Now Father Time is catching up with me Gone is my youth I look in the mirror everyday And let it tell me the truth I’m singing the blues Mm, I just have to sing the blues I’ve been around a long time Yes, yes, I’ve really paid some dues —BB King
What has forty years of the club wrought? There have been a lot of friendships and some serious relationships (and break-ups too). There’s been a lot of water that’s flowed under this bridge! The club is different than it was yet in critical ways it is much the same. We find each other through the love of cycling—or in a few instances the fear of cycling!—and unlike almost all other cycling clubs it’s the other love that keeps us together. The club endures because the purpose for which it was formed—to provide a haven for queer cyclists—is still relevant. Today it may seem that cycling is normcore to the max. But it isn’t really and it definitely wasn’t the case forty years ago. Back then being into cycling put you in an unlovable oddball category, the bike nerd. I submit for evidence the character Dave Stoller in the best bicycling movie ever, Breaking Away. He’s one of us and…he’s portrayed as a misfit nerd. That cycling somehow in recent years caught the misnomer of ‘the new golf’ is laughable because nobody makes jokes about killing golfers but many still do today about killing cyclists. As if you didn’t know: we are hated. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Being bullied for being queer or run down because you ride a bike, radio shock jocks like us both for fodder. So birds of a feather flock together and boy, do we flock!
I’m still not sure how it is that the club is still running. But I’m happy it is. In other communities there are no LGBTQ cycling clubs and it’s not because the community is too small to support such a niche organization. It’s likely because it is harder today to start a cycling club—any club —because frankly, no one wants to do the work. Instead what we find are Meetup groups. Some clubs have Meetup counterparts as we did for a short while and those seem to persist longer because the club is already in place. But new LGBTQ cycling Meetup groups seem to fizzle out after a while as it’s usually one or two people who are doing all the work. Why isn’t there a Different Spokes San Jose or South Bay? It’s not that we don’t have members there; we do have a few. But what are all the other LGBTQ cyclists doing? The South Bay is a huge environ with millions of residents and it supports two large recreational cycling clubs, Western Wheelers and ACTC and a bunch of amateur racing clubs. There really should be a Different Spokes South Bay. It isn’t rocket science to form a cycling club and the idea has no patent.
The dirty little secret is that it’s hard to keep a club running these days let alone start a new one. If you look at the websites of other small local clubs what you see may surprise you. Typically there is a very limited number of rides, maybe two to four per month (if that). More typically they have a list of regular weekly rides but no listed ride leaders. Whether these rides actually take place is unknown and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them don’t. In other words they’re more likely aspirational ride listings. Even among some larger clubs, who do populate their ride calendars with a plethora of listings, you see the same rides offered every week with just a few—or even no—new rides. That’s because offering a new ride presumes you have a member willing to create and lead it and that takes motivation and work.
For clubs that list ride leaders a close inspection will show that it’s almost always the same people over and over. That is not a surprise because only about 10-15% of members do more than passively belong, ie. lead rides, take on officer roles, or do the scut work that keeps a club running and vibrant. For a club like Grizzly Peak Cyclists whose current membership is about 800 that should mean 80-120 active members yet when you look at their leadership page and the listed ride leaders in a typical month it’s more like 40-50, which seems like plenty for any club. But in our case since we have less than 120 members—really no more than we had than at the end of 1983 after just one year of existence—we can expect about 12-18. And that’s about the number we have for the entire ride leader cohort and board. In other words we can’t do any more than we are doing without beating the odds to raise more volunteers. It’s downright amazing we have such a robust ride calendar despite a small set of volunteers. But upon closer inspection you’ll see that that most of our rides are led by about five people. When one of these members gets injured or gets overloaded with work or personal issues and can’t lead rides, the ride calendar noticeably contracts—there isn’t a lot of ‘slop’ room.
Different Spokes over forty years has had its up and downs. At the end of 2001 we almost folded. We didn’t because a small group led by Chris Larussell, who became president in 2002, made it her personal effort to revive the club and pull it back from the brink. Did you know that one of the results of that is the creation of our monthly Jersey Ride, which happens to be the most popular ride on our calendar month after month? Then around 2018 our membership was down to a little above 60—not enough to keep the lights on—and we had to claw our way back to where we are today at 121, which still isn’t enough to keep the lights on! Our annual membership fees in toto are not enough to pay our bills. Again it was the determination of the board to reinvigorate the club by streamlining website management, leading more rides, broadening the types of rides we offer, and putting on different kinds of social events.
So here we are still alive and kicking. But just. That’s due to a sizeable injection of effort, creativity, and devotion from your board and ride leaders. The current board isn’t going to last forever; ride leaders come and go. If we want to make sure that Different Spokes survives another year, let alone forty, we are going to need people like you who love Different Spokes to make the club your personal effort, to volunteer and put energy into the club. Everybody’s lives are busy. But if you don’t make space to give to Different Spokes, there may not be a Different Spokes at some point. You can walk away from the club—after all you can always ride by yourself or join one of the other local non-LGBTQ clubs when you want some company—but heaven forbid that Different Spokes ever folds as did Different Spokes Seattle only a few years ago! It would take a lot more effort to revive it at a future point, more effort than keeping it chugging along. But who would do the work to revive it? We could end up as a Meetup group after all. Birds of a feather may flock together—but where will they flock?
