The Next Guerneville?

Group camp site at Johnson’s Beach Resort

The Guerneville Overnighter or Russian River Weekend has been on hiatus for ten years but not because we haven’t tried to restage it. The biggest obstacle to putting on another RRW is suitable lodging if we want to put it on in the traditional way. It’s not that lodging isn’t available—it would be relatively easy to book group accommodations as long as we did it ahead of time and picked a weekend that wasn’t already drawing a crowd eg. Lazy Bear Week. Traditional RRWs have had the following elements: (1) a Friday start for a group to cycle up to Guerneville for a three-day weekend; (2) inexpensive lodging, usually camping, in order make the trip available to the widest number of people, with an option for a room instead; (3) lodging in Guerneville preferably adjacent to the Russian River; (4) a Saturday group-prepared dinner. The two locations we’ve used most often, Fife’s and the Willows/Guerneville Lodge really aren’t suitable anymore. Fife’s is now Dawn Ranch Lodge and no longer has camping. It offers small cabins from $250-600 per night (one bed). The Guerneville Lodge is pretty much the way it has been but with two significant changes. The kitchen is no longer available for guest use so no group cooking can be done there, and now there is no onsite management with a consequence being loud, obnoxious partying in the lawn camping area making a peaceful stay a hit-or-miss thing (unless you want to party on too). At least the Guerneville Lodge still has camping.

The days of a Guerneville Overnighter costing about $20 are long gone too. Lodging along the Russian River, like everything else in the greater Bay Area, has experienced disproportionate inflation. $250 per summer weekend night for mediocre accommodations is common and some inns require a three-night stay. Even if we used an inn that did not require a three-night stay, the cost of a GW just for the lodging would be about $350-500 probably split for two people.

Camping has been a longtime option for GW; other than crashing with friends it is the only way to keep a Guerneville weekend inexpensive. Today a camp site runs about $40-50 per night or about $20-40 per person. That’s not bad, being just 100% inflation since 1983. But do Spokers still want to camp for a weekend? The club has aged up and the average income of club members is very likely quite a bit higher than it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s making camping–always the affordable choice–less necessary. If you look at the photos of the 1984 and 1985 Guerneville trips, other than the quaintness of people dressed in t-shirts and running shorts (by today’s standards they would be short shorts rather than just ‘shorts’) and tennis shoes you will notice that the bicycles are quite modest. It is a commonplace today to see bikes on club rides costing well over two grand whereas the average club bike back then was probably less than $300 brand new. Inflation since 1984 can’t account for that big of an increase. It says something demographically about Spokers back then: many members had low-to-moderate incomes simply because the Bay Area was still an affordable area for everyday people. I was a graduate student when I joined Different Spokes and my income was, well, a student income.

Currently in the Guerneville area the camping choices are limited. The bigger options are Guerneville Lodge, Parker Resort, Schoolhouse Canyon, and Johnson’s Beach. The Guerneville Lodge is still open but it’s a different place than it used to be, ie. there isn’t a group kitchen anymore and there is no onsite management, which apparently has made conflicts among visitors not uncommon, mainly noise and rowdiness at night. The Parker Resort is essentially camping only as is the Schoolhouse Canyon, with the latter not allowing groups larger than eight. The Highlands Resort, which the club has used before, does not allow groups bigger than eight. That leaves Johnson’s Beach which has group camping and rooms. The group camping site cost in 2019 was $200 per night for up to 20 people making it the same cost as Fife’s back in the day. However the group camping site is right at the entrance and next to town and the bridge making it a noisier location; it does have electric outlets though for charging your phones. Johnson’s Beach is rather crowded on summer weekends but that’s true for Guerneville in general.

Of the four conditions mentioned above eliminating one or all of them would open more possibilities. We could skip the ride up and back, in which case Guerneville becomes a getaway weekend; however this doesn’t resolve the lodging issue. If Spokers are less interested in camping, then our lodging choices become much wider as we could stay at any inn or owner-rented accommodation near Guerneville. Guerneville isn’t the only place to stay along the Russian River but it’s the most ‘urban’ (but not urbane) and has the most overt LGBT sensibility. But we could stay in Forestville, Monte Rio, or out of the small river towns altogether. Finally we could skip having a group-prepared dinner, which would obviate the need for a kitchen. But the critical one is cost: foregoing camping would mean the average cost per person would be about $250-350 per person for lodging rather than $80-100. Foregoing a kitchen means all the meals have to be eaten out and, again, higher cost.

When the club will be ready to go back is an open question with the pandemic having no predictable end. Next summer? Possibly but unlikely. However Guerneville resorts are currently open with COVID-19 precautions. But when we will have group rides and events again is uncertain. We certainly thought three months ago that this would all have come to an end by mid-summer and it hasn’t. Perhaps in this environment it would be better to stay out of Guerneville and in a more isolated location? If so we are probably talking about a house rental.

