To celebrate 30 years of LGBT cycling we’re powering up the Way Back machine to revisit some club favorites from back in the day. There are rides which have always been popular—Mt. Tam, Mt. Diablo, Nicasio, Tiburon Loop, the Three Bears, etc.—and they’re popular just because they are iconic Bay Area rides: everybody does them! But there are rides which we no longer offer or offer infrequently that were popular in the early days of the club. Our club was founded by recreational cyclists who had a strong interest in touring. Not surprisingly the ride calendar in the early 1980s is populated with a number of overnight or multi-day tours usually involving camping. Nowadays those have fallen almost completely out of favor. Today if there is going to be an overnight ride, it better to involve something more comfortable than a tent (ALC excepted)…like a day spa, 300-thread count sheets, and room service! At the time Different Spokes was founded, mountain biking was just beginning to thrive but you don’t see any such rides appear in number on the calendar until the late 1980s (probably due to Derek Liecty’s proselytizing). In a few cases early rides were club favorites because a particular ride leader loved that ride (or it was convenient for him or her) and offered it often.
For this series I have gone back to the first five years of the club and looked over the ride calendars to find the some of the popular and interesting rides. From this select group I’ve chosen 12 rides, one for each month this year. Here is a short narrative of each ride and why it was included. For more details please refer to the DSSF Ride Calendar listings. If you’re interested in co-leading any of these rides, be sure to give me a holler. I should note that dates are undecided at this point for everything after May, and more information will follow later in the year. Also, as with everything in life this schedule is subject to change.
January: Portola Valley and Cañada Road. These are both still popular today but are offered only occasionally as club rides. The Portola Valley loop is the standard mid-Peninsula training route and you’ll see large numbers of riders even on weekdays. On weekends it’s practically a parade out there. (Okay, I am exaggerating a little.) Cañada Road is usually ridden out and back from Woodside. But since most Spokers in the early days lived in the City, it was common also to lead the ride from the Highway 92 end into Woodside. I’ve combined these two rides into one easy ride because of another change: in the early days it seems folks didn’t mind driving somewhere to do a 15-25 mile ride. Today a lot of people wouldn’t think it was worth the time to come for such a short ride!
February: Sunol Valley. One clear theme emerges from the early ride calendars: get the hell out of SF during the summer and ride somewhere where one could get a tan! Although he didn’t invent the ride, former member Kevin Anderson took to it with relish because he happened to live in Pleasanton. (Older members may recall Kevin’s alter egos, the infamous Flo Velcro and Rex Flash Mountain Biker!) The ride had variations depending on where it started. The shortest ones were just to the Pleasanton Waterslide for sun, fun, and a little eye candy. This year’s route will be just a bit longer! It will start at Castro Valley BART and go to Sunol and return by Palomares, which itself is another classic Different Spokes ride. So, it’s actually a mash-up of two old faves. Another two-fer!
March: The American River Bike Trail. Derek Liecty popularized this ride, and it took the club just a bit out of the Bay Area “comfort zone” up to the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail, which goes 31 miles from old town Sacramento to Folsom Lake along the scenic American River. Again, it got SF folks out of the fog and into the sunnier clime of the Sacramento Valley for some needed relief. The Trail as far as Nimbus Dam, about 21 miles, is dead flat. Although it’s in an urban environment, the Trail cleverly manages to stay fairly nature-y and avoid the most egregious and ugly development. Did I mention that it’s dead flat?
April: The Apple Blossom. Being so far north in Sebastopol has probably contributed to this ride completely fading from club memory. It was a very popular ride in its day, but now we’re all too busy to “waste” time to drive there for a “short” ride, right? But it is indeed well worth the time and effort. The classic route roves through the apple orchards of southwestern Sonoma County, which is populated by a myriad of punchy but short hills. It provides a quintessential rural cycling experience. This year’s route does the classic, short ride to Occidental and then adds a second loop north of Sebastopol for those who want more miles.
May: Healdsburg Winery Ride. Starting in Healdsburg—even further north than Sebastopol—this route takes in the wineries along Westside Road, which runs from the Russian River to downtown Healdsburg. In its day it was a popular ride with a lunch stop at Hop Kiln Winery and some indiscreet wine tasting. This loop also used to be the “easy” option for the Russian River Weekend Saturday ride. It’s slightly rolling and flat, with no serious climbs. This year I have added an out-and-back to the Jimtown Store north of Healdsburg for a fabulous lunch stop before returning to downtown Healdsburg.
June: This one is still in flux because of June’s packed schedule with ALC and Pride. It will probably either be the Sonoma-Napa Ridge ride or Mt. Tam by Moonlight. Here is a description of each:
(1) Sonoma-Napa Ridge Ride. To my knowledge this ride was led only once during the first five years of the club’s existence, and Michael John, the club’s second President, was the ride leader. This ride starts in downtown Santa Rosa and takes Mark West Springs and Franz Valley Road over the ridge to Calistoga for lunch. The return route may have been any of the climbs up and over the ridge, either Petrified Forest, Kortum Canyon, or Diamond Mountain Road, but it went by the Petrified Forest Museum and then back to Santa Rosa.
(2) Mt. Tam in Moonlight. This was one of the very few Different Spokes night rides, and believe it or not, it was started in 1984. Mountain biking was just beginning to take off, but this was a road ride up a dirt path on Mt. Tam! Former President Michael John must have led this ride a dozen or more times, and since I never went with him I have no idea how many Spokers actually did it with him. The route is simple: from downtown Mill Valley just follow the Old Railroad Grade, which is probably the least gnarly dirt trail up Mt. Tam, up to East Peak and come back. Being the former right-of-way of the long-gone Muir Woods Railway, which used to go to the top of Mt. Tam, the grade is very consistent and low, making it a pleasant ascent.
July: Russian River Weekend. With a hiatus every now and then the Russian River Weekend still continues to be a well-attended club event. Besides being able to party at San Francisco’s nearest gay resort (we were deluded back then to call it “San Francisco’s Provincetown”—uh no, it’s not), this ride was another excuse to escape summer fog and to relieve SF Seasonal Affective Disorder. Camping at Fife’s (long gone) or later at the Willows (also gone) with a group dinner on Saturday night was the order of the day. The stalwarts rode up Highway 1 on a Friday, partied, then on Saturday rode to Jenner via River Road or Fort Ross Road or instead did the Healdsburg Winery loop, or just hung around and partied all day! If that were not enough, on Sunday some would ride to the Larkspur Ferry to catch a ride back to SF while those of a more sagacious character caught car rides back in order to nurse their hangovers. (Who else remembers former Bike-A-Thon Coordinator Matt O’Grady barfing his breakfast on the road back?)
August: Lake Tahoe Spectacular. This was the other annual weekend event from the early days. It’s lost its luster over the years and hasn’t been offered recently. It originally started as a two-day road ride around Lake Tahoe. On Saturday people would carpool with their bikes from Carnelian Bay over to South Lake Tahoe, leave the cars, and bike by Emerald Bay to the labyrinth-like hexagonal rental house. Then, on Sunday folks would ride along the Nevada shore to the cars and drive back. As the club attracted more animal riders, doing the entire lake in one day became de rigueur followed on Sunday by a fast ride over Brockway Summit to Truckee and back by Squaw Valley. In the meantime mountain biking grew and infected the club, and the Flume Trail became the must-do weekend ride.
September: Angel Island. This ride was one of the very first rides the club had and it was led by Frank Sclafani on February 13, 1983. (Gay sports clubs in San Francisco started having an annual picnic on Angel Island every August and Different Spokes members occasionally attended to, uh, “network”.) Usually the ride was extremely short: ride to Pier 43½ and take the ferry over, have a picnic, ride a bit on the island, and then go back. Infrequently the longer ride was to cycle to Tiburon and then take the ferry over, and this is the ride we will do. On Angel Island there is a fire road that circumnavigates the entire island and it’s easily doable on a road bike.
October: Pigeon Point Overnighter. This was an annual overnight trip, one of the most popular, and was first offered October 23-24, 1982. The first trip was a self-supported tour. In following years some riders lugged their sleeping bag and clothes, and others had stuff schlepped down by car. Although Pigeon Point is a youth hostel, it also has private group cabins. Now it has satellite Internet, free WiFi, and a hot tub! In the evening the group would prepare dinner together.
November: Petaluma to Dillon Beach. This one seems to have been completely forgotten, perhaps because nowadays members just prefer to cycle to Marin and do the county’s southern roads. This ride was the brainchild of former Presidents Karry Kelley and Mike Reedy. It started at Walnut Park in Petaluma and took beautiful back roads of northern Marin to Dillon Beach and back.
December: Port Costa Loop. This was an infrequently offered ride but it was special because it went on Carquinez Strait Scenic Drive, an abandoned road that hugs the cliff between Crockett and Martinez. At the time the road had just recently been closed and it made for a peaceful, car-free experience. Well, it’s been almost 30 years of continued entropy and the abandoned road is still there but it’s now a bit wilder. From the Drive the views of Benicia and the Carquinez Strait are unrivalled. The original route started in Richmond, went out to Port Costa, and returned. This route will start in Orinda and hook up with old route in Pinole before continuing through Hercules—“Dynamite City”—and Crockett and Port Costa. And what’s in Port Costa? Not much except the railroad tracks and…the Warehouse Café, which is attractive in a Hunter Thompson sort of way. The return route is through Martinez and Alhambra Valley Road and the infamous Pig Farm hill.