I just installed a dropper seat post, which is not something I would have imagined I would ever do. If you are a road-only cyclist, then “dropper post” is likely not part of your everyday parlance as it has heretofore been a piece of equipment you would find over on the dirt side of things. But now so-called gravel bikes are being touted as the new frontier for dropper posts as companies, ever seeking a new market, are hoping to convince you gravelleurs that you must have one so you can be as rad as possible on the trails. So like fat tires, suspension, hydraulic brakes, and one-by drivetrains we’re seeing adoption by roadies of yet another bit of mountain bike technology. Although I also ride dirt, I’m a relic of another era as I have no suspension, no hydraulic brakes, a triple crank, and only seven cogs in back. Oh, and no dropper post, not even a Hite-Rite.
So what was I doing trying to figure out how to install a dropper post? Roger has been carrying a second e-bike battery on the back of his bike for our longer and climbier rides. That has meant putting a rack on his bike. With the additional length on the back, his arabesque when he mounts or dismounts has to be more pronounced in order to clear all that mishegoss in the rear. So why not just lower the seat to make that a tad easier? Hence the dropper post. On a road bike!
Dropper posts for road and gravel bikes are getting easier to find. Roger’s bike although it does have a sloping top tube, doesn’t have kind of super long seatpost extension one typically sees on dirt bikes. Dropper posts are built for a lot of extension, which is less common on road bikes. But we were able to find a “short” dropper post made by PNW, the Cascade, with just 125mm of extension, which was just short enough to work on his bike. If you’re really old school and your seat post doesn’t stick out much above your top tube, then a dropper post is unlikely to be in your future. Now with the flick of a lever Roger can lower the seat and then be able to get his leg over all his stuff more easily since he’s no longer hurdling an elevated seat.
Never having even seen a dropper post before I dutifully read the installation instructions. It didn’t look hard. And it turned out it wasn’t complex but just fiddly due to the tiny parts requiring a 2- and 3-mm hex wrenches. Working on seat posts is an ugly reminder that there are almost no good designs to be found for attaching a saddle to a post. Almost all of them involve contorting your fingers into the tiny space under a saddle to adjust a nut or a screw and the PNW post was no different. Levelling a saddle also requires the patience of Job. But at least the adjusting bolts could be turned from below the post rather than under the saddle unlike the ancient Campy seat post (and that also required a special wrench). As fate or lassitude would have it, I have the proper tools but they’re not laid out nicely and easy to find. So I have to march all over the shop peeking into bins looking for the correct wrenches; this was not a job for the multitools I usually default to out of sheer laziness. And no home maintenance work would be complete without fumbling and dropping said small parts on the shop floor and watching them vanish into crevices or under a tool chest.
Eventually I got the saddle attached to the new post, sort of. Then I switched over to inserting the post, which was easy for a change. Things got interesting in trying to attach the control lever to the handlebars. Roger’s handlebars are cluttered. He’s got a Spurcycle bell, a mount for his computer and Cycliq light/camera, and then a big, honking control panel for his e-bike. In other words all the real estate is already taken. I had to nudge the bell and the computer mount to create enough room for the lever mount and just barely got the space to squeeze it onto his bars. What was left was attaching the control cable from the seat post to the lever. This is where the small, fiddly parts came in and I needed Roger’s assistance because it required three hands. I could have used a bench vise in lieu of a third hand but that wasn’t nearby, and I needed another hand anyway because the cable had to be pulled taut while I tightened the set screw. Much fumbling and cursing ensued but eventually it was put together. We tested it and it worked—push the lever and we could push the saddle down; release the lever and the saddle popped right back up!
The next day we went for a test ride. The ride itself is a story that I won’t go into except to say that despite seeing the forecast for some rain, we of course went out anyway and just to make it extra fun we didn’t have fenders or extra raingear because it wasn’t going to rain, right? We got dumped on and for good measure Roger then got a flat for an extra kick in the ass. But the post worked as advertised. He was able to pop the lever, drop the post, and dismount like a ballerina!
Ed. Ride leader Stephen Shirreffs submitted the following ride recap of our annual Mt. Hamilton in the Fall ride. Looks like it was hella fun!
On November 19 seven hardy but cheery club members gathered at the Berryessa Community Center in San Jose for the club’s annual Mount Hamilton in the Fall ride. Thanks to President David Goldsmith’s efforts four of the participants arrived together by BART and for future reference that mode of transportation went well now that BART is only three miles away. As is pretty usual on this ride, once we got into the climbing we quickly devolved into a few groups but we reconnected at the first rest stop at Joseph D. Grant Park and again at the top where we had a lengthy regroup and refresh. Stephen, in his first stint as a club ride leader (ably assisted by co-leader Roger), enjoyed his annual Starbucks chilled Frappucino from the tuck shop. Eric was meanwhile geeking out at the astronomy tech. We eventually herded the cats back together for a victory photo. A usual the descent was long and magnificent with very little traffic making it all the more enjoyable. The weather was surprisingly warm. But all those layers shed on the way up were still mighty welcome for the long descent in the cool autumn air.
Sunday November 27 is the 44th anniversary of the assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone by ex-Supervisor Dan White. It was nearly a lifetime ago and for most of you it’s easily forgettable historical trivia. But for those of us who lived through it, it left an emotional scar so deep that we bear the mark of it for the rest of our lives.
This year Roger and I are not leading the ride to visit Harvey’s memorium in the San Francisco Columbarium nor the gravesite of his predecessor Jose Sarria and of Moscone in Colma. But that does not mean we are ignoring it. Perhaps we will next year if we are still alive and hale.
In the meantime I refer you to last year’s ChainLetter blog post about the ride, which was no more than a recapitulation of the first time that we led it in 2018 on the 40th anniversary of the assassination.
