a Gay Freedom Day Parade in our city. (Oh, and by the way do you recall when Diane Feinstein, who succeeded the assassinated George Moscone as Mayor, vetoed the domestic partners legislation in SF?) Moscone was a true friend of our community not an expedient supporter trying to catch the LGBT gravy train.

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A Friend In Need Is a Friend Indeed

Afterwards we mounted our bikes and rolled by Benny Bufano’s grave, which is topped with one of his iconic sculptures, and headed back to SF to visit Harvey. The ride back was a bit easier because Hillside Blvd. is up on a hill. So we rolled mostly downhill back to Westlake and up Lake Merced. We headed back up 37th into the Park and then up Arguello to the Columbarium. I’m sure almost all of you have never been to this hidden, tucked away, site dropped down in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Being on a cul-de-sac it was very easy to miss. The Columbarium is a place where those who’ve passed away can be memorialized. It’s not exactly a mausoleum because some of the dead people honored there actually have no cremains there. That is the case with Harvey Milk. The Columbarium may appear small but it holds the niches of a LOT of people. Fortunately there is a kiosk in the office that allows you to look up the location. For the record Harvey’s location is in the House of Olympians in the Dionysus room, tier 4, niche 26. The House of Olympians is the side building just to the east of the main capitol. Harvey’s niche is decorated with memorabilia including buttons against the Briggs Initiative, in which he was instrumental in fighting for its defeat, as well as items from the film Gus Van Sant directed about him, “Milk”. There is also a toy camera there reminding us that Harvey ran a camera shop in the Castro and from which he ran his campaign to become Supervisor.

Afterward we ran into the manager who wanted to be sure we visited the niche of Chet Helms. You remember Chet Helms, don’t you? He was THE hippie: he produced concerts at the Fillmore and the old Avalon ballroom during the ‘60s. Roger didn’t seem interested but I remember Chet Helms!

By now we were starving since we did not stop at Westlake for lunch despite plans. Luckily Velo Rouge Cafe was just a few blocks away. Being a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon I thought it would be packed but it wasn’t. In a way it was a perfect end to an interesting day: the clientele was distinctly Millenial but it looked like a Haight St. cafe from back in the day (minus the love beads and patchouli). Oh, and the huevos rancheros were excellent!

Although those days were very dark and depressing, somehow we managed to move into another era thanks to the steps that people like Harvey Milk and George Moscone made. I didn’t think I’d see them happen in my lifetime. Instead of being treated with thinly veiled contempt (or no veil whatsoever) the LGBT community is treated more like a formidable third rail: fucking with us will have a cost. Instead of getting stomped on we are fighting back. Harvey and Jose told us to fight, and we are.

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“We Say Fight Back!”

2019 Century Rides

The 2018 Century/Gran Fondo season is essentially over  and it’s not too early to start thinking about next year. Here’s the early bird information list.

February

9 Saturday. Tour de Palm Springs. $55-87. Registration is open. Here’s your chance to check out your retirement options by cycling in the Palm Springs area! After last year’s horrendous car murder of a TdPS rider, maybe this year it will be better patrolled by the cops. Options for 9, 26, 51, or 102 miles.

9 Sunday. Velo Love Ride. $50. Registration opens November. This used to be called the Rice Valley Tandem Ride and it’s usually on or close to Valentine’s Day, hence the name. A low-key event with a flat ride around the Sutter Buttes outside of Chico. Starts in Gridley, just north of Yuba City—a bit of a schlep but a great ride. The meal at the end is worth it. Has a real “locals” feel rather than the usual mass-event mosh pit vibe. Sponsored by Chico Velo, the same fine folks who put on the Chico Wildflower. 40, 60 and 100 mile options.

23 Saturday. Pedaling Paths to Independence. $45. Registration is open. 65 or 25 mile routes. This is a pretty easy metric in the Valley that is a benefit for the Community Center for the Blind. It’s cheap too. Mostly flat and not too demanding unless the wind is blowing. A good early season ride. Starts in Linden, east of Stockton.

March

9 Saturday. Solvang Century. $95 online. Registration is open. It’s a long after-work Friday drive down to Solvang but you get to amble back home on Sunday. (But DST does begin that morning.) And be sure to reserve a motel room well in advance. Solvang is a big event with lots of cyclists. If you like crowds, this is your ride. The rest stop food is perfunctory but ample and no lunch is included (that’s $25 more!). 51, 56, 70, and 100 mile options.

