These must be desperate times: seven Spokers from San Francisco broke down and came over to Contra Costa to do a bike ride! I guess the allure of Marin and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge had worn off, and wouldn’t it be a laugh to slum over in the ‘burbs? I was surprised not just by the number but also because there was the threat of rain, and god forbid riding in the rain!
This was a simple ride, one of my ‘go-to’ rides when I just don’t want to think and prefer to log some easy miles: ride out to Moraga and then down the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail, which is a rails-to-trails conversion, and then down the Iron Horse Trail, another rails-to-trails, to Danville. Will, Scott, Mark, new members Bud and Alan, as well as President David and Treasurer Roger joined me this time. Although it threatened to rain no one bailed and four even came by BART despite the cruel half-hour wait between trains these days. A few of the guys came in shorts and a jersey—that would have been perfect a week ago—but fall had fallen and without warmers or a jacket it was a brisk start to their day.
It was the usual Tony ride: Tony starts too fast, the group is chatty, Will bombs the downhill, oohs and aahs down the beautiful MUPs. This time no one got lost maybe because the route was simple and maybe because it was old hat for some. We pulled into Danville at the “Caboose” for an unnatural break. A train caboose being repurposed for restrooms struck some as a real novelty whereas for me, old and jaded, it was just part of the scenery I’ve come to ignore, which these days is just about all the scenery since I’m mostly lost in thought when I ride with just a touch of awareness for the mayhem and madness on the streets.
Bladders delightfully appeased we rolled a couple of blocks down to the new Sultan’s Kebab in town and took a gander: awright! no one was using the outside tables! Sultan’s Kebab started in Pleasanton and recently opened outposts in Walnut Creek and Danville. It’s not going to earn any Michelin stars but it’s good Middle Eastern food. And they have vegan and vegetarian choices should you eschew slaughtered animals. We took over two tables and gabbed and gnawed to our hearts’ content. Most got some form of kebab wrap and the verdict was “Yummy!” Being one who enjoys the same old rut I got the usual veg plate, which is an obscene amount of food just perfect for a scarf-and-barf. Will got a Turkish coffee that had a resplendent aroma; if I hadn’t been stuffed to the gills I would have marched back in and ordered one (or two!) for myself.
Stomachs overly full means only one thing: pedal to the metal up Danville Boulevard! I had a slow roll in mind…until we got passed by three wannabes at Stone Valley Road. So naturallly I had to gun it to catch their wheels. Next thing I know we’re going 23+ mph down the road dodging tree branches and piles of acorns. That was fun even if the rest of the group was a bit peeved. The rest of the way back was done at a modest pace. Alan and Will kept asking me, “Isn’t there a hill on the way back? Is this it?” Honestly the hills from Danville to Orinda are hardly worth mentioning. Except for the short 9% grade up to St. Stephens. Did I mention that I hadn’t been riding much and that I hadn’t done a ride over 30 miles in over two months? So right around the 34-mile point I totally caved and crawled up that hill. I thought I was safe until we turned into the BART parking lot at the end. That incline was just enough to set off leg cramps and I literally came to a stop. Fortunately I only had to hobble a hundred yards to the end. Fun ride, good company, delish food, wasted. Mission accomplished.
Do you know the difference between a road and a roadway? Yeah, I didn’t think you did. I certainly didn’t pay attention to such esoteric nuances until I learned that I didn’t have to ride in the gutter all the time. I used to ride to the far right of the road almost all the time, squeaking by with just the thinnest shaving of pavement on my right. Partly I was being overly courteous (some of you may say fearful) to motorists and partly because I had a fundamental misunderstanding of traffic law. What does the law say? Let’s take a peek at the California Vehicle Code, specifically Division 11, Chapter 1, Article 4, §21202: Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations… The part that we probably all understand is the ‘less than the normal speed of traffic’ ie. if you are going at the “normal speed” then you don’t have to ride on the right—you can ride wherever you want in the lane including the middle. Of course ‘normal speed’ depends on point of view. For a driver the normal speed is going to be whatever speed they want to go—who cares what the posted speed says! But generally if you can keep to the posted speed limit—25, 30, 40, whatever—you’re not committing an infraction by riding in the lane and any motorist who gives you grief over that is just being an impatient ass. The rest of the verbiage seems crystal clear—ride as close to the right as is practicable, right? Well, maybe not. The part of the above paragraph that most people misunderstand—both motorists and cyclists as well as most police officers—is the word ‘roadway’. It turns out that in traffic law a road or highway and a roadway are not exactly the same thing even though we may use all those terms interchangeably in everyday life. A road or highway is pretty much what you think it means: it’s some kind of path open to the public and used for vehicular travel. So a trail is not a road (not used for vehicular travel) although a fire road (= “double track”) is albeit not paved, as long as it’s open for public use. A street is a road since it’s used for vehicular travel and it’s available for public use. However a roadway is slightly but critically different. The CVC Division 1, §530 defines it as follows: A “roadway” is that portion of a highway improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel. In other words the roadway is only a part of a road, the part that is ordinarily used for travel. The roadway thus excludes the shoulder, parking lane, and sidewalk but not a bike lane. The roadway is just the lane(s) of travel, period. If you see a white solid line on the