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.

 

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!

 

Emilee the Host

Day 4

The last day. After a whole night of soaking in what we thought was heavy rain (turns it was just really heavy fog catching on the trees above us). We rode 30 meters away from our campsite and it was bright bright sunlight. The feeling of warmth was just as quickly restored as the enjoyment of being in the outdoors. We rolled down to the house of my old co-worker, Emilee, in Mill Valley. She cooked us an amazing brunch of french toast, freshly cut fruit, and bacon. As Tanya said, “It was like we never woke up, and just dreamt all of this up.” I agreed with her. It was amazing.

Something was so magical about being in a home. I guess living in San Francisco makes me think everyone lives in an apartment with 2-3 roommates, but having a home was different. It was more than living alone. It felt warm and welcoming.

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The Dirty Way to Pantoll

Day 3

I was super excited to take Tanya on one of my favorite climbs in the Bay Area: Old Railroad Grade. Carlin and Irving were here recently to go up for Sunday morning pancakes at West Point Inn. This time I was on this trail fully loaded to camp at Pantoll Station. For those who haven’t camped at Pantoll, it’s amazing. 1.) Hike or Bike campground is only $5 a person and it’s a nice site. 2.) It’s a nice ride up there 3.) The bathrooms are really nice 4.) There’s even a sink with incredibly high water pressure to wash your stuff 5.) They always make room for people who hike and bike in 6.)It’s at the end of my favorite hiking trail: Steep Ravine Trail 7.) It’s all downhill to Mill Valley the next morning 8.) best downhill ever!

Route: Mission -> Pantoll (the dirty way)

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It was always fun meeting people you know

It was always fun meeting people you know

Fully loaded

Fully loaded

T$ Taking a Refreshing Dip

T$ Taking a Refreshing Dip

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Cloud City

Cloud City

Beast Mode

Beast Mode

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The Long Solo Ride From Lake Chabot to Palo Alto

Day 2

It was a brisk morning in Lake Chabot. I woke to the chattering of a nearby campsite and soon came to the realization that BART was still on strike. Getting back to the city would prove to be a little more arduous than I thought it would be. I had some trails in mind to check out on the south east bay and was eager to check them out so I planned my route to go from Lake Chabot -> Castro Valley -> Hayward Shoreline Trail -> Union City -> Fremont Coyote Hill Park -> Dumbarton Bridge -> Palo Alto and Cal Train back home. I figured it would be pretty flat and chill all the way.

Route: Lake Chabot to Palo Alto

So much open space!

So much open space!

I love wooden bridges

I love wooden bridges

Overall the ride was great! Hayward Shoreline Trail was the best of them all. A long and slightly winding fire road that swept in and out from the shore characterized the trail. It went over wooden bridges and passed by a scattered benches. Mostly empty wide open space. This was the good stuff. Perfect beginner gravel grinding territory. I look forward to planning another trip with the Boyz on the Hoods and friends (girls included).

Union City to Fremont. Sucked. Felt like I was biking in the Inland Empire of Orange County. No bike lanes with cars going 40+ mph zooming by.

Smelly

Smelly

Fremont’s Coyote Hill Park started with a huge huge headwind; however, after pushing through there were really really nice rolling paved ‘single track’ that overlooked this weird salt/algae bed. Whatever the case, it was borderline intolerable with odor. I can generally tolerate entering foul bathrooms and riding through Fremont reminded me of just that. It wasn’t enough to turn me around (nor did I have a choice) but it was still disgusting. It’s a shame, the trails in Coyote Hills Park are very nice otherwise.

Dumbarton

Dumbarton Bridge is certainly the worst of all the bridges in the bay area to ride bikes on. Don’t get me wrong, the ability to cross the bridge with a bike is appreciated, but it was still the worst. To keep my rant short, I’ll just put it in list form: riddled with glass, low barriers to the very fast traffic, still smelly from Fremont, exposed to sun and wind, trucks gave off huge draft, did I mention glass everywhere? It’s obvious that nobody has ever cleaned Dumbarton Bridge. Thanks to Jack Brown Blues I made it across unscathed.
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If you’re ever in East Palo Alto eat at Back A Yard Caribbean. I was blown away with their jerk chicken, plantains and mango pineapple juice.

All in all a good day. Although I ended the day with about 50+ miles (getting lost here and there) and my hands hurt from riding my single position Albatross bars.