30 Saturday. Cinderella Classic & Challenge. Registration opens January 2019. $35/$65. Limited to 2,500 women and girls. 25, 65 or 85 miles. Sponsored by Valley Spokesmen, the very first women/girls only century ride now in its 43rd year. Boys will have to settle for Different Spokes’ very own Evil Stepsisters ride!

April

6-7 Saturday/Sunday. L’Eroica California. $150. Registration is open. 35, 75, 82, and 130 mile routes for classic bikes; 82 mile route for all bikes. The rides are part of the two-day festival of vintage bicycles, held in Paso Robles. You have to have a vintage bike to participate, e.g. no STI-like shifters, no clipless pedals, basically no bikes made before 1987 and the older the better for the classic routes. But this year you can ride your modern bike on the 82-mile route on Saturday.

13 Saturday. Tierra Bella. $?. Registration opens on December 15. Limit of 2,000. A club fav and it’s close by, in Gilroy, too. Great roads that are not suburbanized (yet). Post-ride meal is pretty good too. For unknown karmic reasons this ride gets horrendously rained out periodically. But in dry years it’s a fantastic ride.

13 Saturday. Sea Otter Classic. $90 or 110? Registration is open. Did you know the Sea Otter Classic is more than a glitter show of new bike products and race watching? Yes, last year it had four rides, and in the spirit of “something for everyone” they offer two road rides (91 or 49 miles), a mountain bike ride (19 miles) , as well as a fad du jour “gravel grinder” (29 miles).

20 Saturday. Sierra Century. $60 Registration is open. 32 or 65 mile routes. A beautiful ride in the Gold Country.

20 Saturday. Primavera Century. $? Registration opens Dec. 1. 100, 85, 63 and 25 mile routes. This year Calaveras Road will be fully open. Starts conveniently in Fremont but too early to get there by BART (except for the 25-mile fun ride).

27 Saturday. Bike Around The Buttes. $40/$45/$50. Registration opens 1/1/19. If you can’t make it to Chico Velo’s Velo-Love Ride in February, this ride covers similar roads in the Sutter Buttes area. Choice of 17.5, 40 or 100 mile routes.

27 Saturday? Mt. Hamilton Challenge. For the past two years the Mt. Hamilton Challenge has been cancelled due to weather (2017) and road closure (2018). But Pedalera promises it will be back for 2019. Information will be up on their website in February 2019.

27 Saturday. SLO Wildflower Century. $75 early registration. Registration opens January 6, 2019. 100, 75, 64, 52 or 45 mile routes.

28 Sunday. Chico Wildflower. $45/$75 early registration. Registration is open. 12, 30, 60, 65, 100, and 125-mile routes. This century is a club favorite. A group of Spokers usually arranges to have dinner together the night before in Chico. Booking lodging requires advance planning, as the Wildflower will fill up all the motel rooms in the area. If you can take Monday off from work, so much the better because you will almost certainly be whipped after the ride and the excellent post-ride dinner; driving back right after is just a chore.

May

4 Saturday. Wine Country Century. $70 to 110? Registration opens January 1, 2019, which is earlier than usual. Another club fave. This one usually sells out quickly. Limited to 2,000.

5 Sunday. Grizzly Peak Century. Fee not yet announced; registration not yet open. 76, 102 or 110-mile road routes. Capped at 1,000 riders. Starts in Moraga so very easy to get to except not by BART because BART doesn’t open up early enough! The GPC is most definitely not a flat route–it’s a climber’s ride. This one always sells out, so don’t wait too long after registration opens, which I am guessing will be around the New Year. The end-of-ride meal is most definitely homemade and delicious!

11 Saturday. I Care Classic. $? Registration not open yet. Jerome recommends this one–it takes place around Morgan Hill and Gilroy covering some of the same area as the Tierra Bella but a month later. No exact date set yet but it usually takes place on the second Saturday of May. 100, 100k, 50, and 20-mile fun ride.

18 Saturday. Davis Double. $? Registration opens March 1, 2019. No information yet but the DD always takes place! This is their 50th year so expect something special.

18 Saturday. Strawberry Fields Forever. $100. 30, 61 and 101 mile routes. A pleasant ride in the Santa Cruz and Watsonville area.

June

2 Sunday? Sequoia Century. No information yet but Western Wheelers always puts this century on.

15 Saturday. Mile High 100. $55 to 85. Registration opens December 1. 33, 56, and 108 mile routes. Formerly the Lake Almanor Century.

