Road Blog: Bike for Sale

 What got my attention as I stood on the corner of Howard and Western in the 17-degree cold: The list of accessories. Specifically the AM-FM radio. Some people know how to roll in style. Bike was posted in August, though, so it's probably sold. 

The Reward


A basic Berkeley bike ride: Start at my house, 120 feet above sea level. Take your favorite route up through the neighborhoods towards Spruce Street, one of the main roads into the hills (I ride up the north, purely residential end of Shattuck Avenue to Indian Rock, then to Santa Barbara, then the short, sharp climb up Northampton to Spruce). At the top of Spruce, roughly 2.2 meandering miles from home and at an elevation of about 800 feet, turn right on Grizzly Peak. The direction you’re conscious of going is up; you may not perceive until looking at a map later that you’ve been riding mostly north on Spruce and that as you climb the ridge on Grizzly Peak you’ve doubled back south. After the first quarter-mile on Grizzly Peak, you get to a long stretch where the climb is pretty gentle. You’re around 960 feet or so when cross Marin Avenue and just under 1100 as you approach the Shasta Gate into Tilden Park. Then you plunge down past the intersection with Shasta Road and climb again to the city limits and cross Centennial Drive where it tops out on its ascent from the UC-Berkeley campus, elevation about 1250 and about 5 miles from my front door. The road then climbs more twistily, steadily and steeply–though far from punishingly steep–for another 1.7 miles or so to the top of the road–a shade under 1700 feet.

So if you’re keeping track of all that, that’s a climb of something like 1550 vertical feet in 6.7 miles right outside the front door. Again, the way it unfolds with its long, gradual stretches is not a killer. But it’s not a bad workout, either.

When I first went up Grizzly Peak, in 1980, I think, I was stunned by the views. The road clings to the western slope of a very steep ridge, so you have a pretty much wide open view across Berkeley to the Bay and beyond. About a quarter-mile or so before the top of the road, where the pops over a last little rise before leveling out and pitching down toward toward the Claremont/Fish Ranch saddle, there’s a nice turnout with a stone wall. I used to stop there every time I went up the road to take in the view. I thought of it as my reward for working to get there. It was also a good place to take a breather. Then at some point I became more focused on getting up across the top as quickly as I could, and I didn’t stop there much anymore.

Today I did. For a minute. To see the view. To drink in the warmth of this amazing October day. To take a couple of pictures. It was a good reward.



Not a great picture, but this is a drinking fountain up along Skyline Drive, just above Tunnel Road, in the Oakland Hills. Here’s what’s unique about the fountain: It’s set up on the shoulder of the road in a place that seems meant to be of maximum use for cyclists. The road is one of the most popular climbs in the East Bay Hills, an almost leisurely ascent that invites you to spin your way up and then gets a little more serious about halfway up the roughly four-mile climb. I’d guess that hundreds of cyclists ride past this fountain on their way up every day; a few locals may stroll here, too, but the road and shoulders are narrow and you certainly don’t see many of them as you pedal through here.  

I went up here about 2 p.m. or so. A nearby weather station recorded the temperature as 95 degrees. I’ve ridden so little of late that even a relatively relaxed climb like this one has become an index of my lack of fitness. Didn’t hurt too much, though, and the reward came on the fun descent from the top of Grizzly Peak Boulevard back into Berkeley.

Anyway, the fountain: I passed it, then remembered a nice little New York Times feature from a month or so back that talked about public drinking fountains and what they represent. I turned around to use this one, and noticed many sets of bike-tire tracks in the dirt at its base. An oasis on a hot day.

Landing in Denver

I once did a bike ride that started northwest of Denver and headed east into the high Plains. We started at 3 a.m. An hour or so into the ride, we crossed under the flight path into Denver's airport, in the middle of the farms and ranches that stretch from the city pretty much clear across to Kansas City. I rode along in the dark, watching the progression of the planes approaching from the north, each with landing lights on, each seeming to move so slowly they appeared suspended in the predawn sky, each silent until they were almost overhead, but even then the roar of the jet engines seemed muffled by the dark and the prairie.

You get another version of the same experience landing here: a long approach with the farms and ranches interrupted by just a few new developments flung out from the city. We approached from the north, the afternoon sun shadowing us on the fields below, right up to the edge of the runway.