In the compendium of Different Spokes rides there are the usual suspects and the unusual suspects but rarely do we encounter a Bay Area road that we have never visited. However Cavedale is such: as far as I know it has never been offered as a club ride despite sitting glaringly in the middle of the Mayacamas range connecting the Sonoma Valley and the Napa Valley.
Ten years ago for the 30th anniversary Roger and I resurrected the undead and led an ancient Michael John ride from Santa Rosa to Calistoga and back. That got us interested in the various ways one can map a loop between the two valleys. Michael John’s route took in Mark West and Petrified Forest Roads. We checked out Saint Helena Road and tried to make Kortum Canyon Road work only to find that the latter’s midsection is privately owned. Or at least has a big-ass locked gate in the middle of the road, which was never disclosed in AAA maps, Mapquest, nor Google Maps. So we stuck with Michael John’s original route. These roads are in the northern part of said valleys. Towards the south you’re left with Trinity, which has plentiful car traffic since it’s the only way to cross over. Except for Cavedale. Cavedale starts on the Sonoma side, summits the Mayacamas, and drops to intersect Trinity. Because you’re descending Trinity at that point it’s not so bad riding with car traffic downhill at speed.
Not having ridden Cavedale before I looked at Google Streetview, which shows that it’s a little-used, narrow road with several steep hairpins climbing quickly about 2,000 feet. The views of the Sonoma Valley are fantastic but in exchange is execrable Sonoma county pavement that looks that it hasn’t seen a paver in over thirty years. The road patches have patches that have patches! But at least it was paved all the way. Once you’re on Trinity the pavement is good.
Roger and I were joined by Stephanie and Darrell. Lucky for us Darrell is an old-hand at Cavedale and knew all the roads like the back of his hand. He was able to warn us of all the steep sections, where the cave was—it is called “Cavedale” for a reason—and how much more climbing was left. We started in the Sonoma town square early enough that the day tourists hadn’t arrived yet. It was a chilly 50F but we knew we were going to warm up shortly. A quick four-mile jaunt north along busy Highway 12 got us to Cavedale. We were in for a pleasant surprise: it had brand new pavement. This was no slurry seal but actual thick asphalt on a reconstructed road bed. That was good news for Darrell since he was riding his back-up bike that had mere 23mm tires. The rest of us had good sense to bring the fattest tires we had although now it looked like we didn’t need them.
Cavedale is no slouch. You don’t get an easy introduction to the climb, you just start off at 8+% and regularly hit stretches in double digits. But the sun was out and view was great and there was almost no car traffic so we were able to use the entire roadway, especially nice in the sharp hairpins. We were stopping to rest, take pictures, take off jackets.
Alas, the repaving was not entirely finished. About two-thirds of the way up we were on a mixture of old pavement and short sections of ground up roadway, which made for a bumpy ride. However for newbies like us it was good to get a taste of the ”classic” Cavedale knowing that it will soon be history. We won’t miss it! The pavers were parked on the sides of the road so we knew that this was a work in progress. When it’s done Cavedale will be as smooth as glass.
This section of the Mayacamas was burned severely by the Nuns fire in 2017 and it shows: the upper portion of Cavedale is completely exposed having lost any tree cover it once had. Houses that miraculously had survived (or perhaps had been rebuilt subsequently) stood imperiously atop the range no longer concealed by any foliage whatsoever. Burnt trees still stood stick-like against the horizon.
At the top we had to descend carefully in order to avoid the most egregious pavement disorders until we hit Trinity. The fire station at the intersection had water but it was terrible, probably well water, with a sharp metallic tinge. There we began the descent down Trinity towards Napa. The road was in good condition although being unfamiliar with it I rode it carefully never knowing if I’d drop into a pothole since we were now deep in tree cover. Like Cavedale Trinity is steep with sections of about 11 or 12 percent. (It would make an challenging climb and then a fantastic descent down Cavedale once the paving is done.) Eventually Trinity becomes Dry Creek and passes the intersection with Mt. Veeder Road and it all becomes familiar.
After the long, always pleasant descent down Dry Creek we veered east into Napa to get lunch at Fumé. Although practically empty when we arrived, by the time we left it was full of diners enjoying a delicious brunch. For the record the huevos rancheros and the quiche were both excellent. Darrell had a ricotta pancake and Stephanie the butternut squash soup. I’d come back again!
With almost all the climbing now over it was mainly a flat and rolling run back to Sonoma. We headed back to Dry Creek and then by Redwood and Old Sonoma Road to the Carneros viticultural area south of Highway 12. This area south of the highway used to be grazing land. No more: it’s covered with young vineyards, and the few tracts of ranchland are hemmed in by them and probably soon to be converted. The grape leaves were all turning bright red, yellow, and orange making for colorful hillsides. A quick run back into Sonoma and we were done, all 47 miles.
Footnote: I found out that Cavedale was scheduled to be repaved “by the end of October”. Apparently it is behind schedule but they are about two-thirds of the way up to the summit. The revised schedule now shows that repaving is supposed to be completed by November 10. The paving is for the entire length of Cavedale including from the summit down to Trinity. In addition the upper section of Trinity is also being repaved. When it’s completed, it will be time to revisit this route!
This year’s Fall Social was back at Phil Bokovoy’s house in a slightly slimmed down version. Somehow the intoxicating allure of grilled turkey enticed just twelve Spokers over to the East Bay despite the weather being near-perfect for a jaunt around the Three Bears and an afternoon spent idly in Phil’s backyard noshing homemade goodies. Due to lack of interest the Rosie the Riveter ride was cancelled. Where were all you Short & Sassy followers? Ah, you were all riding your indoor trainers while watching the 49ers game! Nine of us led by Roger Sayre rode al fresco over the Berkeley hills and into Contra Costa. When you live in wall-to-wall asphalt cities like San Francisco or Berkeley there’s nothing better than to head over to Contra Costa for some inspiring open space. The route of the Three Bears is still protected—for now—from development by copious EBMUD watershed, East Bay Regional parks, and a few ranches and farms. Although it was chilly at the start, traipsing over hill after hill had everyone warmed up quickly. Slathered in sunlight we warmed up in a trice. Other than Roger suffering a flat the ride was uneventful.
