Fun Palo Alto to San Francisco 2014 Ride Ends Three Miles Short



Our annual exploration of the Neighborhood Greenways that will one day  grow out of  our Palo Alto to San Francisco route was a fun, unforgettable experience. Here is how our day proceeded:
Peter Wagner, his wife Jeri, and their two small kids, Sam, age 6, and Lilly, age 3, myself, and all our bikes arrived to a small crowd of people in front of Palo Alto City Hall at 9:30 am on Saturday, September 21st. Besides Lee Collins & former Palo Alto Mayor, Yoriko Kishimoto, Shawn & Elena Raymond, Scott Campbell & Pam Slocum and Drew & Gabrielle Wilson, Yoriko’s brother and two other of her relatives were there to cheer us on. Expertly strapped to Peter’s van in which we had driven down from Davis, were the three unusual bicycle machines that would take us north to San Francisco 35 miles away.

While Jeri would ride the modified Schwinn tandem with two monster 38 inch wheels, I would pedal Peter’s 48-inch HIWheel that featured an antique baby carriage back wheel, unicycle seat and the foot actuator for a sheet metal brake for a tailbone. All this as Peter would tow his two amazing kids in a trailer behind his daily rider. A tallie, his machine is an ingenious amalgamation of at least two bikes stacked on top of each other that also drive three colorful fans and also features a dishwasher hose Peter blows in to evoke a mad cap whistle sound.

Peter’s Bikes

Smiles abounded for the next 15 minutes as everyone quickly got acquainted and many seemed to have big smiles on their faces as they took rides on Shawn Raymond’s amazing unatandem. Scott, our celebrated 2006 Boston to San Francisco Mayors’ Ride rider passed out cue sheets for the ride. A hard core cycle tourist, he had pre-ridden the route we have been using since 2003 to make this connection with Pam, who rode Denver to San Francisco with him in 2006. And in doing so he had come up with a few tweaks that we would find very useful once in transit.

By 10 am we were all assembled and ready to go when Dan Kottke, the former best friend of Steve Jobs and the first employee at Apple Computer, arrived with his fun lawyer friend, Barry Harvis. Soon we were riding through a freshly awakening downtown Palo Alto.

Not far away, our only busy road, Middlefield Rd., not only offered a wide bike lane but there were few cars for the two miles we rode it. Then we turned into the quiet tree canopied neighborhood streets that share populations with Menlo Park, Atherton and Redwood City No sidewalks, the lots were huge and for the next almost two miles, our surroundings had an almost rural feel to them.

The single story homes, closely bunched together that greeted us when we then crossed the RR tracks offered a sharp contrast to the real estate we had just traveled through. Now in a Mexican neighborhood, we passed by parked lunch trucks ready to do their work when the first of several mechanical misadventures struck. The spokes on my baby carriage wheel, which had started coming loose, and that I had been stopping and putting in my butpak, reached critical mass when the fourth one started making noise.


Not to worry. We had Peter Wagner. We all stopped between two parked cars in front of a house. We debated whether to send riders off to search for a child’s bike wheel at the many garage sales we had been passing. This as we laughed and joked watching Peter as he rummaged through his pants pockets looking for a spoke wrench and spoke nipples. Coming up with other miscellaneous bike nuts and bolts but not what he was looking for, he still managed to save the day when he get all but one of the spokes relaced. With his small Leatherman pliers, he did a quick wheel true and 40 or so minutes later we were back on the road.

The problem had been caused when I stood on the back wheel to stop, a common practice for many Hiwheel cyclists. From that point on, I would not be able to control my stops with any accuracy or power. It was this that would come back to haunt us when we did reach San Francisco.

We didn’t get very far from our spoke fix when we came upon one of my favorite stores in the greater Palo Alto area – the Grocery Outlet. Located at the beginning of Redwood City’s historic downtown, we had originally stopped there for water. They had so many deals for good healthy food going on, however, that we were there for another half hour as we stocked up on juice, energy bars and bananas, etc. At Peter’s request, we loaded a lot of our food purchases to the trailer he was hauling his kids in.

Half of our group had gone ahead to enjoy coffee a few blocks up the street. We rejoined them. We hadn’t gone far when around the bend and no more than a few blocks away, we were all off our bikes once again. We walked through the busy Farmers Mkt that had taken over the roadway.

We got going again when we soon reached Belmont, a city probably only 13 or 14 miles from our start. It wasn’t long before Barry who’d been teasing that we needed to speed things up, had a blowout. He was riding a road bike genuinely intended for speed.

Well as good fortune would have it, our new breakdown occurred in front of Marvin’s Gardens an historic Belmont landmark. Peter jumped right in and before anyone could finish the on tap beers Barry had bought for anyone who wanted one, Peter’s job was complete. In fifteen minutes time, we were readying for the road once again.



Drew & Daniel at Marvin’s Gardens

From there, the Old County Rd stretch, immediately adjacent to the rail tracks we’d been roughly following, began to come alive for a short while with new beautification projects along the road’s side. Then, what used to be Bay Meadows horse racing track came into view. It symbolized the half way point. It also brought me a small measure of sadness.

Last year, because my high saddle let me look over the top of the fence that hid it from view I had seen what was becoming of the storied horse racing stadium that once filled these grounds. The small city with new streets and newly erected buildings that was replacing the small lakes and grassy infield of a famous horse racing oval had grown in size. This was so much so, that the history it was replacing was in no way detectable.

The county fairgrounds that adjoined it though, were happily spotted by Shawn and Peter. It is the site of the annual Maker Faire celebration. They had exhibited here just a few months before.

It was also here that we would cross the tracks and hook up with peaceful Palm Drive. All the way for the next few miles to Central Park in San Mateo. As I say in the 2013 PA to SF ride report, it is a 16-acre horticultural showcase, complete with a Japanese Tea Garden. Bringing up the rear, by the time I got there little Sam and Lilly were on their second lap on the little train that toured a small part of the park.

In the cool of the shade provided by the massive oaks, most of us got off our bikes and relaxed. After Sam and Lilly’s last ride, they took two, we headed off saying good-bye to Lee and Yoriko and Shawn and Elena. While Shawn and his wife lived not far away, Yoriko and Lee had hoped to be on the train coming home from San Francisco by now as they had another engagement that afternoon. Though we were not making good time, we were still all having a very good time. We pressed on.

The park sat next to downtown San Mateo and just beyond it we hit our first hills. From this point to the city of South San Francisco, the hill work would be gentle, often flanked by groves of trees and on lightly trafficked streets. It was also here that Scott led us through the routing tweaks that would keep us off El Camino Real for the mile or two we used to ride it. The changes he made were not as direct, but they made for a much more pleasant ride!

Lunch at La Paloma, a genuine Mexican restaurant was much later than in years past. There was so much food that most of us could not finish our meals. I made sure to enjoy my now traditional huge margarita glass filled with carrot juice as we all laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.


The last ten miles and hardest part of the ride was next. From our lunch stop at the edge of the small historic San Bruno downtown, we skirted the furthest reaches of busy San Francisco International Airport. As several planes roared above us, we plodded to and through South San Francisco. By the time we turned away from the monolithic Cow Palace, it was only Dan Kottke and myself. He and I visited as we rode before we then pedaled the longish ascent over busy Hwy 101 on our way to the edge of the Bay. At the bottom of the long downhill, on the other side, which I had to walk because I could not step on the rear wheel to stop or slow down, we reconnected with our group.

All of us rode the well landscaped lagoon path that served the bayside office buildings that stretched for just under a mile. Doubling back under the freeway, we reached the man made lakes that mark the front door of the town of Brisbane.

While hundreds of thousands of car and train travelers pass by this area every day, few get close enough to really experience it. While it did feel far from the busyness of city life, the speeding cars that appeared on the other side of the fence where there were no trees made an escape to solitude impossible. As I rode, I wondered why the people of Brisbane hadn’t turned it into an area that felt welcome.

I thought about Lake Vasaona, near San Jose, at the bottom of the San Francisco peninsula, probably 50 miles to the south. A popular water area, there were much used walking and biking paths along that also square, man-made flood control lake. Picnic tables were always much in use there.

What seemed to make Vasaona, different, however, was privacy. There was lots of tree cover. You cannot see the lake from the immediately adjacent busy freeway. Why couldn’t this be done with the Brisbane lakes? It has looked like an open scar since 1958 when the Hwy 101 causeway was completed to re-route cars through this area.

Flat, uninteresting lands with occasional warehouses and tired lots took us to Bayshore Station. It marked the beginning of San Francisco. Once again falling far behind with Dan who joined me, by the time we reached the Bayshore CalTrain station, Drew and Gabrielle, who had ridden the 30-year old, once state-of-the art Bianchi road bike she bought  in college  were  headed back to Palo Alto  on the train we saw leaving the station.

I told Peter I should stop there and wait for the next train. I explained that I   did not want to walk his HIWheel the next four miles of up and down to the end of the Caltrain line.

Peter wanted to press on. He suggested that I double up with Jeri who had been riding little Sam on the front of her big wheel tandem. He offered to ghost ride my bike (hold its handlebars with one arm as he steered his tall bike with the other) as Sam joined Lilly in the trailer he also would pull. It only felt safe to me because of how amazing of an athlete. acrobat and mechanic I knew Peter to be.


The seven cyclists that were left, Barry, Dan, Peter, Jeri, myself, Scott and Pam, walked up the long Third St. hill. Where it crosses 101, a long downhill awaited.


I got on the back of Jeri’s seat and with no time to get acquainted with her machine, gravity pulled us away. We started going faster. I suggested that we slow down as with my feet off the pedals, spread away from either side of my tiny seat, I was totally at her mercy. Then we heard a loud C R A C K. The bike lunged forward. Jeri exclaimed, “I lost my brakes!”

Jeri, however,  kept her cool. Somehow she managed to make a wide left turn but the street we turned down was even steeper. Soon we turned again. Up a short downhill that fed the street we were on. The bike stopped!!

Peter quickly appeared on the scene. Soon he  tried to figure out how a normally indestructible coaster brake had  failed. Instead of the pedals stopping when they were back pedaled, they free-wheeled. The coaster brake arm, still intact, appeared to be fine. Peter probed and bent and pushed when finally he was able to see what had been the cause of the noise we had heard.

The axle had snapped in half!

This made it impossible for the brake, which worked after all, to stop a wheel that rotated around a hub that had become detached from the 1/2 spindle that rotated inside of it. Peter had never seen anything like it. And in the weeks that have followed we have not been able to find anyone else who has…

Regrouping, we hadn’t even gone a mile when we were walking back to the Bayshore train station. As Jeri limped along from hitting her leg on the bike when the axle gave way, Barry pushed her unwieldy bike for her. Peter, in turn, pushed Barry’s bike when Barry joked that we were like retreating soldiers on a battlefield. He was so right but we had one more battle to fight.

We had maybe 20 minutes to make it back to the train which switched from once an hour to once every two hours after the one coming up arrived. Somehow with a minute to spare we negotiated elevators, stairs and ticket machines to get to the platform for the train that would take us back to Palo Alto.

With the help of a few waiting passengers, we managed to get all of our bikes, including Peter’s unusual machines, on to the train. Tired, but still smiling we had made it!

On the train, Jeri said she remembered the hills that accompanied the runaway truck signs she and Peter had seen on their travels to kinetic sculpture races all over America. And that that is what she was looking for when she so expertly rolled us to a stop. Wow. Nothing else about our fun ride seemed like it needed to be talked about.

Screen shot 2014-09-22 at 10.10.37 PM

Our 2014 Palo Alto to San Francisco ride was complete!!

What fun!!