Monthly Archives: August 2011

Snake Envy

I confess. While I was pleased with my wildflower photos from last night’s trail ride, I had hoped for more. I wanted fauna, not flora. A coyote, a jackrabbit, a deer or some wild turkeys would have made me happy. But we saw nothing. Absolutely nothing. Plus, Dick was riding with me this time, and there have been too many nights where I come home and tell him all about the wildlife he missed. Especially the snakes. Dick loves snakes. He wasn’t riding with us last year on the night when we two rattlesnakes, and boy he was bummed.

So no luck last night, but c’est la vie. We’ll see something next time.

Then, this morning I check in with Facebook and see that my friend Julie has posted an awesome photo of a rattlesnake from her ride, on a dirt road just up the hill from where we were riding.

Isn’t it badass? It was even coiled up. Seems like the ones I’ve seen before have been either too laid back or too busy running off to strike that classic pose. I suppose I should be grateful that I’ve never encountered an agitated venomous snake on the trail, but I can’t help having a little snake envy.

At least I had the GoPro helmet-cam running last year so I could share the experience with Dick, and relive that rare night again.

What wildlife are you just itching to see on the trail? If you saw rattlers on the trail, would you be excited or head straight for the parking lot?

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Dirt Trails


Wildflowers of Late Summer

You can tell fall is on its way when the oak leaves start to turn red. The poison oak leaves, that is.

Dick and I shared a dirty little bike date at Arastradero Preserve tonight. Unlike most summers, when I rode there every Monday night, I’ve barely been out to the park this year. So it was particularly sad that summer is nearly gone, and the wildflowers, so fresh and abundant in spring, were fading like the setting sun.

Here’s what we saw tonight, which stand in sharp contrast to the wildflowers of spring.

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What signs do you see that summer is ending?


Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Dirt Trails


Gear Talk: Kickstand Reviews

“A kickstand? Why would you want a kickstand?” That was the response from the guy promoting Chris King‘s new line of Beloved Cycles at Mellow Johnny’s in Austin, when we were there last February for the Handmade Bike Show. Take a look at these two lovely bikes. Nice lines, beautiful colors, a delightful retro appeal. Perfect for trips to the coffee shop, to the drugstore, to visit friends except for one thing: no kickstands.

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard prejudice against kickstands. It’s a rare thing that roadies and mountain bikers agree on. But kickstands are useful, even necessary, for certain bikes and certain situations. Here’s my take:

  • Road bike for racing or day rides: NO kickstand.
  • Mountain bike racing or trail rides: NO kickstand.
  • Any bike with a basket or rack for carrying stuff: Kickstand REQUIRED.
  • Any bike for errands around town, locking up for quick stops: Kickstand DESIRABLE.

I have kickstands on my bikes with racks and I love them. Since only one actually came with a kickstand, I had to research and decide on which kickstand was right for each bike. They’re not all the same.

Standard Single Leg Kickstand
This classic design represents probably 90% of the kickstands in use worldwide. It attaches to the frame  between the chain stays just behind the bottom bracket and flips up by simply straightening the bike and kicking it back. Dick installed one from Greenfield on the singlespeed he rides on our bike dates. I originally had one on Zella Mae, my errand bike, until I wore it out from putting too much load on it.


  • Available almost anywhere for less than $10.
  • Some models have an adjustable length so you don’t have to cut the leg to fit your bike.


  • Does not fit some bikes, especially performance road bikes, that don’t have space between the bottom bracket and the wheel for the mounting bracket.
  • Obstructs the pedals when down, which isn’t an issue until you roll your bike backwards, say in the garage or parking area.

Chainstay Single Leg Kickstand
Instead of mounting behind the bottom bracket, this kickstand mounts near the rear axle. I originally got this Greenfield kickstand for Lily, my old steel road bike, since she doesn’t have space for a standard kickstand’s mounting bracket. We also installed them on our touring bikes to handle a heavy load on the rear rack.


  • Works on bikes that don’t have room behind the bottom bracket for the mounting bracket.
  • Does not obstruct pedals.
  • Costs about $20.  More than the standard kickstand, but still pretty cheap.


  • Harder to find, and only available in black.
  • A heavier load in the rear of the bike can make the front end swing around.
  • Looks a bit dorky, doesn’t it?

Double Leg Centerstand
Most commonly found on motorcycles, this kickstand leans the bike fore and aft vs. leaning to one side. The two legs fold neatly to one side when not supporting the bike. I installed this Pletscher ESGE on Juliett, my Dutch bike due to her portly size. I liked it so much I installed another one on Zella Mae after I wore out her original kickstand by carrying too many heavy groceries.


  • Supports heavier bikes and heavier loads.
  • The bike remains upright, which makes it easier to load.
  • Even your friends that would never own a bike with a kickstand will think it’s cool.


  • More expensive. About $50 for the Pletscher ESGE model shown here.
  • Load must be evenly distributed left to right or it will tip over.
  • With more weight in the back, the front wheel flops into the frame unless you have a wheel stabilizer.

