2022: Parting Glances, part 1

Fond Farewell To An Effulgent 2022!

Before we launch into 2023, let’s take a final look at what the past year was like for our club. In no particular order and without further ado:

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. We had 100 rides. That’s roughly two rides every week on average. We hadn’t had this many since 2014. Our ride calendar had been dropping off a cliff since 2012 and hit a lowly 52 in 2017. We have slowly rebuilt the membership and consequently the number of ride leaders and rides since then. When David Goldsmith became president in 2019, he said he was hoping for two rides every week. Mission accomplished! David had a big role in us hitting the number too: he was the most prolific ride leader of 2022 with 44 rides! I was in second place with a comparatively teeny 19 rides; our treasurer Mark Cook was third with 12 as was David Millard, who led the dirt contingent. And membership? In 2021 our membership climbed slowly and we wondered if we’d make it back to 100 by the end of the year. We did but just barely! In 2022 we topped that by growing 20% up to 121. If we can make it up to 130 or so in 2023, we’ll be back to where we were twenty years ago!

Short-sighted. Talk about schizophrenic behavior: although the previous board had all but resolved not to chase after so-called casual cyclists, that all changed when Laura joined and wanted to make a go of it. She convinced David and they started the Short & Sassy rides. In 2022 S&S rides were mostly short versions of the Jersey Ride but they still managed to attract some attendance. One disappointment this year was the complete lack of interest in the Rosie the Riveter ride, which is part of the annual Fall Social. This ride is an easy, flat ride that should have brought out the S&S folks. (Perhaps next year we’ll replace it with a dirt ride instead, which used to be a popular option in the late ‘90s.) Perhaps we’ll see a surge of interest in shorter rides in 2023!

“Mixed” Feelings. After sputtering attempts to restart interest in riding off-asphalt, the club finally hit its stride in 2022 thanks to David Millard. He led a spate of mixed surface and dirt rides including a beautiful jaunt to Purisima Creek east of Half Moon Bay and a whole lot of rides in the Headlands. Getting even dirtier he led a pretty serious ride on Eldridge on Mt. Tam that even had some bloodshed! “Gravel” rides in 2023, anyone?

Swept Away. David Goldsmith and David Gaus led a wonderful “training” series in January through May ostensibly to get ready for the SLO Wildflower—more on that below—and other century rides. The very first ride, which was to cross the Bay Bridge, ended up being cancelled by a tsunami due to the eruption of the underwater volcano near Tonga. Other than that the drought meant we had few rides cancelled by rain this year.

Merrily We Roll Along. We had no less than three ride series in 2022. To celebrate our 40th year, Roger and I put together a ride each month scattered around the Bay Area just as we did for our 30th in 2012. For the latter we resurrected a bunch of popular and unusual rides from the early days of the club; this time we did some Golden Oldies but also threw in a bunch of newer rides that Spokers love such as Pleasants Valley and Franz Valley. The Davids’ spring series was also very popular and ran the gamut from the Three Bears to SF-to-SJ. The Foxy Fall Century’s pandemic hiatus ended and so David Goldsmith led a short series in the late summer to get ready for it as well culminating in a big group of Spokers heading to the Valley to enjoy a surprisingly mild fall day.

“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely…” The 2020 Kick Off Meeting just squeaked by on February 26, 2020 and then the statewide Shelter-In-Place order went out. For 2021 we had to make do with an online Zoom Kick Off instead. But it was back to real life for 2022 thanks to Nancy for hosting us at her spacious outdoor back patio in the heart of the City. There was a thirst for getting together IRL—27 people attended, a huge jump from the usual number—to hear club plans for the year including the upcoming getaway weekend to the SLO Wildflower and the 40th anniversary celebration events. Will we be back to Sports Basement in 2023? Let’s hope so.

Flower Power. The San Luis Obispo Wildflower century unexpectedly yet organically turned into 2022’s getaway weekend. The Monterey/Pajaro Dunes Weekend was unfortunately cancelled in 2020 and again in 2021 by the pandemic. Our getaway weekends usually involve renting a house or camping area where the entire group can stay together and cook dinner together. The SLO Wildflower was just going to be your usual century ride but just a little bit further out of the Bay Area than we usually go. There turned out to be a lot of interest in going to SLO maybe because it was an unfamiliar-to-DSSF ride in an area that was a reputation for stellar riding, Paso Robles. We also happen to have a former member who now lives down there, Adrienne, who enthusiastically opened her house to us for a hosted barbecue dinner. Something like 25 Spokers and fellow travelers showed up for a beautiful weekend in Central California. The Friday evening dinner was potluck but Adrienne and her husband really did the lion’s share of the labor by fronting slabs of barbecued ribs and all the sides. And vegetarian and vegan choices too! Thanks Adrienne!! Saturday’s ride had most of the Spokers doing the full century with a difficult final twenty miles on some of the worst paved roads in California; the smart set did the shorter 80-mile ride that skipped the plethora of potholes and got us back to the finish to sup without feeling beaten to death. The even smarter set did the 50-mile route, which the initial scenic loop through some of the nicest roads we’ve seen in years. Will we go back in 2023? If so there will be one more Spoker to join the crowd: Adrienne’s new baby!

