Fabulous Fall Social!

Despite the threat of rain the turnout for this year’s Fall Social was robust. Nine folks did the Three Bears ride and six of us went to the Rosie the Riveter monument out by the Bay; another five folks showed up to dine and chat. After a few diffident years, this year’s Rosie ride had a surge in attendance including Howard Neckel, one of the original members of our club. It was great catching up with Howard and meeting his boyfriend George (that’s boyfriend, not Boy). Laura did an impeccable job leading the ride, doing her best ALC imitation (“Slowing! Stopping!”) and making sure we didn’t get lost in the confusion of paths along the Richmond shoreline. Unfortunately she had to skedaddle to another commitment and couldn’t make it back to Phil’s for the meal.

Phil did another consummate job barbecuing the turkey in what has become a Different Spokes tradition. A minor miracle led to people bringing an equal distribution of appetizers, side dishes, and desserts. And they were all delicious! Although the day started out cloudy and somewhat dreary, it cleared up by midday so that our al fresco dining was actually warm and delightful on Phil’s patio. Thanks to all who helped make it another success!

How Much Do We Ride?

Part of my job as DSSF Ride Coordinator is to collect the waivers from all DSSF rides. Since the start of the year, I’ve been feeding the information on the waivers into a spreadsheet that aggregates the mileage and climbing various different ways.

Yeah, I’m a data geek.

I’ve been presenting the numbers at the club board meetings since I built the spreadsheet, and I thought the club members might be interested in seeing how many miles we’ve ridden and how many feet we’ve climbed.

As of 9/23/2012:

Number of club rides in 2012: 95
Number of different riders have ridden with DSSF: 211 (includes both club members and non-members)
Number of DSSF members have led rides: 25
Total number of miles DSSF riders have ridden on club rides: 38,848
Total number of feet DSSF riders have ascended on club rides: 2,369,759

(Disclaimer: I am at the mercy of the ride waivers for this information! Statistics are accurate as far as the waivers are accurate and legible.)

Our ride leaders have done extraordinary service on behalf of the club. The next time you go on a club ride, be sure to thank the ride leader who set the ride up. Four ride leaders have led 10 or more rides: our club President, David G. (25), Joseph (21), myself (17), and Chris T. (11).

Six club riders have ridden more than 1,000 miles on club rides this year. One DSSF rider has climbed over 100,000 feet! Go riders!

Shout-outs to the following ride leaders:

Will B., for organizing the Amador County weekend and leading three rides on it
Chris T., for organizing Double Bay Double 2 and leading a wonderful training ride series to prepare riders for that event
Neel E., for leading an East Bay ride series to prepare Double Bay Double 2 riders
Tony and Roger, for hosting our club’s pool party on Labor Day weekend
Tony, for continuing to lead the rides in his 30th anniversary series
Joseph C., for continuing to lead the jersey rides and almost-weekly rides in Marin

Keep riding! I’ll provide updates in the blog from time to time, until we are able to get this information on dssf.org.

Double Bay Double incentive!

This just in from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation: All DBD2 riders who raise a total of at least $400 will receive a free commemorative 30th anniversary SFAF jersey! This is the same awesome jersey that you saw on ALC11 this year. So if you’ve been looking for a reason to make that last fundraising push, here it is.

And if you register for the event now and reach the $400 level, yes, you can have one of these, too.

The Future of Different Spokes

At this past Wednesday’s Different Spokes board meeting David Gaus announced that this is his last year as president of the club. It wasn’t a big surprise, as he’s been running the ship for five years now and that’s a long time by any standard. We’ve been extremely fortunate to have his good nature, hard work, and leadership for this long and it’s certainly made being a fellow board member an easier and pleasant task. Having the same president for an extended time has led to a very comfortable continuity in the direction of the club, how the club does business, and getting long term projects accomplished. In David’s tenure we’ve seen an increase in the membership of the club, a stronger connection built with ALC, a marked increase in the number of rides offered every month, and greater participation in our social events. Behind the scenes David has worked on a plethora of projects which keep the club humming but which don’t have a lot of flash or publicity such as handling the mountain of communication which comes to the club, uploading material to the website, and running meetings. While doing all that, he has continued to lead numerous rides, participated on other members’ rides, helped publish our newsletter, and staffed tables at events innumerable. The board gave him heartfelt kudos and appreciation for his vast contribution to the club.

The heart of the club is volunteerism and the willingness to give back to the whole organization. Without volunteers we would not have rides, as no one would lead them. Without volunteers we would not have a newsletter, a website, a blog, or any other means of communication or publicity. And, without volunteers we would have no one to maintain the club by managing its resources, arranging our social events, or have club jerseys, hats, or any other accessories! Without volunteers we would not have made it for 30 years, nor had the Bike-A-Thon or even our contribution to the AIDS LifeCycle events.

