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.

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