Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sequoia build

New bike (Sequoia build)

It has taken me a while to get this all written up - but I finally have all the details in one place, in case anyone wants to reproduce the build, is puzzling through similar design/build choices and the inevitable problems, or is just curious; I started putting this bike together last October, and got it on the road in early November 2017.


My trusty Miyata six-ten bike was swiped by some cretin in downtown Mountain View last summer. It was right out in the middle of a busy area, on a main street, during daylight, locked to a pole… the bike (and the lock) were long gone when I came out of a store. I had that sinking feeling in my gut when I walked up to the pole, only to find no bike there.

That bike has been my every day, go-to trusty steed for more than ten years. I rescued it from atop a buddy’s van when it returned from Burning Man adventures, and re-built and/or replaced nearly everything on it. I rode it nearly every day as my commute bike, in sun, rain, wind, and torrential “atmospheric river” events; it went to France with us on a tour; it schlepped three people’s gear on multiple family camping trips around California. It wasn’t my fastest bike, nor the lightest, nor by any stretch the most expensive, but it may have been the closest to my heart after all the time I spent refining it into just the bike I wanted.


I knew it would not be a trivial bike to replace, and gave a lot of thought as to what I wanted to get out of the next bike. When it came right down to it, the only things I could think of that I would have changed or improved on the Miyata, if I could have, was disc brakes, and room for bigger tires. I wanted largely what I had in the Miyata - an all-round, do-it-all bike capable of undertaking pretty much any adventure thrown its way (short of something so extreme that only an actual full-suspension mountain bike, or a fat bike, would do.)

The current fad of “gravel bikes” was definitely up for consideration - but I found most of them are not really oriented to carrying much (if any) gear. They’re great for pseudo-racing on mixed surfaces, or going for long, hard one-day rides; as soon as you’re looking at longer trips, they aren’t the right tool for the job. Yeah yeah, you can make do with bikepacking bags and go for it, but these bikes are still a lot closer to road race bike than a touring rig.

There certainly are some excellent bikes out there for hard-core long-distance loaded touring! At least one of those, the Specialized AWOL, had strong appeal for me. It’s a load-it-up-with-the-kitchen-sink machine that can easily handle the roughest sketch of a road or trail, anywhere from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. But as much as I would love to be doing those rides, they aren’t what I’m riding now, and the added weight that enables such fortitude isn’t what I want to be carting back and forth to work every day.

I (eventually) landed on the Specialized Sequoia, which looked like Erik Nohlin had practically read my notes on the “perfect do-it-all bike” and designed from there. My only real reservations were (a) the bikes were spec’d with higher gearing than I would want, for hauling camping gear up a hill, and (b) the bikes all were spec’d with 700c wheels, which, when run with a suitably big tire (e.g. 42mm), didn’t leave much room for fenders. After test-riding Erik’s own bike that he had equipped with 650b wheels and 48mm tires, I decided that was the way to go, and that building up a Sequoia from scratch would give me the combination of features I wanted.
Erik’s bike - inspiration for my build


There proved to be an interesting set of challenges to make everything I wanted work successfully on this bike - for example, this is a drop-handlebar bike, but I wanted to use gearing that is much more in line with mountain bikes, on the low end of the range, while preserving a high enough gear for road-riding. The low end (24 or 26 tooth chainring) is available on MTB cranksets, but not with a decent-sized big ring; likewise, a road crankset that offers big rings of 42–48 teeth is unlikely to accommodate the desired small ring. I eventually found the holy grail - White Industries makes a crankset with interchangeable chainrings, that can be spec’d with just about any combination imaginable! As long as your derailleurs will handle the range, you can run as big or as small as you want, in whatever combo.[1]