right side of the road, this indicates the right edge of the roadway. (However there isn’t always a white line on the right.) As cyclists we are to ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb OR the edge of the roadway, ie. you need to do one or the other but not necessarily both. You do not need to ride as close as is practicable to the curb as long as you are on the right edge of the roadway. Since the roadway excludes the parking lane and shoulder, you only need to ride on the right side of the rightmost lane. If there is a white line marking the right edge of the roadway, then you ride to the left of the white line, not the right of it. Doing the latter places you in the shoulder of the road, which is not part of the roadway. Not riding in the parking lane seems common sense to me. Although riding in the parking lane may keep you further away from moving cars, when you have to merge into the normal lane of travel because of a parked car, you are increasing the chance of being hit from behind since following cars are not expecting you to move into “their” lane and thus haven’t moved to the left to give you the minimum three feet of passing room. Yet a Palo Alto police officer, irked that I was “blocking” cars, threatened me with a ticket when I refused to ride in the parking lane of El Camino Real (which has multiple lanes, by the way) when I insisted on staying in the right lane. I moved into the parking lane until he disappeared up the road and then resumed riding in the right lane of the roadway. Of course, I’m not rigid about this. If the parking lane is empty for a long way, I have no qualms about using it for my safety; I just plan to merge into the roadway early enough so that cars have plenty of time to see me. (I also signal my intentions.) The real problem for cyclists isn’t the law per se but drivers’ ignorance of the law. When we ride on the right side of the roadway, drivers become irked that we’re not riding as far to the right of the road. It’s no surprise that such nuances are lost on the general public. Although this technical difference is alluded to in the DMV Drivers Handbook (p. 77) it is not explained. What is covered in the Handbook is an explanation of the exceptions that allow cyclists not to ride all the way to the right of the roadway such as the presence of obstacles, right-turn only lanes, and when the lane is too narrow for a bicycle and car to travel side-by-side. The difference between the roadway and the road should be laid out in plain English so that drivers (and cyclists and cops) are educated about the legally allowable position for cyclists on roads. Of course this wouldn’t end punishment passes, verbal abuse, leaning on the horn, or getting sideswiped. But it might reduce the amount of road rage focused directly on us. Despite the best education—and no, the DMV Handbook hardly constitutes sufficient “education”—there will always be a subset of drivers whose attitude can accurately be characterized as auto supremicist: cyclists don’t deserve to be on the road regardless of how the laws are written and if they use the roads, they do so at their own risk since they should have no rights. Oh, and they should always get out of the way of motorists if they want to stay alive. As an example we have a neighbor who confronted us once when we were riding up the steep, narrow road to our house: “Bicyclists shouldn’t be allowed on these roads because they’re too narrow!” (= “You’re blocking our cars!”). At first I was stunned by his attitude—hadn’t he read the law or taken a DMV exam to get his license? Didn’t he know how to pass a cyclist in a car? Should we have expected anything less from such ilk than convenient rationalization of violence or bullying towards cyclists—“he deserved it”, “he was so entitled he thought he could take half the road”?
The task before us—besides survival—is huge: to change the culture around transportation. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the effort to end auto supremicism is certainly going to take longer. But the first step is to stop “moving to the back of the bus”—you have a right to ride on the roadway (pun intended), so exercise your right.
Today’s ride down the San Mateo coast to Gazos Creek was exceptionally timely. Temperature in San Francisco, which has had until now a typically dreary summer fogfest, got downright equatorial when it hit a “high” of 84 for this year. Gosh ‘Friscans, that’s practically like Hell! Elsewhere like the East Bay it was in the triple digits and fabulously smokey. Combined with the worst air quality we’ve seen since last summer’s burnin’, churnin’ fire festival it meant the only sensible place to ride was on the Pacific. Everywhere else you were seeing and breathing red.
Seven Spokers were breathing easy along Highway One for the day but they weren’t alone: it looks like everyone else had the same idea including the Oakland Yellowjackets and Grizzly Peak Cyclists, both of which had club rides there. Joining Jeff were Spokers Mark, Scott, Maurizio and Stephen as well as newcomers Eric and Nathaniel. They ran into Stephanie, who was riding with the Grizzlies (ahem, her other club). Rumor has it that she and Jeff are now conspiring to lead a jaunt in Marin next weekend. Stay tuned!
Ironically not having the pool party this year turned out to be a good decision. Last year the Pandemic drove a dagger into the annual pool party. But even if Covid had never appeared, the intense smoke from the bewildering number of August wildfires would have cut the legs out from under the beloved event. Forgot about last August fires? Well, there was the CZU (Santa Cruz & San Mateo), SCU (East & South Bay), LNU (Sonoma & Yolo), August Complex (Mendocino), and the Glass Fire (Napa) to name just a few! How soon we forget. This year Roger and I were measuring the risk of having the pool party with the Delta variant spreading madly and had tentatively, halfheartedly decided to hold it the weekend of August 21-22. Then a surgery date opened up just after that weekend killing the idea for good. Rather than hurriedly putting together the event amidst prepping for surgery and recuperation, we decided it was best put it on hiatus for another year. There’s just something about life sending you a clear message.
