Tandem Touring – Twice as Nice

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Last weekend, I was able to fulfill one of my bike dreams of going on a tandem tour with my girlfriend. Emily, my stoker, has gone on tandem rides with me before, but nothing to this caliber of riding. The mini-tour I had planned would be for 2.5 days starting in Mountain View and finishing in San Francisco.

Day 1: The Mountain

Mountain View -> Portola Redwood State Park

Route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/5071012

After a slow meandering through the Peninsula suburbs, we arrived at Roberts Market in Portola,CA. Roberts Market is always a good spot start or finish a ride as it has all the great fancy groceries that you would want before/after doing some serious bike riding. Here we had our 1st dinner: Pesto Chicken Sandwich with Brie.

tandem at roberts market

I’ve never done the climb up Alpine Rd., so I was very nervous about doing it fully loaded on the tandem. I could not have been more impressed and surprised. I would even say that Alpine Rd. is my favorite way to climb to Skyline Blvd from the east side!

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Quiet + Shady + Babbling brook + Reasonable Grade + Few Cars = Good climb.

Alpine Rd. starts with about 3.5 miles of gentle climbing on narrow pavement. The road meanders alongside a slow moving creek on your right so beautiful that a Lord of the Rings battle could break out at any moment. Because this road dead ends (for cars), only few cars passed us. This was helpful to us because we occasionally had to use the full width of the street to wiggle up steep sections.

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Peninsula climbs in order of my preference Alpine Rd. (east) > Kings Mountain Rd. > Old La Honda > Windy Hill Fire Road

the tandem by a long abandoned truck

Doesn’t look like this truck will be going anywhere soon

The weight of the tandem  really started to make itself known as we transitioned into the 2 miles of steeper dirt segment. I recently upgraded the tires to 38x700c Panaracer Pasela from a measly 23x700c Gatorskin, and as the long tandem frame flexed riding through the ruts of the fire road, I 100% knew that I made the right choice with tires on this bike. There was about 300 yards of pushing up the tandem up a steep single track due to a mudslide, but the rest of the 2 miles of the dirt Alpine Road was achievable for us in our granny gear.

the golden hills before our descent into Portola Redwoods State Park

the golden hills before our descent into Portola Redwoods State Park

Camping Portola Redwoods State Park

Portola Redwoods State Park has 5 hike/bike sites. We were the only ones.

 2nd dinner: Spicy Nong Shim Korean Ramen with Soft Tofu.

Day 2: Hidden Treasures

Portola Redwood State Park -> Half Moon Bay

Route: http://ridewithgps.com/routes/5079376

Breakfast was a block of day old croissant bread-pudding from La Boulange heated over a flame.

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Old Haul Road is my favorite fire road to take people to. It’s about 5 miles of relaxing fire road entrenched in the deep redwood forest. The extremely long wheelbase of the tandem felt comfortable and safe on the gentle downhill. My fat 38mm tires kept traction throughout the corners even at 15-20mph. It really felt like a long gentle roller coaster that winded through an enchanted forest.

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Beautiful views

Due to space constraints of only having four panniers for the two of us, I didn’t have much room to bring my camp coffee making supplies. We spent the better half of the morning uncaffinated. Fortunately, we were able to stop at a coffee shop in Pescadero. Downtown Local is not only the hippest coffee shop/establishment in Pescadero, it is the hippest coffee shop I’ve EVER been to. After talking to the baristas, I learned that a San Francisco couple moved to Pescadero about a year ago and couldn’t find good coffee in the neighborhood so they opened their own Sightglass brewing/antique selling/succulent growing cafe in Pescadero.

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Recipe for hipness: Mid century modern couch, tables that look like they’re made from pallets, edison bulbs, antiques, succulent table centerpiece & pour over Sightglass coffee

While Old Haul Road is my personal favorite, Emily’s favorite was Cowell Ranch Road. Honestly, I’ve been wanting to bring Emily to bike on Cowell Ranch Road ever since I was introduced to it by Ian about a year ago. However, it can be exceedingly strenuous to ride over the Pennisula hills or through Pacifica to get to Cowell Ranch Road. For those of you who haven’t experienced Cowell Ranch Road, it’s a 3 mile flat gravel trail that sandwiches you between large private farm and incredible vistas of the sea cliffs. The views here are equivalent to the sweeping landscapes of Big Sur. Emily went on to name this area Little Sur.

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Cowell Trail was more beautiful than ever.

Day 3: Mavericks to SF

Half Moon Bay -> San Francisco 

On Sunday we had a warm slow ride back into San Francisco. I had the opportunity to explore the bike paths closer to the beach instead of hammering on the main road  as I’ve normally done.

