Forty & Fabulous!

Bob Krumm was the first president of Different Spokes, which he helped found in 1982. In 1985 he relocated to New York to begin a new job and penned this farewell message to the club published in the June 1985 Chain Letter. He recounts the short history of the club and how it came to be. Bob will be coming from New York to join us for our 40th anniversary bash at il Casaro restaurant. He along with fellow founder Dave Freling and early members will reflect on the import and significance of the club and its effect on their personal lives. Our anniversary bash will be on Sunday September 18. For details and to make a reservation, go to the club website event listing here.

Different Spokes: Personal Reflections, by Bob Krumm

Whenever Different Spokes oldtimers get together we recall the early days, how San Francisco had probably been ready for a gay bicycle club years before Different Spokes actually began. The scene was particularly ripe in 1972 in the midst of the national fitness craze and the Gay Games of 1982 here in the City.

Organizing Cyclists.
In the late winter of 1982 the Gay Olympics Committee announced in the B.A.R. that gay athletes in particular sports should start unifying to become teams for the games representing San Francisco. Jerry Ford, a member of the Games committee also had an interest in bicycle racing. He assumed the role of organizing a bicycling team for the Games.

Early meetings took place at the offices of the Games on Castro. Throughout the spring and summer of 1982 interest in the biking contingent grew. Regularly five to ten people attended meetings and twenty to thirty others expressed continuing interest. The people who became involved were either interested solely in participating as racers in the Games or had an interest in bicycle touring and recreational cycling. Early on everyone agreed to keep the two groups together. It was thought that a touring/recreational club would have the ability to nurture a racing team.

Decide and Ride.
Starting in March of 1982 riders informally met at McLaren Lodge on Sunday mornings to caucus and set off on an informal ride. These rides were the predecessor to “Decide and Rides” and were the only formal activity of the group.

On May 27, 1982 the group felt it was necessary to raise money for a mailing. A bake sale was organized and all the proceeds (less than $40) was used toward a mailing directed at people interested in racing.

Several months later the touring/recreational side of the group becames disenchanted with the racing focus in preparation for the Games. Four individuals—Dave Freling, Brad Ennis, Lenny Thomas and I— met at the Sausage Factory and began discussing ideas about developing an organization that was not affiliated with the Olympics. Other early participants included Howard Neckel, Jim Frizzell, Curtis Ogden, and Dale Miller. Many of us rode as a group in the 1982 Sequoia Century, which was a thrill for all of us.

“Flying Faggots”?
Plans were laid for the first meeting of the new club, which was held at my home on August 5, 1982. Ten people turned up for the meeting. At this meeting Different Spokes/San Francisco was officially named. Rejected names included Cy-Clones, Flying Faggots, and Chain Reactions. We all had a deep feeling of excitement about the prospect of finally acting on our ideas. We had talked relentlessly about it all during Olympics meetings. Finally were were actuallly doing it.

Rides started to be organized. A photo of a group departing on a ride to Orinda was published with a story in the B.A.R., which generated the first influx of new members. As a result this small circle of early members and friends began to shift to a broader group of people with varied interests in cycling. It was a bit of a watershed time for us. Still we had not developed a formal membership nor did we have any rules or bylaws.

A Growing “Different Spokes”.
An informal steering committee had emerged during the fall of 1982 comprised of Lenny Thomas, Dave Freling, Brad Ennis and myself. Brad left in early 1983 and Melanie Scott stepped in to take his place. I generally chaired the meetings along with Lenny. Dave handled the fiscal matters and Melanie handled the secretarial duties.

We met monthly in various homes, our mailng list grew to 150, and meetings drew as many as 40 people. Matters discussed included ride rules, publicity, BART passes, scheduling of rides, a newsletter, outreach, etc. The first newsletter was published in December 1982 just before Chirstmas.

In February 1983 memberships and dues were offered and we instantly had 25 paying members. In April the meetings had become so large that they were moved to the Community Room at the library in the Haight-Ashbury. Later in the spring the steering committee was informally elected as the first officers of Different Spokes.

New Face, New Energy, Some Folks Move On.
By late spring membership had grown to 75 and by the end of 1983 it stood at 116. At about this time the early founders and core group began to disperse and new leadership within the club began to emerge.

In those days, as today, the club’s success was built upon the special efforts of members who contributed in ways beyond the mere payment of dues. Those people channeled their special interests or abilities into service for the club. They have all brought to it a vitality that has made us unique and become our trademark.

The June 1985 meeting will be my last. From there it’s “Eastward Ho” to New York. What a pleasure it has been to be associated with Different Spokes over the years. There have been good times and bad but the sum total has been immensely rewarding and gratifying. Bicycling together has a way of cementing friendships. This is something we have all appreciated from Different Spokes regardless of our length of time with the club.

From here on I’ll be happy to serve as the “New York correspondent”. I plan to catch up with the Manhattan club, Diff’rent Spokes, and will report on their scene. Meanwhile all you friends and cross-country cyclists, please look me up when you arrive in New York and we’ll go on a two-wheeled tour of the town!

ALC 2022 Recap

Breaking all records

Stephen Shirreffs rode this year’s AIDS Lifecycle and gives his personal recount below.

Our Fairy Godmother

It felt crazy standing in the AIDS/LifeCycle starting line with my bike at the Cow Palace, ready to ride out for the first time since 2019. There was the usual buzz of anticipation but also a kind of a hush of disbelief that here we are again. Everything felt just the same except of course for all the masking. There was palpable excitement at our having broken all records in fundraising, just shy of $18 million. But that could not explain the swarm of butterflies as we waited to clip in.

It was San Francisco foggy and cool; there was a prediction of a 40% chance of .04” of rain. That did not prepare us for getting soaked to the skin all the way to Rest Stop 2.

Day 1 Rest Stop 2 pouring rain

Between Devil’s Slide and Half Moon Bay it was raining cats and dogs. I think most of my fellow riders were none too pleased but I had to laugh. I always laugh when I ride in the rain. At Pigeon Point the usual bevy of cheerleaders greeted us, dry and unfazed by the threat of rain that never quite made it that far. By the time we reached camp in Santa Cruz, we had all dried out and it was actually pretty warm.

Day 1 The Cheerleaders at Pigeon Point

Day 2 was the usual interminable slog once we got past Salinas. This year’s hot tailwinds were epic; by report they reached 32 mph. The final water stop was an apocalypse of gale force winds whipping sand in our faces. The roadies were hanging onto gear lest it blow off and be forever lost. Alas, Otter Pop Stop was canceled this year with promises that it will return next year.

Day 2 Camp in King City

It got plenty hot on Day 3. A bunch of us Marin Marauders (my team and training group) did Quadbusters twice in memory of our friend Jim Ernst who was killed in a cycling accident four years ago. There is nothing quite as thrilling as riding DOWN Quadbuster knowing what you have signed up for, and I made sure to shout out Jim’s name several times in case he was listening.

Day 3 $100 Burger Club in Bradley

Lots of folks did the $100 burger at Bradley School and the school raised record funds this year. Covid meant we had to sit outside. But the kids were great as usual and we had a blast of a time. We were able to ride through Fort Roberts again and take our pictures astride various ancient tanks with big guns. For the second time Rest Stop 4 was in a park in San Miguel and not at the mission; I have always enjoyed moments of quiet cool reflection in that mission church. By the time we got to Paso Robles it was “only” 96˚.

Day 3 Lorri Jean send off

Day 3 Camp Stage was special. Lorri Jean, the longtime head of the LA LGBT Center, is retiring and there was a moving send-off. Lorri is a larger than life figure whose boundless energy and all-inclusive commitment is the major reason why the LA LGBT Center is one of the largest gay organizations in the world. She was clearly moved by the long, standing ovation and she deserved every bit of the accolades. We will certainly miss her peerless ability to combine wit and meaning from the stage. Irreplaceable.