Instead of the pool party we decided to hold just the ride since that is much easier to pull off when harried and busy. Instead of having the usual hot, hot August day that would have made the pool an alluring oasis, we got a cool day accompanied by a persistant haze from this year’s fires whose smoke we had heretofore avoided. The PM2.5 reading, which suddenly skyrocketed days before, was supposed to drop down by morning. Instead in the morning we were greeted with a reading of about 140, which is almost “Unhealthy”, but was now projected to drop as the day went on. Well, no good deed goes unpunished as they say.
I was expecting cancellations due to the air pollution but everybody showed up including Will, Scott, Stephen, and Roger from SF and Vanessa from Oakland. Only Will showed up in short sleeves while the rest of us were clad in jackets and even knickers—not the usual clothing for this time of year. But all the San Franciscans bemoaned the lack of heat and sunshine expecting a reprieve from the gruesomely gray Mark Twain summer on their side of the Bay. The route was one of the older pool party routes—out to Pinehurst but then heading to Redwood rather than taking on the 14% top of Pinehurst. After climbing up Redwood, which has a more sensible gradient, we turned onto Skyline and climbed up to where it intersected the top of Pinehurst. From there is was pretty much the standard pool party route except for dropping all the way down to San Pablo Dam Road instead of taking the ‘secret’ way down Old El Toyonal due to construction.
Stephen asked me if there had been any recent bikejackings on Skyline. In April there had been several along Skyline and Wildcat where armed robbers would hem in one or two cyclists with a car and take their bike, phone, and valuables. I told him that nothing more has appeared in the local rags about subsequent armed robberies and perhaps the increased police presence had made it too hot to continue stealing bikes. In any case it had put a damper on our forays into the Berkeley hills except when in a group.
This ride could have been called the Tour of the Berkeley Hills Tearooms because it seemed that we stopped at almost all of the restrooms along the way. Was it aging bladders? diuretics? running out of Depends? Looking for lost “friends”? I have no idea. No sooner had the Orinda BART facilities been inspected and deemed pee-worthy when shortly down the road we stopped at the Valle Vista restroom. Then the Sibley restroom. Then the Brazilian Room. Fortunately no one was in a rush so a rather casual attitude towards stops ruled the day.
Vanessa showed up on her Surly, the only non-road “racing” bike, just as she did in Monterey. It’s a great touring bike but a real boat anchor compared to the bikes the rest of us were sporting–carbon fiber gems, titanium jewels. Yet she pedaled that thing with aplomb, able to keep up, proving that having a $14,000 bike may be cool but ultimately is superfluous.
As we climbed up Skyline the fog got crazy thick. At first I thought it was smoke from the fires. But it “clearly” was pea-soup thick fog from the coast, causing eucalyptus trees to shed copious condensation down on the road. Road spray in August! I was sure glad I had on my longsleeve jersey and vest as well as glove liners. You also couldn’t see more than 75 feet beyond your face—you could hear the cars coming but couldn’t see them until they were right upon you. This made the descent down Grizzly a tad interesting. You couldn’t see shit, there were numerous wet spots, two decreasing radius turns, and with traffic—fun times! I was glad to have day lights on the bike.
Turning onto Wildcat we were finally going to be heading back to Contra Costa, which we hoped meant some actual warmth and sunshine, and right around the Brazilian Room the sun came out brilliantly and the haze vanished. We had a fast descent to Orinda. Will and Vanessa headed off to BART while the rest of us went to Geppetto’s for an outdoor lunch and convivial conversation. And by now the PM2.5 had dropped to 40 just as the forecast had predicted. So no pool but a party on two wheels nonetheless if a bit chilly.
Despite the threat of smoke from the Dixie Fire yesterday’s Jersey Ride got off without a hitch. Eight Spokers enjoyed a beautiful sunny day in Marin. The ride was uneventful except for Laura getting a flat on Camino Alto. But she caught up with the group on Paradise–or rather, the group caught up with her after she took a shortcut! Nancy returned from her three-month stint with FEMA seeing to the needs of Central American children who had been stopped by the border police. Welcome back, Nancy! Interestingly both Maurizio and Chris decided to forego the moshpit on the Golden Gate Bridge and returned to SF by ferry instead. Is this the beginning of a Jersey Ride thing? We shall see. Now if only the Blue & Gold served cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the way back, that would be a fitting end of a Jersey Ride!
By the way the Blue & Gold Fleet has filed a request with the state PUC to stop ferry service between SF and Tiburon. If it is accepted as is, there would be no direct ferry service between the two. (The Angel Island Ferry Service would continue between Tiburon and Angel Island.) Barring a new ferry service taking over the route, this would be the end of the line literally and figuratively. Service would continue between Sausalito and SF requiring a short ride from Tiburon to Sausalito and still allowing you to bypass the GGB crossing. However this route is much busier and highly impacted by the rental bikes returning to SF after crossing the bridge. The other option is to cycle to the Larkspur ferry terminal in order to return to SF.
You know the routine: you’re on a road that’s narrow, probably doesn’t have much of a shoulder if any, and the SUVs and pickups just keep roaring up behind you—what do you do? Naturally you cower, ie. move as far to the right as you can and make like a mouse, hoping to avoid getting smashed and turned into road debris. There isn’t a cyclist alive in this country that at least doesn’t start out with Survival Strategy Alpha: move the fuck over and pray. Pretty soon that becomes an ingrained habit and you find yourself riding ‘in the gutter’ all the time just to be ‘safe’. But are you?
It’s hard to argue with success. You’re alive today because you hug the gutter like your life depended on it. There is another strategy called ’taking the lane’ where you proactively (or in the eyes of 95% of motorists, impudently) move towards the center of the lane and act like you belong there and have the same rights as any other road user. Sounds good in theory but in real life it’s a lot harder to execute.
I live on a very steep street (10% average grade for 0.8 miles). It also has extremely crappy pavement, no shoulder, and some sections with no center divide due to substandard road width. It also has a hairpin blind curve just when it gets steepity. Every time I return from a ride I face a conundrum: what shall I do at the first hairpin to stay alive? As I get older it’s a rare day that I can “sprint” through the curve before the next line of cars is released by the red light. And I’m not getting any faster. There was a time when I would select a line going uphill that avoided the most execrable of the pavement cracks, and that best line was closer to the center of the road, which by the way has a double yellow line ie. ‘don’t pass!’ That would work until a car came downhill, usually at a high rate of speed, and crossed the centerline to pass a cyclist or pedestrian on the other side and coopting the entire road. Back to the gutter! Fortunately time has removed this choice because the road is now so replete with treacherous alligator cracks that there is no advantage to riding close to the centerline.
The problem is that the road is barely standard width so passing cars that stay in my lane are usually going to violate the three-foot passing law even when I’m at the extreme right side. Consequently I’ve been needlessly brushed by cars who insisted upon passing me on this curve and that’s why I shifted back to taking the lane despite the horrible pavement. I thought that by taking the lane drivers would then not pass since it’s (a) a blind hairpin curve (duh!), and (b) has a double yellow line (double duh!). Here I discovered that lack of driver education compounded by either immense stupidity and/or entitlement—a bad combination, in my opinion—leads to the following behavior: drivers pass me anyway by barging full on into the opposing lane even though they can’t see shit ahead of them. Most of the time there is no oncoming vehicle so no harm, no foul. But I’ve lost count of the number of times that a head-on collision has been narrowly averted by a downhill driver slamming on the brakes so that Stupid Guy/Gal can lunge back into the right hand lane, usually cutting me off. I’ve been lucky so far not to get sideswiped.
At this point I’m as exasperated as a rat in a cage with an electrified floor. Taking the lane as a traffic strategy assumes that drivers understand and follow traffic laws. One can no longer assume what constitutes ‘common sense’ when it comes to driving on local roads. Taking the lane also assumes implicitly that drivers are rational and don’t gamble heedlessly. But some drivers are like two-year olds who don’t understand consequences. Ironically it may be that those drivers understand the consequences all too well when it comes to cyclists, which is that there are almost none if you hit one. So hug the gutter, take the lane—what’s the diff when it comes to survival?
Both strategies work…until they don’t.
The problem with taking the lane—besides finding the requisite resolve—is that it may work 90% of the time but the 10% when it doesn’t work is when it can become extremely hazardous. What is that 10%? When drivers are not attentive, rational, or sober. When drivers are sociopathic (there are more out there than you think—were you ever bullied growing up? Those folks now drive cars.) Even when it does ‘work’, you still may have to endure punishment passes, rolling coal, being yelled at, stuff being thrown at you (I was hit with a thrown egg once).
So, although you have the right to take the lane when it isn’t wide enough for a car to pass safely, should you when drivers behave so callously?
Addendum. Here’s an example of the should-I-or-should-I-not-take-the-lane:
Maurizio asked me why I had titled this ride “A Quick One”. Was it because we were going to be riding quickly? Because it was going to be over quick, ie. a short ride?, although that would be a stretch since it is 42 miles long. Was it because I liked ‘quickies”? Actually it was because I usually post a ride with plenty of advance notice—at least two weeks and more like a month—but this time I posted it less than a week before it was scheduled to take place. Part of it was impatience: no one else had posted a ride and I wanted to do a ride this weekend. Nature abhors a vacuum and all that. In the end it indeed turned out to be a fairly quick ride—we averaged over 14 mph for the route, which was peppered with a number of short but steepish sections.
I thought it was going to be another Roger-and-Tony Different Spokes ride, ie. just the two of us, because the listing went up so late. But I should know you Spokers better—you all wait to see if something better hits the social calendar and if not, then you relent and sign up for a club ride! I know, it’s important to keep your dance card filled, all you belles and beaux of the ball. Suddenly there were seven people signed up. Besides Maurizio Will, Carl, Roger Sayre, and Elia also showed up. Sorry you guys, but I was really looking forward to seeing Elia—not that you’re all, um, “unattractive”—because you’re not, but because Elia goes way back to the ‘80s with the club. So she’s also an Old Fart like I am—she had just let her membership lapse for a much, much longer period of time! Elia was a fast Spoker then and a red hot racer, ie. she’s got real cred not the poseur cred you see at every stoplight in Marin. Back then she was always training, so we’d run into her while she was training and the rest of us were, um, just doing a club ride.
This ride is just a mash up of two ever-popular Midpeninsula rides, the Portola loop and Cañada Road, with a foray into the hills of Los Altos for some added spice. We were mainly doing the “standard” routes but I had a few diversions to make it more interesting and to prevent narcolepsy. Unfortunately for me more than half the group didn’t have a Garmin for navigation. In fact, they didn’t even have cyclometers. Wow, and I thought I was old school. Even in the very early days of the club all the Kool Kids had the hottest stuff, which was—yeah, yeah, the new Look pedals but I’m talking about the Cateye Solar Cyclometer! It was a basic cyclometer as tall as a Costco muffin with a solar panel to recharge its battery. So we always knew how slow we were riding and how many tenths of mile it was to the top of Pig Farm or Mt. Tam. But hey, no cyclometers, no problem: it just means people get lost or people obediantly follow the ride leader. Well, we had a little of both.
After a pit stop at the Pulgas Water Temple to flush away our troubles we rolled south on Cañada and half the group took off. Sure enough, missed that first turn at Olive. Much yelling and gesticulating ensued. That got me anxious and thinking I should lead from the front to make sure nobody had an unexpected adventure. That mostly worked but I had hoped to enjoy the back seat on this ride rather than piling into the wind and all that.
I was chatting with Elia and telling her that she could follow Roger Sayre since he had a Garmin and wouldn’t get lost. So off they went and promptly missed a right turn in Los Altos. More screaming and gesticulating. At that point I think the group got timid and there wasn’t a whole lot of jetting off into the distance anymore.
The perky little hills we did in Los Altos actually didn’t seem that steep this time. I distinctly remember Roger and I gasping (well, actually it was just me gasping) when we rode here last July after San Mateo County opened up. Maybe I’m in better shape this year? Back on the flats we took a break at Peet’s in Los Altos. Somebody made a comment—I think it was Will—at how uncrowded it was compared to SF. “You don’t have to ask the cashier for the key to get into the bathroom!” Yes, life in the suburbs is different. I also don’t recall seeing any tent cities or homeless encampments anywhere. Yep, Los Altos is a regular “Elysium”.
By the time we got to Sand Hill Road on the return the group was in a much chattier mode and everybody took their time getting up that last slog. Then it was just a parade up Cañada to the cars.
Final note: if you want to see what racing does to you, watch Elia. She rides a perfectly straight line, her pedaling is smooth—like buttah!—and her cadence is metronomically precise. I was also in awe that she still packs a corn cob cluster. But hey, that’s what all the Kool Kids do.
Confession: I’m done with cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge. It makes me both sad and disheartened that I say that. When I lived in San Francisco, I cycled across the bridge several times a week and I used to enjoy it immensely. The ambiance, the views, and the peace & quiet couldn’t be beat. Because of my unusual work hours I would take to the bridge at almost all hours of the day. On weekends I’d do the usual ride-to-somewhere-in-Marin usually in the morning and return in the afternoon; on weekdays I even regularly crossed the bridge at night since it was the time of day I could go for a ride.
After moving to the East Bay almost two decades ago I’ve crossed the Bridge maybe a dozen times and almost all of those trips have been Jersey Rides. On Jersey Rides the bridge is astonishingly busy—borderline congested—especially in the afternoon on the way back. In a way I wish it were even more congested because then no one would be able to speed along and everyone would be going the same speed, ie. slow. It’s gotten so busy that I say without exaggeration that it is a near constant stream of cyclists crossing wheel-to-wheel.
Having a lot of cyclists is not itself a problem. But how they behave in close quarters is. A significant proportion of the traffic is visitors on rental bikes. Many if not most are casual cyclists steering unfamiliar bikes. It’s not surprising that they might be a bit unsure. But when they start taking selfies while riding across the bridge in heavy traffic I get nervous. Although their judgment might be questionable, it’s the judgment of the impatient cyclists who furiously barge into the oncoming lane at speed in order to pass that I really question. Regardless of the type of cyclists we ride amidst, we have to trust their ability and judgment in unnaturally tight quarters. In that respect it’s no different than driving a car at speed on an undivided two-lane road with traffic. But you never know when someone will make that error in judgment or succumb to a lapse in attention.