While resting in Pacifica, a man asked us about what route we took from Mountain View. Somehow, he immediately recognized that I was from Los Angeles. When I asked how he knew, he told me that I kept saying “PCH” (short for Pacific Coast Highway) as opposed to “Highway 1”, which is how bay area folks call it. I guess theres more to blending in with nor cal folks than saying “hella” occasionally.

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Behind the Ritz Carlton

Tandem name: Jean Claude Tandem

Jean Claude Tandem

Conclusion

All in all, we had an amazing trip with superb weather, delicious food, and breathtaking sites. I strongly believe that the experience we had this weekend, really flexes the strength of tandem riding. Riding together with Emily on the tandem, gave both of us the comfort and confidence that we would make it to our next destination, even with daunting 3,000 feet climbs and perilous descents. Without the concerns of physical ability, it allowed us to focus on the surroundings and really enjoy the ride.

 

[DNF]leche Ride Report: Across the Santa Cruz Mountains

With what little energy we had remaining, we mounted our bikes with higher hopes. Our aspirations of finishing the fleche had waned but was not completely shut out. While our bikes were stacked outside In-n-Out, a group of teenagers mistakenly identified us as a fixed gear group. This boosted our morale quite a bit and with the sprinting strength of Garrett Chow, I even managed to take Castroville’s city limit sign. 

18 felt like 30

To everyone’s surprise, the wind had died down and there may have even been a slight tailwind. After the 5 hours of headwind hell, an actual pace of 18 miles per hour felt like we were zooming along at 30 miles per hour and casual conversation began to rejuvenate our morale. 

“Thank goodness we’re out of that god forsaken valley” 

“This has been the best and worst ride of my life”

“Do you think the other Flèche teams are as miserable as us?”

But it was too early to feel optimistic. We still had to get 40 miles to Corralitos and 35 miles and 1,700ft of climbing in the Santa Cruz Mountains before finishing with a 50 mile slog through the Peninsula. The ominous quote of “For the night is dark and full of terrors” reminded me that we had not made it through the night.

After a brief extra break at Safeway in Freedom (yes, that’s an actual city’s name), we started our climb over the Santa Cruz mountains. Although Indians Road was by far the best part of the ride, I was most surprised at how pleasant riding up Eureka Canyon Road was at night. The giant redwoods shut out any remaining bits of light now and the ambient babbling of the nearby creek was a welcome change from the howling wind of the Salinas Valley. The high that the group experienced post In-n-Out dinner had faded and I was left alone in my thoughts for the next two hours as I dropped back behind the pack. The road twisted and winded like a good mountain road should, but I was too drained of everything at this point to enjoy a classic road climb. Like making coffee in the morning, I mindlessly made the motions of biking. Pedal, pedal, pedal. I started to become delusional. I thought to myself: 

If I turned into a zombie, I could probably still ride a bike to catch humans. I would be fat zombie. Or, maybe I would be a very fit zombie.

I caught myself falling asleep on a short descent. So, I ate my remaining caffeinated shot blocks and continued on to find the rest of the team waiting up for me.

As I rejoined the group, Ian debriefed me on our status. “We have 60-70 more miles to go, with 5 hours left. We probably won’t make up too much time on the descent, so it’s likely we will have to DNF.”  After a little more discussion, we decided that we would spend some time in the Denny’s in San Jose to rest and officially DNF there. 

Of course, I wasn’t thrilled that we DNF’d but I felt relieved that there was no longer a pressure to hustle back to San Francisco. My body ached now and I was happy to allow more time at Denny’s for bacon, sausage and naps. 

The thrilling descent out of the Santa Cruz mountains expelled the sleepiness from my body. It twisted and turned in pure darkness. It was like the roller coaster, Space Mountain, but with larger consequences for not paying attention. Gabe led us through a shortcut that required us to do about a mile of single track around the reservoir. Even at 3am I was excited to get off the road and onto some dirt. It was hard see around the turns without a headlamp but in the end we all survived. 

The final descent down Los Gatos Creek Trail was 2 miles of dirt fire road that paralleled the river flowing from the dam. The trail was graded perfectly so that you can cruise at about 16-20 miles per hour without pedaling. It was at this moment while we were cruising on a dirt path at 3 in the morning that I remembered why I liked doing these torturous endurance rides. To me, randonneuring is the ultimate test of how much pain I can endure AND still enjoy riding a bike. My saddle pounded my ass with every bump in the trail, my hands blistered from gripping the hoods too tight, and my legs felt as if they were full of lead, and despite all of that, I was grinning from ear to ear.