White Industries crankset, chainrings and bottom bracket - 26x42

While both Shimano and Sram offer currently-very-popular “1x” (one-by) drivetrains, e.g. with a single front chainring and a very wide range of cogs in the back, as well as double- and triple-chainring drivetrains, it’s quite difficult to find an off-the-shelf combination that works with “road” brake-shift-levers and a wide-range rear derailleur. Just a few years ago, Sram really had this figured out, and their road and MTB shifters and derailleurs were interchangeable. Enter 11spd components, and even Sram has degenerated back into a nearly impossible to decipher quagmire of non-interoperability. I found some helpful advice in this guide, and it looked like I could make it work with a slightly-outdated 10spd MTB rear derailleur, but it felt like a risk and the component wasn’t quite the same level of finish as the rest of the bike… but it was comparatively inexpensive, as well as being literally the only thing I found that seemed likely to work.

Next after the drivetrain complexities, came the wheels. This was, fortunately, a little more straightforward, as I knew that I wanted a dynamo front hub and lighting from Schmidt - I had this on the Miyata and absolutely loved it. I also had a White Industries rear hub on the Miyata, and found it to be robust, good-looking and a complement to the shape of the Schmidt hub, and good value; so I decided to go that route again. The Sequoia has disc brakes, and I’ve found that when travelling with bikes, it is much preferable to have center-lock brake rotor mounting, rather than the more-common 6-bolt style. The new bike also uses through-axles front and rear, rather than quick release skewers, but fortunately both the hubs I wanted were available in 12mm through-axles and with center-lock disc brake rotor mounting. So that took care of the hub selection!
Schmidt dynamo hub
White CLD rear hub with titanium driver - visually a great match to the Schmidt front hub.

On to rims. I knew from riding Erik’s bike with somewhat heavy rims and tires, that I wanted much lighter wheels; and I wanted a wide channel to spread out the footprint of the tire, and planned to run lightweight tubeless tires. The 650b size has become much more available over the past few years, with the popularity of “27.5” mountain bikes, but it is still a little challenging to find a really light rim – the market is dominated by beefier MTB-oriented rims. I vacillated between three rims, before settling on the Velocity Blunt SS because it looked good, was available, and has been around long enough for the bugs to have been well hashed out.

Velocity Blunt SS rim - Made in USA!

From the outset I knew I wanted to use Compass’ 42mm “Babyshoe Pass” tires - they would be the perfect match to the bike. I considered getting the ‘Extralight’ model, but opted for the ‘Standard’ as I knew I’d be beating these up on trails. I elected to use 28 spokes, front and rear, as even if I carry a load on the bike, I don’t weigh that much and I ride carefully, and with a load I won’t be going bashing through rock gardens at speed anyway.

There are always a bazillion little details necessary to build up a bike from scratch. The frameset thankfully came with the seatpost and handlebars that I liked from demo’ing Erik’s bike, as well as a stem, saddle, bar tape, bar end plugs. You can see the entire parts list here; it gives a good idea of just how many individual pieces there are that have to be accounted for!

What isn’t obvious from that list, is that you can’t just go buy everything from one place. No one source has all the items. Some shops have some of the parts, other shops have some of those and some of the others you need, but where they overlap the prices may not be advantageous… In short, it gets very complicated very quickly to both locate all the bits and pieces, and then batch them into orders that make sense. I ended up with a rather large and complex spreadsheet to keep track of it all. Additionally, one hopes that one didn’t make any mistakes in the ordering, and that what is delivered is also accurate.[2] In the event, I only mis-ordered one thing, and it was quick and easy to exchange for the correct part.

The final obstacle to building the bike was the frameset; once I picked it up I was ready to start putting everything together.
Special delivery!
Special delivery!

Nicely wrapped frameset, bars, stem, fork, seatpost

Pile ’o parts


I really couldn’t put anything together without the wheels, so building them up was the first order of business. They went together without a hitch, the Velocity rims lacing up nice and true. The front wheel popped into the fork perfectly. When I tried to put the rear wheel in place, though, the through-axle would not pass through the right side of the hub! After much consternation and deployment of my digital calipers, I discovered that part of the hub was machined 0.2mm undersized. Grrrr… but these things happen; I emailed the company and pretty quickly got a response that a replacement part was on the way. After a week and a half, I hadn’t seen anything in the mail, and they’re located just a couple hours’ drive north. Another email to inquire; they responded “you should have had it in a day or two! We’ll pop another in the mail.” OK. This time I did get the part quickly, but IT WAS THE WRONG PART. Double-Grrr. Yet another email exchange, with photos to illustrate the problem, and in a few more days I had a working part, and thus a wheel installed in my frame. Whew, at last!

