Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Video of Bicycle-Friendly Utrecht Netherlands

Take a relaxing break as we enter the busy holiday season with this refreshing almost bicycle-only morning "rush-hour" scene in the Netherlands. It's a long video at 10 minutes, but even if you only watch for 30 seconds I think you'll enjoy the calm and quiet that is pedal-powered traffic.

Watching it I assumed this intersection was always this way and was amazed when I clicked the link at the top and viewed part 2 where the author gives the history of this intersection in Utrecht and how the Dutch had to reclaim the land and make massive changes - even digging out a filled-in riverbed - to restore this city center to what it is today.

It gives me hope that we can keep making changes to our cities that result in more of them offering something like this someday. I would love to see our downtown Santa Cruz, where it's relatively flat and some bike paths already exist, become more bike/ped friendly with reduced and controlled cars and trucks and priority given to people rather than vehicles. Significantly reducing speed limits, downsizing car lane widths to create more bicycle space on the shoulder, not inconveniencing bikes/peds at lights with long delays, and making Pacific Avenue car-free would be a great start.

Have a happy Thanksgiving,
Here's a link to the video in case it doesn't display for you:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cycling Vacation Suggestion

It's never too early to start planning your vacation, everyone. This scenic video of Adventure Cycling's Rocky Mountain Great Divide Route has me dreaming of this epic off-road bicycling trip in Montana. I thought you'd enjoy it too.

You can also watch the video here.

Best cycling wishes,

Friday, November 12, 2010

Santa Cruz Cyclocross: A Look Back

Made in Santa Cruz: Rock Lobster cyclocross bike
For racing cyclists, it's the final season of the year and that means cyclocross! Also called cross or CX, bicycle cyclocross racing originated in Europe as a way for road racers to stay fit throughout the off season.

Here's a little background and kind of a funny story about my cross exploits. Be sure to check my cyclocross page on my website for a lot more about old-school Santa Cruz cross.

The challenge for racers in the winter was keeping in shape with high-intensity workouts while staying warm. So the idea was conceived to race on slightly modified road bikes around a mostly grass or dirt track on about a one-mile circuit course. On cyclocross bikes, the frames have additional clearance plus knobby road tires and powerful cantilever brakes are used - soon disc brakes. When I raced, cross frames were mostly steel and the components were aluminum. Today, the bikes are aluminum or carbon and the components get lighter and lighter, including carbon wheelsets and components. Lightness is good because you have to carry your bike.

To slow the riders and ensure they won't freeze, the courses have obstacles and often mud stretches to force racers to dismount, shoulder their bicycles and run for a stretch. How well you can handle your bike on sketchy terrain and how seamlessly you can go from saddle to dirt and back again often determines how well you do in the races.

Fortunately, races only last for from roughly 45 minutes to an hour plus a lap, however, it's one of the most intense hours you've probably spent on two wheels and no one will tell you cyclocross racing is a cake walk. But, it sure is fun and a fantastic way to stay in shape all season long.

My involvement in cross started here in Santa Cruz in the early 1980's because we had a great cyclocross series here (and still do). In high school I was a fair cross-country runner and I had always loved cycling. I figured the combination of cycling and running would be perfect for me.

From 1982 to 1984 I made every race. I rode a custom Oxford cross bike (Jim Oxford was a framebuilder in Bonny Doon), based on the geometry of Tom Cuthbertson's Hetchins cross rig that he purchased in England in the 1970's. At that time Tom helped bring the sport of cyclocross to Santa Cruz. He's best known as the author of Anybody's Bike Book, the first massive best selling bicycle repair book. Tom worked at the Bicycle Center on Mission Street (now known as Sprockets), and went on to write great owner's manuals for Apple computer users.

By the time of the 1984 NorCal District Championships and National Championships, which were held less than a mile from my house, on the University of California at Santa Cruz campus, I was competitive - not the highest level, but close. At the Districts, which were held in Tilden Park in Berkeley, the venue for the first National Championships back in 75, I finished 7th and ahead of two former national champs. But, the Nationals on my hometown course had a surprise in store for me.

Besides being part cyclist, part runner, the other thing that suited me about cyclocross was the mechanical aspect. Cross is really tough on bikes and if you're not keeping up with mechanical issues, you'll breakdown and have to switch bikes or wheels during the race, which can ruin your chances of a top finish. While I witnessed broken seatposts and handlebars, endless flat tires, crunched wheels and bent forks at the races, in my three seasons of cross I didn't have so much as a flat tire.

Nationals: L-R: Steve Tilford, Laurence Malone, Roy Knickman
And, then came the Nationals, the biggest stage of my cycling life until then. Because I had finished top 10 in one of the toughest Districts races in the country, I was allowed to stand in the front row at the start. To my left was 5-time National Champ Laurence Malone. To my right was Roy Knickman, just a famous name to me.

I had raced with Laurence many times and even wrenched on his race bike. He was one of the first guys to give me racing, training and equipment advice. He told me to ride a harder gear than on the road so that I could take my weight off the saddle and float over the bumps. He taught me how to dismount to hit the ground in full stride. He helped me, sure, but, I never kept up with him in the races. And standing between him and Roy, I was so nervous and excited that I thought I would explode if they wouldn't hurry up and start the race.
Dan Nall, Dave McLaughlin, Greg Foy and me - somewhere way back

The start was at the base of UCSC, at the top of Bay Street. If you've been there, you know there's a plush lawn to the right. We started there, turned right, blasted up the road and then veered left onto the grass track around the campus course.

