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!

Taking The Ferry To Your Ride

Better than BART!

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

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

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

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

“Making Communities Stronger Through Bicycles”

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

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

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

Ride Rumor: July Jersey

Can anything new happen on a Jersey Ride? Barring the Rapture or a Kim Jong-un surprise package perhaps not. But that doesn’t mean J-Rides are boring. It’s July and that means typical San Francisco summer weather—a withering cold breeze accompanied by copious fog—that magically reincarnates as real summer as soon as you cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Yesterday was almost pea-soup but not quite. Nine of us headed out including Rick, who’s relatively new to Different Spokes and rides a mountain bike (very quickly, I might add); Joe, a fellow bike tourer (who goes uphill very quickly, I might add); and longtime Spoker, Will (who goes very quickly, period). Fellow DSSF board member Ginny, Roger H and I, Peter who came all the way from San Jose (isn’t that a song?), Sal, and Will’s friend Dan. As usual it was a long parade in Sausalito—could there be any more cyclists heading into Marin?—but that’s normal these days.

After a brief respite at the Mill Valley sewage treatment plant (“I hear inhaling the vapors does wonders for you!”) we launched up Camino Alto. Joe rocketed by me at a blistering pace and I certainly was in no mood to chase. The descent and subsequent diversion along the Corte Madera-Larkspur MUP were splendidly pleasant and piano piano. But once on Paradise Drive Will took off—into a headwind, I might add—making going fast seem easy. Fortunately for us he slowed down—although I’m not sure why—and Roger H and I caught up with him. Whether it was because he had caught his breath, he sensed we were behind him, or he’s just cruel he ramped it up again. I was barely hanging on. Every time we hit a little descent he jumped ahead and I knew I had to make an effort to catch his wheel or he’d be gone for good. Will is an amazing cyclist. Sometimes he rides a lot and then he’s a total beast. But even when he’s not riding a lot he’s still a beast. I don’t know how he does it; it’s like he’s got a cardiopulmonary system that never degrades. Will is by no means a skinny cyclist but he somehow manages to climb strongly, and on the flats and descents he’s merciless. But I digress. You would have thought by now, having done a thousand Tib loops, that I would have set to memory the exact number of little climbs and subsequent descents through each inlet Paradise Drive has. But I haven’t and I was praying I’d last through them all before he slowed down. I made it, barely. Will slowed down, I went around him and, holy mother of god, I felt the headwind he’d been barreling through for the past 15 minutes! Humbling.

Lunch at the Woodlands Market was the usual affair/fare. Will’s friend Dan mentioned that this ride was his first time on the bike in a year. Wow. If I hadn’t ridden in a year I would have never have been able to get through Tiburon loop without major suffering! It must be because I’m getting old, sigh. He also mentioned he’s just lost 46 lbs. (!) Jeez, and I complain that I’m not able to drop three pounds. Humbling. Joe recounted several of his amazing bike tours including one from Milan to Barcelona as well as one in the deep South in June (and yes it was humid and hot).

The real shit show began once we were back in Mill Valley. The rangers were out giving tickets for “speeding” on the MV bike path (ie. going faster than 10 mph) but luckily we were warned by an oncoming cyclist. There was a long line of cyclists heading back to the bridge and the only salvation was a ferocious headwind coming off the Headlands that splintered the long lines. Even more surprising were the incredible, seemingly infinite, number of cyclist still coming INTO Sausalito. Every rental bike in SF must have been heading towards us, an ominous sign of what we were to see on the bridge. We stopped to regroup before launching onto the bridge and I urged everyone to be extra vigilant and careful with the conga line of cyclists heading towards us. Rick then said that until this morning he had never crossed the GGB on his bike. Maybe this will be his last time…

Our saving grace was the turbulent marine wind blasting across the bridge and the lashing fog. Why? Because it meant there weren’t any idiots taking selfies as they cycled one-handed towards us. Literally it was a non-stop line of cyclists heading north. Like lemmings. Although the danger is primarily due to the sheer number of cyclists they do cycle at a slow speed unlike the Rapha freds, who insist upon passing at a random moment regardless of the wisdom of doing so. Ah the young, so reckless and self-confident. As we approached the southern end we came to a stop: there were too many cyclists coming and going at the bend. As I made the turn off the bridge I saw a young man with his e-skateboard take one look at the horde, shake his head, and turn back. Good decision. Ginny said that despite the number she felt it was actually safer today than in the past and I agreed (if having only one near-death experience with an oncoming cyclist is ‘safer’).

The growth of cycling in SF certainly has led to more traffic across the bridge for leisure. Marin is the most convenient escape valve for penned-in San Franciscans and the open space is attractive. But it’s just another example of loving something to death. You think this is crowded? It’s the new normal for young people today and they likely think nothing of it. But I can’t get the image out of my head of pushers in Tokyo rail stations mashing more commuters into already crammed train cars.

If the mosh pit that the GGB has become isn’t your cup of tea, keep in mind that Blue & Gold Fleet operates a ferry from Tiburon to Pier 41. The cost is $13 for a 25-minute commute. Yes, that’s the price of a decent lunch but it’s less than the cost of your hospital bill if you’re hit head-on on the bridge. And it’s a scenic ride back to SF!

Ride Rumor: Social Ride through Foster City to Crepevine

Foster City, you know that sign you see on 101 when you’re blasting by in your car but wouldn’t give the time of day to check out because, after all, it’s just another plastic suburb? You probably think it’s the Norcal version of Amityville. Yeah, you can’t be bothered to waste any time there because you’ve got better and more interesting things to do like check out that new Burmese restaurant on Valencia St. or the latest event at Catalyst. Well, we decided to go there. Again. By bike no less. Oh, and we also rode through Redwood Shores.