Next was the front rack, as it had to be in place in order to route the wires for the lights. Then came tires; to get the fenders aligned and space properly requires that the tires be in place. Being tubeless, they were a royal PITA to get on to the rims, but once there they inflated easily to seat the bead, and then I injected Orange Seal into the tires to seal them up. They’ve been holding pressure wonderfully, and ride like a dream!

I routed the wires for the lights through the frame (the Sequoia thoughtfully has the right holes in the fork and frame to allow this) and got the lights all set up. Both front and rear lights are the German-made Schmidt LED lights, with that classic German attention to function and quality. The Schmidt headlamp is one of the few lights that I feel confident to use descending at speed on a dark night. Lots of comparative info on the Schmidt headlamp at Peter White’s site.

The drivetrain went together beautifully. The White Industries bottom bracket and crankset are very, very nicely made, and were a joy to handle and install. I love the little details like the message to their riders/customers found on the bottom bracket!

A nice touch

The Sram Force levers/shifters are easy to set up, and if you have the top-level bleed kit, it is pretty straightforward to cut the hydraulic lines to length and get the bubbles out. The only issues I ran into were with the calipers, in that the flat-mount pads on the frame were covered in paint, which caused the rear caliper to be canted relative to the rotor; I had to have the pads cut using a Park DT–5.2, but that sorted it out. The front caliper’s hose mounting bolt clipped the front spokes ever so slightly, and I couldn’t make the interference go away by nudging the caliper to the outside… after trying to adjust everything I could think of, I decided the only option left would be to shim the rotor out a little. An online post offered some great leads, in particular from Dave at November Bicycles[3], that indicated this would be a good solution. Well, good luck finding shims! The only place I could find what I needed was McMaster Carr, which, while they carry damn near every industrial bit of stuff you can imagine, charges for the convenience. I ordered a bunch of 0.1mm shims, unsure of just how much I’d need to move the rotor. I ended up using 4 to do the job. I initially tried to wiggle them over the splines of the hub, as suggested by the on-line post, and I could see that technique maybe working with a thinner shim, but I couldn’t make it happen. However, looking at the load direction here, I realized that there was no reason not to just cut the shim! The shim is compressed axially between the rotor and the hub; there’s no radial load or motion, and the cut makes it much easier to put the shims on or, later, take them off.

At this point, I could ride the bike around, and just in time for Anna and I to take a little trip to the Paso Robles / San Luis Obispo area in early November. We put quite a few miles of dirt and rough pavement under the tires, including the great single-track route up Rinconada trail, along the fire roads on the ridge to the condor lookout, and down some rather neglected forest service road to the (sadly closed) Pozo saloon. It was a great shake-down test for the bike; everything worked great and the drivetrain was super quiet and shifted perfectly across the entire (wide) gear range. The only issue that arose, was the headlamp mounting nuts worked themselves loose on a dirt road descent and fell off along the way, leaving the lamp dangling dangerously close to the front spokes. It was my fault for not tightening them sufficiently, I think, and easily remedied the next morning at the SLO hardware store.

After we got home, the next order of business was to fashion the mounting bracket (decaleur) required for my Giles Berthoud handlebar bag. My old decaleur was lost when the Miyata was swiped, but even if I had it still, it would not work with the new (modern, 4-bolt) stem. I decided the easiest way to get the decaleur I wanted was going to be to make it myself. Back when I ordered the shims from McMaster Carr, I justified the shipping cost by adding the raw materials I knew I’d need for the decaleur. A piece of 1/4" 4130 steel tubing and a chunk of flat 4130 stock gave me plenty of material to play around with, if the first design didn’t come out right.