The worse obstacle was a log pile seemingly going up into the sky that we had to run up each lap. But I knew the course well and was ready to fly up the opening hill and stick with Laurence and Roy for as long as I could.

In my dreams. They started us and I hit the gas as hard as I ever have and snapped my right pedal clean off! Unbelievable. I only had one choice: shoulder my broken bike and run a half lap to the pits to retrieve my back-up from my mechanic Scott Terriberry. Somehow, I managed to get there, leaped onto my second bike - an old junker 10-speed I'd modified - all my money in my now-crippled custom cross machine. It was at least rideable and I was able to start racing. It took Scott 3 laps to borrow a pedal off a spectator's bike to get me back on my Oxford.

But I was far behind the leaders and in danger of being pulled. Every lap, I could hear the officials yanking riders just a little ways behind me and I battled to keep passing and moving up. My ugly start and the tough course helped me. As I got rolling, some of the guys in front started to tire and I moved further up in the field. In the end I finished 16th and only 25 guys finished the race. Steve Tilford won in dominating fashion lapping almost everyone in the race at least once. He's still racing and winning.

To keep the memories of those classic cross races back in the day alive, I've put a page about them up on my website with more photos and commentary. It was a different type of cross racing back then - more mud, more obstacles, lower-tech bicycles - but it was just as much fun as it is today. One of the biggest differences is that there are now cross racing series across the country and American riders are even successfully competing against the stars of cross in Europe. That's fantastic.

Have a great ride,

Friday, November 5, 2010

More Lights: Early Bicycle Lamps

To enlighten you a bit more, here are a few cool vintage bicycle light items from the early days. It's fun to think that even in the 1890's - years before automobiles were being mass produced, we wanted to ride at night and see and be seen. And, the vintage lights that illuminated the way via an elegant orange beam created by a burning wick, were as magnificent as the lovely bicycles that carried them.

Behold the 20th Century 1898 Model (note that they call it a "Driving Lamp," cyclists being the first drivers).
Next is the same model, but here they show an alluring nighttime riding scene depicting the powerful Model 1898, "splendid in its improvements," allowing the cyclist to make good use of the half of his cycling time that's dark.
These vintage lights were built to last and they're not that hard to find and quite collectible. Here's a Union Lamp Company William's Globe made around 1897 courtesy of Transport Collectors Auctions. The vents on the top let the heat escape, while the jewel-like glass reflectors provide some side visibility. For fast and easy on/off, the lights' sprung mounts slid over a simple bracket found on the front of most bicycles at the time. The lens is a heavy piece of glass and it's also the door opened to light the wick.

From the same auction site, here's a bedazzling Bridgeport Brass Search Light ornately decorated to be as delightful during daylight as it was brilliant in the moonlight.

And, to demonstrate that the genuine item is as splendid as the bicycle ad for it, here's the illustration for the light shown in the photo above:
Hope you enjoy these treasures from days gone by, and have fun on your nighttime rides!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It's Time: Lighten Up Your Bicycle!

1930's Colba light bicycle ad
Not that kind of lighten up your bicycle... I'm talking about lighten up, as in adding lights to your bike to be seen and stay safe now that the time's about to change and it's going to be dark earlier for a lot of us.

It's important because, unless you ride only on brightly lit city streets, you can be just about invisible to drivers if you're bicycling at night without lights. We're so narrow and small that they have a difficult time seeing us even when it's light out.

At night, if they're passing us from behind and we aren't using lights, they won't see us until the very last second - if we're lucky. And, they'll also pull out in front of us or turn across our path for the same reason. Both highly dangerous.

 If you ever get stuck biking home in the dark without lights remember that you can't be seen and do whatever you have to to stay safe. For example, riding on the sidewalk, if that's your only option and no one's using it. Cheap flashlights purchased at a convenience store and duct taped to your handlebars and seatpost will work in a pinch and be handy at home too.

Fortunately, with advances in bulb and battery technology, bike lights have improved in leaps and bounds since the cool Colba light in the ad here was state of the art. So there's no good reason not to equip your two-wheeler with lights. Any bicycle shop will have bright, easy-to-install headlight and taillight setups to keep you safe. In fact, most department stores carry them, too, though you won't get the guarantees, spare parts availability and installation help if you need it.

Planet Bike's Superflash taillight and Blaze headlight is a nice example I have on one of my bikes. Using bright and super long-lasting LEDs (light emitting diodes), standard batteries and easy mounting clips, these lights go on and off in a blink (so they won't get stolen if you lock your bike downtown) and are bright enough to be seen and see. (I especially like that the taillight comes with mounting clips for the seatpost and seatstay so you can always find a spot to install it.)

But there are loads of light makers and an endless variety of bicycle lighting systems at all price points, so shop around, ask friends you ride with what they use, but light your bike up soon so you can safely ride right through the season.

See you on the road,