Back at Phil’s we had a first: no one brought any chips! Some variety of chips is the common potluck fare at the Different Spokes events but not this year. Jeff brought a delicious homemade shrimp salad instead. Roger S. thought stuffing was the perfect accompaniment to turkey and Tony knew that carbs, fat, cheese, and lots of salt were in order so he made scalloped potatoes. We had a wide assortment of desserts including Roger H’s homemade apple pie with two kinds of apples, poppyseed cake, german chocolate cookies—yum!—and other cookies and sweets I didn’t partake of because I was stuffed. Although he didn’t ride, the Den Daddy made a surprise appearance and broke bread with us all.
I joined Different Spokes shortly after I moved to San Francisco. I don’t recall exactly when but it was around 1983 or so. Except for a few years in the mid-90s I’ve been a member almost the entire time the club has been around. Everyone else who was a member when I joined is now gone except for Derek although Karry, who joined just slightly before me, has recently rejoined after a thirty-year hiatus. Derek has me beat since he was one of the very first people to join the club—we have pictures of him on the earliest club rides in 1983—and he’s been a member the entire 40 years! I’ve seen the club wax and wane over the years. The club grew very quickly when it opened for business. Why is that? As was the case with the gay softball league, gay rodeos, the gay bowling league, Frontrunners, gay swim teams, Gay and Lesbian Sierrans, our club formed at a time when LGBT socializing had been a hidden undercurrent in American life but broke into the open after Stonewall. No longer willing to be limited by bars and bathhouses we were reclaiming all aspects of our lives including sports and recreation—bending [pun intended] the fag stereotype as it were. (Lesbian stereotypes to the contrary included the “gym teacher”.) Different Spokes came into being at a time when LGBT life in the west was coming out of the shadows gangbusters thanks to—among other things—Stonewall. Even though it took a lot of hard work to get the club up and running especially back in the day before the Internet and mobile phones became commonplace, Bob Krumm was exactly right: the time was ripe for a LGBT club and if it hadn’t been us, it would have been some other club because all the signs were there. He and the other founders just happened at the right time and place and also we were fortunate to have had such energetic and determined founding “parents”. The fact that a series of LGBT cycling clubs popped into being shortly after we did—Women on Wheels, Diff’rent Spokes in NYC, Rainbow Cyclists in SD, River City Cyclists in Sacramento, the LA Spokesmen in LA, Different Spokes in Seattle, and Sydney Spokes in Australia—demonstrated that the time for out LGBTQ cycling had arrived.
Then the 1985 AIDS Bike-A-Thon blew the doors open for us. The club got a lot of positive publicity, a ton of goodwill, and consequently our membership skyrocketed to well over 300. BAT got our name in the papers and was great PR, and we had a lot of people join just to support what we were doing even though they may have had little or no interest in recreational cycling. After the end of the BAT in 1995 our rolls slowly began to dwindle until by 2018 we had little more than 60 paid members. Today we have about 120 members, which coincidentally is the number of members we attained by the end of 1983, one year after forming.
Bike-A-Thon was important for giving the club a sense of mission and a community role instead of being “just” a cycling club. It created friendships forged through hard work and a lot of shared tears; those friendships continue today even with BAT long gone. Although BAT was a club success, it was also a huge burden. In those years the club at times felt like it was only Bike-A-Thon—the tail wagging the dog. Bike-A-Thon was a completely volunteer effort by the club and its allies, and after ten years the price was burn out even though it was rewarding to generate $2.3 million for AIDS beneficiaries. How many charity efforts give every cent gathered to its beneficiaries? Perhaps we wouldn’t need websites like Charity Navigator if that were the case generally. Bike-A-Thon and the spirit of volunteerism and giving were distinctly unique and that is likely the main reason it burned out: it wasn’t self-sustaining for the long run—who wants to work hundreds of hours unpaid in their spare time? It was part of that era: the imminent spectre of disease and death, the need to do something good NOW, and to vanquish the sense of helplessness we felt.
After BAT ended the club went back to its primary business: providing a fun haven for LGBT cyclists! Small social clubs constantly need an injection of energy, effort, and volunteers to stay alive and somehow that dwindled until in 2001 we faced a proposal to close the club as it is and become an interest group of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Sleeping dogs awoke and soundly defeated that proposal and out of that grew—very surprising to me—a resurgence of enthusiasm to rebuild the club. The new board created the Jersey Ride, which we still have today as well as the Saddle Challenge to raise money for Project Inform, which after many years we no longer hold. But during that time the ChainLetter, our club newsletter, dwindled nonetheless. The Internet was here and a print newsletter seemed vestigial when you could post rides online at any hour of the day. The ChainLetter went from a monthly publication to hiatus for a few years, to revival as a quarterly and running for four more years before the writing was on the wall: no one wanted to step up produce the ChainLetter. So it ended in 2012 apparently for good. On the plus side the rise of digital photography made it easier than ever to take pictures—lots of them—and put them up on the web. Our club photo albums were now online and they exploded. Here part of the club’s history is preserved. And those photos in our Photo Gallery—well over 40,000—are annotated.
During this time having our second women president, Chris Larussell, made a difference in the number of women in the club. The club has always had a minority of women. But while Chris was president our roster rose to 40% female, the most we ever had, a fantastic accomplishment. Of course after she stepped down and eventually stepped away from the club our female membership shrank again. I think that says something about birds of a feather flocking together, don’t you? It also holds a mirror up to the club around our lackluster diversity, I think, and the need for more female membership and leadership in the club. When will the club wake up that this is one of our significant failings?
After a nice bounce in membership the club then continued to shrink albeit more gradually. We had new leadership, a renewed ChainLetter, and lots of rides. There was speculation that we were now “post gay” and younger LGBTQ adults were happy to socialize in non-LGBTQ cycling clubs. At the same time newer LGBTQ cyclists were flocking to ALC instead of Different Spokes. ALC provides the same sense of purpose and mission that Bike-A-Thon did and although not exclusively LGBTQ it is heavily populated by us and has a serious queer vibe. Adding in the nearly year-round training rides around the Bay Area and what you have in everything except name is another queer cycling club. Instead of the tail wagging the dog, the tail IS the dog!
In the meantime member Chris Thomas decided that he would take club charity fundraising as a personal mission and started Double Bay Double, a two-day ride around the greater Bay Area to raise money for the SF AIDS Foundation. His concept was to host an event so diminutive that it would be swift(er) and easy(er) to organize and pull off, which is why it was limited to no more than 50 riders. Although he had help from the club with recruitment and training rides and got some assistance from SFAF, he really ran the show with a small coterie of enthusiastic volunteers. As with Bike-A-Thon the effort was primarily done by a small number of Spokers and it did not capture the imagination of most members of the club, and so it too came to an end after seven years, our most recent foray into “more than just a recreational cycling club” terrain. Perhaps if it had been an event with a higher profile, it would have helped energize the club. But keeping it small and simple was the goal rather than to put on and support a much bigger (and thus burdensome) event.
The club continued to shrink gradually until the 2019 board held an all-board weekend retreat to get to know each other, bond, and strategize a resurgence. I’m not in a position to give an unfettered and neutral account of where are today since I have been part of that board. But from the get-go that 2019 incoming board knew that we had our hands full with trying to lift the club out of the doldrums. The Saddle Challenge was getting less and less interest, so it was axed even though it was the last vestige of our charity fundraising; we (re)committed to hosting the Jersey Ride monthly because it’s consistently our most popular ride; we started a MeetUp group to test whether we could recruit through a different avenue; we got a new website in order to simplify website management and to integrate and improve communication with members; we consciously revived getaway weekends; and when the opportunity to expand our ride offerings into dirt territory and to shorter rides came up, we grabbed it.
What forty years of survival has taught me is that we should never take the club’s continuation for granted. The club only surivives through the effort of its members. We can’t coast. No, really we can’t! When members cease to believe in the mission of the club, then it will fade away perhaps for good. Sure, it’s a place to have fun and meet new friends through one of your favorite activities, cycling. But what makes the club different and special is that it’s a haven where we can be ourselves and to make sure that future LGBTQ cyclists also can be themselves. We have to continually pass it on to the subsequent cohort of LGBTQ cyclists and keep it relevant. To do that we need members to give energy to the club by volunteering to keep it running, to make sure it is there for the next queer cyclist to stumble upon.
Although we’re no longer in the limelight, we have survived for a simple reason that the club provides a place for LGBTQ cyclists to relax safely, be themselves, and find friends. Who like to ride bikes, that is! Whether you’re a dirt biker, a pavement pounder, bike commuter, or Sunday cyclist, there is a place for you in Different Spokes.
An expansion of remarks made at Different Spokes’ Fortieth Anniversary Celebration, on September 18, 2022, by Bob Krumm
First, I’d like to thank the current leadership of the club for deciding to have this celebration. I know it was no small effort on their part to put this evening together. I suspect there are many groups of members and ex-members present tonight who appreciate, just as I do, this opportunity to reconnect with our friends.
I’d especially like to thank Tony Moy. Tony has done a relentless job finding early members, cataloguing photos, and countless other tasks associated with organizing this whole affair. We are all indebted to Tony for the work he has done and continues to do preserving the club’s history.
Tony asked me to say a few words about the starting of the club, and I’m glad to do it if for no other reason than to set the record straight. I’ve read some accounts that are not quite accurate, so here it is as best as I can remember.
The club started from a notice that appeared in one of the gay newspapers—either the Bay Area Reporter or The Sentinel around February 1982. It said that the Gay Olympics Committee was looking to form a bicycle racing team to represent San Francisco in the Gay Olympics to be held that summer.
The notice also said that if riders were interested, they might form a recreational bicycle group that could nurture riders for the racing team. Those interested in either group were asked to attend a meeting at the Gay Olympics headquarters at 19th and Castro.
Dave Freling, Brad Ennis, Lenny Thomasand I showed up. The four of us didn’t know each other before that night. We met Jerry Ford of the Olympics Committee. Jerry said that he was mainly interested in getting a racing team together and that he had to act quickly because the Olympics were scheduled to begin in about four months’ time and he needed to start training. The four of us said we were not interested in the racing team but we would like to start a recreational gay bicycling club. Jerry wished us luck and asked us to refer potential racers to him if any showed up in our group. We wished Jerry luck with the racing team. That one meeting was the extent of the Gay Olympics Committee’s involvement with Different Spokes. I don’t think I ever saw Jerry again, but I believe he later rode with Different Spokes.
The four of us walked down the hill to a restaurant, the Sausage Factory, where we got to know each other and talked about our enthusiasm for bicycling. I remember that the chemistry among us was electrifying because we all had a common drive to find other gay people to ride with.