Speaking of the stage Tracy Evans, the Ride Director, led off every night and she too has a remarkable ability to combine humor and a pointed message. The riders actually did better this year in terms of safe riding and that made her job easier. Joe Hollendoner, I am sure, will miss being able to play off Lorri but he was his usual ribald self on stage. Tyler TerMeer, the new head of the SF AIDS Foundation, is actually a funny guy and I am quite sure he will soon enough learn how to be funny on stage.

Day 4 Halfway Point, William, James and Stephen

Day 4 is the best day in my book. The halfway point was the usual madhouse but the roadies did a superb job of moving everybody through. That long, long descent down to Highway One is the high point of the ride for me. I make a habit of shouting loudly out to the wind the names of the men I personally lost to the epidemic. Bittersweet, of course, but it felt good to be talking to them again in that magical place.

Day 4 Cinnamon Roll Stop

Somewhere in the early part of Day 4 I got to ride with James, another member of Marin Marauders, and we ended up riding together pretty much all the way to LA. He likes cookies so we stopped at Brown Butter Cookie Company. And of course we had to stop at Old West Cinnamon Rolls in Pismo Beach where the line was blocks long. Fortunately for us somebody had an extra roll they couldn’t manage and gave it to our fellow rider William. So William, James, and I shared a free (timewise) roll.

Day 5 Marin Marauders Red Dress Day

Red Dress Day 5 was a gay-crazy explosion of creativity. Our team had a theme, which made it easy to get into the spirit. Thanks go to Michael Brown who knew how to securely attach a wild wig to a bicycle helmet. Rest Stop 1 is the craziest place because everybody wants to preen and show off and the costumes have yet to be subjected to the wind, sun, and rigors of the road. I stayed a long while taking in the 360 of mad creations. Curiously at the end of the day we had lunch in the old camp spot and camped in the old lunch spot … and that worked out really well. Kinda wonder why they didn’t do that years ago.

That evening brought the first bad COVID news. Three members of our team and a number of other folks tested positive on or around Day 5 evening. Those with whom I have spoken reported that the ALC staff was very effective in helping them make arrangements. Mostly folks rented cars and drove back to SF. In at least one case, ALC forwarded my friend’s bike to the end and ACE shipped it back to SF; I think other folks took their bikes with them. There has been no release of figures of how many infections there were but I personally heard of only four cases albeit all people that I knew.

Those of you who have done the ride will no doubt recollect the epic descent through Gaviota Pass that is the highlight of Day 6. We managed to do it again with no injuries. James and I were cooking down the road and it sped by with nary an incident. The folks at Paradise Pit in Santa Barbara were over the moon that we were back—such a joyous mosh pit. I had, I swear, seven scoops of ice cream, but nobody was counting. Reports are that the dance party at Rest Stop 4 was crowded and lively. I rolled by with a wave and a smile, and got my shower done before the late arrivals. 

Day 6 Candlelight vigil

The candlelight vigil on the beach at Ventura was exceptionally solemn and quiet. The riderless bicycle was not on the beach as in previous years but the crowd spontaneously formed a large circle and people placed their candles in the middle, quietly remembering. We know your names, beloved lost friends, and I am sure that many in that crowd were silently saying those names. Say their names. Say their names as long as you have breath.

Day 7: Git ‘er done!

I never look forward to Day 7. It is the end of the party. It is like a countdown, especially once we get back to the coast after Oxnard. For the second time we were not allowed to have an official stop in the 28 miles of Malibu, thanks to the entitled rich I suppose, so the lunch stop is perilously close to the end. We sat in the dunes together, reveling in each other’s company one more time. And then to the finish line where once you cross … poof … the Love Bubble disappears and it is back to the everyday grind of making your way through the ordinary world.

There was a bizarre tragedy at the end. An experienced rider had a solo accident and died on the spot from his injuries. I have heard a lot of speculation but I have no facts other than that he crashed with a block and half to go and did not make it. We all know this is a sport with dangers and it should remind us to take care at every turn.

The ride is over again, and we are all looking forward to next year. For those of you who were on the ride, congratulations, and I hope to see you again next year. For those of you who did not do the ride this year, hey, how about signing up right now? There is no experience in amateur cycling that tops AIDS/LifeCycle.

City vs. Suburb

For some time the Different Spokes ride calendar has been heavily populated with rides that start outside of San Francisco. The notable exceptions are the Early Bird and Hump Day rides, which are quite numerous, and of course the monthly Jersey Ride. When club rides start in San Francisco they mostly go to Marin—think Tiburon loop—and less frequently take in San Bruno Mountain. That isn’t to say that the San Francisco members don’t ride in San Francisco—I’m sure you do because when I lived in San Francisco I did a lot of my riding within the city. There is something to be said for the convenience of simply stepping outside your front door and taking off for a ride. Getting outside of SF for a ride—as opposed to riding from SF to outside—involves more time and the hassle of getting “there”: taking BART or Caltrain, or taking a car and possibly crossing a bridge. That’s extra time to get ready and then travel before you even get to pedal. For a Saturday or Sunday ride maybe that’s something to look forward to. But for any other day—and most weekends—it’s just a lot easier to start from home especially if you have to work that day or have a typically busy Bay Area life.

That is, if you live in San Francisco. In the early days of the club that meant almost everybody (“There are gay men and lesbians living outside of San Francisco??”) The initial outreach that formed the club was, believe it or not, putting flyers on bikes that the founders noticed parked mainly in the Castro district as well as posting them in a few local bike shops. So the early club was overwhelming San Franciscan. When word spread about the club it didn’t take long for the suburban members to come out of the closet/woodwork and join. Where members live now is more dispersed throughout the Bay Area. Currently about 55% of you live in the city, 15% in the Midpeninsula or South Bay, 20% in the East Bay, 5% in the North Bay, and 5% outside the Bay Area. So we’re still a majority San Francisco club but more of us reside in the suburbs now. (Calling San Jose a ‘suburb’ is a stretch—it’s a big city in its own right.)

Even the club ride leaders who live in San Francisco like to lead rides outside of the city. But the ride leaders who live in the suburbs rarely if ever lead a ride in or just starting in San Francisco. This is entirely understandable: riding in the city has its attractions but it’s a taste that is acquired rather than coming naturally. Almost everything is denser in SF—peds, cyclists, cars—and lights and stop signs are everywhere (which some, ahem, consequently ignore). One nicety is that the average speed of cars in San Francisco seems to be much lower than in the suburbs where I live and car drivers in SF generally speaking seem to have more experience driving alongside cyclists. But cycling in the exurbs, or at least in areas with more open space, is what drives folks to get in their car/BART/Caltrain and escape the confines of the City even while that open space is slowly been consumed by development. The difference is that in San Francisco you can still walk almost everywhere but here in the ‘burbs it is much more difficult to navigate life without a car. More cars, higher speed, and less experience with cyclists equals more danger for cyclists. Yet somehow the exurbs are preferred for riding!

For many of us the “gold standard” of recreational cycling is not just getting out of the city but getting out to truly rural areas where you are surrounded by nature—such as it is—rather than detached single family dwellings, lawns, and lots of cars. That’s why so many San Francisco cyclists head across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin where more open space exists mainly due to agricultural trusts. Relics of open space exist around the Bay Area but they’re hemmed in by expanding urban lines. State, county, and regional parks as well as water districts and a few land trusts limit some development. But private lands such as ranches are fair game for housing. With the “housing emergency”—that really should be called a growth emergency—we can expect our existing open space to be eroded at a faster pace, making it even harder to get away from city and suburb. Although you wouldn’t notice it if your world has devolved solely to San Francisco, here in Contra Costa County country roads have vanished to be replaced by suburban tracts well within living memory. For example I recall doing club rides amidst empty grass fields in what is now Danville and San Ramon. Those spaces are now middle-aged neighborhoods that one would never realize were green hills just thirty-five years ago. Even today the City of San Ramon continues to expand on the west side of I-680 into the hills, green just two or three years ago are now encrusted with enormous housing developments such as The Preserve.