Nap time

Brian’s Koga-Miyata Townie

With the hot weather approaching, I’ve been increasingly enjoying Mika, my Koga-Miyata Randonneur, set up as a city bike. The albatross bars allow me to sit up straight and take a more relaxed approach. The Deore thumb shifters are easy & predictable to use. The Suntour XC Pro provide more braking power than I need in the city. I recently threw on some Sackville Mudflaps, Acorn Handlebar bag (as a saddle bag), and the MKS Lambda Pedals, and it’s operating like a true faux Rivendell! All in all, I’m a huge fan of this bike and it’s been really great to me. I realized that I’ve never taken photos of it set up as a townie, so I got to cal train a little early one morning to snap some photos. Enjoy and Happy #fenderfriday

Koga Miyata Randonneur Commuter 4 Koga Miyata Randonneur Commuter 3 Koga Miyata Randonneur Commuter 2 Koga Miyata Randonneur Commuter 1

North St. Route Nine is the bag you want for commuting


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Curtis from North St. Bags was kind of enough to let beta test his new Route Nine Convertible Bag. As an enthusiast of bicycle backpacks, panniers, and handlebar bags, I was very excited to test out this new product. After spending 2 months of commuting everyday to the train station with the Route Nine, I can safely say that this is the best bag I’ve used for commuting to work by bike.

Benefits of a convertible pannier

The biggest benefit of having the a convertible pannier was being able to stay highly mobile when I parked my bike on the train or went into the grocery store. All the while, being able to arrive anywhere on a bike without a sweaty back. Why choose between a backpack or a pannier when you can have both?

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Wearing the Bag

The first immediate thing I noticed about the Route Nine bag is that it was comfortable to wear. North Street uses a seat belt style strap that has a similar tightening mechanism to my favorite messenger bag company: Bailey Works. It is incredibly easy to use. All you have to do is pull on the loose end and it tightens. You can even tighten the strap with just one hand (important if you’re riding a bike or holding a beer). Also the mesh pad at the bottom of the bag is very comfortable on the back. When I went camping, I used the bag for a short 2.5 mile hike and did not have any issues with it as a bag.

Mounting the Bag

The trickiest part about North Street’s Route Nine bag was learning how to use the type of hook strap system. I’ve used Axiom’s hook & bungee system for about 2 years and now I use Ortlieb’s QL2 system for now 2 years, and I find these both very safe, secure and easy to put on. However, the beta version of the Route Nine Bag that I used reminded me of the older style Jandd panniers with just a non stretchy strap and a manual way to tighten the pannier to the rack. I initially thought this was a major flaw in the pannier’s design, but learning how to secure the pannier to the rack twice I was able to do it quickly without any problems.

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Bag Size

The size of the Route Nine is a perfect size for commuting to work. It’s not at all bulky, but can fit all the essentials plus more. On a normal work day I carry: 15″ Macbook Pro (in a neoprene case), charger, headphones, iPad, sketch books, Klean Kanteen thermos and some other little do-dads. When this is already in my bag, I can still fit some groceries or an extra change of clothes in the bag with no problem.

Bag Design

The Route Nine has an enjoyable functional look to it. As a messenger bag, it reminded me of a Chrome roll top bag I once owned. I didn’t feel awkward at all carry into a store as I sometimes do with having multiple Ortlieb panniers hanging from my neck. The reflective paneling is large and visible to cars. This is a nice touch considering that this pannier will probably used for commuting in the city at all times of the day. I found the cordura style texture of the bag to be very nice and and casual as well as completely waterproof. Like other North St. Bags, the Route Nine keeps your stuff dry during a down pour. I was fortunate enough to test it in the rain multiple times and my valuable and electronics have always stayed dry.

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I liked the design so much, that I drew it one day on the train

Summary

If you’re looking for a bag that holds just the right amount of stuff that will look good on and off the bike, the North St. Route Nine is an amazing option. The pannier mounting system could be updated for a little faster mounting, but I think the pros outweigh the cons hands down. It is stylish, durable, comfortable to wear, easy to use, and made in USA! Great job on the bag Curtis.

UPDATE: 

Use coupon code: NSBboyz for 15% off (good until 4/30/14)!

To Catch a Bicycle Predator

Last week, I was able to do something that I’ve been dreaming about doing for years. I brought a bike thief to justice. The weekend before I even fist bumped with a barista that was wearing shirt with the text Bicycle Thieves Should Die. The fist bump was not because I believe that the death sentence will solve the problem of bike theft, but because I can empathize with the anger and vulnerability of losing a beloved bicycle. In 2011 my own New-ish Specialized Stumpjumper was stolen out of the Embarcadero BikeLink Locker. Yup, out of a gated bike locker! When I asked to see the ‘security footage’ of my stolen bike the footage was mysteriously lost. The obvious questions is: are bicycle thieves using Electromagnetic Pulse to disable security cameras, or is bicycle theft so prevalent and easy that an insider from BikeLink could do the job? With the footage gone, I guess I’ll never know…

Back to the story! As I walking on Oak Street, I saw someone with two bikes up against a light pole rattling the bike locked to the pole violently. Another younger gentlemen walking in the other direction was staring at fellow agitating the bicycle as well. The younger gentleman and I made eye contact as to acknowledge that we were witnessing an obvious case of bike theft.