22 Saturday. RBC Gran Fondo Silicon Valley. $650/$225. Registration is open. Yes, you read that right: $650 for a friggin’ 73-mile ride from Palo Alto to the San Mateo coast and back along the roads we ride all the time—Kings Mtn., Tunitas Creek, Stage Road, Pescadero Creek, La Honda Road. For the venture capitalist in your family. Well, you don’t have to drive far to do this one.

Different Smokes

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The Camp Fire last Thursday

[Thanks to Jerome for the title; I was going to call this “Summer of Smokes” but both last year’s and this year’s gigantic fires actually took place during the fall and early winter. Most of you are probably old enough—although you may not have been living in the Bay Area at the time—to remember the 1991 Oakland Hills fire. Until last year’s Tubbs fire it was the most destructive fire in California history and it also took place in late October during the so-called “Indian” summer that we often get here.]

The current Camp fire near Chico, CA is blanketing the Bay Area and large swaths of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys with massive quantitites of smoke and soot so much so that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued alerts and “Spare the Air” days every day since last Thursday (eight days so far). Even San Francisco, which normally has good quality air compared to other Bay Area regions, has been in the “red” zone. The pollutant of concern is PM 2.5, particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter, although the Camp fire is also producing soot in particle sizes much larger than that but those particles don’t travel as far.

BAAQMD issues alerts when a composite index for all six major pollutant categories—PM 2.5, ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, CO, and PM 10—begin to rise. Normally in the Bay Area we are in the “good” (0-50) or “moderate” (50-100) category. But now we are seeing readings that put us in the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” (101-150) and “Unhealthy” (151-200). Today Oakland hit 217 and SF 221. 200 and above is considered very unhealthy or hazardous; those are the kind of readings one might get in Beijing or New Delhi.

All of these pollutants plus a host of others that aren’t tracked are cause for concern not just because they might make the sky look hazy but because with prolonged exposure and at high enough levels they have noticeable health effects. If you have asthma or another chronic pulmonary condition, you might start to feel the effects of air pollution while everyone else around you seems to go about their daily lives with little or no idea that they’re literally drowning in smog. But eventually even hardier folks feel the minor signs such as coughing, burning eyes, and scratchy throat.

What makes these conditions concerning is that as cyclists we are not only outdoors breathing in smoke from the fires but exercising, which increases our respiration rate,so that we are probably breathing about eight to ten times more air per minute even at a relatively easy cycling speed. That means we are exposed to much higher amount of pollution compared to sitting at a desk indoors.

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Smoke from the Camp Fire Spreads Throughout NoCal

Last October during the Tubbs fire the air quality jumped up and down subject to the whims of the wind, which changed hourly. At times the air was a hazy brown and the smell of smoke was pervasive; the next day it was sunny and clear even though the fires were raging just 40 miles away. I went riding anyway although I did make a concession by riding at an easy pace to reduce the amount of dreck I was inhaling. One day when the BAAQMD said we were in the red zone, I whipped out my Respro cycling mask that I had bought in London years ago for my daily commute to work here in SF. But the air in SF is generally so good especially out by the Pacific where I worked that I didn’t have a use for it. The Respro is a bit confining even though it’s miles better than a N95 mask. The Respro fits tightly—perhaps too tightly (I did buy the right size so they *are* supposed to fit tightly!)—and that’s good for blocking pollutants but bad when the weather is warm, which it was last October. Even though the Respro has exhalation ports that make it much easier to vent your breath, during hard cycling the mask just didn’t breathe well enough to be comfortable on a long ride. For commuting speed it’s mostly fine but I was out for a pleasure ride.

In retrospect it was foolish for me to ride during the fires because even though I had nothing more than an occasional hacking cough and some transient chest tightness, the long term effects of inhaling pollutants being potentially scary. PM 2.5 particles are so small that they can be inhaled deeply into lungs especially when exercising. Those particles not only obstruct the surface area of lungs and interfere with respiration but they also lodge there; very small particles can even pass into your circulatory system and go on to affect other organs. Exposure to pollutants also can set off an inflammatory response that further scars your lung tissue.

This year I didn’t make the same mistake and I’ve cycled only once—last Saturday when the forecast was for moderate pollution (which turned out to be incorrect—it was worse). The pollution is so bad that I doubt a Respro mask is able to cope with it all. We’ve stayed holed up in the house with the HEPA filter running. But we have to go out and run errands and the house is old and hardly sealed up so we are still getting a goodly share of smoke. Both of us are coughing like patients in a sanitarium and albuterol has become our BFF nonetheless.