It’s going to be harder and harder to find those elusive country roads and the ones that seemed safe now are going to have increasing amounts of traffic as housing density increases. Some of those quieter roads make enticing cut-through routes for commuters when the freeways are jammed. For years beautiful Pinehurst Road in the Berkeley/Oakland hills has been a ‘secret’ route when Highway 24 is clogged since it’s so easy to get to via Highway 13 and 24. This narrow, curvy, and otherwise quiet road regularly has commuter cars speeding at 40+ mph trying to make up for lost time by racing down the grade hellbent. I learned the hard way not to cycle on Pinehurst from 3 to 7 PM on weekday afternoons. The same is true for Redwood Road: commuters use it to bypass 880 and 680 and race their cars as if they had the road all to themselves. In this respect as cyclists we are experiencing a form of ‘habitat’ loss and we have to move further and further away from the core Bay Area to ride quiet roads.

One solution is to switch roads: go off-road. From San Francisco it’s not that difficult to get to the beckoning dirt roads of Sweeney Ridge to the south or the Marin Headlands to the north. However unless you drive to the start you will still have to deal with cycling on roads to get to the good stuff and if you drive you’re becoming part of the problem. A few years ago I led a dirt ride in the Headlands after a long hiatus—like, decades—and discovered that there were a lot more cyclists particularly on ‘gravel’ bikes’ using the Headlands on a Sunday. It wasn’t unpleasantly crowded; in fact, it was great to see so many other cyclists. But it also intimates, perhaps sadly so, that to enjoy cycling you may have to get off the streets and cede them to automobiles.

A drastic solution is to move out of the urban center to places that offer more peaceful roads like Mendocino, the Gold Country, or Central California. If you’re stuck in the Bay Area for other reasons, then it’s not an easy solution for you. People fleeing the Bay Area for quieter locales is why Lake Tahoe is currently experiencing a housing shortage. We take the problem with us because we are the problem. Nonetheless it’s become a thing to cash out your Bay Area home and move to, say, Oregon where it’s less crowded. And Oregonians complain about being Californicated!

The less obvious solution is to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse: look for the attraction in urban riding. Urban riding is not just to be tolerated but can be embraced for its hidden attractions. Number one is convenience and time savings: it’s just outside your door and preparation time is minimal. You spend more time riding, less time in its penumbra, freed sooner to get on with your busy life. The second is exploration: there are a lot more streets in cities and suburbs than in the countryside and each one may hold something unexpected and glorious. In the case of a club ride to Pacifica this past spring, David Go. found us a cute little coffee house just off the well-trodden path. This coffee house (I use the word ‘house’ hesitantly because it was smaller than an apartment living room) had delicious coffee and treats as well as a comfortable and sunny back patio where we schmoozed and lapped up our caffeine. The third is you go slower. Slower?! Well, not all the time but those stop signs and red lights plus pedestrians and cars can be viewed as impediments or as a siren call to chill and enjoy the ride. Or, you can use the opportunity of each stop light to work on your track stand and your subsequent sprint. When I lived in SF I got tired of unclipping (and in the old days unclipping meant getting out of your toeclips and straps) at each light and pretty quickly learned how to track stand. Fourth is the innumerable opportunities to check out another eatery. We’re not like Italy where you can cycle in the countryside and in the middle of nowhere find an incredible inn serving farm-to-table meals. More likely you are to run into a McD. But in urban settings like SF you will pass by many of the estimated 10,000 restaurants and food stands we have. Fifth, the majority of streets in San Francisco actually don’t have lots of traffic despite the density because city drivers tend to use the wider thoroughfares and avoid the lesser streets with lots of stop signs. Those streets are admirably comfortable for cycling. For example, everybody likes to take the Great Highway when heading north or south. But most of the numbered avenues are relatively calm as well. And some of the houses have very interesting front ‘yards’!

If you’re looking for something more challenging, the City has several loops where you can bust a gut. The Early Birds head up Twin Peaks by Corbett Avenue. This is part of a great training loop of about five miles and you can always do several laps if you want more. The Presidio Hills loop is another challenging ride with five or six short, steep climbs. Of course, there is always the race loop in Golden Gate Park where you can do training races Tuesday early evenings during the summer. And the oval track at the Polo Field in the Park is the classic place to work on your sprint speed or just chill with your buds as it is so easy to converse at length without shouting doing laps. If you’re after this kind of cycling, you’re probably not too interested in what the aesthetics of your surroundings are so it won’t matter whether you’re riding in the city or the country. If you’re a member, be sure to take a gander at our club RideWithGPS collections for more ideas on where to ride your bike in San Francisco.

Ride Recap: Forty & Fab Peninsula Romp

Saturday’s ride over the Coast Range to Pescadero and back via Tunitas Creek was like a mini-vacation. It was only 51 miles but we took the entire day to enjoy the ride, the scenery, the food, and get a glimpse of the Pescadero Road Race along the way. It was on the cool side the entire day yet sunny, which made the climbing—and there was lots of it—very comfortable. The weather brought out lots of other cyclists as well as sports car enthusiasts out for a spin. It was a great day to be riding or if you were in a car, take out the convertible with the top down.

There were just five of us but the quality made up for the quantity. Nancy was putting the final touches on her conditioning for her big Montana tour. Michaelangelo, whom we don’t often see probably because the vast majority of our rides don’t traverse the South Bay, showed up since the ride was in his stomping ground. Roger S made the trip down from SF. My husband and I completed the group.

These roads are so well-loved by cyclists that it’s not hard to imagine a rut in the roads made by all the cyclists’ tires over the years: up Old La Honda, then down the other side of OLH to La Honda, then up Haskins Hill and down to Pescadero, then up the Stage Road with the pièce de resistance being Tunitas Creek. This loop takes in roads that are less frequented by cars and quite peaceful. Predictably the one stretch on Highway 84 from the OLH turnoff down to the town of La Honda, which cars also use to get to the beach, was a speedfest of tech bros’ shiny and noisy toys. Otherwise we pretty much had the roads to ourselves.

We left the Woodside Town Hall early enough that there was little traffic and had a quiet run out Mountain Home Road to Old La Honda. Rather than the usual time trial up OLH we took it pretty casually. Other than other cyclists we had the redwood shrouded road all to ourselves. What a great place to have a home—peaceful, quiet, and the everpresent smell of redwood! The drop down OLH on the other side of Skyline is narrow and curvy. Fortunately cars prefer to take 84 since it’s much faster. Although it’s now paved, in the not-too-distant past OLH was not. I recall cycling down when it was a packed dirt/gravel road, which made for an, um, exciting ride if you took it at speed. I recall once riding it in the rain and boy, was that a mistake. But it’s still rather narrow and that means you have to watch out for that unexpected car coming up. Except you can’t because the sight lines are generally nonexistent. Prayer is the obvious substitute. This time we encountered just one pickup and he wasn’t going fast. Whew.

Old La Honda is narrow!

The descent to La Honda is wicked fast and since it’s wide open you can really let the bike run. What a blast! All you have to do is ignore the cars passing next to you at 60 MPH. At La Honda the Pescadero Road Race was in full swing and course marshalls were controlling traffic. Since we were heading up Haskins Hill to Pescadero—the same as the racers—we got a bird’s eye view of the action. Alto Velo apparently did a great job getting volunteers to marshal the course and to my surprise there were quite a few spectators. This ain’t no ‘Tour day France’ but I guess the racers have lots of friends and family to cheer them on as the roadside was packed. As we passed the feed zone a gust of wind caught their tent and up in went into the air! We were passed by group after group. One guy’s front derailleur wasn’t working so he was climbing Haskins Hill in the big ring—ouch! It was interesting to watch the racers. Obviously they were making an effort to draft one another even going uphill. Most were pedaling very smoothly despite the incline; these days even racers are using lower gears but spin so much faster they can still go fast. Everybody was using deep section carbon rims for the aero benefits.