A little bit about February 1982: It was not that long after the City Hall murders. And if you count from May 1979 when the verdict came out, it was less than three years. There was still a lot of outrage and defiance in the gay community at that time. There was a general feeling in the community that we had to become strong, individually and as a group, in order to prevent something like the murders from happening again.
I think that’s why several gay sports groups came into existence at that time. In addition to the Gay Olympics, there was the Front Runners, the gay running group. It was formed a bit earlier — in the late 1970’s. There was also W.O.W., Women on Wheels. They formed just after us. We rode with them once or twice. And there was Sundance Outdoor Adventure Society which formed in 1981 in New York City, although I didn’t know of it at the time.
About the four of us….
Brad Ennis was an artist and bicycling enthusiast who didn’t own a car. Later he chose to be known by his real name, Brady. Some of you may have known him by that name. He got around everywhere using Muni, BART and bicycle. He was the one who thought up the name, “Diff’rent Spokes” with the word “Different” spelled with an apostrophe as in a popular TV show of the time. He also came up with the name for the newsletter The Chain Letter. Brad died in a car accident in 2006 in Illinois, his home state.
By the way, I do remember some of the other names we considered for the club. “Cy-Clones,” was a nod to a look then popular among the denizens of Castro Street. Another candidate was “Outspoken,” which we liked because it had the syllables, “out” and “spoke.” But we thought it implied a strong advocacy for something. We didn’t feel like advocates or activists ourselves and we thought it would be hard to live up to that name day in and day out. And besides, it’s an adjective!
Then because it’s alliterative, but quite facetiously, we toyed with the name Flying Faggots. That name was rejected immediately, mercifully! (I don’t think we would be here tonight if we had chosen that name!) We were never serious about that name but we did like the word “Flying.” We talked about the exhilaration we feel when coasting down a hill at great speed—like flying—with the pavement zooming by. We thought it would be wise to try to express that feeling in our name. It was Brad again who came up with Flexible Flyers. But we quickly realized it was probably already copyrighted as the name of steerable toy sleds and wagons. (I think Flexible Flyers would be a great name for a club of bisexual airline pilots.)
Back to the four of us…
Lenny Thomas was one of the most interesting people I ever met. He was a professional gunsmith who worked in South San Francisco and commuted there by bicycle from his home on Market Street. Not only was he a firearm mechanic but also an expert bicycle mechanic. Later he gave several repair workshops to club members. Later when he and I were on a bicycle trip together in Montana, his home state, I watched him true a badly mangled wheel in just a matter of minutes by using only his spoke wrench and the brake calipers.
He was also a very talented camera mechanic and photographer. On rides he always brought panniers full of cameras and lenses, which used to amaze me because back then cameras were big and heavy as you may remember. Lenny was the one who took many of the striking photos of early club rides. Lenny died in 1988 in Mexico in a truck accident.
Dave Freling was perhaps the most sophisticated bicyclist among us. He rode a Miyata bicycle, which sounded cool to me; he wore a cycling jersey; and had proper bicycling shoes and toe clips. I remember I was impressed. Dave had a talent for financial matters. So when dues money started flowing in and we began to have expenses, Dave stepped up. We knew we were in good hands with Dave. When I learned Dave was from New Jersey, as I am, I knew he was a great guy!
I was a long-time bicycle tourist. I had ridden from Sunnyvale to San Diego in 1974 and across the country in 1976. Both times I tried to find a gay rider to come along but I had no luck.
That’s why I was so excited when I saw the announcement by the Gay Olympics Committee. It meant that at last I would be able to find other gay bicyclists for touring.
Almost immediately the four of us got to work and the club started to grow. We held monthly meetings at a public library on Page Street. I’m afraid some of those meetings were mis-guided and boring and for that I take full responsibility.
We quickly realized that we needed to divvy up duties so that any one of us would not become overwhelmed. When we were ready to have officers, Brad decided to step away. Fortunately for us Melanie Scott appeared just then and agreed to become the first secretary. We were thrilled to have her. I’m very proud that Different Spokes had a woman of color in our leadership ranks practically from the start. I’m sorry we were not able to locate Melanie for tonight.
Dave became the first treasurer and held that position for many years, Lenny was the first VP and I was the first President.
Other early core members were:
Hal Baughman who kept a collection of maps and bicycle literature, which became the Club Library. He brought it to meetings where members could borrow items.
Bob Bolan was and is a medical doctor and a strong rider. We always felt safe when Bob was along on our rides.
Luis Dufau brought his charm to the club, his Argentine charm. He was the “Prince Charming of Different Spokes.” I still miss him very much. [Luis died of cancer around 1991.]
Dave Gilchrist was a strong rider who could be counted on to come on almost every ride. He was very supportive of our ride calendar, as was…
Shay Huston, the first woman in the club who was there from the earliest days.
Mark Jolles was the “club comedian.” He can be seen in a photo of the club’s garage sale demonstrating the merchandise.
Derek Liecty Derek showed up at an early club meeting and handed me a business card with a bicycle on it. I remember thinking, “Boy, are we attracting the right people!” We always appreciated Derek’s very professional contributions to the club.
Jim Lindauer was another medical doctor.He and I did the Davis Double Century in 1984 and he did it alone another four or five times!
Dale Miller & Curtis Ogden. These two friends can be seen in a photograph of an early Halloween ride costumed as a witch and pumpkin. They were always fun to have along on rides.
Jeff Mendelsohn was another strong rider. I went looking for his address to invite him tonight, and instead, I found his obituary. It said that he died in a “tragic bicycle accident.” I was very sorry to hear that.
Howard Neckel was one of the few members who owned a personal computer in 1982. He graciously produced the first club contact list. I have a copy of it here, in all its dot matrix glory!
Mark Paez was a strong rider and city planner, by profession. He used to keep us apprised of proposed bike lanes in the city.
Dick Palmer was the owner and driver of a pick-up truck that served as our “float” in the 1983 Gay Parade.
Peter Renteria. Even if Peter could not come on a particular ride, he could be counted on to be at the start to send us off. Pete designed the club’s first logo, the one with the connecting bicycles. It was in use for many years.
Frank Sclafani was a strong rider. Once on a Russian River trip, he pedaled ahead to make sure things were set up before the pack of riders arrived.
Tim Shea, last alphabetically, but an important member in many ways. Tim was the “cop” of Different Spokes, or should I say “the attack dog.” If drivers got too close to us or tried to cut us off, they would hear from Tim! Tim was our “ride protector.”
Sadly many of these people are no longer with us. But at the time, all of these core members could be depended upon to support the growing club in their own unique way. Each one of them brought to the club certain skills and talents that helped us attract new members.
I once read an account of the early days of the club that described us as “ragtag.” At first I was slightly offended but then I realized, well yes, we would appear to be ragtag. But back then everyone was ragtag! 1982 was at the tail end of the hippie period; San Francisco was still an inexpensive place to live and many of us lived very frugal lives. On rides we wore jeans, cut-offs, shorts, bathing suits, sneakers and even street shoes. Several early members rode three-speed bicycles and they managed to keep up. When we decided to do our first club garment, it was a tee shirt, not a jersey.
1982 was way before email or the Internet so all club communications had to be done by US Mail or telephone and this was at a time when many people didn’t even have answering machines. Once to drum up membership Brad and I walked around the Castro and Polk Street districts looking for bicycles chained to signposts or poles. When we found one, we would tuck one of our mimeographed notices under the brake cable on the top tube.
One very successful ride concept we came up with early on was the “Decide and Ride,” which the current club leadership may want consider reviving. It was a term we coined by adapting a slogan then popular in the motorcycle community regarding proposed legislation on the wearing of helmets: “Let the rider decide!”
We needed a way to let members know even if they had not yet received their monthly newsletter that there would always be a ride every Sunday leaving from McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park at 11:00 a.m. At first we called these rides “Free Rides”. But we realized that would imply our other rides had a participation fee although they did not. If there was a major overnight ride on a weekend, the Decide-and-Ride would give those not participating an alternative opportunity to ride with the club. Decide-and-Rides also became a good way for members to hone their ride-leading skills. I remember we felt very influential in the Bay Area bicycling community when we saw “Decide and Rides” listed in the calendar of another bicycling club.
One thing Lenny, Brad, Dave and I were always sure of—right from the start in the restaurant—was that the time was right for a gay bicycle club and if we could get this one off the ground, we knew it would be successful, because—simply—it’s fun to ride bicycles in groups. We knew that the club would survive even if we burned out, which we did, because new people would come along and feel the same joy that we did in riding together. And just look at us now: Forty years on and still a force in the LGBTQ community!
Old friends Old friends Sat on their park bench Like bookends —
Can you imagine us Years from today Sharing a park bench quietly? How terribly strange To be seventy
— And what a time it was It was . . . A time of innocence A time of confidences
I see the boys of summer in their ruin Lay the gold tithings barren —Dylan Thomas
You’re likely aware that for the 40th anniversary of the founding of the club, we set aside the weekend of September 17 and 18 for a special ride and an anniversary bash at il Casaro restaurant in the Castro.
The 40th anniversary bash on Sunday September 18 was special and memorable for so many reasons. First, we had several “old farts” from the very earliest days of the club grace us with their attendance, in particular the two surviving founders Bob Krumm and Dave Freling. Although Dave continues to live in the Bay Area, Bob along with his husband came all the way from New Jersey to honor us with his presence and to recount in detail how the club formed. Only three years after helping found the club he relocated to New York and has remained on the East Coast ever since. Of course there were many old farts who couldn’t make it because of scheduling conflicts or just living too far away (Germany!), and some we couldn’t find despite the Internet’s sleuthing tools. And there were a few who just weren’t interested. Second, courtesy of Supervisor Rafael Mandelman the City of San Francisco issued a Certificate of Honor and he came to present it to us despite his busy schedule. In addition the San Francisco AIDS Foundation also took the opportunity to send two representatives to present a congratulatory letter for assisting it in raising funds against AIDS over the entire history of the club. Third, the gathered crowd was able to enjoy a recently uncovered long lost video of the 1988 AIDS Bike-A-Thon featuring a throng of Spokers some of whom were present at the anniversary dinner!
The evening was overshadowed by the prospect of the first serious rain of the season, something nearly inconceivable. A warning was sent out to all registered participants that we may have to move the event indoors and that may have accounted for a number of no-shows. We waited until 3:30 PM to make the final call and decided that holding the dinner outside and then being rained on was worse than just dining indoors, perhaps unnecessarily. Although it wasn’t the end of days, moving the dinner meant we also had to rearrange our plans for the program as well as shoehorn a movie screen and projector into the tightly packed restaurant. By 4 PM there was still no rain, so celebrants were able to enjoy the back patio for some heavy-duty catching up, which for some meant decades! Unfortunately the rain did come and we scurried inside.
Il Casaro was very accommodating and offered us the entire restaurant, allowing us to decorate the inside with club jerseys and t-shirts from the beginning of the club to today. The fare they prepared for us was delicious and copious—various pizzas, pasta, antipasti, salads, and desserts. In fact there was so much leftover when the event was over that the staff kindly prepared doggie bags for everyone.