A few cuts, miters, and some filing and I had all the pieces; the hard part proved to be holding the pieces in the right orientation to allow me to braze them together! I must have spent a couple hours playing around with different schemes, before finally hitting on something that would work. It brazed up fine, and installed on the stem just right, but when I went to put the bag on I was horrified to discover that the attachment rod that slides horizontally through the decaleur to hold the bag onto the bike, ran directly into the brake lever body! Drat. I eventually got it to work by lowering the stem, but it resulted in placing the handlebars a bit lower than I’d like. Unfortunately, the geometry is such that even making a new decaleur won’t fix the problem, so I may just have to learn to love the lower bars.
Fancy jig here...

Third and fourth hands necessary

Looks like it will work

Is that everything? Ah, no – I haven’t put the fenders on yet! I saved them for last, because getting them installed just right requires a lot of focus and concentration, and that was in short supply until I had some time off over the Christmas holidays. Even though these are big, metal (aluminum) fenders, they are remarkably lighter and stiffer than the plastic/aluminum sandwich ones that I’m used to. The mounting actually went very smoothly, once I worked out just where they needed to sit, relative to the tires, to look and work right. They can’t have too much or too little space, it has to be just right! I had to make a bracket to support the fender under the fork crown, as the Sequoia fork doesn’t have the usual hole under there. It does have well-positioned fender mounting bosses for the rear fender, on the seat stay bridge and between the chainstays. I had to find some plastic spacers to use as shims, to get the fenders into the right position, but I found some in a drawer that were exactly the right size.

With the fenders mounted, there’s nary a rattle! I’ve had the Sequoia off on several rough dirt jaunts, and in the rain, and it is handling everything I throw at it with aplomb. The next step is to load it up with panniers on a front low-rider rack, and see how it likes touring!
On the road!

Parts and supplies

Bill of materials
Component Description Qty Notes
Frame module Specialized Sequoia Pro, 56 cm 1 Includes fork, bars, stem, headset, seatpost, collar, saddle, bar tape, bar plugs
Hub, front Schmidt SONdelux 12, black, 28 1 12mm thru-axle. Centerlock disk
Disk lock ring for thru-axles Shimano SM-HB20 2
Hub, rear White Industires CLD, black, 32, 12mm x 142 OLD 1
Spokes Sapim Laser 2.0 - 1.5 - 2.0, 274mm, black, bag of 20 3 274mm fits F & R both sides (need 2 x 28 plus some spares, so 3 boxes)
Nipples Sapim Polyax brass 12mm, black, bag of 100 1
Rims Velocity Blunt SS 650b 2
Tires Compass Babyshoe Pass 42 2 Compass Switchback Hill 48 should also fit
Tubes Schwalbe SV14A 2 As spares; nominally running tubeless
Rim tape Orange Seal 24mm x 12 yards 1
Tubeless valve stems American Classic 2
Crankset White Industries MR30 172.5 1 Includes lockring for chainrings
Chainring, inner White Industries VBC, 26t 1
Chainring, outer White Industries VBC, 42t 1
Chainring bolts White Industries VBC, set 1 Special bolts required for VBC chainrings
Bottom bracket White Industries BSA 1
Chain KMC X11SL DLC 1
Cassette SRAM PG–1170 11–36 11 speed 1
Rotors SRAM CenterLine X, Centerlock, 160mm 2
Levers/shifters/calipers SRAM Force 22 flat mount 2 Front and rear
Derailleur, Front SRAM Force 22 1
Der. Braze-on adapter Problem solvers, 28.6 diam 1
Derailleur, Rear SRAM GX Type 2.1 10spd Long cage 1 Works with Force 11spd “exact actuation” shifters
Fenders Honjo Grand Bois hammered 650b (for up to 42 tires); for threaded eyelets (pair) 1
Light, front Schmidt eDelux II black, with co-ax connector 1
Light, rear Schmidt SON taillight, seatpost mount, black, clear lens 1
Cages King Cage stainless 2 Could mount more - up to 5 on the frame!
Pedals Shimano XT Trail PD-M8020, pair 1
Cage Bolts Wolf Tooth (4 pc) 1
Front rack Compass UD–1 extralight 1
Light mount Compass, to fit adjustable strut on rack 1
Centerlock brake shims McMaster Carr 35mm ID x 45mm OD, 0.1mm, stainless 5 To correct for disk rotor offset
Fender spacer Standoff, M5 x 40mm, stainless 1 Fits between M5 male screw on front rack and top of fender
DECALEUR To fit Berthoud handlebar bag
1/4 in x 0.028 wall tubing McMaster Carr 4130 steel, per ft 1
flat stock McMaster Carr 1" x 1/6 thick x 1 ft length 1
spacers McMaster Carr 8mm OD x 5mm ID x 10mm length, Al 2
stem bolts 5mm socket head cap screws, stainless, length TBD 2
TOOLS These are just the ones I didn’t already have
BB Tool Park BBT–79 1
Bleed kit SRAM pro bleed kit 1
Brake line cutter SRAM 1
Through-axle adapter for truing stand Park TS–2TA 1
Anti-corrosion Weigle frame saver, spray can 1
DOT grease SRAM, tub 1
Tire sealant Orange Seal, 32 oz bottle 1
Face rear brake mounts Shop, requires Park DT–5.2 tool 1