Of course the Russian River isn’t the only possibility for a club weekend trip. But finding another beautiful location within 100 miles of San Francisco that we can cycle to makes it a good choice.

The Missing Pool Party & Ride

If not for the pandemic we would have hosted the annual Orinda Pool Party & Ride by now. The Orinda Pool Party & Ride started in 2009 but longtime club members know that from 1997 to 2001 Sue Melly in Walnut Creek hosted the first East Bay Pool Party. We resurrected the event and we’ve held the event every year except for 2011 when we were too busy riding our bikes in Austria. Well, now it joins the list of missing-in-action club events for 2020.

The ride is usually the Pinehurst loop, a well-known training Berkeley training ride, or a near-variant except in 2017 when the Canyon bridge was out due to the previous winter storms and we rode towards Walnut Creek and Alamo rather than up to Skyline. If we had held the OPP this year we would have been able to ride Pinehurst over the not-quite-completed new Canyon bridge which is currently being repaired from the storm damage of winter 2017.

The ride has always been followed by the pool party and lunch when those who don’t want to bicycle could instead demonstrate their breast stroke and professional CPR skills at the pool. Until last year we had always served the same old, same old—homemade pesto with pasta, a Caesar salad, and Aidell’s sausages. Last year Roger got a hankering to smoke ribs instead, and since we were changing the menu we went ‘whole hog’ and subbed in homemade potato salad and cole slaw just to Make Brunch Great Again. Who knows what we would have done this year although last year several people approached me afterwards and opined that they did indeed miss the pesto. This year we also grew a big batch of Italian sweet basil just for the Pool Party only to have to hoard it for ourselves. Sigh.

Hopefully next year the pandemic will subside and we have vaccines and better treatments so that we can host the OPP yet again.

Welcome back in 2021?

“L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim” (oops, Orinda)

Dude, What Have You Been Smoking?


Since last Friday the air quality has been ghastly in the Bay Area because of the ubiquitous wildfires. For those who dwell in San Francisco or coastside it’s been perhaps less polluted at times; for those of us in the East and South Bay it’s been varying between ‘unhealthy’ to verifiably dangerous levels. Since the dozens of wildfires started over a week ago we’ve also been enduring an unusually long and withering heat wave that has intensified the smokiness by trapping much of the particulates at ground level in place. With no coastal breeze to blow the smoke inland we’re pretty much stuck inhaling the same smoke over and over.

Over here in Contra Costa the smoke has been eerie but not unfamiliar: two years ago with the Camp Fire we had air quality this bad, so bad that the haze looked like benign fog. Except it wasn’t. Three years ago we had the Tubbs Fire, which didn’t cause as much havoc with our air as the Camp Fire in 2018 or even today’s fires. I rode during the Tubbs Fire without misgivings. But the following year the Camp Fire was so bad that after one day of riding outside—even with a Respro mask—I gave up; I was coughing incessantly anyway until the winds changed a week or so later and moved the smoke out. This time I’m not making the same mistake. As soon as the air quality warning was raised, I hunkered down indoors. We have two HEPA filters running constantly and we are also running air conditioning not just to cool the house down but to do some additional filtering. I haven’t been outside much, let alone to ride, since the fires began over ten days ago. At night we run the AC and HEPA filter in the bedroom; in the morning when I open the bedroom door the house smells of smoke until we run the filters in the other rooms.

One of our ‘downtime’ projects has been constructing a new greenhouse. We go outside in the early morning to get as much work done as possible before the heat increases. We wear N95 masks when working; even so I get headaches from breathing in the smoke and have to retreat indoors to recover.

Despite the pollution if you’ve still gone riding outdoors, you’re made of hardier stock than I. Riding in this thick smoke is like smoking a pack of cigarettes! And if you think ‘Well, it’s just smoke—it may smell funny but it won’t harm me”, keep in mind that exposure to air pollution can not just exacerbate COPD but also cause it. All that aerobic training torn down simply by breathing in smoke. That said getting a fix from riding is good for your mental health especially these days. But during this season of hellacious wildfires I would caution you to ‘exercise’ discretion rather than your legs.

[8/25: Here’s an informative read on how wildfire smoke damages your lungs.]

Next up: swarms of locusts!

The Russian River Weekend [9/10 update]

Ron social distancing from his bike

The Russian River Weekend, or Guerneville Overnighter used to take place every summer, usually mid-July to mid-August depending on the availability of camp sites and rooms. The last time we held a Russian River Weekend was in 2010. For the counting impaired that’s ten years ago. Ten. Years. However that’s not because we haven’t tried. In 2012 as part of the 30th Anniversary Ride series I tried to put together a Guerneville weekend but ran into the problem that has been a headache ever since: we no longer have a suitable venue to host the weekend. Finding the right lodging is like that conundrum about bikes—’cheap, light, or strong: pick any two’—except for Guerneville lodging it’s ‘cheap, cozy, or convenient: pick any two’. But more on that later.