After dining the program began, the highlight being Bob Krumm’s detailed recollection of how the club came to be in 1982 as an indirect consequence of the Gay Olympics, how the four principal founders met, and how they planned and organized throughout the year before formally opening in November 1982. Bob acknowledged the contribution of many “old farts” throughout his presentation several of whom attended that evening. Although Bob had been interviewed about the founding before he moved to the East Coast in 1985, it was published in the old ChainLetter in an abbreviated form and included some errors. During the program he gave us the “unexpurgated” version! If you weren’t able to attend the event and hear Bob’s presentation, you will be able to read it here on the ChainLetter blog shortly. Stay tuned!
A few tears were shed at the recollections that evening as well as during the Bike-A-Thon video. Nonetheless the overall mood was festive and animated. Although riding together generates its own kind of camaraderie, spending time together off the bike sharing tales, tribulations, and perhaps tawdry gossip creates another. Thanking the gathered “old farts” for a job well done in creating our favorite cycling club and thanking all the leadership over the years for a job well done was the least we could do. Onward to the next forty years!
You’re likely aware that for the 40th anniversary of the founding of the club, we set aside the weekend of September 17 and 18 for a special ride and an anniversary bash at il Casaro restaurant in the Castro.
Although this year we are hosting a Forty & Fab ride every month, September’s was memorable because it was a resurrection of a long-vanished ride, the 25-Mile AIDS Bike-A-Thon route. The first AIDS Bike-A-Thon in 1985 consisted of just one route: San Francisco to Guerneville in one long shot, over 100 miles. When the club decided to do a second Bike-A-Thon for 1986, the organizers knew that the event had to be expanded in order to raise more money since a one-hundred mile route was appealing only to the hardcore. So a second route of 25 miles was added and the hundred mile route became a loop from SF and back. In later iterations a 60-mile route was added to generate even more riders. Of course the 25-mile route was the most popular because even a casual cyclist could survive that if it were flat enough. And it was, being a loop up to the Presidio from the Castro, and then down around Lake Merced and back to the Castro, about as flat a ride in SF as possible while avoiding the car-crowded main streets. The only significant hills were the short, two-block grunt up Arguello to the Presidio and the short hill up to the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
All the Bike-A-Thon routes were marked with spray painted BAT icons. They lasted for many a year but eventually they all faded away or vanished under new asphalt. Did anyone keep a map of that route? Apparently not, so I had to recall as best I could where the route went. That became the route for the day, a “faux” Bike-A-Thon.
I thought that maybe ten, at most fifteen people would show up. Instead there were over 30, which is highly unusual for a club ride. Donald C. and David Gaus volunteered to help with guiding the cyclists along the route and thank god they did because it was a ride dwarfed only by our annual Pride Ride.
We met at the old Bike-A-Thon “recruitment center”, Hibernia Beach a.k.a. the Bank of America in the Castro. Almost no one knew why I referred to it as “Hibernia Beach”. I feel so old. Sigh. We were a large crowd in brightly colored spandex and polyester. No passersby even deigned a glance at us this being the Castro. After the obligatory ride orientation I gave a little history lesson and off we went. Even though it was windy the sun was bright and thus we had the weather on our side. Of course within seconds we scattered into a long line, with folks at the back getting delayed by one traffic signal after another. We had several regrouping points including the old standard start of many DSSF rides, McLaren Lodge, before Peet’s in the Castro became our regular JR start.
Although these days we get to Golden Gate Park via the Panhandle bike lane, back in the day that didn’t exist. So after the Wiggle we always went up to Page Street before turning west. Page is quiet and furthermore the Freewheel Bicycle Shop, which was owned by Jerry Walker, a club member and former president (or was it vice president? I can’t recall), is on the route. Jerry eventually died of AIDS in the early 90s like so many other members. Up at the Palace we regathered for a group shot and twittered together like the little birds-of-a-feather that we were.
I had routed us down the Great Highway even though I knew this wasn’t the original route. Nowadays the Great Highway is closed to cars and makes a safe cycling route to Lake Merced. But back in the day it was used heavily by cars to head south since it had no stops signs and only one light. We did a clockwise loop around Lake Merced, which is what I recollect, but in fact we may have done it counterclockwise originally. While designing the route I couldn’t recall exactly how we returned. But on the ride when I got to Sloat/Ocean it suddenly came back to me: we crossed Lake Merced Blvd. and headed directly north on Lakeshore. Too late now!
We were all scattered like leaves in the wind and since I was patroling the back end of the group I had no idea where everyone else was but assumed that they were fine and having a grand time. This was after all a social ride rather than a hammerfest.
I rushed back through Golden Gate Park and the Wiggle to Hibernia Beach; there were still a few participants hanging out and chatting. I hadn’t had a chance to talk to many riders being preoccupied by “leading” the ride. My old riding buddy and “old fart” Spoker Dr. Bob Bolan was still there as well as old fart Don Lapin, so I was able to catch up a bit with them before everyone drifted away. I waited for the rest of the group to arrive and they never did, having slipped off before the end to head back to their homes or their cars. So the ride just fizzled out kind of like the way Bike-A-Thon did! Despite the nondescript end I sensed that people had a palpably fun time even if they didn’t know the full history of the AIDS Bike-A-Thon. It’s good to keep the memory of that club accomplishment alive. It was an incredible ten-year effort by so many members and in the end generated $2.3 million dollars of funds for various Bay Area AIDS organizations. Some traditions are worth preserving.