The Best Way to Keep One’s Word is Not to Give It

The San Jose Mercury News reported that October 21 was the deadline for remediation of the infrastructure for BART’s as-yet unopened Milpitas and Berryessa stations in order to open by the end of this year. If you recall last June the opening date for the new stations was delayed yet again until “November” or “late 2019”. Everything was set back when “thousands” of problems were still unresolved between the VTA-constructed stations and BART. Apparently those problems are now down to a “handful” and BART blew its deadline yet finally began testing the new line a week late on October 28. Nothing ever seems to go smoothly with BART especially its dismal PR. Since BART never appears to rush headlong (yeah, we wish!), the odds of it being able to open Milpitas and Berryessa by Dec. 31 are about zero. One would think that being one week behind schedule means it will open a week late. Well, originally it was “November” or “late fall”. I think we might see it before June 2020 keeping in mind BART never admits its timelines are always ludicrously unrealistic.

On the other hand we just had dinner with a German friend who commented that the new Berlin Tegel airport was originally set to open in 2011. But due to the 2008 recession subcontractors went bankrupt disappeared and along with them the schematics of their work. So now the airport is “done” except that nothing works and they’re untangling that mess slowly. New opening date is now late 2020. Does that sound familiar to you? In another example of stellar German planning the Hamburg opera house, the Elbphilharmonie, finally opened in 2017 but ran into cost overruns that put construction on hiatus twice, I believe. It eventually opened six years late. So maybe BART is actually ahead of the curve. Whoa, what a thought!

Calling All Spokers-Jock Sunday at the Lookout on Sunday Nov. 3!

Workin’ it, baby!

We hope you’re all planning to come to the Lookout (3600 16th St. @ Market, across from Cafe Flore) on Sunday, November 3 for our important fundraiser. The fun begins at 3:30 pm when your fellow Spokers will be the hostesses with the mostestes, selling raffle tickets and jello shots to raise cash for our club. Funds raised will go towards our 2020 budget.

What can be more fun than jokes and drinks on a balcony on a sunny (or even cloudy) afternoon overlooking the passing Castro parade? These Sunday afternoons/early evenings guarantee a hot, friendly, and frisky crowd of athletic supporters in an afternoon schmooze and booze with door and donations benefitting LGBT sports teams. We call on all DSSF members—both boys and girls, as it’s all gender friendly—to come out in their kit and gear to support and promote our club. In previous years we’ve raised a princessly sums of money ($400-1,000!) for club activities.

The WalMart of Bicycling Comes to the Bay Area [updated 10/30]

$50 bike shorts.

You’ve probably never heard of Decathlon stores but there are now two of them in the Bay Area, in Emeryville and soon to be in San Francisco on Potrero Hill. Decathlon is a cross between WalMart, Performance Bike, and Sports Authority: it sells sporting goods including lots of cycling stuff for distubingly low prices. The catch is you’re not going to find any familiar brands in its stores. You look around and there isn’t anything from Castelli, Pearl Izumi, Sugoi, or any other brand you’re familiar with. They carry bikes from B’Twin, Van Ryssel, and Triban. Never heard of those brands? The reason is that they are only found in Decathlon stores as they’re all made-up brand names coming directly from Decathlon. Decathlon is a practioner of vertical integration. It tries very hard not to be a reseller of other manufacturers’ goods. Whatever it can make (or arrange to have made) Decathlon will sell. That allows it to avoid markups for other companies’s marketing and cuts out the intermediate cost so Decathlon can offer goods at low cost. So you see cycling shorts for $50, inner tubes for $4, and bicycles of every level at anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars less than you’d pay for a Trek, Specialized, or Colnago. The trick is you have to be satisfied with non-name brand stuff made in god-knows-where. The good news is that some of their cycling stuff is either decent or pretty good.

We walked into the Emeryville store and were simultaneously blown away and skeptical: how can you have decent cycling shorts for $40 or $50? Then you run across product reviews on the blogosphere like this or this or a review from a mainstream cycling sites like this or this and you realize that although their stuff may not be quite as good as, say, Pearl Izumi, it’s still good enough and it’s a whole lot cheaper.

My closet is filled with Rapha, Assos, and Castelli garb. But you know what? It may look nice but I’ve had quality issues with every brand including the “best”. Wearing $250 cycling shorts and $200 jerseys that PRO racers supposedly also use is a signifier more than it is a realistic and practical reflection of need. But we all know what our needs are abundantly manufactured, don’t we? It’s a lot like having that Porsche 911 in your driveway when all you do is run errands or commute on clogged Bay Area roads. Yeah, you look hot in that German Autobahn machine but a Prius would serve the same function. So it is with a lot of cycling stuff.