The Russian River Weekend goes back to the very first year of the club’s existence, 1983. It wasn’t the first Different Spokes trip—that honor goes to the ‘Thanksgiving On The Road’ (later called the Pigeon Point Overnighter), which was, astonishingly, the very first official club ride. (No, Tib loop was not the first club ride!) There actually were other rides before the inaugural ride but they were when the club was nascent; Thankgiving On The Road was the first one announced to the public. The RRW was ‘only’ the third overnight trip we offered. You may not know that the club offered many overnight trips through the early years with the majority of them requiring camping. Keep in mind that the club was formed by recreational cyclists with a touring bent although that interest in touring was soon to diminish as the club grew and the prospect of sleeping on anything other than 600-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets evoked shrieks of dismay by the newer members. All of those trips have long faded away and only two survived into the 21st century, the Lake Tahoe Spectacular (also now moribund) and the RRW.

Michael John with Kevin Anderson (aka ‘Flo Velcro’ & ‘Rex Flash, Mountainbiker’)

The Russian River Weekend came from the fertile mind of Michael John, who long ago moved to the East Coast where he still resides. Although not a founder, Michael John was an early mover in the club, serving as the ChainLetter newsletter editor, all-around cheerleader, and later President. MJ also led several big tours for the club including one in the San Juan Islands, New England, and from Seattle to SF. His first RRW set the template for subsequent iterations: ride up to Guerneville on Friday, do rides in the Russian River basin (or not!) on Saturday, and then return to San Francisco on Sunday. The first trip was the full monty: ride up, ride more, and ride back.

Karry Kelley on the Larkspur ferry back to SF

Shortly thereafter some bright mind–probably MJ–realized that riding back Sunday could be cut comfortably shorter by riding just to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and catching the boat back to SF. But the shorter ride had a cost: you had to keep a steady (read: fast) pace and not dally in order to catch that mid-afternoon ferry to SF. No shopping adventures! If you missed that ferry, you had to wait a couple more hours for the next one, in which case you might as well just pedal back to SF.

Although copious bike riding was perhaps the centerpiece of the weekend, it needn’t be. Most participants couldn’t do the Friday ride so they came up after work or early on Saturday. And if cycling wasn’t your boy/girlfriend’s thing or you needed Saturday to recover, there were plenty of other things to keep you occupied including wine tasting or lounging in the river on an inner tube or by the pool at Fife’s to, uh, take in the sights. If you drove up, you could skip riding on Sunday altogether for more lounging or join the return riders partway before heading back to Guerneville to pack up and drive back. There were also several bars and dance/music venues where you could do exactly what you did in SF: hang out and try to pick someone up.

Different Spokes with LA Spokesmen (now Different Spokes SoCal) at Guerneville

The Guerneville Overnighter was not just an indulgence in cycling excess; it was by design a subversive social event as well. Instead of having riders decamp to whatever lodging they might have scrounged up on their own, MJ had booked a group of campsites at Fife’s not just to keep the weekend cheap but to keep the group together. Fife’s as well as the very idea of gay men and women camping was perhaps a vestige—nay signature!—of the era, sort of back-to-the-land, granola hippie lifestyle crossed with Dynasty. However if sleeping in a tent just was too louche, you could rent a cabana at Fife’s for the weekend instead. The price for the weekend if you camped? About $20!

Fife’s has long given up the ghost having been replaced by the Dawn Ranch Lodge. It was/is right at the west entrance of downtown Guerneville and had a mix of inexpensive (read: down market) cabanas and camp sites along with a restaurant, swimming pool and outside bar with plenty of seating where one could take in the fabulous sights.

How could you forget Drums??

Oh, and its dance hall, Drums, was just across the street where you could boogie down to the latest disco.

Camp DSSF at Fife’s

Fife’s had a large camping area towards the river, which was good for a couple of reasons. It was far enough away from the road, Drums, and Fife’s own noisy bar that the racket didn’t keep us awake all night. However the noise in some of the adjacent tents might (did!) as well as the inebriated partyers wandering back to their tents in the dark after last call. It also afforded the club some privacy and allowed us to take over a big area for our own ‘Camp DSSF’.

Fun climb out of Muir Beach!

About the ride up. The route up on Friday has changed over the years. Initially it was taking Highway 1 to Valley Ford and then cutting up the Bohemian Highway to River Road and thence to Guerneville. That route was about 88 miles. Sometime in the ‘90s or so, maybe even later—I’m not sure of the year—the coast route was deemed too grueling and some riders shifted to riding inland through Fairfax and Nicasio in order to skip the two big-ass hills out of Sausalito and Muir Beach.

Snack break in Stinson Beach

Either way there was usually a headwind at some point so character building was a feature of the ride. Incidentally the Friday route for the Guerneville Overnighter was used as the basis of the first AIDS Bike-A-Thon route in 1985. Both MJ and Bob Humason, the two DSSF prime movers of that first BAT, designed the route (well, it was mostly MJ–he even drew the map) and made it a hundred miles by staying on Highway 1 to River Road instead of cutting up the Bohemian Highway to Monte Rio. (In all later BATs the routes were loops out of the Castro rather than a point-to-point to Guerneville.)

How to summon the sag wagon…

That ride up wasn’t a classic tour however: the fortuitous arrangement of a sag wagon to haul camping gear, all manner of cosmetics, multiple changes of clothing, and food set the bar low enough that non-tourers could prance their way up to Guerneville sans panniers and enjoy slogging up the hills without 30 extra pounds of crap on their bikes. From that point on a sag wagon for Guerneville wasn’t just a luxury, it was a necessity!

Strangely, after the first Guerneville Overnighter in July 1983 it took only a month for the second Guerneville to take place courtesy of Peter Renteria, who was one of the founders of the club. This time however was ‘Guerneville lite’ as there was no ride up or back. His GO was definitely a different animal as eleven participants carpooled up on Friday and did short rides on Saturday and Sunday (if they rode at all). This time they stayed at the Highlands Resort. But this GO was the exception as it wasn’t a tour at all but more in line with what we now know as a ‘getaway weekend’.

Ride out to Duncan Mills via Cazadero

Saturday rides were optional and for those who rode up having the day off and lounging by the river was a welcome break. Two popular rides were the wineries route up Westside to Healdsburg and back on Eastside and a jaunt to Cazadero and/or Duncan Mills and back. Those looking for a bigger ride would continue west of Cazadero out Fort Ross Road and Meyers Grade with a return along River Road. The Sunday ride was the return to SF (or the Larkspur Ferry Terminal).

Sunday brunch at Howard’s Station in Occidental

In later years most if not all riders didn’t ride back at all, and the Sunday ride became a short roll out to Occidental to get brunch at Howard’s Station and then return to Guerneville to drive home.

Dinner: beer, white wine, hot dogs…
…Safeway Deli’s finest…

The highlight of those early GOs was the Saturday night dinner. When we camped at Fife’s, coming up with a group dinner took a bit of ingenuity. The ‘kitchen’ consisted of picnic tables, a grotty barbecue grill, perhaps a propane stove, and ice chests. Oh, and a big portion of the meal consisted of hastily purchased deli items from the Safeway down the street. (Hmm, does that sound familiar?) Early Guernevilles were, to my recollection, somewhat haphazard in meal preparation but folks always seemed eager to pitch in. As was expected it was hardly ‘haute’ (unless you consider ‘haute’ dogs to be debonair food) but at least it was filling, ‘home’ prepared, and not bad given the primitive circumstances, being just one step above true camp cooking. It’s hard to ruin hamburgers and hot dogs. I don’t recall exactly what MJ made for dessert, a literal pièce de resistance, but it was always the highlight: an easy-to-whip-up cake made of Twinkies©, Cool Whip©, and some other gastronomic atrocities. A sort of campy white trash (or stoner) tiramisu. [9/10 update: Ah, MJ’s dessert was the “Cosmo Girl Dream Cake”: 1 box Hostess Twinkies, 1 large package Cool Whip, and maraschino cherries. “Place five Twinkies (holes down) side by side in a row on a small serving plate. Top with layer of Cool Whip, then another layer of five Twinkies. Cover entire cake with one-inch layer of Cool Whip. Chill for three hours. Before serving, arrange several maraschino cherries on top.”]

…and Bingo!

After dinner folks trotted off to the bars such as the Rainbow Cattle Company or the Woods or Drums to dance and party on. However diehard Spokers hung around the campsite to chat, gossip, and play…Bingo.

2005 Catered dinner at the Willows

As time went on we eventually moved over the Willows and the meals got considerably upscaled since we now had a full kitchen at our disposal to prepare the dinner. It became possible to prepare pasta dishes (do you know how long it takes to get a big pot of water to boil on a propane stove??) as well as keep things chilled (like ice cream). I don’t recall the exact motivation for moving to the Willows. But it was probably a combination of Fife’s rates going up, the difficulty in getting reservations there, and the noise and commotion in contrast to the relative peace and quiet at the Willows.

The Willows lawn and camping area

The Willows was at the opposite end of town. The atmosphere there was completely different than Fife’s, which was party central. The Willows had a beautiful lawn that sloped down to the Russian River with plentiful camp sites. Like Fife’s if you didn’t want to camp you could get a room but instead of cabanas it had individual rooms in the main building.

Phil and Scott enjoying water sports

There wasn’t a swimming pool but in lieu you had the hot tub on the back deck and easy access to the river. It was a lot more pleasant place to spend a weekend. In later years even though we were still going to the Willows the hassle of preparing a dinner for larger and larger groups led to hiring a caterer to prepare the Saturday dinner especially since the number of Spokers increased; I believe one year it was 50 people. The loss of the camaraderie in preparing a meal together was replaced with the meal being a restful happy hour for all rather than a source of consternation and anxiety for some (and usually delay for everyone).