“Hey, is that your bicycle?” he asked.

The bike thief looked up and replied “No, my friend said I could borrow it…” His voice trailed off.

The younger gentleman thought quickly and replied “Ok, well I guess you’ll explain the whole thing to the police when they get here.” He proceeded to pull out his cell phone and dialed. At this time, I was standing shoulder to shoulder taking pictures of the crime in progress.

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The thief mumbled “aww man, you don’t need to call the police.” Instead of replying to that the young gentlemen spoke loudly “Hello Officer, I’m currently witnessing a bicycle being stolen on Oak and Van ness” He went on describing the scenario.

30 seconds later, the thief rides away with a flat tire towards Franklin St. I looked at the younger gentleman, still on the phone.

“No, he just left, he headed towards Franklin.”

“No, I can’t see him anymore.”

We both left the scene feeling helpless and bitter. Should we have done anything different? I don’t know. On the train ride to work, I started taking my frustration to twitter:

 

 

 

 

While I wouldn’t guess that this suspect is the ‘professional bike thief’ type that follow their victims as they bike home and break into the garages at night, I certainly believe that SFPD is doing more on their part to curb bike theft overall. What was even more interesting to me is that without SFPD Anti Bike theft on Twitter, SF Bike Coalition, and good Samaritans, the apprehension of the thief would’ve not been possible. In all honesty, even without the other younger gentlemen initiating the conversation with the thief, I’m not sure what I would do. I guess this a good reminder as any to be the be the change you want to see.

Thanks random stranger!

 

Ride Report: Forest of Nisene Marks Mixed Terrain Loop

My girlfriend and I stayed in Santa Cruz over the weekend. On Saturday, Emily wanted to hangout at the pool and nap, and I wanted to explore the Forest of Nisene Marks. I’m happy to say that we both got what we wanted that day.

http://www.strava.com/activities/107338728#kudos

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A big part of my desire to explore this route was to determine what is the best way to get over the Santa Cruz Mountains during the nighttime on our planned 2014 Fleche route.

A.) Eureka Canyon Road (just north of Corralitos)

B.) 14 Mile Fire Road Climb through the Forest of Nisene Marks

C.) Soquel San Jose Rd.

I rode Soquel San Jose Road the night before on a night ride from Mountain View to Santa Cruz. Although I enjoyed the constant at which I was going downhill and the gradual grade of the hill, the speed of cars passing me gave me the impression that it would not be fun to travel up it at night.

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Egret looking onward towards the climb (yes, I named my BDB Pelican Egret)

I was happy to discover that Eureka Canyon Road was a great gradual ascent. For the first 5 miles of the climb, I could hear the gentle stream of the brook that accompanied me. Even better, is I felt at ease with the lack of cars passing me. After passing Corrallitos, Eureka Canyon Road goes in and out from a two lane road and one lane road. This assured me that cars would not be passing me at 40+ miles an hour.

Theres a subtle arrogance with using the voluminous supple Grand Bois Hetres tires. A type of arrogance that welcomes signs that say “Rough Road.” At 35 – 40 PSI the wheels seem to absorb potholes and uneven road. The true value of these tires come when riding at night. This is when the arrogance of these tires feel more like confidence.

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An example of the one lane rough roads during the climb.

 

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The entrance to the Forest of Nisene Marks! The beginning of a dirt fire road climb with some rough sections

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“Singletrack” is fun nevertheless

The Forest of Nisene Marks was magical and beautiful. After the entrance, there was about 3-4 miles of climbing on Fire Road. This also the entrance of a famous mountain biking trails of Soquel Demonstration Forest. This was evident by the multitude of berms off the trail. After reaching the peak, it was about 12 miles of downhill fire to Aptos. This was by far my favorite part of the ride. The trail occasionally dipped in gradient, however all of it was very ridable on the BDB Pelican. It really felt like endless downhill. The trail swooped in and out of the dense forest, only occasionally revealing beautiful views of the Pacific.

At one point while I was stopped, a mountain biker pointed at my bike and asked, “So is that like a hybrid?” A flurry of ideology from Jan Heine, Chris Kostman, and Jobst Brandt rushed to my brain to come up with a clever response. None did and I replied, “ummm. yeah, pretty much.” He replied with “Cool retro fenders” and rode on. In retrospect, I don’t mind calling my Egret, my rando steed, a hybrid. After all, that’s pretty much how I use this bike. She just happens to be the best hybrid I’ve ever ridden on.

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I love that Nitto S-65 stem.

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At 3:00pm it was a getting dark in the dense canopy of the Redwood forest