As you know Saddle Challenge is our sole club fundraising effort now that Double Bay Double is on hiatus. Every March we offer Saddle Challenge for two reasons: to encourage members to get out of the rainy wintry doldrums and start riding in earnest, and to raise a little money for Project Inform. The amount of money we raise for Project Inform is pocket change, just $300-500 each time. But SC is a low-key event and running a cycling fundraiser in March is “challenging”—witness last year when half a year’s worth of rain came just in the month of March and washed out most of our rides. It also pales before our club’s first fundraising project, the AIDS Bike-A-Thon, which over its eleven years raised about $2.3 million for various Bay Area AIDS/HIV agencies. Know that AIDS Lifecycle is the 800-pound gorilla that sucks up the majority of AIDS/HIV related fundraising around here and it’s important to help out other significant AIDS/HIV services.
It’s not uncommon for local cycling clubs to do fundraising if they offer a century ride. The monies they collect don’t simply line their coffers to fund extravagant parties for members. These clubs donate funds to local charities, oftentimes cycling related such as Bike East Bay or SF Bike. For example, Valley Spokesmen, to which I also belong, puts on the annual Cinderella Classic. VS has donated event “profits” to Stand Against Domestic Violence, A Safe Place Domestic Violence Shelter, Bay Area Women Against Rape, and the Rainbow Community Center along with 19 other organizations. In effect clubs such as Valley Spokesmen perform a function similar to Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, Optimists International, and Lions Clubs: they raise money and do service in their communities.
Different Spokes also has a history of fundraising even though the club didn’t start with that intention at all. When the Founding Daddies & Mommies started Different Spokes it was to be able to cycle with other LGBT folks. Some cycling clubs form at least partly because they want to field a racing team. Not Different Spokes! We were the antithesis of an amateur racing club in that the original founders were not interested in racing in the very first Gay Games and wanted specifically to tour and do recreational rides with each other. Such is the origin of recreational cycling clubs: girls and boys just wanna have fun! But the fact that we were a queer club meant it couldn’t just be about getting that endorphin high from riding. The very fact we existed, loud and proud, was a direct challenge to stereotypic notions of queers as were all LGBT sports clubs in that era, and at the time the club officially formed AIDS was beginning to hit our community. I won’t recapitulate how the AIDS Bike-A-Thon came into being (you can instead read my account here) other than to say it was started by Different Spokes in 1985 and ran for eleven years. By the time the club handed BAT over to Project Open Hand we were ready to take a break, as organizing each BAT consumed a year’s worth of planning and work by about two dozen dedicated Spokers. In subsequent years Spokers participated in the California AIDS Ride and AIDS Lifecycle but there was no club-backed fundraising project until we inherited/adopted the Ron Wilmot Ride For Project Inform, which because it ceased as a separate event in 2007 exists now only as a reference point in Saddle Challenge.
…And the other half!
The most recent charity effort was Double Bay Double, which was the pet project of member Chris Thomas. If you’ve done ALC, you’ve probably either heard of or run into Chris. Chris not only rode ALC religiously, he became a TRL and annually led his own training series in the South Bay, which he supported with his blog until he moved out of the Bay Area a few years ago. As a side project he started Double Bay Double in 2011 and he ran it for four years almost singlehandedly. Double Bay Double was a much lower key local version of ALC to raise additional money for the SF AIDS Foundation. He designed DBD to be fleet: no bureaucracy, brutally efficient, get-in-and-get-the-job done. It was deliberately a small-scale effort in order to fly under the radar of local agencies, city halls, and the police by avoiding the need to acquire permits. It also required minimal support from SFAF thus turning DBD into essentially free money for them (i.e. SFAF was the dom, Chris was the sub). Although Different Spokes was the sponsoring club and a few members did participate and assist, it was really Chris’s show and the club rode on his coattails. The interesting thing about DBD was that it raised at least $52,400 for SFAF in four iterations with a total of only 70 riders! Those numbers are comparable to those of the very first BAT, which raised about $33,000 with 63 riders back in 1985.
Double Bay Double
When Chris moved out of the Bay Area, Project Inform adopted Double Bay Double. PI ran it in 2015 with Different Spokes providing almost no support. If I recall correctly, the results were dismal and the event was then put on hold. In 2018 PI and DSSF revived DBD and despite a significant amount of planning and support including some from our club, the interest in the event was virtually non-existent and it was cancelled less than two months before it was scheduled to take place.
So that is where we are today. The club has a storied history of charity fundraising even though it may have been accidental or half-hearted at times. I say half-hearted because the club has always been schizophrenic about fundraising; there have always been two tendencies within the membership—those who are enthusiastic about charity fundraising for AIDS efforts (note there hasn’t been any other focus) and those who just want to ride their bikes. For recreational clubs a fundraising event such as a century is invariably a major stressor. It takes a lot of work to put on a ride on public roads for hundreds (sometimes thousands) of cyclists. A club may have a lot of members but only a fraction eagerly volunteer and only a slightly larger fraction can be cajoled into helping out. Most members just want to ride their bikes. Different Spokes is, ironically, no “different” except that we are much smaller—less than 70 members currently whereas Grizzly Peak, Valley Spokesmen, and Western Wheelers each have several hundred members, which makes rounding up volunteers to staff rest stops, plan food, get up early to run registration, stay late to close down the course, etc. easier (but not easy).
Today much of the energy for service is sucked up by ALC. You only need to see the dedicated TRLs and roadies to know ALC has done a wonderful job of harnessing that enthusiasm and dedication. I wonder sometimes if there is really room in Different Spokes for more fundraising effort. The club is not large and a small but significant number of members put their energy into ALC (in fact some put their energy into ALC instead of Different Spokes). Perhaps that’s for the better and that the club return—full circle—back to its roots: a LGBT recreational cycling club that focuses on fun.