Journal of Self-Promotion

Contributing to my lack of rest this week was a small radio story I did on locals watching the Tour de France. Through Yelp!, someone at KQED steered me to a little place in Richmond called Catahoula Coffee Company. Originally part of the draw was the news that the cafe opened at 1 a.m. so that people could come watch the Tour. The truth was that it actually opens at 7 — with the Tour playing in mid-stage. Earlier this week I went up there and the owner gave me the run of the place for one morning and part of another. Three minutes of thrilling (and I hope entertaining) audio ensued and aired on KQED’s California Report Magazine this afternoon. Here’s the link to the story page (where the audio will eventually be posted, I think):

And for anyone who’s impatient, who doesn’t want to go to the beautiful California Report site and comment, you can play the story right here:

Bicycle Wheels

bicyclewheel1.jpgUpdate (January 2013): Here's a fresh post, by a French blogger, recounting the history of "Bicycle Wheel," Duchamp, and the many iterations of this work: "A Hundred Years Ago: 'Bicycle Wheel,' by Marcel Duchamp."

Original 2009 post:

A few days ago, I was looking for an online image of a bicycle wheel that I could use as a Twitter icon. Talk about having a high purpose.

I happened upon a Museum of Modern Art image of "Bicycle Wheel," a found or "readymade" art object by French artist Marcel Duchamp. It's a sweet and goofy construction: a bicycle wheel and fork mounted upside-down on a tall stool. Many aspects of a bike lend themselves to wonder and introspection–everything from the the double-triangle frame design to the bearings and races in a hub–but the wheel ranks right up there at the top with its combination of fragility and strength. Duchamp is said to have enjoyed spinning his stool-mounted wheel and is widely quoted as saying, ""I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace."

The MoMa site has a nice picture of one of the three Bicycle Wheel constructions Duchamp is said to have made The first of the three Bicycle Wheels, dated in 1913, was "lost." The MoMa wheel is dated 1951, is said to be the thirdand features a classic raked-forward fork. The way it's presented on the site, there's no question it's an objet d'arte. (The version pictured here appears to be the same sculpture; it's uncredited and found here. I'm seeking permission to publish the MoMa's image here; we'll see if I get it).

Below is another another Duchamp "Bicycle Wheel" that appears (with no copyright notices) here and there on the Web (this image is from Wikicommons). The source says "replica," but I believe that refers to the fact it's a Duchamp copy of the lost original.


What I love about dipping into something like this is the impromptu museum tour that happens. "Bicycle Wheel" in MoMa: check. Another version in some other exhibition: check. The next stop is (if picture captions are to be believed) is Duchamp's studio a few years after he first put wheel and stool together.


There it is, the object pre-veneration, the wheel askew, apparently just part of the disarray in an artist's quarters. You can appreciate the inspiration and the execution–and the suggestion the creator apparently didn't take it too seriously.

All of which brings us to our final display: the continuing life of "Bicycle Wheel" outside the gallery. For starters, we have the creation of "The Duchamp," a found musical instrument. And this alternate take on the concept. And finally: Duchamp Reloaded, by an artist who liberates "Bicycle Wheel" to experience the life of New York's streets.


(Photo: Ji Lee, "Duchamp Reloaded." Used with permission.)

Long-Distance Riders

I’ve meant to note for the last couple of days that this is the week of the Gold Rush Randonee. My explanation of a randonee usually prompts a reaction combining puzzlement (why would someone do such a thing?) with horror (you mean people really do that without being forced?). Here’s your basic randonee: 750 miles in 90 hours, with a series of checkpoints on the way to make sure you’re moving along smartly and not taking shortcuts.

So far, you’re just quizzical: “Yes? Hmmm. That’s a long way.”

You are correct. In ballpark numbers, 750 miles is a distance akin to San Francisco to Seattle. If you’re very motivated, you can probably do that drive in 13 hours up Interstate 5. On a bike, you want to build up to the adventure. Nice 50-mile increments would be pleasant. Take a couple of weeks to enjoy the scenery. Or maybe you’re a cycling animal and you do a 100 miles per diem, a century a day for eight days.

Here’s where curiosity encounters fear. “Ninety hours? How many days is that?”

Three and three-quarters. So to do your 750 miles in that time means pedaling a cool double-century a day. Yes, people actually do it. I can bear witness. But I won’t detour into some of the odder realities of the randonee–the night-time starts, the all-night rides, the naps in the ditches, the slow descent into an often less than coherent or rational frame of mind.

Still, you can’t help but ask: “How do you sit on a bike seat after all those miles?”