Adding to the equation is the increased amount of ‘furniture’—large equipment such as sand blasters and tanks—anchored at several points midspan. In the distant past this equipment was moved around from location to location and there was a lot less of it; at times it mostly disappeared. But now these units seem to be permanently in situ. Some of it may be part of the suicide prevention net being constructed beneath the bridge deck. That project is now two years behind schedule and currently not expected to be completed until some time in 2023. However as with so many construction projects in the Bay Area the timeline is a moving target and just keeps getting pushed back repeatedly to the point that the completion date is a mere guess. The width of the west sidewalk is about ten feet and furniture takes up maybe three feet reducing the travel width to three and a half feet in each direction. When a passing cyclist tries to create a ‘third’ lane by passing into oncoming cyclists, there is barely two and a half feet for each cyclist—that’s just a bit more than the width of a regular road bike let alone a mountain bike. That’s even less width than around the pylons, which is five and a half feet or 2.75 feet for each direction. Whether the construction equipment will ever be removed is your guess and in the meantime we have to endure an even narrower pathway with restricted sightlines.
Something happened and it seemingly was for the better: the ride across the bridge just got a lot more popular. When I moved to San Francisco in 1982 the population was just under 700,000; in 2019 it was 880,000. In that period cycling went from a niche recreational activity to mainstream partly energized by the increased use of bicycles for commuting. That 180,000 additional people includes a lot more cyclists. The rental bike business has also taken off, certainly helped by bikesharing services such as Ford, Lyft, and Bay Wheels. One look at the oncoming bridge traffic and you’ll see innumerable BS (Blazing Saddles) and SB (Sports Basement) handlebar bags. It’s just another fabulous tourist spot being loved to death. Yes, the bridge is amazing and beautiful, and thanks to all those Instagram snapping cyclists we now have thousands more visitors who want to experience it too.
Traversing the bridge in the afternoon on a Jersey Ride I find increasingly nerve-wracking. The level of vigilance it takes can turn a fun ride into labor. All it takes is for one cyclist to bobble or weave in front for the adrenaline to surge. I try to be a considerate and considered bridge user by slowing down and patiently waiting until there is more than ample room to pass, if I pass at all, and in the afternoon especially I keep my distance from other cyclists and don’t draft in order to give myself plenty of braking room. Despite my caution—or perhaps because of my caution—more and more “Rapha freds” insist upon passing at the weirdest moments—what drugs are they on? Oh, testosterone. As a longtime City denizen I think it has all been part of the change that has swept the Bay Area: increased impatience. Are we New York yet? It’s just not relaxing to ride the bridge on weekends or other peak usage times.
So what of the Jersey Ride? Here’s our most popular and well attended ride and it crosses the Golden Gate Bridge. The morning crossing is more reasonable since the traffic is moderate to low at that time. But in the afternoon it’s transformed into a moving mosh pit of diverse cyclists many of them impatient. I’m not the only Spoker who feels unsafe and is fed up with the impacted conditions and the resulting crazy behavior. If you’re riding by yourself you can adjust by crossing the Bridge at a different time when the traffic is lower. But the Jersey Ride always returns after lunch in Tiburon and we end up crossing during peak usage. One adjustment we could make is to change the start time of the JR: start it later so it would return later in the afternoon around 5. But that would mean crossing it midday to go to Marin—peak period. In any case for some that’s too late to go for a Saturday ride, and for others—especially after a late Friday night out—it might be perfect! Another adjustment is to forego crossing the Bridge in the afternoon altogether: take a ferry back from Marin. The price of a ticket—from $7 to $14—might be worth it for the peace of mind assuming you can get a ticket (hint: reserve in advance). The drawback is not only the additional cost but also the timing of the ferry departure and how you feel about sharing a crowded ferry these days. A big plus is the even more scenic ride back on the Bay: gliding below the Bridge is not only beautiful but does wonders for your smugness.
Another idea is to change the Jersey Ride—gasp, heresy! Perhaps the JR could start as usual but change the destination to Fairfax for the lunch stop. Perry’s Deli is a popular spot but there’s also the Gestalt Haus and the Coffee Roastery. The ride out is about 24 miles and a return trip to Tiburon would make a total of 40 miles, or to the Sausalito ferry landing a total of 49.5 miles—these numbers are comparable to the standard Tib loop. Or, the JR could forego crossing the GGB altogether by heading to someplace south. The trick is to come up with a compelling destination with a route that is scenic and not filled with too steep hills. A ride to either Sharp Park or Linda Mar in Pacifica would be about 40 miles although we’d have to come up with a decent lunch stop. If we could come up with a southern route, we could alternate it with the Tiburon loop so that we could skip the Bridge occasionally, say every other month.