Commuting done on the cheap

Back to Decathlon: their bicycle prices are also eye-opening. We saw a starter bike for $199. That’s cheaper than Costco and probably Sears too. They also had full-on carbon road bike with a full Dura Ace group and Mavic carbon wheels for around $4,500. That’s the kind of bike that Trek or Specialized sell for at least $7,000 these days. Canyon Bicycles out of Germany is also selling the latest-and-greatest carbon wonder machines for thousands less than you’d pay for the Big S or Waterloo. But its road to lower prices is selling directly to cyclists through the Internet. The advantage that Decathlon has is it’s a brick-and-mortar store: if you have a problem with your bike/apparel/accessory you can take it back and get it fixed or replaced immediately rather than having to ship it back to Canyon’s North American distribution center, wherever that is. And those Decathlon bikes fare well against Canyon’s.

Carbon? Check. Full Dura Ace? Check. Mavic carbon wheels? Check. $4500??

Decathlon is like WalMart, Costco, or Ikea in another way: your local bike store is going to take a hit now that France’s megaretailer has arrived in town. Fortunately for LBS’s Decathlon doesn’t do small stores so you’re never going to see lots of them in the nearby communities. In a way Decathlon is doing what Performance Bike did only half-assed, which was to sell some of its own branded stuff on the cheap; in Decathlon’s case it sells ONLY its own stuff. If I were REI or maybe Sports Basement I’d be worried. Although Decathlon is more of a “traditional” sporting goods store and REI is outdoors oriented, there is enough overlap (cycling, running, hiking, camping) that Decathlon is going to undercut REI with its super-low prices. Also, Decathlon unlike REI or most local bike shops I’ve seen doesn’t trade in the same up-market mystique. You walk in and it looks more like a Sears for sporting goods (eg. Sports Authority) than a Rapha store. No snob appeal here and that’s partly because its stuff isn’t on point for fashion or trend. That isn’t to say their clothing is unfashionable—it’s just done simply. For your average consumer that’s a very good thing even if Rapha freds couldn’t stand the stench of off-brand knock-offs.

There’s no doubt that the Decathlon in Emeryville is going to be a player. But for the moment its zeitgeist is nakedly value-for-dollar. So much of cycling—well, recreational cycling I mean—is about Walter Mitty, faux racer fantasies and projecting the PRO image and Decathlon just isn’t aiming for deluded aspirational cyclists. Yet. (There was a time when Decathlon did in fact sponsor a pro team. Maybe that will happen again.)

One thing that Decathlon doesn’t have going for it is customer service. We walked in and there were staff around. But it was more like Home Depot: you are going to have to hunt for a staff person if you need assistance. We walked in, perused the goods in the cycling area, which wasn’t small, and didn’t see a single staff person around nor did we see a repair shop; perhaps it was in the back (they have to assemble those bikes somewhere!). Well, you have to cut your labor costs if you want to offer low prices and make your owner wealthy. (Decathlon is privately held).

For more information about Decathlon:

UPDATE (10/30/19): Apparently merino wool is so en vogue in athletic or ‘active’ wear that even Decathlon now sells a merino wool long sleeve jersey in the UK for about £50 (=$64). I don’t see it on the US site but you can view it on the UK site here.

$64 Rapha killer

It’s a nice looking jersey that would probably be very comfortable for Bay Area winter riding. It also got a very good review at here. For comparison look at similar wares from trendy apparelists Rapha and Cafe du Cycliste. Rapha is the company that started the merino cycling apparel craze about ten years ago. Their current merino jersey, the Classic II, is $175. Cafe du Cycliste, a Rapha wannabe company in France, offers its Claudette merino jersey for $210 (!) I don’t foresee Decathlon cratering either Rapha’s or Cafe du Cycliste’s sales anytime soon. But the fact that Decathlon can come out with a comparable handsome jersey for a third the cost will raise some eyebrows (and open some wallets, maybe a lot of wallets). If you’re hanging in there for a Rapha sale—something that has been perhaps too regular—you may be out of luck as this article points out. Rapha’s has been posting a loss despite being a luxury brand, showing that even the velominati have their limits when it comes to being asked to hand over $270 for a pair of cycling shorts. With Rapha retrenching as the Louis Vuitton of cycling wear you can be sure that those of us who are déclassé will find it literally too rich for our taste and will be eyeing Decathlon’s goods with relief.

Ragging on BART, Part Deux, or Quelle Surprise! BART’s Pushing Back Opening Dates!