I just wanted to note the Gold Rush riders are out there, toiling from Davis, at the southwestern corner of the Sacramento Valley, across mountains and high desert to Davis Creek, just below the Oregon border on U.S. 395. They left Monday at 6 p.m., and the first rider of the 117 who started will be back in Davis in two hours or so — only 54 or 55 hours on the road. I’d like to know how much that guy slept. I know several folks on the ride, and it’s been fun to follow their progress in the Davis Bike Club’s updates. My friend Bruce, who will turn 63 this August, seems to be several hours ahead of his pace four years ago. Amazing, really.

Anyway, check out the proceedings:

Gold Rush Randonee ride updates

Gold Rush Randonee rider times

Tweeting the Tour

Yes, the Tour de France started today, which is the annual early-July signal to take even more leave of my senses than usual. As the late, mostly unlamented Church Lady said, “Isn’t that special?”

My Tour Twitter feed:

My cycling blog, which goes sadly neglected most of the time: re: Cycling

Regularly unscheduled programming will continue here at Infospigot, with occasional break-ins with cycling news of cosmic significance.

Former Bike Rider Reminisces

As a former bike rider, I still remember how to balance a two-wheeler and sometimes venture out into the world to remind myself what it feels like to roll along the local pavements.

This morning I had an appointment over on Solano Avenue, a couple miles from home. I rode over. Then afterward, I rode up Solano and wound my way into the hills. Just to remind myself what that uphill trudge feels like.

I got to the top of Los Angeles Avenue, which is short and no big deal though it has a semi-steep pitch at the end. I was taking it very easy and riding in my lowest low gear.

Turning uphill on Spruce, perhaps the most popular way into the hills on the north end of Berkeley, another rider appeared alongside me. He was going faster than I and was visibly fitter, too. We said hi and wished each other a good ride, and within a few seconds he was pulling away. As I got ready to turn uphill on Keith Avenue, a quiet and steepish side street, the Other Cyclist was maybe 100 feet ahead of me.

I stayed in my low gear up Keith and crossed Euclid Avenue. Then I started a sort of side-step up the ridge toward Grizzly Peak Boulevard. From Keith, which has a gentle grade east of Euclid, I turned on to Bret Harte Way, which probably has a 16 or 17 percent grade (and grade is a measure of a road’s slope: 10 percent means a 10-unit vertical change for every 100 linear units; 10 feet in 100 feet, or 10 meters in 100 meters. Given my out-of-shape linebacker physique, which my legs have to carry up these hills, I regard 10 percent as pretty steep. In Berkeley, Marin Avenue climbs into the hills with gradients of roughly 20 to 30 percent, and the steepest street I’ve heard of in town is said to be 31 percent. That’s another way of saying darn near impossible for mere mortals and former bike riders).

At each corner, I tried to turn uphill. The way it worked out, I alternated between steep eastbound pitches like Bret Harte Way and flatter south-trending pieces like Cragmont. And so it went, up Bret Harte Road (steep again, and different from B.H. Way), Keeler Avenue (flattish), Twain Avenue (steep), Sterling (gentle), Whitaker (steep), Miller (easy), and Stevenson, a short street that I knew topped out at Grizzly Peak. And that was as far up as I intended to go.

I finished the climb and turned left on Grizzly Peak. As it happened, I was about 100 feet or so in front of the guy who had just passed me down below. We waved at each other, and I called out that he could have taken the short cut, and he laughed. It was a lovely piece of symmetry in a short ride into the hills, but the neatness of the coincidence made me want to try to account for it.

So here’s some arithmetic. The corner of Keith Avenue, roughly where the Other Cyclist passed me, is at an elevation of 499 feet if online sources are to be believed. The corner where we met again is at 1,082 feet. So both of us climbed 583 feet. Now, how far did we ride in linear distance? Again using an online tool–Gmaps Pedometer, which you ought to try if you haven’t already–my ride was 1.21 miles. His: 2.47. That’s another neat coincidence: His route being twice as long and the net climb being the same, his net grade (4.5 percent) is half of mine (9.2 percent). He also had to maintain an average speed roughly double mine, which would have been no problem since I was probably poking along at about 5 mph or less when the road got steep.

So those are the numbers. Interesting, but they don’t quite sum up that moment of delight when I saw the Other Rider again.

Lance and Us

Lance Armstrong is a renowned champion bicycle racer. Lance Armstrong is making a comeback this year after several years of celebrity and celebrity hangover. Lance Armstrong crashed earlier this week during a race and broke his collarbone. And now Lance Armstrong is starting his recovery training regimen. Today, and perhaps today only, Lance Armstrong’s workout routine resembles something I might recognize as human. Here it is, as reported on his Twitter stream: “Got on the spin bike for half an hour today.”

(And here’s the link to the Twitpic of Lance on said spin bike: