New Earth

This is kind of sci-fi book review and kind of a stream-of-concisouness current events commentary, but first of all, obligatory bike content: Calmar Bicycles in Santa Clara, California begins their business liquidation sale on Monday. They’re a long time presence in South Bay cycling, long time supporters of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, regular participants in the city BPAC, and they even helped me get San Jose Bike Train running with zero benefit to them.

Besides the usual bugaboo of the challenges of e-commerce, Calmar owner James Lucas says two factors drove the nail into his retail coffin: the difficult labor market, and rising rents. Colleagues at my office tell me that sky-high property prices in Silicon Valley are incentives to get an education and work harder. They completely fail to understand that even our high-tech knowledge economy needs people to stock grocery shelves, fix roads, teach our children, empty bedpans, collect garbage, repair homes, install plumbing, and even sell and service our bicycles. If they can’t afford to live in the Bay Area because our wonderful NIMBY neighbors refuse to allow more housing, they can’t afford to commute a hundred miles from the Central Valley to work here.

Obligatory Bike Content, Part 2: San Jose Bike Trains runs next Wednesday, March 1, 2017, departing Bel Bacio in San Jose’s Little Italy 8:15. Media may be on hand to shoot video of the ride start.

Ben Bova New Earth book cover

Personal thoughts on Trappist-1

This week’s announcement of seven known “earth sized” planets around the Trappist-1 system 39 light years from our own Solar System reminds me two things:

  • The Firefly ‘Verse, with dozens of planets and hundreds of moons, each one terraformed to support human life, to be New Earths.
  • Ben Bova’s novel New Earth, in which Humankind sends an expedition to an earth-like planet in the Sirius system just 8.6 light years away.

I enjoyed Bova’s writing when I was about 12 years old. I picked up New Earth more recently on a lark and was disappointed at the wooden characterizations and un-compelling storyline before realizing Bova wrote of his own romantic relationship with a much younger woman whom he married the year this book was published. It’s not really central to the plot, but the 50-year-old expedition leader in New Earth falls head-over-heels in love with the 30-year-old alien hottie, and never mind about mission objections. Can you say “male gaze” with me, boys and girls? I knew you could.

Besides the mid-life crisis of their wish-washy, angst-ridden leader, the team wonders: how can they have a fully functional ecology with an oxygen atmosphere on a planet around a star that’s less than 500 million years old? Per current evolutionary theory (the context Bova operates in), it took nearly that long for single-cellular life to appear on our Old Earth. It took another two billion years before the first major extinction event with the Oxygen Catastrophe. Multicellular life begins over a billion years after that, and they’re mostly slug-like blobs until very very recently.

Besides that, the Sirius stars are very hot, spitting out all kinds of high energy nastiness that destroy DNA.

So I wonder about all the excitement about Trappist-1, estimated to be around 500 million years old, which means little chance of any kind of widespread chemical process that resembles life, and little chance of a breathable atmosphere. The planets, which all orbit very close to their primary, are almost certainly tidally locked. Like the same face of the moon always appears to earth, these planets probably have the same side always facing their sun. The star likely generates some significant electromagnetic activity which will strip away the atmospheres of these closely orbiting planets.

Still, hope springs eternal, so maybe we’ll eventually send colonizers on a one-way trip. Because the planets are so young, they’ll be virgin territory for terraforming — any environmental review will discover no artifacts or life, so we can go in and bulldoze these planets to our hearts’ content with a Star Trek Genesis Device, and eventually create the Alliance ruled by an interplanetary parliament as a beacon of civilization as the savage outer planets refuse Alliance control and fight a devastating war and create brand new compelling stories.

New Earth, incidentally, is the first of a trilogy, which itself is part of Bova’s much larger “Grand Tour” series. It’s pretty bad and I can’t recommend it, but click here if you’re tempted so you can read other reader reviews. The cover art on the novel shown above, incidentally, has absolutely nothing at all to do with the story. It’s just random sci-fi looking space art. Does that seem right to you?

Caltrans bike & ped plan San Jose workshop: Online only due to flooding

Update: Bike coalition San Jose team meeting also cancelled due to flooding. Details below.

Caption me!

Due to flooding near downtown San Jose, California, Thursday’s scheduled workshop to discuss the California Bicycle / Pedestrian Plan is now an online forum only. The planned in-person meeting at the MLK Library has been cancelled.

To dial into the meeting from 10 A.M. to noon on Thursday, February 23, 2017, call 888-921-7813, and use conference code 2664478. Video will also be available via (which is blocked by my office firewall, grrr…).

You can review the draft plan and provide comments online here. Learn more and keep up to date at


The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition Team Meeting scheduled for tonight has also been cancelled due to flooding. The meeting organizers and several participants live in he impacted area and are directly affected.

Coyote Creek through the city of San Jose flooded overnight, impacting people in 50,000 homes, and causing a few traffic headaches during the morning commute when Caltrans closed US Highway 101 due to flooding.