During the late Oughts the Willows shut down and underwent an ownership change. Fife’s was out of the picture having morphed into the Dawn Ranch Lodge also after a period of having been shut down. Russian River Weekends took place but with people having to scrounge up lodging on their own and the Saturday dinner became a restaurant meal. The new owners of the Willows welcomed us back but eventually they too succumbed to the stress of running an inn and the Willows became less amenable to having us there.

Which led to a quandary: was there still an economical lodge on the River that would welcome a cycling club and allow us to host the Russian River Weekend in the traditional way?

Pedaling the Pandemic

On Any Sunday

With San Mateo and Santa Clara counties now open for outdoor group recreation, Roger and I decided we’d go check out the scene. We headed over to the north end of Cañada Road and rode south, then went around the Portola loop and continued through Los Altos before heading back.

After not riding at all at the beginning of the shelter in place, we’ve slowly been riding more and more. Foregoing riding was not due entirely to fear of COVID-19 (but it was a big part admittedly). COVID-19 just became a good excuse to focus on the non-pedaling aspects of our complicated lives. Cycling was easy for us to give up for a short time and the shelter in place, which was initially expected to be in place for about three to six weeks, appeared to be shortlived. Then it continued. We occasionally ventured out on bike for very short rides to see what the real world was like beyond the doors of our house/hideaway/prison. Things sure were quiet—lots of people walking but not a lot of cyclists or cars. As time and the shelter in place went on and the house repairs and garden got taken care of, we started to ride a bit more. Now it’s evident that the pandemic is not going to be controlled nor will the shelter in place be short. Not ride for a couple of years? Uh, no. So now we are almost back to our riding frequency pre-pandemic but we’d been keeping with the spirit of the SIP by staying close to home and only in our home county. So going to San Mateo and Santa Clara was a big step for us as we hadn’t travelled anywhere since February when we went into the Central Valley to ride a couple of metric centuries.

The Midpeninsula has always been a hotbed of cycling and even more so after cycling became the new golf for all the techies in Silicon Valley. Cañada Road was swarming with cyclists even though Bicycle Sundays have been cancelled due to the pandemic. I didn’t expect the pandemic to have any measurable decrease of the number of riders on the road; the opposite may even be true as we saw a lot of bikes out and about. The parking lot and the shoulders were just packed with cars. What was a little bit different was the variety of cyclists. Usually it’s full of young bike bros and “pro” recreational cyclists but today there were also a fair number of “regular” cyclists—you know, people without helmets wearing casual clothes instead of bikie drag and riding all sorts of bikes including BMX, hybrids, old Univegas, and a lot of e-bikes. And they weren’t all white (or Asian) either. Oh, and lots of women cyclists and a few kids. I heard a fair amount of Spanish being spoken and there were more Black cyclists than I can ever remember seeing for such ultra-white suburbs. Apparently this pandemic-induced bike boom is for real.

In all respects it was a typical weekend day with lots of cyclists pedaling their wares. Perhaps that was the disturbing thing: there were definitely a lot of groups out together. Other than an occasional mask there was very little to distinguish these pandemic riders from any other day. Smaller groups were mostly fine but a couple of the bigger groups were in raggedy pacelines with little evidence of social distancing. Admittedly what constitutes ‘safe’ social distancing while cycling is murky. However whatever it is it must be different than what we normally do, and what we saw was no different than the old normal. I had to remind myself that, well, outdoor transmission is rare…so far.

We saw a fair number of riders sporting Pen Velo kit but they were never more than two or three in a grouplet and they were scattered throughout our ride and the day. Pen Velo is one of the Midpeninsula racing clubs that still does not recommend group rides at this time. Apparently their members are compliant.

Mask use by cyclists, which has really gone up over here in Contra Costa, was overall much less on the Midpeninsula. The few we saw were almost all on people who were already riding alone. Those in groups, none of them had masks. As I can attest, trying to breathe when you’re going full-bore or almost full-bore is a lot more difficult with a face covering.

It’s hard to know what all of this means. Part of me believes that mask use while cycling is massive overkill (yet I do it!). But when it comes to group rides I just can’t believe how blasé so many folks are about possible transmission. We really don’t know whether hammering a paceline might lead to infection. But instead of erring on the side of precaution almost all the cyclists were evidently not giving it a second thought. Perhaps that’s part of the recreational mindset. As a former bike commuter I developed a vigilant outlook in order to survive riding in traffic. But recreational riding invokes a different point of view where fun is the focus and danger not so much.

To almost all appearances cycling in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties appeared normal: lots of people out on bikes enjoying the day. It’s heartening to see scads of cyclists on the road but I’m not sure that we’re helping much with stopping the pandemic.