A Rock and A Hard Place: BART or this?

Ah, it’s time again to play “Guess The Opening Date”—money wagers only, please. Although the details weren’t revealed (if they even existed), we all knew that when BART announced last June that the Milpitas and Berryessa stations would open before the end of 2019 that it was another conjuring act for the easily duped. Yesterday BART as much as admitted that. With the “discovery” of over “1,000 problems” in the new stations and track, there likely isn’t enough time to resolve them and get testing done to open those stations this year. But thank goodness BART has assigned “its very best engineers” to do testing! Whatever. I’m sure they’re on it.

There hasn’t been a construction deadline that BART hasn’t blown by years, so whatevs. And to think the original opening date was projected to be 2016. Well, that’s just three- no, four years late. But arriving late is so fashionable, n’est-ce pas? We are going to be damn lucky if Berryessa station is open in time for next year’s Mt. Hamilton ride in November.

And with its track record [pun intended] BART has the gall to come to the table to ask for another fat tax measure to line its dysfunctional coffers. Aren’t you getting the feeling that BART is an endless black hole of tax money? We just passed Measure RR and now BART is already planning its next mugging. It’s like building more freeways: you never catch up because expansion just induces more demand, which leads to BART needing still more money. People have already realized that in the Bay Area we can’t continue building more freeways. When are we going to come to the same realization with BART?

You may use BART to get to work. But how many Spokers actually use BART to get to rides? On the rides that Roger and I lead, which we try to start at BART stations to encourage use of public transportation, I’d say only about a quarter of riders do; most people drive to the start. But parking at BART stations on weekends is awesome!

The Club Picnic

Now that’s a potluck picnic (1983)!

The club picnic, which is nigh upon us, is one of the oldest extant club events with the first one taking place in October 1983. Considering that the club formally “opened business” in November 1982, the picnic appeared just before our first birthday. It was held in Lindley Meadow in Golden Gate Park, which is just east of this year’s picnic site at West Pioneer Meadow. At that point the club’s membership was probably about a hundred yet the turnout was huge—60 people! Perhaps it was due to the shrewd marketing, which in those days consisted of posting flyers in local businesses and bike shops. There was no email or Internet then. It’s possible that we posted an announcement in the local gay rags but it must have been a freebie. Or, you could look at the large turnout as a sign of the prolific thirst for a club like Different Spokes.
One of the organizers of that first picnic was Shay Huston, one of the first women members of the club. Shay wasn’t one of the founders but she almost certainly was a member before we formally announced our existence in the ChainLetter. Shay was, like many of the key early members, an avid bike tourist. Shay participated in the club’s very first official ride, the overnight tour to Santa Cruz and back over Thanksgiving 1982. The others who planned the picnic were Tom Chalmers and Ed Fitzgerald. I don’t recall Tom but I have a vague recollection of Ed. It was in many ways a ‘trite’ event: it had all the standard picnic things such as grilled burgers and dogs, picnic tables, volleyball, and a treasure hunt. Feeding that many people was a task but people brought a lot of food to share. The club was pretty broke in those days so we asked for donations of food!
The following October the picnic was held in Elk Glen picnic area, which is just south of Lindley on the South Drive side of the park. Then followed a break from 85-87 where we had no picnic for some reason, probably because no one stepped up to organize it. By then several key members were either gone or dead even though the club was continually growing due to Bike-A-Thon.
The picnic returned in 1988 and 1989 also at Elk Glen. I recall these more clearly because I helped organize them. In September 1989 Bob Humason had just died and secretly left a bequest of $700 to the club. Bob was an early member and later became President and was instrumental in the very first AIDS Bike-A-Thon in 1985. By early 1989 he was fading fast due to AIDS and was gone in what seemed like a flash. Anyway, part of that $700 was put to good use in buying plenty of food for the picnic only to turn out to be an extravagant waste when hardly anyone showed up!

Bob Krumm hovering over the grill in Lindley Meadow.