If you’ve enjoyed being a member of the club and would like to give something back, please consider becoming a club officer. In addition to the presidency we will need someone to be the club secretary, as that position was just currently vacated. In addition, in 2013 we will need volunteers to take over producing the club newsletter, the ChainLetter. Besides the karmic goodwill generated by giving something back to the club, in return you will have fabulous dining experiences all on the club’s dollar and have your email inbox flooded with messages from a host of secret admirers from throughout the world! Well, I am exaggerating a little bit: you’ll be able to eat pizza and Cokes at the board meetings and sidle up to that new face at the Jersey Ride and say, “Hey, I’m on the board. Wanna enjoy some perks of leadership?” Seriously, David is leaving some big shoes to fill (you know what they say about men with big feet…) but they are eminently fillable. All you have to do is step forward and say “Moi! Moi!”, roll up your sleeves, and then bask in the endless glory and love from your ever-appreciative fellow members.

In all seriousness, if you want to learn more about the responsibilities of the club officers, feel free to speak to any of them in person or by email. You can also download the list of official board member responsibilities at the Different Spokes Yahoo! group site in the Files section, entitled “Board Duties 2012-01-31.pdf”. When you are ready to join the leadership team, please contact the nominations committee. We will need nominations no later than December in order to have our usual election in January 2013.

Women and Different Spokes

Nicole Grace, formerly one of our Women’s Outreach Chairs, recently offered a weekend women’s tour to Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Santa Cruz. Unfortunately the ride did not take place because of lack of interest. Perhaps it was scheduling conflicts with the particular weekend for which it was slated or perhaps touring, which is out of cultural favor, is too tough a sell these days. But it got me thinking about the current low female membership in the club and the diminishing presence of women in the club. Different Spokes currently has 22 female members out of total of 132: that’s only 17%. Perhaps that’s too paltry a number from which to generate interest in a two-day weekend bike tour. Yet it certainly isn’t the lowest membership we’ve had; my recollection is that in the 1980s it dropped to about ten percent at one point before rebounding. On the other hand the club has had near parity at times, close to 40 or 45%. The number has been low and declining for that last several years and seems to be dwindling with no end in sight. Are we headed towards male exclusivity?

So, what has happened? It’s easy to dismiss the whole issue of gender and say it’s just a natural cycle of waxing and waning, or that “it is what it is” and that women are free to join and associate–what’s holding them back? But it’s disturbing that the club, for whatever reason, just doesn’t seem to be attractive to many women cyclists right now. This hasn’t always been the case; when the club has had strong female leadership the number of women members inevitably went up.

Nicole and Nancy Levin looked into recent ride participation and discovered that the vast majority of new women who showed up on a ride never came back or joined. They discovered that the lack of other women on rides or at least the low numbers on rides was discouraging to potential members. Also, the pace, length, or degree of difficulty of the rides was more than they expected. Alas, we seem to be in a self-perpetuating downward spiral: fewer women members leads to fewer women-led rides or female ride participation, which in turn means fewer new female members and thus fewer women to lead the club or lead rides.

In a way the situation of women in the club is not unlike that of a gay man going to a ride offered by almost any of the straight clubs in the Bay Area. You show up and the guys are all straight. You’d feel a bit out of place, right? And flirting or dating? Forget it. Maybe it would be fine if all you wanted to do was ride your bike with others and nothing else. But we come to rides to socialize, find friends, and let’s face it, even to find dates!

Is there a way to break the cycle? More outreach to women cyclists is a possibility. But what would we have to offer any prospective member except again being overwhelmed by the number of men on rides and low female participation? After all, women join the club for the same reason that men do: not just to ride but to socialize and perhaps find a date! We could offer more women-only rides or rides co-led by women. That would put a lot of pressure on the existing female members to step up and be more involved in the club. Do we even have enough interest by existing female members to pull that off?

At the moment we’re doing nothing, and the outcome of that non-strategy may be that Different Spokes becomes an even more exclusive male domain. Is that what we want? Perhaps if we do nothing the situation will self-rectify. But I wouldn’t bet on it. I think it behooves members of Different Spokes to think about the kind of club we want to have, how inclusive we want to be, and evolve the club towards something we can all be happy about and proud of.

80 Years and Still Going Strong

Derek Liecty recently celebrated his 80th year on planet Earth with a big bash at the Rossmoor community center. Roger and I were lucky to have been invited to the elect crowd of over a hundred family members, friends, and fellow travelers of nearly all ages. Derek has been a member of Different Spokes from almost the beginning of the club. He may not have been one of the founders–those for whom Different Spokes was a distinct dream to be realized–but he eagerly joined right after the doors opened. Over the years Derek has played interesting roles in the club, that of either elder statesman, “Den Daddy,” at times leering “Uncle Ernie”, outspoken Gay Olympics/Games/jock advocate, hot tub/nudism evangelist, and advocate of all two-wheeled touring. As you may know, the origin of Different Spokes is intimately tied with that of the first Gay Olympics. LGBT cyclists in the Bay Area split into two groups, those training for the Gay Olympics and those whose interest leaned more towards touring and less towards competition. The latter went on to form our club. Of course, both were founded in 1982, and it was Derek’s involvement with the Gay Olympics that led him to Different Spokes.

Derek Liecty
Derek with mountain bike at the Gay Games

At the time Derek joined the club he was already older than most members, being over 50, gasp! That didn’t deter him from jumping into the club with both feet by leading rides, particularly in the East Bay, which at the times was viewed by those in San Francisco as a sort of ‘no fly’ zone for “friends of Amelia.” Undeterred Derek led ride after ride in such staid communities as Orinda, Danville, and Martinez! Over the years Derek has been the Outreach Chair, Men’s Outreach, and Bike-A-Thon Coordinator. This is while being heavily involved in international football (soccer) particularly as a referee and also eventually with the Gay Games organization, and the East Bay Bicycle Coaltion among other things. Not many of you may know that in the mid-80s the club went through the first of a series of ponderings as to why women’s participation was low to nonexistent, and it was Derek and I–ironically two men–who took the lead to do outreach to women. He and I put together an open meeting at Amelia’s, a lesbian bar in the Mission that disappeared long ago, that brought out a large number of women with whom to talk about how the club could serve women cyclists better. That eventually led to an influx of strong women cyclists into Different Spokes.

Derek was actually one of the first Spokers I met at my very first club ride, the Tiburon loop in either 1983 or ’84. That day I was riding a Teledyne Titan, one of the first titanium road bikes (stolen long ago, alas) and Derek immediately eyed it and asked, “Is that titanium?” as if he were looking at the Hope Diamond. In the group of probably about 15 Spokers only he knew that I was riding a very special bike. Since then both Derek and I each have gone on to amass our armadas of bicycles. Of course Derek led the way, as I was just a graduate student at the time and didn’t have the means a the time to do more than lust after more bikes. (But I’ve since caught up with him!) Derek was also the first cyclist I ever met who had a tiny 11-tooth cog on one of his bikes. Mind you, this was back in the 80s when a 12-tooth cog would have been unusual and immediately  labeled as a honch. We were at the Tierra Bella Century and Derek was pounding his 11-tooth gear downhill at an outrageous speed. At a time when most men his age would have been backing off out of self-preservation, Derek was killing it all-balls-out. I certainly didn’t have the cojones (or the gears) to keep up with him!

I also fondly recall a week-long cycling and camping trip that Derek organized for the club that circumnavigated a big portion of the Trinity Alps along isolated rural roads. There were about eight of us who participated and we had a ball. Every morning we’d climb out of our tents itching to ride these new roads, which Derek had picked out. Evenings were spent around a campfire preparing that night’s latest culinary adventure. At the end of our trip, Derek motored off at high speed down the freeway in his Supra, fast cars being another of his fascinations.

Derek’s cycling involvement doesn’t end with Different Spokes. He’s travelled around the world on his bike, probably about 80 or so countries, including two stints at the Cape Epic in South Africa, the world’s largest mass participation ride. He’s also contributed to the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, particularly pushing the creation of their East Bay cycling routes map.

At Derek’s birthday party, Doug Litwin of the Federation of Gay Games, spoke about Derek’s involvement with Gay Games which practically goes back to the beginning. Derek was involved with soccer officiating, and the local refs’ organization was contacted by the Gay Olympics for assistance. Derek volunteered to help out, and of course he jumped right in and eventually became one of the Games’ regular volunteers and organizers. One of the Derek’s missions at Gay Games was to increase participation. Derek was always talking up the Games in the club, and it was probably partly due to his schmoozing that so many club members ended up traveling to the Games and bringing back a hoard of medals over the years. Derek also walks the talk: he’s got a bag full of medals too! Litwin announced that the Federation was honoring Derek’s many years of volunteerism with setting up an international scholarship in his name to provide funds for athletes around the world to be able to afford to travel to the Gay Games. If you’d like to honor our very own Den Daddy with a contribution, please contact Doug Litwin at the Federation of Gay Games.

Double Bay Double is half-full!

Registration for Double Bay Double 2.0 is at the halfway point for registered riders, the ride is limited to 50 riders.

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What is DBD? It’s a 2-Day, 208-mile ride from Mountain View (on the shores of San Francisco Bay) to Marina (on the shores of Monterey Bay) and back.
Registration fee is just $35.00. There is a $300 fundraising minimum for each rider and all money raised goes to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

For more information and to register, go to:

A Tale of Two Centuries

For those who seek out early season fitness or those who just like to ride centuries there is a tough choice every May: two longtime centuries, the Wine Country near Santa Rosa and the Grizzly Peak in Moraga occur back to back on the same weekend. The choice has been made easier in recent years after the word got out that the Wine Country was moderately flat: registration has been selling out in less than a day. With Internet registration becoming almost de rigueur, you can’t hesitate if you want to participate when registration is capped, such is the popularity of bicycling these days. I suppose we shouldn’t complain: it’s a sign that our chosen sport is healthy and vibrant. Nonetheless it is irksome that one has to commit months in advance to challenging rides when all it takes is a prolonged wet and rainy spring to wreck havoc on the best laid plans.

The Wine Country and the Grizzly Peak are remarkably similar in some important ways. Both are run by venerable clubs with many years of experience and lessons learned the hard way under their belts. Remarkably both clubs haven’t burned out doing events which are very well attended (both sell out) and which take a huge effort to make them as successful as they are. Also, both strive to provide the best food at rest stops as well as at the end-of-ride meal!

Where they differ is in profile and feel. I’ve done both the full century and the metric several times at the Wine Country. The metric is a flat delight and since Roger and I like to ride our tandem, it’s a no-brainer to sign up for it. The full century is less flat but until this past weekend it had always left the impression that it was a noodle in the park as well. The Grizzly is as jagged as the Wine Country is flat. The metric alone climbs more than a half-dozen grunty hills in Alameda and Contra Costa County; the full century is practically an absurdity by adding in even more. Its reputation is such that mountain goats and diehards only need apply for the full monty unless one relishes a punishing death march kind of day. I’ve never done the full century at the Grizzly but now I’ve done the metric a couple of times, once on the tandem and once on a single, and it’s a handful. The quandary is that the Grizzly Peak is so much closer to the immediate Bay Area than the Wine Country. So, if you don’t like to do a significant drive to the start and you don’t like to wake up ridiculously early on a weekend morning to do your ride, well then the Grizzly Peak is the no-brainer: just roll to Moraga. In my case I can ride to the start location from home!

The Santa Rosa Cycling Club has capped their event at 2,500. That’s still a lot more than the 1,000 at which the Grizzly Peakers cap theirs. And, that makes a huge difference in the feel of the events. The Wine Country, just like the Chico Wildflower, the Marin, or the Chico Wildflower, feels like a rolling party. You’re hardly ever alone on the road and rest stops are bustling and noisy. The Grizzly Peak feels a lot more down home and subdued certainly because it is smaller. There were times at the Grizzly when I was alone on the road and I felt like I was out on a private spin. If you like the mad company and camaraderie of fellow cyclists, then the Wine Country will probably be a more satisfying choice for you. If, however, you like a quieter venue, a more ‘old school’ ride, then the Grizzly Peak is sure to please.

This year I couldn’t make up my mind, so I ended up doing both. I had never done back-to-back centuries on the same weekend and the idea was thoroughly intimidating. So, since the Wine Country was on Saturday and the Grizzly Peak on Sunday, I scaled it back a bit and signed up for “just” the Grizzly metric. The fact that the Grizzly Peak was literally just down the road from the manse meant I didn’t have to get up absurdly early to do it too.

I managed to convince Roger to ride the tandem with me for the Wine Country. Roger doesn’t care for 100-mile rides at all. The only one he had done prior to this spring was the Wine Country about six years ago, and he probably did it just to please me, as he’s never wanted to do it again or any other century no matter how “flat” it was. It’s a hard truth that a seven-hour day in the saddle is going to leave one aching, period. Yet I convinced him that it would be good training for our upcoming trip to the French Alps. Well, I don’t know why I recall the Wine Country century route as being flat because this year it felt like an ordeal. Partly it was due to the decrepit condition of Sonoma county roads: they are getting beat to hell and there’s probably no money in sight that can bring them back up to suitable conditions. We’re probably stuck with them being eroded, potholed, and horribly chip-sealed for the next decade. The trade off is that the countryside those roads traverse is some of the best in the greater Bay Area. On a single bike it’s less of a pain (literally) to ride crumbling roads. On a tandem it can be torture. Because the twofer is less maneuverable we are more often riding over obstacles rather than around them. Plus, on a tandem you’re seated a lot more than on a single; you can’t just randomly float off the saddle, as everything has to be coordinated between the captain and stoker.

But the real discovery was that the century route, contrary to both of our recollections, has a serious amount of climbing in it. For the day we had about 4,800 feet of vertical, and most of it was before lunch. In other words, most of it was on the full century portion that goes out towards the hills of Occidental and Sebastopol. Those myriad little grunters added up to a significant amount of overall climbing. By the time we got to the flatter portion of the ride we were pretty toasted. How could we have forgotten this? Perhaps it is age: we were six years younger when we did it last, and at our advanced age each passing year brings more physical challenges.

As I mentioned earlier, the Wine Country is a big event. It felt like we were part of a rolling, ever-changing caravan with mostly cyclists passing us and occasionally we passing them. It wasn’t as crowded as the Chico or Solvang where it felt almost like we were in a peloton. But it was still, well, crowded. For some of you that’s the thrill of the event and why you’re forking out $65 when you could just go up and ride for free on your own. Crowd energy can lift one’s spirits and get one cycling faster or farther than ever. Cycling on the tandem in a crowd is for us more akin to the experience of a semi on I-880 in the morning commute: being surrounded by smaller, more mobile and nimble, and less aware vehicles that may collide with you carelessly. So, those kinds of events don’t seem to suit us as well at least when we’re on the tandem.

The food on at the rest stops was near perfect for me. Typical fare at centuries tends to be stuff one might find at Costco: muffins, cookies, banana bread, and fruit—usually bananas, oranges, and occasionally strawberries. While fruit is welcome, I prefer my carbs to be less sweet—bagels, potato chips, roasted potatoes. The Wine Country folks had all of the above as well as something I have never encountered before: warmed tortillas that one could stuff with cheese (or any of the above). That really hit the spot! But what really made me fall in love with this ride was the hot coffee they had at every rest stop; now those people really know what cyclists love! At the final rest stop—when it was getting hot and we were running on fumes—bless them, they had cold Cokes that gave us the final burst of energy to get to the finish.

The Wine Country offers a lunch—not every century does—mid-ride around the 70-mile point. It’s a good time to take a break and get something more substantial than cookies under one’s belt. In addition to rest food fare the Wine Country offered sandwiches—turkey, roast beef, or veggie—made on the spot to your liking, kind of like Subway! After lunch you have just 30 miles to stroll over mostly flat roads with the lone exception of Chalk Hill. The end-of-ride meal was held in a large tent that was crowded and noisy—just like the ride—and in my opinion they were very controlled (read: stingy) with the food. It was one pass through the food line and that’s all. Oh, and the portions were small. At least what they gave was tasty. Or, was I so famished that shoe leather would have tasted delicious? I’m not sure but the barbecued turkey seemed well prepared. I just wish I had double of everything. Beer from Lagunitas Brewery was offered for sale; they also offered ice cream sundaes. But neither Roger nor I crave alcohol or sweets after a hot ride. But if you do, this is your ride. All in all, the Wine Country folks have a good formula and really have the pulse of what century riders like.

The Grizzly Peak the following day also had spectacular weather: clear, sunny, and hot but not too hot. Roger wasn’t interested in doing a double, so I was on my own. Actually, after doing the Wine Country neither was I—climbing all that vertical on the tandem had worn me out. Nonetheless I got my bike and clothes ready for the ride and I would make the decision in the morning whether to bag it or not. The next day I didn’t have to get up super early, as the start, Campolindo High School, is just down the road from the house. Getting that extra couple of hours of sleep must have made a difference because I felt decent, just a tad tired. The Grizzly Peak Century is actually longer than a century; it’s 109 miles long. The “metric” is actually 75 miles long. So, you really can’t compare the Grizzly with other centuries because both routes are significantly longer than typical rides. And, since I was starting the Grizzly “metric” from our house and not Campolindo, my ride was actually going to be longer, about 77 miles.

I left the house at 7:30 and promptly had the misfortune of witnessing a car accident on Camino Pablo that left one car upside down and car parts and glass strewn all over the road. How come I keep seeing accidents? It certainly put me in a nervous frame of mind, reminding me that as bicyclists sharing the road with metal death monsters we’re pretty much at their mercy. I checked in at Campolindo at 8 a.m., which is pretty late since registration closed at 8:30, and the place was relatively deserted: a few volunteers running check-in and maybe three of four cyclists in sight. Even though the bulk of the 1,000 registrants surely were doing just the “metric”, they either got an early start or they were sleeping in! But that was to be the theme of the day: riding alone and seeing just a few other Grizzly folks on the road. A thousand riders on the road is very, very different in appearance than 2,500-plus. So, instead of a party atmosphere it was pretty much like doing a solo ride on a random weekend: running into other cyclists on occasion except we were all going in the same direction!

And, very much like the Wine Country the Grizzly Peak showcased the “best” roads in the area. By “best” I mean best in everything except pavement quality. They might have beautiful views, picture quality redwoods, and few cars but they also had execrable asphalt. Skyline and Grizzly Peak Boulevards, as recent deadly accidents have shown, are heading south fast. The only thing missing are the tar pits in the bottom of the chasms and potholes that will trap cyclists for eternity. Ironically even though they are in my neck of the woods I rarely ride these roads precisely because the asphalt is abysmal. Whether by plan or luck the crappy road surface is pretty much over on the Grizzly after you get out of the Berkeley hills. Then it’s just normally crappy pavement.

The rest stops were well placed but unlike the Wine Country not well stocked. I should say “not well stocked by the time I got there”. Apparently my late start meant the 100-mile riders had locust-like descended and devoured all the bagel sandwiches at the first rest stop in Tilden Park. Grizzly Peak makes a big point of advertising that their baked goodies are all homemade, but for me it’s beside the point because I generally don’t relish eating sweets (yeah, it’s weird, I know) and I would have killed for a bagel sandwich. So, I nibbled on a bare bagel piece and a banana. They did have electrolyte drink as well as orange juice but, alas, no coffee. By this time I had ridden pretty much alone except for tagging behind a nice group of Team In Training studs who for some reason had been just noodling up Pinehurst at an easy lope. On Skyline the headwind had appeared and was coming from the north, and that meant I needed to find a paceline by the time I got to San Pablo Dam Road for the long haul north. Here’s where riding on a small century can be a drag: you want to be in a crowd when the wind is blowing. Despite trying to find a group I couldn’t find one: everyone was very spread out on the Dam Road and beyond. Those that I found were noodling (meaning, noodling slower than I was because I was definitely cruising rather than hammering). I was fortunate enough to figure out after a short time I wasn’t going to find a group, so I just kicked back and cruised, figuring that if I ran into a group, great. But I wasn’t going to burn myself out in a fruitless hunt.

The Grizzly takes you north to a road that most cyclists avoid: Lincoln Highway through Rodeo. No one in their right mind rides there because of the heavy-duty trucks, car traffic, debris, and malodorous and blighted environment. In contrast to the redwoods and reservoirs you can enjoy the sights of the sewage treatment facility and the massive oil refineries until you pop over the rolling hills to Crockett and the Carquinez Bridge. It’s not the only way to get to Crockett by bike but it is the most convenient. From this point on you’re mostly back to quiet Contra Costa roads. A quick trip through Crockett and I was in Port Costa for the second rest stop.

I ran into Nancy Levin and Stephanie Clarke at Port Costa. We seemed to be the only Spokers out on the Grizzly. When I asked Stephanie which route she was doing today, she replied, “Oh, the metric. That’s enough for me! I never do the hundred!” I guess that says it all. Really, folks, the metric (i.e. the 75-mile route) is plenty enough of a ride. (Of course, the fact that Stephanie is a Grizzly Peaker and had to work the event in the afternoon probably had something to do with her decision!) At this point I was feeling okay mainly because I just had not been pushing it all day. I must confess that I can’t recall a century that I approached with this attitude: take it easy, stroll, and enjoy the day. I always seem to have been hammering (or else the raw distance alone was making me feel like I was hammering!). But riding this way sure was a lot more enjoyable.

The Port Costa rest stop was pretty much the same as the first one, so I wasn’t interested in anything they offered to eat except bananas. Fortunately I wasn’t feeling famished, probably because I wasn’t going that fast. Unfortunately this is also where I had a mechanical: as I was leaving the rest stop I broke a drive-side spoke in the rear wheel leaving it unrideable. So I called Roger. At first I was just going to bag it—it had been 50 miles so far—but then I heard myself asking him if he wouldn’t mind bringing me a spare rear wheel. I wished Nancy and Stephanie a good ride, they took off, and then I went about my doing nothing, kicking back in the shade of the Port Costa Elementary School for 45 minutes. What I saw was a tad surprising: there actually were quite a few other cyclists behind me! Cyclists continued to arrive but unlike the endless stream that always seemed to be flowing into the Wine Country rest stops, it was more of a trickle here, just enough to have about a dozen or so munching at the rest stop. Boy, there sure were a lot of late risers still out on the road!

After Roger arrived and I replaced the rear wheel, I took off. The morning had been pretty easy with just the Berkeley hills. After Port Costa the steep climbs began: McEwen, Pig Farm (Alhambra Valley), and then Mama and Papa Bear. In my case, as I was going directly home rather than back to the high school, I also had to climb up El Toyonal. They come in pretty quick succession and they’re all grunters. Despite the long break I was feeling the miles; it was midday and the temperature was in the low 80s. With full sun it felt hotter and I could feel the energy draining out of me. It must have been true for everyone else too because despite my decidedly mundane speed I was somehow passing everyone else. The good news was that once onto Alhambra Valley Road the last of the deplorable pavement was history and now it was just plain, every day bad. The ride home was just a hop, skip, and a jump!

I was planning on skipping the last rest stop at Briones because I had enough water and I was so close to home. But when I saw a distant cyclist pull into the rest stop, I lost my resolve and followed. Oh well, might as well take it easy. Good decision–they had ice cold Cokes! One Coke later and I felt like Superman. In no time I was home after 77 miles and well over 6,000 feet of climbing in total. And that was just the so-called “metric.”

I cleaned up and drove to Campolindo to pick up my event t-shirt and partake of the end-of-ride meal. Both Stephanie and Nancy had showered up and were refreshed as well. I ended up chatting with them as well as several Grizzlies whom I knew. The high school had a small crowd of riders and volunteers lounging about the square and had a decidedly down-home, “small town” feel unlike the huge tent and crowd at the end of the Wine Country. Also, there wasn’t any beer being served and that very likely explained why the tent at the Wine Country was, er, noisy whereas at the Grizzly the high school was quiet and peaceful. The food was similar to the Wine Country and it was all homemade too. The end-of-ride meal, I thought, was better than the Wine Country’s, mainly because they were very generous with the helpings and even seconds. But they also offered several carb-based side dishes including some yummy lentils and a rice salad and that wasn’t the case at the Wine Country. Needless to say, after eating almost nothing all day I hogged down as much as I could. And it was good!

Verdict: We’ll probably do the Wine Country metric next year because we’ll be back on the tandem. But if you’re not riding a tandem, which one is recommended? It’s a tough call. The Grizzly is by far the harder ride due to length (108 versus 100, 75 versus 63) and vertical and steepness. But it’s much closer to home and even BART accessible. The Wine Country has the overall more beautiful scenery and interesting roads, but that’s partly due to being far away and that necessitates a very early morning drive. If you don’t ride in Alameda and Contra Costa County often, then perhaps the Grizzly Peak would seem new and interesting. But if you do, then the drive north is probably worth it. The road support at the Wine Country is maybe slightly better. Sag wagons were omnipresent and we saw them being used often (seemingly due to flats or jammed chains), and the police/EMT presence was palpable. That isn’t to say the that the Grizzly Peak was deficient; it’s just a smaller event spread out over an equally widespread area, so the support needs are less. In my case my wheel broke at a rest stop. If I had been on the road, I’m not sure how long it would have taken for a sag wagon to appear but I’m fairly certain it would have been longer than on the Wine Country. On food it was hands down the Grizzly for the end-of-ride meal. But for the rest stops the Wine Country has it figured out; whether you like to woof down sweets or tasty complex carbs, they supply both. And the hot tortillas were a first for me! Throw in cold soft drinks and hot coffee and they are, no contest, the best rest stop food I’ve had on a century (but there’s a warm spot in my stomach for the ramen they provide at the Tierra Bella!) For atmosphere, it’s your call. If you’re a partying, Facebooky guy/gal, then the Wine Country is right up your alley. But if you’re old school and prefer a quieter environment, then the Grizzly is your ride. For Spoker camaraderie, it’s a tie. Both have historically attracted good club participation. But this year for some reason not many Spokers attended. The Wine Country is so impacted now that getting in is impossible if you wait. This year registration was full less than 18 hours after opening up. For 2,500 spaces! The Grizzly has no such problem, although it also sells out regularly. So, keep in mind that if you forget to register for the Wine Country, the Grizzly makes a fine back up, and the fact that it’s also closer to most Spokers’ homes and doesn’t require a long drive means it’s a convenient choice as well. See you there next year!

Different Spokes at the Chico Wildflower: Veni, Vidi, Bici

Roger Sayre riding underneath chainring arch of Potter Road path
Roger Sayre on the Potter Road bikepath

This year’s Chico Wildflower ride fostered a large Different Spokes turnout: 14 club members made the four-hour trip north to enjoy the beautiful rural roads surrounding Chico. President David Gaus led the charge and was accompanied by Ride Coordinator David Goldsmith, ChainLetter Editor Tony Moy, former President Phil Bokovoy, as well as a coterie of enthusiastic Spokers: David Shiver, Jeff Pekrul, Scott Steffens, Danni Mestaz, Laurie Pepin, Kim Wallace, Roger Hoyer, Roger Sayre, Tim Offensend, and Peter Graney. The Wildflower is a cycling party but it’s also a huge event for the City of Chico, which has a thriving, cycling mad community and strong support from local businesses and everyday citizens. This was the first time that I have made the journey to the Wildflower despite over 40 years of cycling in the Bay Area, and I have never been cheered, waved at, or applauded by spectators who lived along the route and set up lawn chairs with their families just to watch 4,000 nerdy cyclists roll by their front doors! They sure are a friendly group.

It should be no surprise that Chico Velo did an excellent job of organizing and hosting the event, as the club has 31 years of experience in running not just the Wildflower but a regular series of long distance rides (not to mention races) throughout the northern Sacramento Valley. Registration was efficient, the route was well marked, rest stops were logically placed and well run, and the end-of-ride meal was fabulous. Chico Velo seems to have tapped the community for volunteers at the rest stops, as we saw Boy Scout troops, fraternities, and a square dance groups assisting; I wouldn’t be surprised if local businesses also volunteered their staff, as the event is just huge. And, judging by some of the food Chico Velo served it’s clear that local food and drink companies were also very involved (ahem, Sierra Nevada Brewery). The infusion of cash from the event likely makes a significant impact on the community and hopefully generates goodwill towards cycling as well.

The Chico Wildflower this year had six official routes including a celebratory 125-mile ride honoring the founding of CSU Chico and a 15-mile Childflower route with bike rodeo for the young’uns. However there were a myriad of unofficial and official shortcuts that allowed everyone to mix-and-match the route they wanted depending on how they felt at any particular moment. Tired of climbing? Skip the last climb, Table Mountain and head out to the flats. Tired of the headwind in the valley? Take the right turn to head directly to Chico. The permutations were beyond count and several Spokers took full advantage of them; many of us started off with the century route as the goal, but as climbing and heat took their toll, the shortcuts started to look very tempting—kudos to Chico Velo for including them on the map.

There aren’t many century rides that allow more than about 2,500 cyclists to participate–the Solvang and Marin come to mind—as the level of complexity and organization needed seem to go up a notch, not to mention the number of volunteers. Chico Velo clearly has the expertise, experience, and community support to pull off such a daunting event. You certainly aren’t lonely on such a ride: there was hardly a moment when we were alone or did not have another cyclist within sight, and often we were part of a large, rolling mass. At times such as the second climb, Honey Run, it felt a bit like a scrum with the narrow road and inevitable bunching except that everyone was friendly! It’s remarkable that more accidents don’t happen just due to crowding. Everyone in our crowd came through unscathed and accident-free. (However, right at the narrowest point an ambulance had to make its way *down* Honey Run to tend to a crash while we were climbing, forcing everyone to come to a halt.) Unlike our experience at the Marin, the rest stops were busy but not massively crowded. There was plenty of room to get food and drink. However portapotties were another story: the lines were long and tedious at all but the last rest stop.

The 100-mile ride has just three ascents and you’re done with them all after 63 miles with the remainder of the day a long jaunt through the flat farmlands in the valley. We started at 7 a.m. and had a fine time on the first two climbs, Humboldt and Honey Run, because it was still cool and/or shaded. By the time we had arrived at the last climb, Table Mountain, it was full sun, no shade, and the temperature was getting hot. Table Mountain has much less elevation gain than Honey Run but the conditions under which one has to do them makes all the difference in the world. As we grunted upward in the heat we understood then why a lot of people, who knew the road perhaps all too well, were skipping it. Unlike Honey Run, which has a very even gradient, Table Mountain hopped and skipped upward and even had a few short downhill jogs to fool you into thinking it was going to get easier.

For those who absolutely must hit triple digits the actual mileage of the Chico century would be a disappointment: it’s “only” about 95 miles and so “century” was a slight exaggeration. What made it all the more odd was that the first climb, Humboldt, was clearly included just to get in miles because it’s an uninteresting road with aged, uneven chip seal. For those who’ve done the Chico multiple times it’s a pretty common shortcut to skip Humboldt altogether, as it loops right back to the start of the climb. On the other hand, the subsequent descent down Highway 32, a straight shot, is not too steep but just steep enough to be hair-raising and exhilarating, making the climb worth it.

Laurie, David, and Kim at the Wildflower
Laurie, David, and Kim at the Wildflower

The second climb, Honey Run, is like something in the Old Country. It starts out as a beautiful rural road, starts to ascend, and then narrows in width to just over one lane. It’s isolated and quiet, sinuous, and has a consistent and genteel grade all the way up to the town of Paradise. For the Wildflower the police do not let cars go down Honey Run given that thousands of cyclists are heading up and taking consuming the full width of a very constrictive road. There was something very organic and hive-like about everyone heading the same way uphill. At times passing (or in our case, being passed) was hairy with some cyclists weaving uncertainly from side to side, either struggling with a gear or just not used to riding in close quarters. Behavior was generally congenial and respectful even if riding at times was a little sketchy.

Despite the enormous participation the Wildflower has the feel of the “old days”: there was a distinct lack of self-seriousness, with most everyone just out to have a good time. There were clearly large groups of friends out together, a few clubs riding together á la Italia, everyone sporting the same jersey and all riding as one, and a few community groups trying their hand at cycling. A seventh grade class had jerseys proclaiming “Mr. Retzner’s Sevvies”; I can’t remember a time I saw a group of tweens out on bikes en masse. I understand they did the entire 100-mile route. Bravissimo! I also didn’t see in evidence the usual profusion of bike bling. At Solvang this year it seemed like everyone had drunk the Kool-Aid and was sporting carbon bikes with carbon high profile, aero rims, with very few steel bikes in evidence whereas at Chico there were plenty of “ordinary”, real world bikes rather than ultra-bikes. Maybe riders in that neck of the woods have a lot less means than the Hollywood and Silicon Valley velominati?

Speaking of groups, Roger and I never did see any other Different Spokes folks until the post-ride meal, with the lone exception of seeing Phil Bokovoy grunting up Table Mountain in his rainbow jersey. We started from our motel rather than the fairgrounds and went directly to the first climb but at the same time as the Spokettes were departing the official starting place, and we felt certain they would catch up and pass us no later than the second climb. Perhaps the large number meant numerous photo stops, bathroom stops, reapply makeup stops, etc. delayed their passing.

We were told that on Table Mountain there is usually a profusion of wildflowers, hence the name. However this year we saw nary a one despite the lush green cover everywhere. We were told that the lack of early rain squelched their blooming this year. Nonetheless the lack of wildflowers didn’t betray the beauty of the hills and canyons we saw that were still carpeted in profound green.

After the lunch stop riders reenter the valley and it’s a 30-mile slog through headwind and heat. This year it was unusually hot for the Wildflower, with the temperature climbing into the 90s at the last rest stop. We did not take advantage of a couple of bail-out points, as we wanted to experience “the full Wildflower” for our first time, but a lot of other people wisely did. From what we could tell it seemed that everyone else had grim determination and nothing but the finish on their minds. People were a lot quieter and less talkative than on the climbs! But even in the valley the car traffic was light and non-aggressive, making for a pleasant if not exhausting finish as well as a tour of the thousands of acres of the local cash crops: almonds, olives, and jersey cows.

The end-of-ride meal was pretty good for a mass event. This year we had a choice of barbecued beef tri-tip or chicken, or vegetarian lasagna. There was plenty of green salad, black beans, a delicious cucumber salad with red pepper, pasta salad, and then popsicles or ice cream sandwiches along with plenty of cookies. Chico Velo offered a variety of local drinks including Sierra Nevada beer.

David Gaus climbing Table Mountain

We saw the rest of the Spokers arrive one after the other. Danni looked fresh and glowing; David Goldsmith looked shell-shocked and glazed. David Shiver and Phil were in good spirits (despite Phil’s earlier demeanor on Table Mountain!) We shared stories and talked about which route we had done. Roger and I also had run into several other old friends who were also doing the Chico, including Jenny Frayer, a frame builder and racer from Reno and Roger’s former coworker and his wife. Overall we had a great time and a surprisingly social experience compared the other centuries so far this year.

If you’re contemplating doing the Chico Wildflower next year, make sure that you not only register early in order to get in but that you make suitable lodging arrangements well before the date. The motels in the immediate area were completely sold out. The majority of Spokers headed back to the Bay Area right after the post-ride meal. But a few of us took the saner option and stayed over another night in order to recuperate before the four-hour drive home. Another tip would be to start the ride as early as you can around 6 a.m. if you don’t like crowds. It seems the 7 a.m. start is pretty popular. It also would get you to Table Mountain before the afternoon heat and sun.

Props for Chris Thomas!

Chris’s ALC riders surprised him last Saturday by honoring his years of commitment in leading ALC training rides in the South Bay as well as his endlessly positive encouragement. He now has his own “team” jersey! See the real thing at his blog—http://www.ridewithchris.org/2012/04/yall-are-awesome.html
(And I think I know who designed that jersey—Looks sharp, Bob!)

Chris is also the progenitor and engine behind our club’s Double Bay Double, the second edition of which is happening September 29 & 30.