We’ve been lucky in having very few collisions on the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve been in one although no one was hurt and the bikes came out okay. At the end of a DSSF ride in Marin I was heading south on the west sidewalk by the Marin pylon when a person unsteadily piloting a mountain bike was heading north. She and I locked eyes and I could tell she was uncertain and scared. I slowed down and hit the brakes just before she weaved toward me. Unfortunately the rider behind me didn’t notice I was braking—partly because he was drinking his water bottle—and piled into me knocking me into the young woman and toppling her over the railing into the car lane. I and the fellow immediately behind her grabbed her and managed to pull her back. In retrospect I should have alerted the riders behind me when I sensed there was danger. But realistically they shouldn’t have been following so close behind me on the bridge. All it took was a set of minor bad decisions to set up an otherwise completely avoidable collision.
Regardless of the Jersey Ride we will continue to cross the Bridge at times of high usage. We can’t control the behavior of other cyclists. So remaining vigilant and keeping your guard up are critical for staying safe. First, keep your speed down. Most multi-use paths cap the speed at 15 mph. That’s probably not a bad idea for the bridge especially given how narrow it is. This is more important as you head downhill towards the towers or to the entrances where traffic is slowing and stopping, sometimes suddenly. The temptation is to go fast but you can’t see properly around the towers and the entrances are dangerous strictures. Second, keep your distance. Crossing the bridge is not the time to be pinned to the wheel in front of you. Gusts off the Pacific move bikes sideways unpredictably and the cyclist in front may abruptly brake or weave; you also can’t see well ahead of you when you’re right behind someone and can’t judge the behavior of the oncoming cyclists, the presence of furniture, or whether there is someone stopped against the railing or deciding to start riding again. Third, use your voice or a bell/horn to alert other cyclists—don’t be timid. That cyclist engaged in taking a selfie may not notice you or that they’re weaving, so get their attention. If it’s foggy, raining, or getting dark, use a light so that oncoming cyclists can see you; conversely, don’t expect others to use lights so be especially alert for ‘stealth’ cyclists. Fourth, signal your intentions: if you’re going to slow down or stop, let cyclists behind know by signalling. Fifth, don’t be a bro: it’s no big deal to cool your jets and slow down to accommodate other cyclists. Blasting around other cyclists or passing importunately—especially silently—is just being a dick. A punishment pass is a punishment pass whether it’s done by a car or another cyclist. Be cool, patient, and accommodating and you’ll get to the other side safely and maybe less frazzled.
This past Sunday seven of us tried out an experimental ride to Tiburon that started in the East Bay rather than San Francisco. Starting in Point Richmond at cozy Little Louie’s Cafe the route I was testing was to take us across to Marin via the Richmond-San Rafael (RSR) bridge. Such a route was not possible just a few years ago because it hadn’t previously been open to cyclists at all. With the debilitating increase in cyclists on the Golden Gate Bridge I was interested in exploring a different way to get to and enjoy the Tiburon loop especially since I live in the East Bay. Going to San Francisco to then ride across the GGB is literally ‘a bridge too far’ for me. Having an East Bay Tib loop might encourage our East Bay members to do the Jersey Ride if we can coordinate the meeting of the two groups at least to have lunch together at Woodlands Market in Tiburon and preferably to ride Paradise Drive together.
David Gaus came along much to my surprise and delight. David and I haven’t ridden together in a long time, probably not since the 2019 Pride Ride if not before. Joan came too on her mountain bike, which was going to be fine on this ride. David Pritikin, who is a ‘fellow traveler’, signed up—I hadn’t seen him since the 2019 Pride Ride; and two of his friends, Eric and Steve, decided to join the fun.
If you haven’t yet ridden across the RSR, you ought to do it at least once. This bridge at 5.5 miles in length is a lot longer than the Golden Gate, (1.7 miles) the Dumbarton (1.6 miles), the Carquinez (0.66 miles), and the Antioch (1.8 miles). The only longer bridge is the San Mateo at 7 miles but we can’t bike on it (yet/ever?). Unlike the others the RSR has two humps, which relieves the boredom I guess. Speaking of boredom, one thing that will drone on you is the relentless sound of a zillion automobile tires right next to you because the bike lane is just a repurposed car lane with a super-long K barrier between you and death. You get five and a half lovely miles to get used to that sound. On the other hand the view from the bridge is certainly different and can be enchanting. The first time I rode it I was struck by the placidity of Richardson Bay on the north side of the bridge. The last stretch of the bridge you’re almost at water level and the wetlands are gorgeous. Once you’re on the Marin side you take the 580 flyover on the shoulder that has been converted into a protected bikepath. The tricky part is finding a route around the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and the 101 freeway, which crosses Corte Madera Creek right there. The easiest way, which we were using, is to get on one of the walkways on the exit/entrance ramps. The east walk is barely wide enough for one person; if you encounter a cyclist or a wheelchair coming the opposite way, you’ll end up having to back out. The west walk is a bit better but it’s still rather narrow. We took the west sidewalk and then tried out a spiral pedestrian/cyclist overpass to get us back to the eastern side of the freeway on the frontage road. It was fine if a bit steep but Lord help you if another user is descending while you’re climbing! From there it was easy to get to Paradise Drive.