We dropped down the other side and had a fast, pleasant run into Loma Mar. Loma Mar is a ‘town’ that’s barely a spot on the map. But it has the Loma Mar Store, a community mainstay. The store has been there for as long as I’ve lived in the Bay Area. But around 2014 or so the store closed for a remodel. It wasn’t until mid-2019 that it finally reopened just in time for the pandemic. It was closed for so long I thought for sure the store was gone for good. In any case it has survived and unlike in the past where it was basically a mini-mart for the little community it now has a kitchen and bakery and prepares really good food. So I planned a “coffee” stop there. No one had heard of the Loma Mar Store despite everybody having ridden to Pescadero many times. We rolled into the inviting store and our short coffee stop turned into a coffee klatch/gabfest. Only Roger S got lunch, a grilled cheese, while the rest wanted to wait until Pescadero. So I ordered a breakfast sandwich to go and settled for a bear claw and big mug of coffee. Pastries and coffees all around. Nancy ended up ordering a sandwich to go as well. We settled into their front deck and watched pod after pod of racers roll by. The sun was out and it was temperately comfortable just sitting sipping coffee outside. Lost in time we didn’t leave until 40 minutes had gone by.

In Pescadero we did the usual stop at Norm’s Market aka Arcangeli Deli. A sunny Saturday at lunch time usually means the deli is packed and it was. But the picnic tables in the back were not. The race now being over a couple of tables were taken by racers recounting their rides. Ah, to be young, fast, and fashionably dressed. Roger had to have their delicious artichoke bread and he got a loaf that had just come out of the oven—hot, steamy, and heavenly! More eating ensued. And by the way my breakfast sandwich—a croissant with a fried egg, cheddar, and bacon—was still warm and the egg yolk was still runny. Perfect! By the time I had also woofed down some artichoke bread I was stuffed. More gabbing ensued. Before we knew it another hour had passed. Nobody was in a hurry to depart but none of was was whipped either, maybe because we were cruising and not for a bruising.

Stage Road is a picture of how it once all was: isolated, pastoral, occasional ranches. It heads north but not at all in a straight line weaving through the fields and has two short but steep ascents to wake you up. The San Gregorio Store, which I hadn’t visited in years, now has a large outdoor dining area and it was doing good business. But we didn’t linger and climbed up the last steep bit to Highway One. Now I was feeling tired! But it was all downhill to the turn off to Tunitas Creek. Michaelangelo went down like a rocket even faster than Roger S, which is no mean feat since Roger not only is fearless but his new bike is seriously aero.

Racing to an inviting bench

What did we do next? Stop at the Bike Hut for another long idyll! The Bike Hut is an oddity: the local farmers just like cyclists so they erected this rest stop that is funded by their immense goodwill and any cyclists’ donations. They also have a portapotty for cyclists to use. With inviting Adirondack chairs and wood benches it’s a great place to cool your jets before the grueling climb up Tunitas. I was ready to take a nap. It was now 3 PM and the sun was lower in the sky. A crow sat on the telephone wire above us the entire time—he was enjoying the afternoon sun as well. How do birds stay upright on wires when the wind is blowing? You would think they would soon be upside down!

Before I let torpor get the best of me I rousted everyone to get going. Michealangelo was still effervescent and ready to jump forward. He set a mean pace and towed me and Roger up the increasing gradient. Tunitas is a long climb. From the Bike Hut it is 8.4 miles to Skyline and ascends about 2,200 feet. Those numbers are a bit deceptive because the gradient isn’t constant. The beginning and the end are easy and the middle section hits a gruesome 11%. It was already a long day and I was moving forward by dint of willpower alone. But it was pleasantly cool while climbing, there was no traffic to speak of, and the redwoods are always so reassuring. About three miles from the top the gradient eases considerably. Literally every time I’ve ridden up Tunitas from the coast I get impatient at this point. It seems you should be at the top—it’s practically flat. You go around each bend and think that Skyline is going to be right there. But it isn’t. For almost three miles. Over and over again. I’m always exasperated by this and today was no different probably because I was hella tired and I was in ‘smelling the barn’ mode.

At the top it took less than a minute for Roger and me to get chilled waiting for the others. The wind was up—it actually had been blowing all day but now was stronger blowing over the top of the Coast Range. The sun was disappearing. We huddled to find shelter from the breeze. Michaelangelo appeared shortly. But Roger S and Nancy were nowhere to be seen. Nancy eventually caught up and told us that Roger had left his phone at the Bike Hut and had to turn around to retrieve it. Hey, bonus miles and climbing! We waited over a half-hour for Roger to catch up. By then Michaelangelo had already departed and said to text him if we needed a car to retrieve Roger S. No need now! Phone safely in hand we all dropped like rocks down Kings Mountain Road.

Kings Mountain is a road better climbed than descended. As a climb it’s probably the second hardest way to get to Skyline (Page Mill is the worst—steep, long, and little shade). But as a descent it requires your full attention especially in late afternoon when the sun is low and it’s dim under the towering redwoods. The fact that it is exceptionally curvy and has multiple hairpins makes for a thrilling rollercoaster ride but also means you better not cross the centerline—when there is a centerline—since sections are substandard width. It didn’t help that we were now thoroughly chilled. It’s a five-mile descent so it took less than fifteen minutes but felt like an eternity. In Woodside it was warm enough that my shivering stopped.

Back at the cars: a 51-mile and 5,500 feet elevation gain day. My kind of day!

Back at the cars Michaelangelo was still there waiting for us. Everybody had a smile on their face! End of ride: 5:08 PM. That was an entire day. We may have been taking our time but it was time worth taking!

Jersey Barriers

June Jerseylicious!

The June Jersey Ride was not without its problems but no less than three groups managed to meet up at Woodlands Market in Tiburon. Ginny led the regular Jersey Ride from the Castro while Laura led the Short & Sassy version from Mike’s Bikes in Sausalito. Roger H and I decided to escape the withering heat in Contra Costa by riding over from Point Richmond in order to check out yet another variant of what we hope will become the club’s East Bay Tiburon loop .

Laura’s group was completely depleted by the start! Co-leader Greg got injured in a softball game the day before and had to back out. Then Elbert dropped off the ride and instead decided to join the regular Jersey group in SF rather than Sausalito. Tim had pre-ride mechanical issues with his bike so he and Carl had to bail right at the start leaving just Laura to carry the Short & Sassy flag.

Ginny’s group stayed relatively intact except at Peet’s Elbert found out that his brake wasn’t working and had to run off to a shop to get it fixed. Roger and I didn’t lose any of us. At least I think we didn’t.

For our route we were trying out two ‘new’ sections, the northbound ped/bike overpass by 101 in San Rafael, which is currently undergoing a rebuild, and the Bay Trail north of San Quentin. We had actually been on both before but not together on the same ride. The overpass-in-progress is still not completed but it’s most of the way there. Previously this walkway was ridiculously narrow, like just three or four feet wide, and it was impossible for two users to pass. When done it will be about ten feet or more wide. The other section is a hidden piece of the SF Bay Trail along Richardson Bay north of 580 and San Quentin. Jeff Mishler suggested this route last year; when we checked it out then, it was muddy, uneven, and puddled albeit rideable on a road bike. A king tide and wet weather would make it unpleasant if not impassable. So we were curious to see what it might be like when dry.

Although we’ve cycled over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge (RSR) several times this is the first time we’ve seen so many cyclists. Previously we probably saw no more than ten or so other cyclists and that’s been on weekends when you’d expect there to be higher usage. This time there were dozens of cyclists heading both to and from the East Bay. The sunny and hot weather might have had something to do with it because the toll plaza was jammed with cars heading to Marin, probably to go to the beach to escape the heat. The roll to Tiburon was uneventful and as we sailed into Tiburon the cool ocean breeze was a welcome relief. We arrived at Woodlands just before noon and the other Spokers were already there. The goal of the EB Tib loop is to try to arrive at Paradise Drive at the same time as the JR in order to ride together into Tiburon. We almost had it right but missed linking up probably because we had forgotten to lock the car and had to return to our start and head out a second time, a delay that cost us about fifteen minutes.

Having lunch outside Woodlands is usually a winner. Typically it’s comfortable yet occasionally the wind can make it cool enough you want a wind jacket. Today wasn’t that kind of day—it was near perfect. Lunch was the usual haberdashery of topics but mostly about Laura’s recent bike tour in Italy. Inspired by her rental e-bike there she rented one for today. It was like that with Roger years ago; after he test-rode an e-bike, he slapped his credit card on the counter and has never looked back. All his regular bikes—and unfortunately also our tandem—are languishing, heartlessly abandoned due to that hussy Giant he brought back home. Laura’s trip was also a trip down memory lane for us. Having never been in the cycling motherland she was awed by how respectful car drivers were of cyclists. She actually felt relaxed riding in traffic. And of course she was riding in beautiful countryside. Your first cycling trip to Europe is like the first time you have gay sex: you just realize this is where you belong! Or perhaps it’s like crack: you’re ready to sell all your belongings and even your mother in order to move to Italy to get more road! I felt the same way on my first trip. The scales fell off my eyes and I saw that a better life for cyclists is not just possible but a reality. It doesn’t sink in until you actually experience it yourself. Isn’t that like joining a cult?

People were curious about how Roger and I got over to Tiburon so perhaps those San Franciscans who are ‘bridge curious’ will try out the RSR after we get this route perfected. Strangely a long digressive dialog ensued about the bike lane on the RSR—how unpleasant and noisy it can be and the fact that you’re separated from the death machines by just a movable barrier. Although not exactly the same they’re similar to “K” barriers you’ve seen a million times around construction by roadways, those concrete movable low walls. Jeff said they were called “Jersey” barriers, not K barriers. Being from NYC he thought they were so named in order to keep New Jerseyans out of the city. Ginny, who is from New Jersey, thought it was to keep the New Yorkers out! Of course Wikipedia has the history of the name.

Sock Puppets

Today’s rides were the first club ride since the new club socks have been available. FIve of us were sporting them. Don’t forget to order a pair, just a measly $15!

After lunch we ambled back to the Sausalito bike path and parted ways, we going up Camino Alto and they heading back to Sausalito/SF. Our route took us back to Larkspur and through the Cal Park tunnel to San Rafael where we headed to the hidden Bay Trail. There are several ways to get from Larkspur to the west landing and each has its drawbacks. The diversion along the Bay Trail is safer, more pleasant, and scenic but it’s got about a thousand feet of dirt path. Being in the midst of a drought and late spring the trail was dry if a bit uneven but in much better riding condition than before. If the trail is wet, then it’s probably better to take the 580 frontage road despite the at times scary traffic.

We eventually got to the west landing where we had the long climb up the bridge with the usual infernal crosswind from the Golden Gate. The RSR, as someone mentioned at lunch, is not short like the Golden Gate—it’s 5.5 miles long. So whatever you’re dealing with on the RSR you’re going to be dealing with for a long time whether it’s wind, noise, crazy bike traffic, or debris. In contrast the Golden Gate is only 1.7 miles long. The climb to the first tower is about a mile-and-a-half. Its grade is only 2.6% but the crosswind makes if feel much worse, more as if you’re on a 5% grade since you’re using the bigger cogs. And today was one of those days where every effort felt like, well, an effort. The RSR might not be the easiest bridge to take to get to Tiburon but it’s definitely the safer of the two. So that’s no barrier for me!

Shining A Light

AIDS Lifecycle is almost upon us, taking place June 5 through June 11. As you know it’s a week-long charity ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. This event started in 2002 taking over the California AIDS Ride, which started in 1993 and which was run by for-profit event promoter Palotta TeamWorks.

Fading from memory is that both of these charity rides had a progenitor, the AIDS Bike-A-Thon that ran from 1985 to 1994. Who ran those fundraisers? We did, or rather the previous members of our club did. An account of the first Bike-A-Thon can be found here.

Michael John, or “MJ” as he was familiarly called back in the day, was the club’s second president and also for a time the editor of the club newsletter, The ChainLetter, when it was printed (!) and long before it died and was reincarnated as the club blog. He recently sent me a scanned copy of the Bay Area Reporter (BAR) account of the very first AIDS Bike-A-Thon of April 6, 1985, which you can read below.

Gene Howard, last finisher at the first Bike-A-Thon 1985

A few notes about the article. Gene Howard, the last of the 62 riders to arrive in Guerneville was at the time one of the very few ‘elderly’ members of Different Spokes; he later perished in a terrible house fire unlike so many of the gay men in the club who succumbed to AIDS. He was a real sweetheart. The article mentioned the first person to arrive in Guerneville without mentioning his name. It was almost certainly Bruce Matasci, another club heartthrob. Bruce had been a semi-pro racer, having raced against Greg Lemond when Greg was a very young up-and-coming junior (and thrashing all the senior racers in NorCal). Bruce died of AIDS in 1991. Dr. Bob Bolan chased Bruce all the way to Guerneville but never caught him much to his chagrin. (No shame, Bob, Bruce was a monster on the bike even though he was no longer racing.) Bob was an AIDS doc in SF at the height of the plague and was the head of the SF AIDS Foundation at its very beginning. He later relocated to LA and is still the longtime medical director of the LA LGBT Center. Bob is still tearing up the roads down south.

Note that the fastest average speed for the hundred miles was 17 MPH. That’s average–an unpaced 100-mile time trial, and by the way the route had over 7,000 feet of elevation gain! Although Different Spokes of that era was a club composed for the most part of recreational and touring cyclists there were members who were very, very strong.

$33,000 seems paltry today. A top fundraiser for AIDS Lifecycle does well above that alone. In today’s dollars this would be just about $89,000–still just a modest sum. But you have to remember that charity rides were in their nascency back then and the entire event was organized in just six weeks. Everything from recruitment, fundraising, PR, logistics was put together quickly. And, this was long before social media existed so getting the word out was literally by word of mouth.

The other thing that may be difficult to imagine for those who did not live in that era is that these were very dark days in the LGBT community. Gay men were dying like flies. With no cure and no effective treatments let alone understanding of the disease, despair cast a dark shadow. Members would disappear for an interval, reappearing as gaunt wraiths, and then passing. Or suddenly their obituary would appear in the BAR. Those of us who lived through that time lost many friends and that grief and loss left a heavy mark.

Bike-A-Thon was not just a fundraising event but one of the first ‘lighthouses’ shining a path: the community could unite and everyday people rather than just medical researchers could do something to get through the plague years and provide some hope that we would see an end.

Can you imagine that? And here we are today!

Ride Recap: Forty & Fab Stinson Beach

At Stinson Beach

Last Sunday we had quite a romp from San Francisco to Stinson Beach and back. About 15 years ago this was a very popular ride for a subset of the club. It dwindled in popularity about as quickly as it flourished and now it’s rarely led. The last time I had ridden to Stinson was probably in the late ‘90s before I moved to the East Bay. I used to ride there, Muir Woods, or to the summit of Mt. Tam almost every week and that all ended when I moved across the Bay. So I was very much looking forward to revisiting an old stomping ground.

This time we rode the so-called ‘standard’ route to Stinson, which is to take Highway One to Stinson and return via Pantoll. The reverse loop is also an enjoyable ride with a long, constant descent from Pantoll down to Stinson for a lunch break. Both of course require cycling on an at-times busy section of Highway One between the turnoff from 101 in Mill Valley up to Panoramic. At that point a big chunk of cars leave in order to go up Mt. Tam or to go to Stinson via Pantoll. Although Stinson is a big draw, particularly when it’s hot and the beach beckons, the bigger draw is Muir Woods, which is on the way to Stinson. This time the traffic wasn’t too bad perhaps because several years ago Muir Woods restricted parking at the park entrance and instituted a shuttle from Sausalito. In fact we were passed by quite a few shuttles. Nonetheless we definitely had a lot of company until we got past Panoramic; we had to abide merely one disgruntled driver—in a Benz, ‘natch—who passed us with a loud roar. Otherwise I found the cars to be well behaved despite the lack of shoulder and the narrowness of the roadway.