  1. So too does Compass, with Jan’s Rene Herse crankset, but I wanted something in black and theirs in only in bare aluminum. It’s a lovely crankset, though. TA makes a similar set, also very nice, also only silver.  ↩
  2. I will note here, that as much as I believe in supporting my local bike shops, they are priced so far above the on-line shops as to be unreasonable. I can tolerate some markup by the local shop, and will preferentially patronize them because I recognize the value of local bike shops and how hard it is for them to make a living, but there’s a threshold where my own economic interests take over. My compromise is to favor the smaller mom-and-pop on-line businesses, that have grown out of (and often still are working from) independent bike shops where someone anticipated the boom of internet commerce and set themselves up in that market.  ↩
  3. November now stocks the shims, but they’re thicker (0.25mm) and kinda pricey.  ↩

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

On a mission to the Mission

Nim and I had a micro-adventure on Saturday while Chad was making his way back home from Santa Barbara -- I figured the potential for a one-way bike ride south with a rendezvous with the truck for a motorized ride back was too good to pass up.  Thus, the San Jose to San Juan Bautista scheme was born.

As far as kid motivation went, it was just an excuse to get coffee and eat!  A few highlights:

1.  Breakfast egg and cheese sandwiches on English muffins at home before riding over to the light rail station.  Mmmm.

2.  Overly long ride on the light rail down to its southern terminus in the south part of San Jose.  They do have bike facilities on the train, but said facilities consist of hooks that are too high for anyone of my height to reasonably attach the bikes to, especially while trying not to disturb the person sleeping on the neighboring seat.  It is easier to just hold one's bike the aisle.

3.  Nice riding along the Coyote Creek Trail.  First snack needed about 8 miles in, due to great slowness of light rail.  Lucky kid got to eat *my* seasonal flavor Clif Bar.  She knew I had a vested interest in avoiding having her bonk.

4.  Second snack in Morgan Hill.
It shouldn't have surprised me that the Peet's there was swamped with cyclists on a Saturday morning, given that that town is home to a major bicycle company.  I fought my way through the line full of riders in their fancy bike kit to get the kiddo a delicious ginger cookie, and was most amused when another rider went out of her way to compliment my scruffy cycling plaid.  Clearly Nim and I were too cool for that crowd.

5.  Nice riding along quiet farm roads.  (not pictured because we were enjoying the ride too much to stop and take pictures)  Declared that the "Wine Trail" signified by the road signs was not allowed to be the "Whine Trail" since the latter was not needed at this point.