Still Closed But Never Closeted

And Future Awesomeness Awaits!

Long story short: we are not restarting club rides yet and we will revisit the issue in six weeks.

After a long discussion the board came to a consensus that we were not comfortable with allowing club rides at this time. What led to that decision? Frankly it was a surprise to me because in the previous discussions there was a palpable feeling that we were open to the idea of having group rides again as long as the membership and ride leaders were comfortable with it, hence the poll on the website. In case you haven’t looked at the poll recently, over a third of the club responded and a little over half were inclined to attend a club ride, about a third weren’t, and rest were undecided. If that were representative of the whole club, I personally would have been in favor of allowing club rides all other things being equal because there was probably enough interest for small group rides (three or four participants). That said, personally I probably would not be leading rides at this point.

But in the past month the situation in the real world changed: the COVID-19 positivity rate started to inch up in the Bay Area, and as you know many other sections of the country including Southern California have seen alarming increases in infection, hospitalization, and ICU admissions. The Governor has put all Bay Area counties except San Mateo on alert because the numbers have not been going in the right direction. Face mask use has been inconsistent if not mostly absent. Counties have had to backtrack on reopening and there is even talk of going back to the initial lockdown to squelch the virus. So all other things are not equal after all!

When the board met again last week most of us now turned out to be more wary of restarting rides. Everyone on the board is a ride leader and obviously more involved and active than the “average” member yet we were feeling that now is not the right time to reopen. Most of us were also ambivalent or not enthusiastic about joining any group ride right now, club or otherwise.

So we decided to punt and wait roughly two more cycles of county health orders to see if the infection rates can be reduced or whether they’re still going to worsen. (County health departments generally wait two or three weeks to see how the rates respond to a new health order or alert.)

You might be wondering what other clubs are doing. Here in the Bay Area initially in March all clubs shut down their rides. Now about two-thirds of recreational cycling and racing clubs still do not allow group rides. The only clubs that currently allow outdoor group rides are Western Wheelers, Sunnyvale Cupertino Cycling Club, Santa Rosa Cycling Club, Benicia Cycling Club, Hercules Cycling Club, and Alto Velo Racing (in Santa Clara County). Western Wheelers now has club rides in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, their home turf, because those counties allow outdoor recreation of up to 50 and 60 participants respectively; Sunnyvale Cupertino CC has rides also in Santa Clara and San Mateo. Santa Rosa Cycling Club has rides in Sonoma where recreation businesses may do so after creating a COVID-19 compliance plan. Hercules and Benicia are two clubs that have just gone ahead with group rides despite their counties—Contra Costa and Solano respectively–not allowing group gatherings. Diablo Cyclists in Contra Costa County also seem to have group rides listed on their website but it’s not clear if those rides are actually taking place or not.

Here is the list of Bay Area clubs that do not allow group rides at this time: in the East Bay, Veloraptors (Oakland), Oakland Yellow Jackets, Cherry City Cyclists (Hayward) , Grizzly Peak Cyclists (Berkeley), Fremont Freewheelers, Berkeley Bicycle Club, and Valley Spokesmen (Dublin/Livermore); in the South Bay, Almaden Cycle Touring Club, San Jose Bicycle Club, and Velogirls; in the North Bay, Marin Cyclists; in the West Bay, Golden Gate Cyclists and Peninsula Velo. That said you would have to be blind not to see groups of cyclists, some in club kit, riding together. However they are doing it unofficially and not under the auspices of any club (not including the exceptions listed above).

Feedback from Western Wheelers and Santa Rosa Cycling Club has been that their members—since both clubs restrict their rides right now only to members—have been very good with social distancing and using face coverings on rides so far. According to our bylaws we cannot restrict club rides just to members, so we are not in a position to exert that much control over whom we allow to join club rides.

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Conduct A Poll

In June both Sonoma and San Mateo counties announced revisions in their shelter in place orders that allow group outdoor recreation with a capped number as long as the usual social distancing protocols and use of face coverings are followed. San Mateo allows groups of up to 50 to bike, run, hike, etc. and Sonoma allows groups of up to 12 for recreation businesses. Santa Clara County will allow outdoor group gatherings up to 60 starting July 13. San Francisco’s and Marin’s latest orders are more ambiguous but seem to allow outdoor recreation businesses to take place with restrictions; whether that applies to us is unclear. The other counties either do not allow group gatherings or allow very limited gatherings of social bubbles or at most members of two households, so riding as a club in those counties is not feasible right now.

Already some clubs are rousing from their forced hibernation and have rides on the calendar. Western Wheelers on the Midpeninsula is allowing club rides in San Mateo (and shortly, Santa Clara also) and Santa Rosa Cycling Club is calendaring club rides in Sonoma, Marin, and Mendocino counties.