I confess the better route would have been to continue into Mill Valley and head up to Panoramic the back way. But that wasn’t how we usually did it back then likely because the traffic wasn’t as dense as it is now.

Seven us made the jaunt—my husband Roger, me, Stephen S., Eric, Roger S., Nancy, and Darrell. Our president David was going to come but he woke up with an aching back; Stephen’s husband at the last minute got cold feet—or is that cold wheels?—and decided to do an easier city ride, and a non-member also cancelled due to an injury. It was another cat herding exercise. Instead of everyone meeting at McLaren Lodge it was ‘make your own start’ day. Darrell meet us at Arguello gate, Stephen at Mike’s Bikes in Sausalito. Despite living in Marin Eric parked at the north end of the bridge and rode over to McLaren in order to do the full ride.

The ride through SF and across the bridge was inconsequential although we had plenty of company with an invasion of cyclists heading to Marin for their constitutional Sunday rides. There’s no such thing as riding alone when you go through Sausalito—it’s practically a parade. A sad part of that parade was passing the now-closed A Bicycle Odyssey shop due to Tony Tom’s death last year. Nothing lasts forever but Tony died too young; it brought back memories of when Clay Mankin suddenly died in 2005 leading to the end of his shop City Cycle on Union Street. Both are real losses to the cycling community here.

Whatever charm the climb out of Sausalito has is lost in the chaos of cars. It’s less than two miles to the Panoramic turnoff and averages about 6% so it’s really quite short. But it’s hard to notice the beautiful eucalyptus trees along the road when you’re thinking about that SUV behind you. It’s become a road that you just want to get over—you do it for the destination, not for the trip. The descent to Muir Beach is classic: a winding, curvy road where you can outmaneuver the cars. At this point we were all spread out by the climb and I couldn’t see anyone else from our group. At Muir Beach you start an ugly but short ascent up the coastal cliffs; it’s not long but long enough to have you wondering if you can stay on the gas much longer. For the record it’s about a mile long averaging 10%. Back in the day when the club had an annual Guerneville Weekend, the route up went this way and many dreaded it. That may be why in the ’90s the route got changed to go inland through Nicasio—it may be hotter but it was a lot less climbing. Not having done this climb in well over twenty years, like so many roads I’ve revisited recently after a long absence, it sure seemed steeper than I recall. Eric, Darrell, and Roger H. were somewhere ahead of me and at Lone Tree Creek I finally saw them above me on the road, too far to catch up with.

Finally there’s a fast descent into Stinson to make up for all that hellish climbing. Being a sunny day the crowds were out! We reconvened at the little park across from the market to enjoy the sunshine. Some wandered over to the Parkside Cafe, which was inundated with daytrippers, to get some grub while some of us just noshed on energy bars. Needing a little pep Eric and I wandered over to the espresso stand to get some good Italian coffee. We watched the endless stream of cars heading up Highway One including a Porsche rally complete with burning rubber at the only stop sign in town.

Although the long respite threatened to turn into a day at the beach, I rousted everyone from their torpor to do the final, big climb up to Pantoll. This climb is very different than the steep hills coming over to the beach. First, it’s a continuous four-mile ascent averaging about 7% and with no relief. It requires a different mindset and effort: get into a gear you can use for the entire climb and grind away steadily. The climb out starts in the open but about half-way up you enter the redwoods and it’s not unlike climbing on Tunitas Creek. Darrell took off but eventually Roger and I caught him. Eric, who had stopped to take off his jacket eventually caught up with us and in a mad rush we arrived at Pantoll for another extended recuperation. The parking lot was full and Pantoll was clearly having a lot of visitors. After we regrouped and caught our collective breath, we launched into a prolonged descent back to Sausalito. Darrell fully embraced his death wish and hit the afterburners with Eric not far behind. Roger S. who usually descends like a demon surprisingly took it easy—I was able to keep him in sight! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that before. We bade Stephen farewell in Sausalito and then dove into the moshpit. It was yet another rush of lemmings to get through town and to the bridge. At the turnoff for Baker tunnel there was a long line of cars trying to get to Rodeo Beach so late in the day. It must be tourist season already!

At the north end of the bridge we said goodbye to Eric and the five of us confronted the last obstacle of the day: getting across the west sidewalk of the bridge alive and in one piece. Initially it was an atypically quiet afternoon with little cycle traffic heading north. The additional chainlink fencing, road furniture, and equipment dumped on the sidewalk doesn’t become a problem until you have to pass someone. On weekends that usually means the afternoon return to SF is a semi-nightmare and today was no different. The plethora of BS handlebar bags (Blazing Saddles) clued us in that tourism is alive and well in SF. The crosswind was challenging and going around the towers was like suddenly being dropped into a wind tunnel requiring everyone to exercise care not only to stay upright and steer straight but also to avoid the scary tourists who had no idea they were going to get a real life experience of the Venturi effect.

As we neared the south footing we were almost home when we were swamped by a literal horde of adolescent cyclists taking over the west sidewalk. There were hundreds of them in a long line four-wide coming down the dirt trail onto the bridge. We were pushed against the chainlink fencing hoping none of them would run into us head-on. Sharing the path wasn’t on their mind as they squirreled pell-mell every whichway. I was certain we were going to have a crash and was screaming out warnings. Darrell couldn’t move forward and got off his bike and lifted it through the crowd. Eventually the three of us made it to the bridge plaza a bit shaken and wondering if Roger S. and Nancy who were further behind were going to escape unscathed. Shortly they arrived intact. None of us had ever experienced anything like this, a tidal wave of oncoming cyclists completely taking over the walkway. Darrell went to talk to a bridge police officer who did absolutely nothing except shrug her shoulders.

The rest of the ride was peaceful but I must confess I was pretty shaken up by the incident. My husband Roger and I, who already don’t like crossing the bridge on weekend afternoons, looked at each other and knew that was probably the last time we’d ever do that again.

Is “Short ’n Sassy” a Thing?

You’re probably somewhat aware that the club has a “Short ’n Sassy” interest group. We coined this nomen for those who like short(er) and slow(er) rides than what you typically see on our ride calendar. Very generally that refers to rides of about 20 miles at no more than a B-pace and typically not a lot of elevation gain and certainly nothing steep. Our usual rides are closer to 40 miles with lots of elevation gain and nothing less than a B-pace.

We’ve had just one ride, a shorter version of the Jersey Ride, with this initiative and so far no one is clamoring to lead this type of ride. Perhaps flying under the radar is our Hump Day rides, which are all under 25 miles at an unspecified pace but they are no-drop. Hump Day has three options. The Lake Merced option is fairly flat but the Marin Headlands and Presidio Hills routes are pretty climby even if short.

Our shorter/slower rides got me thinking of what other local clubs do or don’t do about cyclists who want something easier. So I decided to look at the websites and ride calendars of other clubs to see if they try to reach out to this population and if they even offer rides that might fit this description. What I found is actually a bit better than I had anticipated. Of the 19 other clubs, five mention nothing about short/slow rides at all nor seem to have anything like our Short ’N Sassy. Of these five, one (Grizzly Peak Cyclists) is definitely a big club, well more than 700 members. In the past GPC has offered ‘new riders’ rides; GPC does have a once-a-month all-club ride with a short/slow option that does have a ride leader.