What was the top-selling bicycle book last week from Amazon? find out here. I’m not sure I believe that a Japanese bicycle magazine is number nine on the list. [ This is an ad ]

Road and trail closures: Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Alameda Counties

Road damage rain caption needed

With record-breaking rainfall throughout Northern California abating for now, a bunch of us will be tempted to hit the roads on our bikes. Several favorite road cycling roads are closed, including Mount Hamilton Road, Niles Canyon, Soquel-San Jose, and more.

These lists show county-maintained roads only; city roads are the responsibility of their respective cities. Numerous state highways have also been impacted by the storms; online traffic maps seem to mostly track those fairly well, or you can go straight to the source at Caltrans Quickmap.

Even if roads are thought to be open, keep your eyes peeled for hazards. While riding in the Santa Cruz Mountains two weekends ago, a tree feel in front of me as I descended Glenwood Road at about 30 MPH. I grabbed brakes and stopped in time, but the next thing I know power lines are hanging on either side of me. That was incredibly sketchy, as was gingerly threading my way out of that web like a jewel thief maneuvering a bicycle-shaped treasure through a laser-protected vault.

Conversely, some closed roads are vaguely bike-passable, though you may need to portage your bike across chasms, creeks, and downed trees on occasion. If you’re tempted to schlep through mud to get past a road, consider this (slightly grody) cautionary tale from Janeen, who bikes most days from Santa Cruz to work in Morgan Hill.

Gross picture alert. This is a public service announcement for people who live in Poison Oak country. If you see a mudslide, walk through it and sink up to mid calf, when you get home scrub yourself with Tecnu or Dawn or exposure technique you favor: Picture 1 (top left): The cause. A fun rad road ride, with the gang! We scrambled across three mudslides on Highland (this was four weekends ago) and laughed at how muddy we got. Not once did it occur to me that the mud was dosed with poison oak oils. Picture not shown between 1 and 2: I have a picture of my oak reaction at its height. That was when I was stuck in snow up at Shaver Lake. It's… bubbly. Let's just leave it at that. Picture 2 (top right): I never go to doctors. Not willingly. On this day I woke up and said "This…. doesn't look right." Turns out the oak was infected and my legs were swollen and on fire. I went to the doctors. Three shots in the butt, steroids and antibiotics. I did not be wear shoes for the next 7 days (flip flops ftw). Could not bear it. I would like to take the time to apologize to my work colleagues for my constant complaining and having to catch glimpses of my struggle. Picture 3 just shows how fat my ankle(s) was the day I went to the doctors. Picture 4: Six days later and I have ankles again! Maybe 6 days after that, I was able to wear shoes again. It's sort of better now. I look like I'm wearing red socks, lol, but doctor said scarring should eventually clear. I'm terrified of poison oak, and I hope y'all know why now. It was still a great ride. I've just learned an important lesson in a very painful way.

A post shared by Janeen McCrae (@thenoodleator) on

Every South Bay bike path I track here is currently unusable due to flooding. Even Stevens Creek, which normally stays fairly dry, is impassable under Highway 101. Portions of the trail along Coyote Creek are completely inundated along with U.S. Highway 101 in Morgan Hill.

I’ll try to update my own local road closure map sometime Tuesday night. Weather should remain clear Wednesday through Friday, with another atmospheric river expected this Saturday afternoon.

I’m biking over the Santa Cruz Mountains Wednesday morning (via Mountain Charlie and Old Santa Cruz Highway, both of which are reported as open) and will give a report.

California legislation: Far-to-the-right law; Idaho stop; and more!

Last Week, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D – San Francisco) introduced AB 694, a bill to recast California’s far-to-the-right law to clarify cyclists’ right to control a lane where necessary.

City cyclist San Jose

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Bike ride Scotts Valley to Los Gatos & San Jose

Update: I’ll do this again 6:30 A.M. Wednesday, Feb 22, 2017 IF the roads I take are passable (Mountain Charlie, then Old Santa Cruz Highway) and rain is at most very light. You should RSVP for this ride so I know how to contact you for a go / no go. See below for contact info. (TO be honest, this ride might be a little moot. I have a feeling Caltrans will open up 17 at the Vine Hill slide area on Tuesday or Wednesday, though I think the area past Glenwood might still be restricted to one lane on the northbound side.)

Tuesday morning I biked from Scotts Valley, California to San Jose in less time than it took people to drive to work. I invite you to join me to do the same Wednesday morning.

Bike Route: Scotts Valley to San Jose & Los Gatos

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Road closures this weekend: Santa Cruz, Santa Clara Counties

With dry and sunny weather this weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area and Monterey Bay region of California, I’m sure many of you will hit the road. The latest atmospheric river did a number on several coastal and mountain roads throughout the region. I’ve collected information from various resources to plot closed roads in the counties of Santa Clara and Santa Cruz.

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