Do you have kickstands on any of your bikes? If yes, which type works for you? If not, when would you consider installing a kickstand?


Posted by on August 29, 2011 in Gear Talk


The Ups and Downs of Hilly Rides

When I used to lead rides for Velo Girls, I would often meet enthusiastic new riders who could hang with the group overall, but would fall back on the climbs. They would ask, “How do I get better at climbing?” I’d give them the standard advice: don’t grind up the hill, spin in a lower gear, climb hills every week, and climb with people a little faster than you.

Occasionally I’d add my personal experience: don’t be surprised that after climbing improves, you don’t feel faster. The training that makes you a faster climber can make you faster overall. So you’ll ride with faster people and do steeper hills, but still lag behind on the climbs. Don’t get discouraged.

Yesterday, my friends and I rode Jill’s Ride for Hope, a hilly metric century charity ride: 62 miles, 6000+ feet of climbing. To train for it, we have been doing progressively hillier weekend rides for weeks. The day turned out to have perfect weather, the route was scenic and challenging, and we met a few interesting people along the way. But it was a day of ups and downs for me.

On a good day, I can climb alongside my friends for a while, then I drop back and finish alone. On a bad day, like yesterday, I see everyone pull away from me at the bottom of the hill. It was a long and lonely climb.

I met my friends at the top and we rolled south together on Skyline, past the summit at Castle Rock and through that secluded one lane section, so far removed from the cities below. Then we were treated to a stellar descent on Bear Creek Road with tight turns on good pavement, where I learned that Cindy C loves descending just as much as I do.

At the small mountain town of Boulder Creek it was up again–12 miles of climbing to get back up to Skyline. The first five miles were moderate, so we could ride together and chat. Then the road steepened and we strung out again. I wasn’t any faster this time, but there were other riders slogging up the hill with me so it wasn’t so lonely. We regrouped midway to use the bathroom and to stretch, which was nice too.


The sweet descent down Hwy 9 into Saratoga was a special bonus for Michelle and the two Cindys since they’d never ridden it before. The only car we encountered on the tight top section was the SAG wagon, who politely pulled over and let us pass. As we rolled into Saratoga there were “woo hoos” and “that was worth the climb!” It was a good ride. We all finished feeling good, shared a post-ride meal and headed off.

Still, when I got home I couldn’t help feeling blue. I hate that I can’t keep up on the climbs. Cindy S posted her ride stats: average speed 12.6 mph. I check mine: 12.1 mph. I’ve done enough hilly rides over the years to know that 12 mph is a good pace for me for a long ride with 100 ft/mile elevation gain. I know that I’m not a natural climber and have worked hard to be able to conquer these hills, but it’s hard to accept the advice I give to others and just be proud. Maybe tomorrow.

Do you have some advice that you freely offer to others, but is hard for you to accept for yourself?

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Posted by on August 28, 2011 in Backroads


Bike Date Friday: Vive Sol

It’s amazing what you can do with a remodel of a 1950s motel! I had seen Vive Sol before, tucked behind the florist and the vacuum shop on busy El Camino. It didn’t seem like much, but when Katie recommended it we had to try it.

A quick glance at the menu and I realized it was owned by the same family as Palo Alto Sol on California Avenue, which I’ve heard are relatives of the two La Fiesta del Mar restaurants in Mountain View. Like the others, the food is consistently good, and the decor boldly Mexican. A solid local spot with a loyal following.

Have you ever overlooked a place near home, until someone who lives in another town recommended it?

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About Bike Date Friday: Since September 2010, my husband and I have had a standing date every Friday night. We eat at a different place every week and arrive by bike. There’s no better way to end the work week.


Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Bike Date


Fashion Friday: Yellow is the New Red

Strappy heels and a skinny belt in bright yellow amp up a basic white blouse and navy pencil skirt, with Black Beauty.


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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Cycle Fashions


Speeding Down Hills?

You know that nervous feeling you get when you’re driving down the road and you see a cop? And you have no idea how fast you’re going or what the speed limit is? It can happen on a bike too.

On Thursday nights, my friends and I unwind by rambling on the quiet backroads of Los Altos Hills. Given the town name, it’s no surprise that it’s a climbing ride, and as they say “what goes up must come down.” No complaints for me, though. The downside of climbing is the upside for me. I LOVE to descend.

A couple of weeks ago, I slapped on my GoPro helmet-cam before we descended Altamont Road. I had carved through the tricky off-camber steep section and was shooting down the final straightaway when a sheriff pulled out ahead of me. He wasn’t close at all, but I felt a twinge of fear. How fast was I going? What’s the speed limit? That night I replayed the video, but couldn’t find speed limit signs. Do you see any?

Tonight, we climbed up to Altamont Road again, taking a slightly different route so we could find a speed limit sign. We found it: 30 mph. Lower than I expected.

This time I caught up to two guys early in the descent, so I took it easy the rest of way down. At the bottom I checked my bike computer. Max speed 39.5. Definitely speeding. I wonder what it was two weeks ago when I was pedaling instead on braking through the turns?