The surprise is that the other 14 clubs offer something although exactly what is offered may or may not be well attended. Typically these clubs have more regularly scheduled rides eg. ‘mellow Monday’, ‘Easy Friday’ etc. These rides are on the calendar sometimes without a designated ride leader so it’s unclear if they actually take place or not. Basically it might be a decide-and-ride: whoever shows up goes and does some sort of ride. That’s the problem with a regularly scheduled ride: you need a cohort who will lead this ride on a regular basis, so it tends to be the larger clubs who can provide this just from sheer numbers or else they have short ride evangelists who have stepped up. And just because a club offers an easier option for a ride does not mean that the easier options have a ride leader, ie. you are free to start the ride and do the easier option but the ride leader(s) are doing the more difficult option. In other words an easier route is made available, period. Rides that have a bail-out option are probably better supported since you can ride with everyone else but then drop off earlier.

A large subset of easier rides are morning ‘coffee’ rides, either before work (6:15 AM!) or during the morning (eg. 9 AM). None of them are after work rides like our Hump Day. The one real effort is the Feather Pedals subgroup at the Valley Spokesmen Cycling Club in Dublin. Feather Pedals offers prep rides from January to April for VSBC’s annual Cinderella Classic. Since the Cinderella is female-only, FP tends to be female heavy but males are welcome as well. The astonishing thing about FP is that their rides regularlly host 30-50 participants. That’s a fantastic turnout. After the Cinderella, which is in April, FP offers a monthly social ride for the rest of the year. But note that the spring FP rides are a training series, so they might start short but they progressively increase the difficulty so that riders are prepared for the metric-length Cinderella Classic.

Some of the 14 clubs offer rides that are kind of short ’n sassy but diverge in some way. For example ACTC has short rides under 20 miles but they are climb heavy. Other clubs have A-pace rides but they’re 30 or more miles; this is similar to our Social A rides—just slightly shorter than typical Different Spokes rides but led at a slower pace.

No mention of short/slow rides:
Sunnyvale Cupertino Cycling Club
Veloraptors (Montclair) [easier pace rides are all over 30 miles]
Grizzly Peak Cyclists (Berkeley)
Cherry City Cyclists (Hayward)
Golden Gate Cyclists (SF)

Some kind of short/easy rides:
SF Cycling Club: Friday morning coffee ride is “inclusive”
Benicia Bicycling Club: TThSa A & B rides (A is 14-16 mph, B is 10-12 mph)
Solano Cycling Club: (Fairfield) Weds Cantelow ride is 20.4 miles, 1180 ft. elev gain.
Eagle Cycling Club (Napa): Weds Carneros ride is 20 mi/B-pace, no drop; Sat is regular 20-30 mi, B-pace
Santa Rosa Cycling Club: has A & B pace rides but all over 30 mi; Fri A pace ride but it’s 32 miles.
Davis Bike Club: Tue “easy” bakery ride, Sun no-drop ride
Sacramento Wheelmen: “constitutional” rides to Folsom Lake and back (flat, variable pace)
Marin Cyclists: Wed China Camp loop (20-35 mi); Mon through Fri Paradise Drive (23 mi, A-B pace but no leader)
Diablo Cyclists (Walnut Creek): Sun breakfast ride (20 mi, flat but ‘moderate’ pace (note: equivalent to our C pace))
Western Wheelers (Midpeninsula): Mon “Socially Paced” coffee ride; occasional A pace rides
Almaden Touring Cycling Club (San Jose): misc short rides but hilly
Fremont Freewheelers BIcycle Club: daily Show ’n Go rides; Sun social ride
Oakland Yellowjackets: offers ‘light’ option to rides
Valley Spokesmen (Dublin/Pleasanton): Feather Pedals

Oh My Mines

Hell hath no fury like a downhill scorned

All through the day
Oh my Mines, oh my Mines, oh my Mines
All through the night
Oh my Mines, oh my Mines, oh my Mines

Now they’re frightened of riding it
Everyone’s riding it
Comin’ on strong all the time
—George Harrison

What can you say about a ride that starts off with bulls being castrated? Yeah, that was an ominous beginning.

Most of the club stalwarts were off riding the Wine Country Century. It was just six of us taking the annual hajj up Mines Road ostensibly in search of wildflowers. Or something. It’s just an excuse to ride up one of the strangest roads in the Bay Area. This year I was curious how the area was recovering after the 2020 SCU fire incinerated almost everything near the junction of Mines Road and Del Puerto Canyon Road. Last year we rode up and were greeted by gruesomely burnt trees, first here and there and eventually entire swaths of hillside populated by charred and denuded of vegetation. Now it was another year on and perhaps it was less horrific. I hoped.

Mines Road is a relict of another time. It doesn’t go ‘anywhere’ at least not today. It’s known as the back road to the summit of Mt. Hamilton but back in the 19th century it was a road to a magnesite mine now long abandoned. Being an isolated road it’s a favorite for cyclists in the Livermore area as well as motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts who pretend they are on a closed course racing both up and down.

The start of the club’s Mines Road ride is at the intersection of Mines Road and Del Valle Road. There is a parking area making it a convenient start. My guess is that it became the start not just for convenience but probably also to shorten the distance. If you start at the Livermore library, which is about six miles back in Livermore, not only do you get a public restroom but a nice flat warmup before the start of the incline. But that turns a fifty-mile day into a sixty-miler.

At the start cows unseen on the other side of the road were braying incessantly. Roger S. remarked that it sounded like the bulls were being castrated. Hmm, Rocky Mountain oysters for dinner, dear? I preferred to think they were cheering us on. They were making quite a racket but it sounded more raucous than shrieking to me. Do bulls shriek? And how does Roger know what castrating bulls sound like?

Leaving the bulls to their business we took off and about a half-mile later the climb began ramping up quickly enough that we were rewarded with grand views of the Arroyo Mocho valley. There isn’t anything out here except ranches and a few Silicon Valley homesteads. But luckily it isn’t developed likely because it’s outside the city limits and one has to be self-sufficient for water and septic. Oh, and there is no cell service either. At this time of the year the green is almost gone and replaced by the dusky tan of dried grass. But green is supplied by the oak woodland and scrub brush feathering the hillsides.

Although I’d like to say we leapt up the hill, an accurate description would be more like ‘slogged’. David G. was overgeared for the climb and not warmed up, so he soon dismounted and click-clacked his way up to where the gradient subsided a bit. We all looked at each other and thought, “Fuck it, let’s take it easy today!” So to tackle the lengthy climb we took lots of breaks to inhale the views, the quiet, and gab slanderously about club members not present. Stephen had brought his e-bike and it certainly helped to flatten the climb.

Along the way we were passed by several groups of motos, one of whom decided I was a slalom pole as he brushed past me at 40 mph. We were also passed by a pod of Porsches who took care not to kill us. Then there was the myriad of tiny 50cc two-stroke motorcycles also heading up at a considerably less hectic pace.

Mines Road is strange because it is unlike any other ‘climb’ in the Bay Area in that it can be psychologically frustrating. The climb ‘up’ Mines Road is actually two climbs and two descents before you arrive at the junction with Del Puerto Canyon Road, the usual end point. Although you can continue into San Antonio Valley where the wildflowers bloom in greater numbers, most club rides end at the junction because of the Junction Cafe & Bar. After the first big bump up the hill things settle down for quite a while—you are going uphill but the gradient is so gentle that you think you’re riding on the flats. On this day we were pushed uphill by a vigorous yet worrisome tailwind. Worrisome? Because I knew what it meant for when we turned around. As you climb the Arroyo Mocho the valley narrows and ranches disappear to be replaced by odd dirt driveways and junky homesteads here and there. David G. and I both thought of the same thing: thank god we don’t hear banjo music! (That reference is for the elders out there. Hint: Deliverance.)

Higher up we were riding next to Arroyo Mocho and it was still running. It’s here that the wildflowers started to appear by the roadside—poppies, lupins, Indian paintbrush. That we’ve had a dry year was obvious by the diminished number of flowers. But we’ll take it! Soon the burnt landscape hove into view—charred, barren trees. But the land looked less ‘scraped’ than last year because the brush had popped up providing some green. Nature heals everything eventually. In a few years it’ll appear less damaged even if still a bit barren.