6.  Third snack in Gilroy.  Not surprised by the line at In-N-Out given the proximity to the outlet mall; I braved it because the kiddo really needed a burger.   I might have enjoyed mine too :)

7.  More nice riding along quiet roads, until ending up on Frazier Lake Road, at which point the wind turned against us along with the arrival of lots of traffic and a slight upgrade.  Whining might have happened at this point, but we really just both wanted to get to the next turn onto a different road, so we put our heads down and pedaled.

8.  Short dirt interlude through somebody's farm around mile 38-39 to escape the traffic.  We got to chase a flock of geese!

9.  Happy discovery of gigantic enormous wide shoulder on highways 25 and 156, making these roads way better to ride on that one might have expected.  (I might have already known there was a big shoulder, given pre-trip spying on the Google satellite images...)  Return of tailwind.   Yippeee!

10.  Kid 'fessed up to being determined to make it all the way to San Juan Bautista because she had "complained" about having to do it to her friends earlier in the week.  "Mom, you can't say you're going to do something badass and then not do it!"  A good use of peer pressure :)

11. We finally met up with Chad at the mission in San Juan Bautista.  I was most thankful that there was enough phone service out there for texting to work, so the timing of this wasn't too horrible.

12.  One more delicious coffee, at a roaster in San Juan Bautista, before loading up the bikes on the truck for the drive back.  Nim was quite pleased with her celebratory affogato (espresso poured over ice cream, if you don't know of this lovely confection).  Including the ride to the train in the morning, we ended up with about 55 miles in the pleasant California sunshine.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year

In honor of the end of 2017, we took the kiddo on an adventure ride to check out a pair of roads that washed out in last winter's storms and are still listed as closed.  As I had suspected, they are still a mess, but are passable by bike :)  Chad and I thought this was great fun; Nim was not so sure...

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Merry Christmas Tree

Chad came to the conclusion this year that we should get our Christmas tree by bicycle.  I've been advocating this for years :)

On Sunday, we installed the trailer on the back of his bike and headed over to OSH to get a tree.  Alas, their tree corral was gone!  Apparently they had run out of trees, a full week before Christmas.  Argh.  Fortunately, there was an employee out on the sidewalk cleaning up the last remnants of their machine that puts the netting on the trees for easy transport, and she pointed out that there was a tree lot a couple of miles down El Camino that still had a few trees left.  I plotted a good bike route (as one does not, under any circumstances, want to ride on El Camino) and off we went.

Not many trees at the Pepperwood School Tree Lot, but there were a few, and all we needed was one. Unfortunately, they only took cash, and we only had a credit card on us, so I left Chad and the kiddo to guard our precious tree and time-trialed home and back to retrieve some money.  Gotta get back before it sells out from under us!

By the time I got back, they had tied the tree closed and loaded it carefully on the bike trailer.  I paid, and home we rode.  Nim led, Chad towed the tree, and I attempted to take pictures from the back while riding without dropping my phone.  (clearly a special talent)

There always is a bit of time between getting the tree home and getting everything decorated.  Nim's favorite part of that hiatus was getting new coffee beans.  The fact that we had completely run out was Chad's least favorite part.

The final result.

And, as usual, changes in the house leave the cat is quite concerned.

Thursday, December 14, 2017


Our 10th anniversary was last month; we took that as an excuse to go down to SLO and ride our bikes.

There might have been a little celebrating with food and beverage too.  We stayed at a cute little B&B downtown; they were nice enough to have a champagne and chocolate tray ready for us when we arrived.

Since Chad had just built up his new commute/adventure/go-anywhere bike, we made a point of finding routes that normal people don't ride on bikes with drop bars,

and made it up to the Hi Mountain condor lookout despite the road supposedly being closed.  (only a little bit of hike-a-bike involved...)

It was an excellent weekend with many good views and lots of sunshine!