On Paradise Joan, Eric and I took off and barreled along at 20-22 mph, swooping through each inlet and racing up the inclines. We got to Tiburon in a trice and I was thoroughly worn out. We took a long lunch at Woodlands out on the deck and then headed back through Corte Madera skipping Camino Alto in favor of the lower bike path by 101. We then caught the Larkspur Path, which eventually got us back to the east walk of 101 over Corte Madera Creek.
When you return to the RSR on Sir Francis Drake Blvd you roll past San Quentin up a small hill where it becomes the entrance ramp to 580. The bike path coming from the RSR is on the opposite side and it looks like you should cross the road to take it. That’s a dangerous move: traffic is at high speed in both directions and you would have to judge the exact right moment to cross over to avoid being smashed. The actual route is to continue on the “bike path”, which is just the shoulder, and looks just like a shoulder. But there are a couple of small signs that tell you this is the way despite the debris and narrowness. You flow downhill onto 580 and immediately get off at the very last exit in Marin and then go under the freeway to catch the bridge. Unfortunately three of us were ahead and just presumed the others would take the “logical” route. But they didn’t see where we had gone and they predictably thought that getting on the freeway was wrong. So they crossed over. Roger was last and couldn’t warn them not to cross over. We all met up at the western landing of the RSR.
Crossing eastward you start at water level and you have to get over the two humps before landfall in Richmond. We had been fighting a west headwind all day and this was the only time it worked to our “advantage”. Since it was actually coming through the Golden Gate and hitting us sideways, it was more of a sidewind. But at least it wasn’t a head on! The RSR doesn’t get the dense, packed usage that the Golden Gate gets. There aren’t scads of rental bikes nor tourists taking selfies as they cross. It’s a functional bridge to get across the water and it’s lack of icon quality is exactly what makes it a perfect route for a Jersey Ride with little traffic and no danger except the errant trash tossed or blown onto the bike path.
When you descend on the path from the abutment to Point Richmond for some reason the builders put in a series of annoying lumps. If they were intended as speed bumps, they are unlike any I’ve ever seen being more of hobby-horse, washboard quality than true bumps that force you to slow down. But they can throw off your steering if you’re not attentive as happened to one cyclist just a few months after the bridge opened. He crashed and died.
At the bottom you have to cross the exit ramp from 580 and this is a time you should not blow through the light. Cars heading down have a real head of steam and have no time to react to an errant cyclist on the road. Be patient and push the walk button to cross. And even then keep a wide eye open to any cars that might miss the red light! Just a few blocks later we were back at Little Louie’s.
Although everybody had a good time on the ride, the routing was functional but not ideal. The intersection in San Rafael with 101 is a mess. The sidewalks are a sketchy way to get to Paradise and the only option is to head further west to Bon Air and catch the Larkspur Path. It would be safer but longer and you would have to repeat it coming back. The return by San Quentin is counterintuitive and requires some nerve to overcome the fear of using a freeway. We’ll try out a modified route next time. The total mileage was a little more than 36 miles, even shorter than the standard Jersey Ride at 47.
The first real Different Spokes social event since the beginning of the Pandemic, the club picnic, happily took place yesterday. This year we went to Old Mill Park in Mill Valley, a first for us, after a couple of years in Golden Gate Park and China Camp before that. Old Mill Park is in the heart of Mill Valley just a couple of blocks from the “downtown” and we had a cozy site, Redwood Grove, nestled in a grove of redwood trees. (Duh!) We got our sunshine and no fog but not quite the warm temps that would have made it perfect. (“Whiner!”) For the 21 of us who attended, the grove was the perfect size providing a woodsy hideaway in the middle of snow white Marin. Twenty-one attended of which about a dozen biked the 14 miles from McLaren Lodge. That’s a 100% increase since our 2019 picnic!
Amidst the panoply of delicious potluck dishes Benson Lu literally took the cake with his Japanese cheesecake slathered in raspberry and apricot jam. We know who puts effort into their cooking!
Of note: Will Bir is back on the bike after his brain surgery. That was one quick recovery! Roger Sayre showed up with his new, amazing blue Orbea superbike, upstaging Stephen’s orange Seven. Maurizio is back on the bike and is riding again—hope this one doesn’t get stolen! Old fart Janet Lourenzo, who lives just down the road from Old Mill Park (well, actually Corte Madera but that’s close enough) joined us and we finally got to chat. Also returning to the fold is Rico Nappa, whom I haven’t seen since the Ride Leader Appreciation Dinner back in, oh, 2018 or so. Good to see some Oldies But Goodies!
Thanks go to Ginny Watson, Jeff Pekrul, and David Goldsmith for leading the ride up. And we have to thank David Goldsmith and Greg Mahusay for doing the scut work in organizing the picnic and taking care of the hundreds of loose ends to make it a seamless event. Special thanks go to Chris Mulanax, David Varela, and David Gaus for being the mules—whipped without mercy—who sagged everybody’s goodies up to the park and set up the picnic area. Since parking turned out to be tight at the park, they had to park inconveniently away and schlep all the gear, coolers, and food into the park! I hope it was a labor of love and that you were “rewarded” afterwards for your hard work.