By taking it at a slower pace Mines can be a wonderful ride. Springtime up Mines is the best time to go not just for the greenery but also the isolation so close to the Bay Area. Of course having a tailwind made it extra pedalicious.

We got to the Junction Cafe and it was crowded with bikes—motorbikes. A Ducati club of about twenty or so riders was out for a run and had stopped. Around the other side of the cafe was the gang of 50cc riders. Despite the large number outside, the cafe was strangely empty. In fact hardly anyone other than our group was buying food despite it being lunch time. The Junction is a regular stopping place for the moto crowd. Back in the day it was more rundown and a real dive. The new owners have brightened up the place but the menu is limited to burgers. It seems the moto folk were into chatting rather than noshing. This was definitely not the Harley crowd. No beers, no glasspack mufflers, no cut-off jean jackets. Definitely a more genteel pack of motorcyclists.

While we were outside snacking a couple of cyclists—there weren’t any others—arrived and sat down with us. Both were heading up San Antonio Valley Road to the top. Yikes! There is a hellacious 14% section waiting for them. Better they than I!

After lots of idle, frivilous conversation we got off our duffs and headed out. Before the final ‘descent’ there are two uphill sections after lunch at the Junction. We’d spent such a long time there that we were in no danger of a scarf ’n bart fest. In any case we were taking it easy. The slog back to the top wasn’t too bad. Despite the lack of tree cover it was pleasantly cool and sunny. But we could feel the headwind…

At the top we started the descent but it sure didn’t feel like it. The headwind was about 15-20 MPH and the wind noise was so deafening that I couldn’t understand Roger at all over the radio. As usual the only way we were going to make it to the bottom was to pedal our asses off. There were short sections where the gradient increased and we could actually coast. But they were all too short. It’s demoralizing to climb all that elevation and then get a downhill like this. It’s like having two climbs and no descent at all. Only when you get to about the last three miles does the gradient get steep enough that you have a bona fide downhill.

Back at the cars everybody looked whipped. Stephen commented that midway down he was just DONE and he upped the boost from his battery to get to the end. What a strange inversion that you have to use your battery to make it downhill.

And what a way to end this ride: David Go. went off for a natural break and promptly slipped down the gully and threw out his back making for an excruciating drive back home.

And those damn bulls were still braying like their balls were being cut off. Speaking of getting your balls cut off, have you tried riding down Mines Road?

Convergence

This past weekend’s Jersey Ride was a real surprise gathering. Nancy and Ginny led the regular JR from Peet’s and had five compatriots—Maurizio, Stephen S., Roger S., Scott, and Mark. Roger and I decided to eyeball another East Bay Tiburon loop route with the intent of meeting the gang at Woodlands Market for lunch. We met up and had a great lunch together on the deck outside Woodlands. While we were there, semi-old-Spoker Jaime Guerrero showed up. I hadn’t seen Jaime since he came on a club ride I led back in 2014. Or was it at that party at a mutual friend’s house on Mines Road? I can’t recall exactly but Jaime had lapsed and moved onto other activities such as hiking. Jaime was sporting a Sun Microsystems jersey, which despite ithe company’s iconic and important historical role, has become just another forgotten tidbit of Silicon Valley debris about which only the elder technorati would sigh rhapsodically. We chatted just a tad because we were getting ready to leave. Then Eric showed up! He decided to catch the JR after a late start and showed up just as we had finished lunch. Nice surprises all around!

The East Bay Tib loop is a minor project we’ve been working on since last summer trying to find a suitable set of roads from Point Richmond across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and thence to Tiburon. This seems like a trivial undertaking but it’s actually rife with niggling problems. The first is that access to the bridge is not a given anymore. The non-car lane is in reality a limited time experiment although cyclists seem to think it’s a done decision. (It’s most definitely not.) There has been strong pushback from car drivers to take over that third lane for, well, them. In addition the drought has made the Marin Water District revive a plan to put a pipeline across the bridge to bring water to Marin, which heretofore has depended entirely on its reservoir storage system. Guess where that pipe was going to be placed? Right, in the non-car lane. That plan has gone silent and you can be sure there is fierce fighting and politicking taking place in back rooms. Who’s going to win that arm wrestling contest? Nobody knows yet. If Caltrans decides to roll back the bike lane, you can be sure there will be hue and cry from cyclists. But the real question is whether a brouhaha will make any difference. The end result is that an East Bay Tib loop may end up in the history books rather than on our ride calendar due to a shutdown of the bike lane.

Despite the huge question mark over bridge access there is the issue of finding a good way to get from the west landing of the bridge to Paradise Drive and that’s what we’ve been exploring. The long way is to head to Bon Air and then the Corte Madera-Larkspur path. Shorter ways involve taking walkways on 101. Today we checked out the southbound 101 walkway and a cut-through. This walkway is marginally doable being narrow. However it’s much better than the one on northbound 101, which is so narrow that only one person can traverse it at a time. Heaven help you if you’re midway and encounter someone—a ped or a cyclist—heading the opposite direction. One of you has to back out. Back in the day this was rarely an issue because cycling was less popular. But now there is a ton of cycling traffic trying to get around Larkspur Landing.

We eventually got to Paradise without a hitch and had a lovely ride on such a sunny and windless day. We arrived at Woodlands a little after 11:30 AM and the SF group wasn’t to be seen. So we got our lunch and had a table outside all to ourselves. A little after noon they started to arrive apparently having been slowed down by Mark getting a flat. We had our lunch and had a good conversation with Maurizio and Stephen on managed healthcare, avoiding surgery, and how not every doctor got A’s in medical school. That of course led to a discussion of academic cheating in O-chem classes, the gateway class for medical students. Fascinating stuff. Nancy filled us in on her upcoming Montana cycling trip—I wish we were going!

Just as we were ready to depart Roger S. discovered he had a flat. Nonetheless off went the main group while a few of us gave him lots of practical advice and kibbitzing on changing the tube, like “you shoulda gone tubeless, dude” and “don’t pinch that tube with your tire lever!” With the tube replaced, off we went and Roger S. decided to take a look at Belvedere while the rest of us went to Mill Valley. At the bike path we bade adieu to the others since we were going up Camino Alto to the RSR bridge rather than to SF. The bridge at Bon Air has been a hot mess for months with a slow reconstruction. The last time we were there it was closed with only a very narrow walking path open. This time the road was finally open to traffic as well as east multi-use path, which is quite wide. We took the Corte Madera Creek path back to Larkspur Landing. Despite the sunny day, which should have drawn a big crowd, the path was lightly used. At 101 we noticed that the horrible northbound 101 pedestrian overpass was being widened! Hell must have frozen over or maybe it was federal Pandemic money because it has remained resolutely, inanely intact and dangerous for at least 40 years. So we checked it out. It’s decently wide and will be wider when they complete it and remove the storm fencing. In addition they’ve thoughtfullly included some pullouts to make passing even safer. This is a huge improvement; the old path was not just inconvenient but an accident waiting to happen. (I’m sure many have, which is likely why it’s being rebuilt.) We continued through the Cal Hill tunnel and took the frontage road to 580 back to the RSR bridge path. There is almost no shoulder and the traffic on it was moderate; apparently drivers use it as access to San Quentin. Last time we took the Bay Trail instead of the frontage road and encountered muddy boggy conditions-a definite turnoff.

Ultimately the East Bay Tib loop route is still a work in progress. The restoration of the northbound 101 ped overpass is a big help. But getting back to the bridge is either going to mean taking the frontage road, using the weird Sir Francis Drake Blvd. freeway entrance, or taking a mini-gravel adventure on the SF Bay Trail. The latter is a problem in wet weather or around a high tide since it immediately abuts Richardson Bay. Unfortunately there isn’t an obvious ‘best’ choice so far. But maybe there’s a pony in there!