New word for the morning

Nim coined a word this morning that should make many of you grandparents smile:


Now don't you all feel grand?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yesterday, Nim got out of school a little early due to the holiday.  I asked her what we should do.

"Go for a bike ride and get ice cream.  Maybe Montebello?"

See how high we climbed?

Not every kid would suggest a 2000 foot climb and then enjoy it :)  She rode almost the same speed that I would have on my own!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Tree carnage again

Our loquat tree is diseased and on its way out with most of the bark having fallen off the trunk, and has lots of dead leafless branches up top as a result.  I'm not quite ready to give up on the tree quite yet, but am getting close.

Last year, my dad pulled out all of the dead wood out of the side of the tree that hangs mostly over our yard; the remaining branch fluffed out and looks somewhat better than the rest of the tree.  This new growth actually fruited this year too -- the first time I've seen that since we moved into the house almost 10 years ago.  Now the rest of the tall part of the tree hanging over the neighbors' yard is full of dead wood; clearly that had to go too.  Tree carnage, ho!

But how to do it without making a mess for the neighbors?  The first step was to climb into the tree with the loppers  I got pretty good at controlling the direction of fall either by flicking the loppers to the side as the branches started to fall, or by bracing one side of the loppers against my chest, using one hand to pull them shut and the other to hold onto what would become the loose end of the branch.  All while sitting in the tree or standing on the top of the fence.  Given that I climb a lot these days and am accustomed to much more precarious footholds, that wasn't as sketchy as it sounds.

After pulling out all of the truly dead wood, things were looking pretty pathetic and unbalanced,

so I kept lopping off smaller branches in preparation for topping the tree all to the same height.  This particular tree has fairly dense wood, so I tried to take things off in small enough chunks to handle.  It all has to be small enough to fit into the yard waste bin anyway!

At this point, the remaining branches were big enough to require the chainsaw, so I took a break.  Best not to be chainsawing while standing on the fence with no one home...

Finally, the weekend rolled around and I pulled out the chainsaw.  Muahahaha!
That bare stub that remains should fluff out like the other side next spring, if past patterns hold.

In case you are wondering why there is a rope tied to the tree trunk -- I had the other end tied to the last heavy chunk I took off in case it fell over the fence.  Good thing too, since I did need to use it to fish the branch back over to our side after it fell the wrong way.  (And yes, I did apprise the neighbors of my plan; they had no problem if some branches dropped on their side, but I still felt obligated to keep the mess on our side.)

The poor truncated tree gets one more chance; if it continues to ail I'm taking it completely out and letting the orange tree next to it grow to the height that it wants to.  I like oranges :)  And the chainsaw...

Friday, September 22, 2017

Umunhum Open!

On Monday, the summit of Mt. Umunhum, in Sierra Azul open Space Preserve, finally opened to the public after literally decades of political wrangling, site cleanup, and trail building.  This is the high peak on the ridge between us and the ocean topped with the big cube that was once the base for the radar tower at the former Almaden Air Force Station.  I've looked at the roads going up in that direction on maps for years, always stymied by the lack of legal public access.

Naturally, when my original Monday plans were cancelled, I decided to head up the hill for the first day it was open.  Since the open space district had gone to the trouble to put a nice new trail in, the mountain bike was the way to go.

Oh, what a wonderful mellow morning.  I parked at the Bald Mountain parking lot and headed up the ~4 mile new trail to the top.  And a beautiful trail for climbing it was -- they somehow managed to map out a low-gradient (5-6%) mostly shaded singletrack through what I think of as hot, rocky, and brutally steep terrain.  Magic.

There were an impressive number of people out enjoying the new trail, even on a weekday, but the trail was laid out with good sight lines so it was easy to avoid unduly surprising hikers or other bikes.

Oh, and the views were good too.  Really quite a pleasant little 1100 foot climb.

The last little section near the top has some stairs, so they detour bikes over to the road for the last short stretch.  You can see it is not far.