After a brief—and by Contra Costa standards, trivial (only low 90s!)—heat wave we were ready to go Bayside for some cooler weather. We were pleasantly greeted by mid-60ish temps that rose into the low 70s by the end of the day. And it was sunny with a light breeze to boot. Roger and I trundled off to Millbrae BART to meet Peter and Carl for our little foray into “the Wasteland”.  We’ve gone there before on Social A rides but this time we were going to ride it a bit faster. After all, our ride is almost dead-flat: 220 feet of elevation gain in almost 32 miles. The biggest climb was the bike/ped overpass crossing 101!

A big portion of the ride is along the Bay Trail, which affords pleasant vistas of the Bay wetlands and provides an eyeful of shoreline development. It also passes by SFO, and since the weather was good air traffic into the airport was going full-tilt and we were able to ogle quite a few planes making their landings. This afforded plenty of chat about travel, vacations, how Alaska Airlines made Virgin suck, and why we’re never satisfied with where we are.

The northern end of the Bay Trail is occasionally narrow and bumpy and at least on weekends it seems to be fairly well used and that’s a good thing because it’s a serene retreat from the hustle of Norcal life. Other than the occasional roar of jets to intrude, you pretty much can let your mind wander while you ride. Besides the new construction I was also struck by the number of restaurants with bay views along the path. I saw a Korean joint I definitely want to check out next time. As you head further south the trail widens and becomes quieter and the number of pedestrians goes down. But cyclists still ply the path probably for the same reason we were there: it’s free of car traffic, flat, and has a calming ambience.

Once you pass under Highway 92 you’re in Foster City.  This isn’t the kind of town where you can walk to a nice café from your home. It’s built around the automobile like many newer suburbs. But if you like to live in a quiet, sleepyish community with surprisingly little car traffic, both Foster City and Redwood Shores fit the bill. Although the homogeneity of the architecture—it is a planned development—can be a bore, there are undoubtedly comfortable apartments, condos and homes spread throughout. A nice plus is that some homes have waterfront access and have small boats to ply the sloughs and the Bay. If you like outdoor living, there are plenty of places to sit, walk, or pedal to take in the views. On the way to lunch in Burlingame we zoomed through East San Mateo, which originally was a working class community. Full of modest single-family dwellings now worth a million or so, it’s a strange testimony to the craziness of Bay Area real estate prices. Downtown Burlingame was a complete contrast: trendy young techies perusing Pottery Barn and the Apple Store wares. The Crepevine in Burlingame unlike the ones that used to be in Walnut Creek or on Church Street in SF, was jampacked and busy. Carl’s fortuitous conversation in Spanish with one of the staff got us an alfresco table at the height of lunch hour. Score! Although Crepevine isn’t haute anything by any means, it is decent, affordable food. The lunch special was a fried chicken sandwich with fries and god, am I a sucker for fried chicken! Lunch was prolonged and chatty despite the natty crowd yearning for a table. After lunch it was only about three miles back to Millbrae BART and after that feast there was no need to make haste. Nice day!

Happy Pride!

Pride Ride Spokers at Land's End Visitor Center
Pride Greetings from the Foggy City!

Whatever you want to call it—Gay Pride Day, LGBT Freedom Day, Stonewall 50—we get it once a year and Different Spokes SF hosts our Pride Ride to celebrate the occasion. Today was the ninth version of what has officially been called the Pride Ride but actually it’s the eleventh of some form of Pink Saturday ride. In 2006 Laura Petracek led a Pride Ride but it was in the East Bay, not SF, and was intended to be children/family friendly. Then in 2010 we had a 40 & Fabulous ride on Pink Saturday to honor the 40th SF Pride Parade. This ride was a 40-mile ride around the perimeter of the City, quite a bit longer than the current 28-mile ride. From 2011-13 we had a shorter 20-mile loop that eschewed the southern part of SF and cut across midtown. Since 2014 we have been doing the current 28-mile loop. Over the years the club’s participation in Pride has waxed and waned. In the Oughts and before, we were a regular presence in the Parade itself and always had a booth at the festival. Our last parade contingent was in 2009 and the last time we had a booth was in 2014. The Pride Ride is a lot less work especially now that we are a smaller club. Perhaps one day we’ll march again…

Today’s ride really brought out the crowd. We got the word out through the SFPride site, our new Meetup group, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, and our Facebook page. I lost track but it was somewhere around 27! It was a diverse crowd; we had three from London, several from the South Bay, three from remote Castro Valley, and a scattering from other locales. We are a regional club after all! In terms of longevity I guess I represented the Old Farts— no one else can claim membership back in the early 80s (at this point it’s just Derek and I who can claim that moniker). We had a few from the 90s—Ann, Rob, and Scott—and the rest were the “youngsters”. In attendance were the Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and Ride Coordinator. Our President couldn’t make it because he was partying at Stonewall 50 in NYC!

The ride took in a good smattering of western SF— the Panhandle, the Presidio, Seacliff, Outer Avenues, NOPA, GG Park, the Great Highway, Lake Merced, St. Francis Wood, Glen Park, and then the Mission—which is about enough; anything more and we’d have a much longer ride. Traffic was refreshingly light just about everywhere except at the end in Glen Park and the Mission. Of course we spread out right from the start but periodically regrouped to let the “laggards” catch their breath. Things held together pretty well until Glen Park when Destination Bakery proved to be a bust. People started splitting off to get lunch elsewhere, get home to do other chores, or in our case to get out the City as fast as possible before horrendous Pink Saturday traffic reared its head.

For me personally I thoroughly enjoyed catching up with a Spokers I haven’t seen in a long while. Although the conversations were short and I wish we had had more time to yammer, it’s good to see old faces and remember that although the club might be small, its bonds are strong.

Wishing you a delightful Pride, and RIDE BIKE!