The board is currently discussing the details of how we can offer rides safely in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. We know that there need to be some new rules for club rides—maintaining social distancing, bringing a face covering and using it in specific situations, no physical contact—and there are others that are subject to debate and discussion, eg. mandatory preregistration to control for numbers, also use of the electronic waiver to avoid having to pass around paper and pen, and what responsibilities the ride leaders should have around safety on rides. There are also other issues that have to be resolved such as whether our liability insurance covers the club for suits around COVID-19 infection and whether we’ll need a separate COVID-19 waiver. The club also needs to decide whether to apply as a non-profit business for group gatherings in counties such as Sonoma that require COVID-19 compliance plans on file.

It may not appear so on the surface but getting the club ready to offer ride again has and will continue to involve a fair amount of work and obviously will require a change in how we conduct rides and how participants comport themselves. In other words it will not be the same as before and we will all have to cooperate in altering our conduct. Given the work involved and the degree of change we’ll all have to adopt, the board doesn’t want the cart get ahead of the horse, so to speak. We need to know: how do members feel personally about joining a group ride right now especially with the infection rate beginning to spike in California? If members are not ready to join group rides or are unsure and ambivalent, then there is little reason for the board to charge ahead at this time. If you are a current member, we would like to know how you feel about personally participating in a club ride. Please log in to the club website and respond to the poll, which you will find under the “Resources” tab or just hit this link. If you would like to leave more detailed input, go to the general forum at the website and respond on the thread about reopening rides.

When Tubeless Road Tires Are Awesome

I thought I was done expounding on tubeless road tires last September; mostly I was recounting their various annoying aspects because they are usually overlooked in all the hype around The Next Greatest Bike Thing. I’ve been planning to switch the tubeless tires to regular tubed tires after the Schwalbes wore out. The reason for going back to tubes was that I wanted to be able to switch tires back and forth on those wheels depending on where I was planning to ride next, and tubeless sealant would make that a big messy hassle. (Of course the other option would be to spend a lot of money on another set of wheels; then I would a knobbier pair for fire roads/ pavement and a smooth set for pavement/occasionally fire roads.)

Then yesterday we went for a ride in an area that was replete with street debris. Let’s just say either their street cleaning is infrequent or their residents like to smash bottles. A lot. I ran through a couple of piles of glass but didn’t give it much thought other than to make a note to check the tires later on. With tubeless even that is unnecessary if the tires are still holding air. We made it home and I threw the bike in the corner.

This morning I checked the tires. 95% of the time I don’t find anything. Rather than glass this time I found something else embedded in the rear tire:

I thought it was just a flint since only the head was exposed. When I pulled it out I realized it was an entire nail. The tire had held pressure, which is why I hadn’t notice anything amiss. Of course when I pulled it out, air rushed out. I quickly rolled the wheel so the hole was at the bottom and sealant bubbled out. Within 30 seconds hole was sealed.

So despite tubeless tires having a set of problems all their own, in the usual use case and conditions they work rather flawlessly. I was able to finish the ride ignorant of the puncture and probably would have ridden a lot more with that nail still embedded if I hadn’t decided to be Boy Scout-like and check them the next day.

So despite my trepidations about using road tubeless, there are times when they are truly awesome.

Fall Centuries [updated 9/3]

Having been made impossible by the pandemic some spring centuries were postponed to this fall rather than cancelled outright. Now cancellations of the postponement dates are starting to trickle in. The uncertainty about the pandemic and whether large groups will be allowed has also led to some fall rides being cancelled and others to remain in a holding pattern and hope for the best.

Only a couple of one summer century still remains un-cancelled: the Alta Alpina Challenge set for July 25 and [Alta Alpina Challenge is now cancelled for 2020] the Fall River Century on July 18, which is just two weeks away. After that you’ll have to wait until September for your next chance of a big ride. The former is in Alpine county, home of its mate the Markleeville Death Ride (cancelled), and which has had only three COVID-19 cases to date. However the Alta Alpine Cycling Club has adjusted the event so that rest stops are almost unsupported to minimize contact with staff. However there is still a chance that permits won’t be issued and the event will be cancelled at the last minute. The Fall River Century takes place in Shasta county, which until a few weeks ago had hardly any confirmed COVID-19 cases and then a superspreading event occurred and it now has 92.

[9/3: Other than the Fall River Century in July every other century/gran fondo ride in Northern California through the end of 2020 has been cancelled or ‘postponed’ to 2021 (= euphemism for ‘cancelled’–I doubt they’ll be called, for example, “the 2020 Wild Turkey Century on July 4, 2021!”)]


Gold Country Challenge. Was postponed from June 13 to September but now is cancelled.

5 Saturday. Mile High 100. $55-85. 33-, 56-, and 108-mile routes. A beautiful ride around Lake Almanor near Chester, CA. If cancelled your reg fee minus processing will be refunded. Now cancelled. (When you attempt to register, then you are told the event is cancelled.)