The cube on the summit is quite large -- see the little tiny people next to it?  There is also a ceremonial circle on the other side, put in to recognize the significance of the site to the local Native Americans.  A nice touch, and I appreciate that they've made it easy to see that the peak is not only home to good views, but has a bit of history to it as well.

On the way back down, I stopped at an interim viewpoint to enjoy the panorama once more.

The downhill was also pretty mellow -- this trail isn't really steep or technical enough to attract the crazy downhill crew, which is just as well to minimize user conflicts.  Not being a super hardcore mountain biker, I actually really enjoy the relatively easy trails when they go through interesting terrain.

That being said, I can't help but know that the "right" way to approach this trail in the future is to park at the lower parking lot (at the intersection of Hicks and Mt. Umunhum Roads), ride in on Woods Trail, and then up the brutal climb up (dirt) Barlow Road before hitting the nice new Umunhum trail. Unless one is feeling lazy or is otherwise wrecked from some previous ride...

One other thing nagged me when I got home, however.  Not only was that new trail open, but the road to the top was also open and freshly repaved, calling out to all road cyclists with any inclination to climb.  There were clearly a lot of folks out on road bikes on Monday, and I knew I needed to go back and do it too.

A bit of background to this road: to get up to the top, you first have to climb Hicks Road, and then the spur of Mt. Umunhum road to the top.  For years, cyclists were prevented from going above about 2800 feet by forbidding-looking signs and fencing put in to protect a piece of private property that the road ran through.  Rumors abounded regarding the horrible fate one would suffer if the wrath of the residents was invoked.  Even without making it up to the summit, the Hicks/Mt. Umunhum climb is said to be the hardest climb in the Bay Area, at least according to my reference book (Summerson's "Complete Guide to Climbing by Bike in California").  Some climbs like Hamilton are a bit higher and longer, but Hicks/Mt. Umunhum is brutally steep and not broken up with short descent sections on which one can rest. 

Now, one can go to the top, so it's even more the hardest climb around.  I had to go do it yesterday :)

The profile below is misleading, as it doesn't quite convey the steepness of the first mile (14% average, with locally steeper bits!).  After that it eases up a bit, but throws in more steepness every time a rider starts to relax.  I found I was riding pretty comfortably up to about 13%, and had to slowly grind for the parts that were more than that -- but this was surprisingly better than I expected given that I'm still working back into riding shape after summer vacation disruptions.

For reference, the "old" climb ended at about mile 9 on this map, about 600 feet in elevation below the actual summit.  One should also note the flat stretch near the top; this is where the best views out to the ocean can be had.  It's one of the more scenic patches of road I've ridden recently.

See, the second bike up to the top in a week!

As an aside, the open space volunteer coordinator pointed out on Monday that I submitted the first trail report ever for Umunhum, and after hearing that I went up the second time this week on another bike then wanted to know if I was going to scooter up the hill next.  I figure I should go up on foot first before moving up to anything more exotic.

The views in all directions are pretty amazing.  Here you see the cities of the South Bay, behind the ridge with the dirt climb to Mt El Sombroso.

Fine fall-ish colors on the vegetation looking over towards Lexington Reservoir (in the hole behind this hill).  Incidentally, I know there is a road that theoretically goes along this ridge and connects in with Soda Springs Road, but it's all fenced off from both sides.  Darned private property... I don't want to bug anyone, but really don't see the harm in letting bicyclists ride through.

Looking out over Lake Elsman over towards Monterey Bay.  This is territory that you don't have a view of from very many accessible places.  Incidentally, being up there on a bike means it is easier to stop and look out towards the ocean than it would be in a car -- no real pullouts for the cars here.

Looking out over towards Loma Prieta.  There's also another dirt road that goes out in this direction that eventually connects in to Summit Road, which also isn't currently open to the public due to intervening private property (I asked the ranger).  Ugh.  I want loops.  One step at a time, I guess -- at the end of the day, I am quite happy to see the new area at the summit opened!