If you’re young and robust, you’re probably ignoring the warnings and heading out for a good spin despite the smoke. Maybe that’s alright for now but in the long run it can’t be good. Ending up with COPD, lung cancer, or pulmonary fibrosis are not pleasant ways to die.

Well, the fires are just a transient hazard. Next week the high over the Rockies that is causing our offshore prevailing wind will move and we’ll return to our usual onshore flow and maybe even some rain. The smoke will change direction away from the Bay Area, and eventually the Camp fire will be extinguished. But chronic exposure to everyday air pollution is no good thing either and we have plenty of it with the enormous number of cars filing up and down our roads and highways. Diesel engines produce copious soot in the PM 2.5 range and regular gasoline automobiles create ozone both directly and indirectly. Even on days that have “good” air quality, pollution can be much higher in certain locations for example next to freeways. So avoid riding next to freeways or major roads with a lot of car traffic. Even better would be to go mountain biking away from roads, period.

A BAAQMD reading is for an entire day but the pollution changes from hour to hour. Particulate matter tends to be worse in the early mornings because of the night time stagnant air whereas ozone tends to be worse later in the day after tailpipe emissions climb. In addition the commute hours cause big pulses of pollution in the early morning and late afternoon. If you are riding during the week, you have to fit that around your work and home life and that likely means you’re riding early in the morning or after work, right when car pollution is peaking. On top of all that air pollution behaves differently at different times of the year. During summer with increased heat and sunlight we have higher generation of ozone and during winter temperature inversions and wood fireplaces mean higher PM readings in the late evenings, nights and early mornings.

With ozone generally peaking during the afternoon and PM more or less level during the day except at nights and early mornings during the cold months, the best time to exercise is usually going to be in the mid-morning. But another option is to wait until well into the evening when ozone has started to drop. With a good set of lights you’ll be able to enjoy that cleaner air. Years ago I often had to work until 7 in the evening. I’d rush home, change into my cycling clothes and head out over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands to clear out my head and get in a refreshing ride. With a good set of lights and being alert riding at night can not only be cleaner for your lungs but also safe.

Sign Of The Times: Respro Mask

Respro

If you insist upon riding when the air quality is bad or if you regularly ride next to major roads or freeways, you should consider riding with an anti-pollution mask. During “red” alerts the Bay Area Air Quality Management District suggests that people wear N95 masks. These masks block some of the particulate pollution but they don’t seal against your face and provide little barrier at all if they’re loose. They also have no exhalation ports so you exhale into the mask and rebreathe your breath. Needless to say during exercise they are not comfortable let alone wearing them when you’re walking outside. Their one saving grace is that they’re dirt cheap and can be purchased at any Home Depot or hardware shop.

What you should be wearing is a mask like the Respro Sportsta. Respro has been around for well over a decade but it’s based in the UK and is not well-known here. Respro makes anti-pollution masks for a variety of uses and the Sportsta is their model for cycling. They are made of neoprene and seal tightly against your face with a strap. They have an adjustable nose bridge so that you can fit the upper part of the mask perfectly against your face. They also have exhalation ports that open when you exhale and shut when you don’t. Finally they have replaceable HEPA filters so when your filter gets dirty it is easy to swap it out for a clean one. Unfortunately they’re not cheap: The Respro Sportsta costs about $45 and a two-pack of replacement filters is $25 on Amazon. You also have to size them to your face in order for them to work, so make sure you check the size chart on the Respro website.

I wear a size medium and with the Velcro-like strap I can get a tolerable yet tight fit. That doesn’t mean it’s comfortable—it’s not: wearing an elastric band around your face is never going to be as comfortable as a Wonderbra. But it’s not irritating either. Being able to exhale easily is a plus although in warm weather you are going to feel the extra insulation. If the temps are cooler, as they have been during the Camp Fire, it’s less uncomfortable.

Does it work? Hard to say because I’m coughing regardless right now with the air quality being so bad all day long. If you’re commuting to work, these masks work very well because you’re usually not breathing very hard. For recreational use they’re definitely better if you’re taking it easy, which is what you should be doing anyway with our abyssmal air quality. If you’re going á bloc they’re probably going to be quite uncomfortable as it was for me. But for getting in that not-so-fast recreational ride, the Respro is fine. Remember: these masks aren’t perfect so don’t imagine that you’re safe riding during bad air quality: you’re not. But they will reduce your exposure, you know, like getting less radiation after the H-bomb has been dropped. Hey, but you gotta get in your ride, right?

Continuing Lessons on Road Tubeless Tires

Orange Seal tire booger
Orange Seal tire ‘booger’ blocking a puncture

I recently got a flat tire on a road tubeless tire. How is that possible you say? I’d love to tell you it was because Jason slashed my tire with his chainsaw leaving me hapless by the side of the road. But it was much more mundane and humiliating. Whatever caused the puncture was rather small. I never did see it, only the tiny hole it caused. How come there wasn’t any sealant bubbling out and doing its thing? When I got home and took the tire off, I found the sealant was almost completely dried out!

I was initially puzzled—hadn’t I put Orange Seal in there just a few months ago? It turned out it was 14 months ago, which is an eternity when it comes to tire sealant. That’s one of the little maintenance tasks that go along with tubeless: put more sealant in your tires at regular intervals. But it’s also a task that is easy to forget, just as I did. In my case I had been checking at regular intervals when I first set the tires up, about every three months. At the time I was using Stan’s sealant, which is notorious for drying out in just a few months. But after a year the Stan’s was still there, and with confidence my diligence dropped off. I then switched to Orange Seal and checked my tires only once since then. I won’t make that mistake again.

I was fortunate in that I flatted just about a mile from home. I was able to get back to the house riding an almost flat rear tire (sealant also seems to help clincher tire beads bind to the rim). If I had been further away, I would have had to put in a tube. If the sealant were still working, it would have been an ugly mess to pull the tire off and put in a tube. On the other hand the hole was small enough that it surely would have sealed too. And by the way, did you know that tubeless tires tend to be hard to mount because they have tight beads? It’s enough hassle to try to get those Schwalbe tires on when I’m in the shop let alone by the side of the road. I’m not sure I could have gotten a tube in that tire without breaking a bunch of my finely manicured nails!

By the way this experience gave me an opportunity to check the inside of the tire to see how sealant works. Orange Seal consists of a liquid and lots of particles that flow to the puncture and clog it up. I was able to see two boogers inside the tire where apparently I had punctures that sealed. I made sure not to disturb them. It turns out the particles in Orange Seal are tiny little sparkly squares that look like metalic flakes. Whatever they are they seem to work very well at clogging holes.

Well, did I put more sealant in and mount the tire? Nope. I was going to but then I got Lesson Number Two: make sure you have a working air compressor. Air compressor, you say? Yep. Mounting a tubeless tire isn’t always possible with a regular bike pump. Sometimes it is but you don’t necessarily know ahead of time. It depends on the rim-tire combination. To seat the bead you often need a firm blast of air that literally blows the beads into place and create a seal. If you have a tube, the tube inflates and pushes the tire bead into place. But there isn’t a tube with tubeless tires. Nowadays you have three choices: air compressor, CO2 cartridge, or newfangled floor pumps with compressor tanks. CO2 is easy to get and cheap but has one problem: it causes tire sealant to coagulate. So you must do it in two steps: blow the beads into place and hope they stay there and then add sealant. Air compressors are the tool of choice but how many of you have the interest, need, or space for a shop air compressor? They’re moderately bulky and the cheap ones weigh about 40 lbs. They also make a lot of noise. If you’re a tool kind of guy/gal, then you probably already have an air compressor to drive your nail gun or air sprayer. But I’m guessing most of you wouldn’t know an air compressor from a tongue depressor. The third option is rather new. You can now get bicycle floor pumps that have a tank you inflate with the pump. Then you flip the switch to send the compressed air shooting into your tire. Genius. But they cost more than a cheap air compressor. Those floor pumps start around $125 and you can get a really cheap compressor for about $100 and it’s good for other things besides blowing your tubeless tires. But if you live in a SF apartment, the floor pump is definitely the way to go.

In my case I have an air compressor. But first I tried the floor pump because it’s worked before. No go—matter how I positioned the tire it didn’t want to inflate. Plan B was the air compressor. But when I turned it on, it was broken. Then I tried CO2 cartridges and after two failures I gave up and put a latex tube in the tire. I ordered a new compressor but I wasn’t going to wait for it to show up. So now I have a tubeless tire in front and a regular tubed tire in the back. I’m going to try this for a while. Right now I don’t notice a whole lot of difference in the ride. That’s not too surprising to me because latex tubes are very, very supple and give a Cadillac ride. But that brings up issues around maintaining latex tubes. But I’ll save that for another post!