12 Saturday. Best Buddies Challenge. $50 fee plus $1,550 minimum fundraising. 30-, 62-, or 100-mile routes but will be different than in past because of closure of Hearst Ranch. The event has gone virtual for 2020; see website for details.

25-27 Friday through Sunday. Eroica California. $200. 40-, 73-, 87-, and 127-mile routes. 1,500 riders max. Mixed surface routes. You must have a vintage bicycle to ride the classic route. [7/22: Now “posponed until 2021” (sic). Note no date in 2021 has been announced. If you registered for 2020, it will be carried over to 2021.]

26 Saturday. Bike Around the Buttes. Postponed from April 18, it is now cancelled.

27 Sunday. Jensie Gran Fondo. $140-195. Registration opens 9/1. 40, 70-, 100-mile routes. Rides through West Marin on a route similar to the Marin Century. [9/3: finally cancelled!]


Chico Wildflower. Was postponed from April 26 to an indefinite fall date. It is now cancelled.

1-4 Thursday through Sunday. Sea Otter Classic. Postponed from April 18, it is now cancelled for 2020.

3 Saturday. Siskiyou Scenic Bicycle Tour. Event has been cancelled for 2020. May 1, 2021 is the next one.

3 Saturday. Best of the Bay. Postponed to Oct. 3, but now registration is “delayed” due to COVID-19 uncertainty. Event has NOT gone virtual but format has now changed: do the ride by yourself from 9/12 to 10/10 for $50. No support unless you organize it yourself as part of a team.

3 Saturday. Konocti Challege. $70-90. 40-, 60-, and 100-mile routes. Nice ride around Clear Lake. Note no refunds if cancelled. [7/22: Ha ha, it hasn’t been canceled–just “postponed” to 10/2/21. Good luck getting a refund.]

11 Sunday. Strawberry Fields Forever. $75. 30-, 61-, and 101-mile routes. No refunds. Routes take in several of our Pajaro Dunes weekend roads! [7/22: Nope, not happening! Next edition will be 5/16/21.]

17 Saturday. Foxy Fall Century. Cancelled.

17 Saturday. Devil’s Slide Ride. $110-65. Registration is open. 101-, 64-, and 42-mile routes down the San Mateo coast and up the Coast Range and back. A benefit for PARCA. Cancelled. Next event is May 22, 2021.

17-18 Saturday to Sunday. Tour of the Sacramento River Delta (TOSRD). $127. Annual ride from Brannan Island to Sacramento via the Delta on Saturday and return on Sunday. Stay at La Quinta near old town. Includes lunch on Saturday and a post-ride bbq on Sunday. [7/22: Now cancelled for 2020, alas.]

Generations of Hope

Pride Ride 2019

That’s this year’s title for the 50th iteration of the San Francisco LGBT Pride celebration. 50 years of pride—a laudable achievement. Who would have thought that a nearly one-off march down Polk Street in 1970 would become the monstrous annual event with hundreds of thousands of visitors that we enjoy today? Starting small the Pride celebration née Gay Freedom Day has grown and made a huge difference, becoming a symbol and beacon around the world. Different Spokes isn’t nearly as old—we’re only 38 years old- er, young!—and we’re not nearly as notorious famous. But the title of this year’s Pride applies to us as well: we’ve had generations of LGBT folks come through our club, most of whom have moved on (if they didn’t die). Attending a Gay Freedom Day was, and perhaps still is, a rite of passage for those coming out—it certainly was for me. Being among the mass of fellow LGBT humanity at the parade can be like the proverbial scales falling off one’s eyes: the ugly ducklings have finally found their real family. The club also was and is a smaller version of Pride: those who come to us are looking for their brethren and have to make that tentative first step in identifying as ‘one of us’.

Pride 2008

I joined Different Spokes shortly after I moved to San Francisco. However I didn’t attend my first ride until maybe as much as a year later. I was welcomed warmly and quickly fell in. I didn’t ride a lot with the club though because I was in graduate school at the time and also working, so most of my cycling was snuck in short spurts here and there and I hardly had time for a club ride until my life settled down. I wasn’t the only new member–the club was young so we were ALL new members!–but I do recall one member in particular, a young man who wasn’t even 18. He was quiet and shy, a bit awkward interpersonally, but he loved to ride his bike. He lived in San Francisco with his parents and I’m not sure they knew he was gay. Somehow he found us. This was long before the Internet. But growing up in San Francisco he must have had his ear to the ground and made his way to us not long after the club formed. He was the furthest thing from a ‘Castro clone’ and as far as I could tell the club was his only gay outlet. He was a regular on club rides for years. I don’t know what happened to him but I like to think that hanging out with the club was a positive influence on him as he grew up. Wherever you are, Glen, I hope you’re doing well.

Spring 1982

And to all you present and future ugly ducklings, welcome home!

Pride 1985