With this year’s picnic taking place in late September it’s returning to its roots. Originally the picnic was conceived as a farewell-to-summer-and-riding, which is why it took place in October. Not coincidentally that’s a good time to hold a picnic in Golden Gate Park since late summer/early fall usually has less fog and we get an Indian [sic] summer. That said I recall the picnic in either 1984 or 1988, although not frigid, was a tad windy and the fog rolled in later in the day. That’s probably what encouraged the club to look for a venue with more reliable weather and that would allow it to be held during mid-summer rather than just in the short window of balmy weather we get in SF. I don’t recall whose idea it was to move it to Samuel P. Taylor State Park but I do recall at least one picnic there that was absolutely broiling. I remember panting in the heat despite sitting beneath towering redwoods. Perhaps it was like being stuck between the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea. I’m speculating but in later days I suspect that’s why it was moved again, this time to China Camp, which being on the Bay is sunnier than GGP and although it could be warm there the bay waters provide such an ameliorating influence.
Moving the picnic out of SF may have been a blessing weather-wise but the logistics became more complicated. Now folks had to get to the picnic site by car unless they wanted to do a significant bike ride. That didn’t seem to hurt attendance much as pictures in the club photo gallery show that for many years Sam P. Taylor and China Camp had good turnouts. Moving the picnic back to SF makes it easier for most folks to get to the picnic (although it’s debatable for those of us who live outside of SF that getting to SF can still be called ‘easy’!)
See you Sunday September 22!

Flat, Flat, Flat, Flat, Flat

Seems I’ve been wrongfully maligned recently, on this very blog:

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.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of riding in the Tour of Napa Valley with Roger S. and David Ga. It was a pleasure until 5 miles out, when … flat.

I got off my bike, took off the rear tire – yeah, the yucky back one, the one that’s hooked into all those disgusting, dirty, chainy, move-y things. I managed to get the wheel off, then get the tire off, swap the tube with a nice new one from my saddle bag, and filled the tire with CO2. Got the wheel back on the bike even with that weird chainy thing. All by myself. (Well, OK, Roger helped me get the wheel back on, but whatever.) Take that, Tony.

It’s fair to say I’ve never been in love with fixing flats. I’d be the first to admit it. I’ve had a couple of lessons in it, but truth be told, I rarely flat on rides. So even though I was OK at it 3 years ago after I took the class, now I’m slow and clumsy at it, have forgotten all the little things you need to do, and don’t mind it when other riders are kind enough to help me. On my own, it usually takes me about 20-30 minutes to get the wheel off, get the tire off, get the new tube on, inflate it, put the $!!(&%%@ tire back on the wheel, figure out how to get the stupid thing at the end of the cassette back into the place where it belongs (usually takes me several tries and even then I’m not sure I’ve done it correctly), say a prayer that I’m not going to get a pinch flat, and then get my sorry ass back out on the road.

Back when I used to bike commute, I marveled at how fast certain folks could change flats. The group would stop and watch while one of the butch guys or gals took out some tools, went zip zip wavey wavey, and in about 3 minutes the group was back on our way. I flatted a couple of times with that group. I’d say something like, oh, no, I don’t want to slow the group down, I know the way, you go ahead. After you, please. They would, and then I’d fumble and fuss and swear for half an hour or forty five minutes or whatever, trying to get the tire back on that stupid, awful chain-y thing.

But my cycling life has changed in regard to flats in the last 4 weeks.

Because the flat 5 miles out on Tour of Napa Valley was just my first one. I flatted three other times that day, and poor Roger flatted five times – FIVE TIMES – the same day. As the dreadful scene played out over and over and over again, I found that I was gradually getting a little better at fixing my flats. Oh. My. God. Unimaginable. See, Tony, I just needed a little practice.

And I got some more practice this morning, on the way out of town through Golden Gate Park on the SF to Pacifica ride that Nancy and Ginny led. Just after we passed the DeYoung, on JFK Drive, in front of a nice waterfall. Even my choice of locations for flatting is improving. I heard the familiar thump, thump, thump and thought to myself dammit, why don’t they pave the stinking roads in this park. But thump, thump, thump continued and I yelled back at Nancy, “I flatted, didn’t I?”

So, back to the side of the road I went. I wasn’t fast but I felt competent for maybe the first time ever. It took me somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes and we were on our way. And that was the REAR tire, the one with the horrible chainy thing that you have to figure out how to get around. I remembered to undo the little tab-y brake-y thing, to take off my GPS so I didn’t scratch it all up, and to get into a gear that would make everything easier. Got the tire off and the tube swapped out, and even got the tube back on pretty quickly. (I was shocked to hear a compliment made behind my back about that, and someone saying how hard it was for them to get the tire back on.) A little CO2 and we were on our way.

Best of all, my repair held, I rode on it the rest of the way with no problems.

I’m normally all thumbs, and believe me even a simple repair like fixing a flat does not come naturally to me. I go “yuck” when I have to get my hands dirty on a ride. Ewwww, grease. But this story is meant to be inspirational. If a doof like me can figure out how to fix a flat, maybe a doof like you can, too.

And nyah, nyah, nyah, Tony.


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!