Have you ever been pulled over for speeding on your bike? Would you fight a ticket or would you frame it?



Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Backroads


Tearing it Up at San Antonio Shopping Center

What is it that makes watching big machinery tearing big things apart so much fun? Is it seeing things that seem so permanent and strong go down so quickly?

Today, they started demolition of the Sears store at San Antonio Shopping Center in Mountain View. The kind folks at the nearby Milk Pail Market were on hand to record the drama–or not–with the video below. At this pace we’ll never get a new Safeway, apartment complex, three major retail stores and other shops and restaurants completed.

Intrigued, and needing an excuse to pick up some Makers Mark at Bev Mo, I pedaled over there tonight after work. Would Sears be rubble? Would the main shopping center entrance, the one that hooks up to the bike route from Palo Alto still be open? Most importantly, would I still be able to get to Trader Joes on my way home from work?

No, yes and yes. Here’s what I saw at the end of the day. Not much torn down, but I was very pleased that they didn’t fence off access through the shopping center.


Turns out the demolition today was more ceremonial than functional, with vice mayor Jac Siegel at the controls. Whew! Maybe we’ll see this project completed before the end of the decade.

Is there a shopping center near you that you wish they’d rip and replace? What stores would you want in your new and improved shopping center?

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Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Around Town


Speed Kills: Why 15 MPH is Better for School Zones

It was a simple question posed to Gary Richards, aka Mr Roadshow at the San Jose Mercury News. His Tuesday column mentioned the new 15 mph speed limits for school zones in San Francisco, but didn’t take a stand. I posted a quick comment on the online edition: “Hey, Gary, you didn’t say whether you thought a 15-mph speed limit in school zones in San Francisco is a good idea. What do you think?” I never expected it would be the leading question for his Wednesday column.

Before I comment on Gary’s response, it’s only fair that I take a stand. It’s even simpler: speed kills. This is not an opinion, it’s a fact supported by studies worldwide. For both stopping distances and severity of crashes, speed matters. Look at this chart showing the effect of vehicle speed on pedestrian injury.

Speed dramatically affects stopping distance, which translates to collision avoidance. According to this report: “Traveling at 40 mph, the average driver who sights a pedestrian in the road 100 feet ahead will still be traveling 38 mph on impact: driving at 25 mph, the driver will have stopped before the pedestrian is struck.”

On my five mile morning commute from Mountain View to Palo Alto I ride my bike through school zones for four elementary schools. I don’t ride directly past any middle schools, but I see a dozen or more middle school aged kids riding to school from their homes a mile or two away. Unfortunately, I see few cars respect the 25 mph speed limit, until congestion sets in just before the school day begins. The prevailing attitude is that 5-10 miles over the speed limit is “normal.” It may be normal, but it’s not safe.

As a society, we’ve lost track of the fact that speed kills. If drivers slowed down by 10 mph, people walking or riding bikes would be a lot safer. So, my take on 15 mph speed limit: If it means that majority of drivers will slow down from 30 to 20 mph, then I’m all for it. I’m sure the families of the 40% fewer children who will be killed when a collision occurs would agree (see chart). Like the family of 4-year-old Christopher “Buddy” Rowe who was killed in a Santa Rosa crosswalk on his way to soccer practice. And I’m sure the kids who would avoid being hit by vehicles due to slower speeds would agree too.

What was Mr. Roadshow’s take? Gary wrote:

“I’m all for drivers slowing at school zones at all times of the day. I wish legislation would pass allowing photo radar cameras to be used on city streets, similar to programs once in place in Campbell and San Jose. Combine that with a 15-mph limit and you bet people would slow down. The big worry isn’t just the speed of motorists, but how they drive when dropping off or picking up kids — making illegal turns, double parking, yakking on cellphones, etc. If a lower speed limit would help make them more attentive, then I’m for it.”

Thanks, Gary, I agree. I’m proud you took a stand that will surely get you a lot of flack from your readers. Bravo!

Would you support a reduced speed limit in your neighborhood? Would you change your commute route to avoid a school zone?


Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Issues & Infrastructure


Hwy 101 Bike Bridge Plan Unveiled

It may look more like a flume ride than a bike bridge, but the City of Palo Alto has announced plans for a new bike bridge over Highway 101 near San Antonio Road. Even though it will take years to build, I’m excited.

The existing crossing near San Antonio Road is an underpass that is only open during the dry months, and this summer it was closed from June until last week due to a broken tidal gate. The underpass is a dark, dank, narrow sidewalk just inches above the swampy muck. Not my favorite crossing. Did you even know that this underpass existed?

The city considered many options, and I’m really happy that they chose a light, airy, safer bridge that has the bonus of being visible to everyone stuck in traffic on Highway 101. Plus, the new design won’t need those silly gates to slow people down. They may be handy for practicing switchback skills, but they’re no fun for people on bikes with trailers or on tandems, not to mention in wheelchairs. Look at how Dick’s Bike Taxi Service handled the gates when I got a ride to work last Friday.

What bike skills do you get to practice when you ride around town?

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