This past weekend Roger and I again rode the tandem on the Valley Spokesmen’s Tour of the Sacramento River Delta. This is a two-day ride starting at Brannan State Recreation Area that wends up levee roads on various islands in the Delta to Sacramento and then returns the next day. It is about 60 miles each way and it is almost dead flat with the main elevation gains being riding up or down levees. But it often has the challenge of headwinds off of the Pacific; last year the winds were grueling returning to Brannan Island but this year it was pleasantly benign. The riding is almost entirely rural and away from car traffic, a real delight after riding in the Bay Area. The Valley Spokesmen has organized this ride for many years and unlike the Cinderella, which it also puts on, it’s a much smaller event, about 200 riders plus support volunteers. It’s open to anyone not just Valley Spokesmen members and it clearly draws from a variety of local clubs including Fremont Freewheelers, the Benicia Cycling Club, Delta Cyclists, Grizzly Peak, and of course Different Spokes!

What struck me about the ride was the number of women. Although I’m not privy to the exact numbers, visually it appeared there were an equal number of women and men. Cycling has historically been a male dominated sport and mixed clubs tend to be mostly male, so it’s quite an accomplishment to achieve gender parity on an event that is not specifically catering to women. Certainly Valley Spokesmen has the street cred from putting on the women-only Cinderella Classic. That event also raises thousands of dollars for women’s/girls’ organizations including A Safe Place, Bay Area Women Against Rape, Shelter Against Violent Environments, and many others. Bonnie Powers, one of the original founders of the club and organizer of both events, and her husband have long championed female involvement in our sport. Valley Spokesmen also has an ad hoc subgroup, Feather Pedals, which focuses on bringing up new riders. Not surprisingly many of the Feather Pedalers are women and there were many sporting their jerseys this weekend.

Different Spokes is a much smaller club than Valley Spokesmen (103 members vs. 763) and we don’t currently offer a major event such as the Cinderella or even the TOSRD that would attract a wider base let alone more women. Female membership in the club has gotten to be borderline token with only eleven women. Neither diminishing membership nor increasing gender disparity seem to concern Spokers. Without any initiatives we are probably looking at the trend to continue. It might be the case that current members are just happy (or at least indifferent) with the way things are today: a smaller club with markedly reduced female membership. I would hope that is not the case but if so, then what is to be done?

Well, this weekend tour was fantastic not just because of the beautiful roads and pleasant ag scenery but also because of such a diversity of riders: slow and fast, young and old, men and women. I’m just sorry it wasn’t Different Spokes.