Born This Way. The 2022 Pride followed the successful playbook of 2021: two short rides—an ascent up Twin Peaks to the Pink Triangle for the animals and then a subsequent loop down to Lake Merced for those wanting an easier celebration. And of course, punctuated by coffee and deliciously decorated Pride donuts! It was our most popular ride of 2022. Can we top this in 2023? Pride bagels perhaps? Pink mimosas?

And Now For Something Completely Different Spokes. I didn’t attend this event qua ride but it certainly was something très different: the KAV factory tour. Coming from the fertile mind of David Goldsmith, he was so impressed with his new 3D printed custom helmet that he got KAV, which is based in Redwood City, to offer a tour of their facility and custom fit anyone who attended as well as provide a free lunch! It doesn’t get better than that. Oh yeah, and since it’s local why not turn it into a fun ride as well from SF down the Bay Trail? Done.

Forty is the new Thirty. Forty revolutions around the Sun called nothing less than a celebratory dinner and a memorable program along with a ride that was on point. The soiree and ride were held in September, the month with the predictably best weather for San Francisco. So of course we had the freak rainstorm wash out plans for an outdoor “night under the stars” at Il Casaro on Church Street. Hurriedly we reset up inside and ended up having a cozy party. Thanks to David Goldsmith for suggesting the restaurant, which did a stellar job in welcoming us and producing a delicious dinner with so much food that they even made doggie boxes for everyone to take home! Bob Krumm, our long-gone first president, made it a really special evening by coming all the way out from New Jersey to join us and recount the origins of the club along with the other surviving founder, Dave Freling. Bob Krumm and I had managed to hunt down and roust a bunch of old (in both senses of the word) Spokers from the very early days of the club to come out and see how their foundling child has been doing. Pretty good I’d say! The ride the day before was not rained out but instead was a pleasant, sunny day that brought out a huge crowd only dwarfed by the Pride Rides. Now if we can make it to 50… (Will any of the old farts still be around by then?)

2023 Centuries: January-April [updated 1/14/23]

What’s happening in 2023? Clubs and organizations mostly came back in 2022 and offered their usual centuries. A few did not such as the Pedaling Paths to Independence and the Crater Lake Century. Let’s hope they have the interest and energy to put them back on the calendar for 2023. The risk of event postponement or cancellation due to Covid seems over barring something unforeseen. Vaccinations seem to have greatly reduced the chances of a superspreader event.

Here’s what we know so far for the first months of 2023. April is when the calendar really starts to get packed.

January
1 Saturday. Resolution Ride/New Year’s Day Up Diablo. 38 miles. No fee. This isn’t a century but it’s the first “big” ride of the year and practically a club tradition. See the listing in the club calendar.

February
11 Saturday. Tour of Palm Springs. 102-, 85-, 56-, 34-, 25-, and 7-mile routes. $90-$30. This is by today’s standards a huge ride—many thousands of cyclists. It’s a long drive south but hey, it’s Palm Springs! Registration is open.

12 Sunday. Velo Love Ride. 60 miles. No fee. This event had put on by Chico Velo since at least the mid-Oughts if not earlier. It’s a much lower key event than their Wildflower, attracting only a couple hundred cyclists in a good year. It’s pleasantly flat and tours the scenic valley area around the Sutter Buttes providing an excellent early season metric. Unfortunately Chico Velo hasn’t been able to find a member willing to organize this long held ride. But Different Spokes is going to go up there to ride it anyway as long as it doesn’t rain. See the listing in the club calendar. If you’re unfamiliar with the Velo Love Ride, you can read about it here, here, and here.

25 Saturday. Pedaling Paths to Independence. 65- and 25-mile routes. $55 and $45. This benefit for the Community Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired is their annual fundraising ride out of Linden, which is just east of Stockton. It’s a small event of about 250-300 riders and this year is their comeback from the pandemic. It tours the rolling ag land south and east of the town. If you’re unfamiliar with this ride, you can read more about it here. Registration is open.

March
4 Saturday. Solvang Century. 101-, 68-, and 52-mile routes. $125-$105. Although the Solvang has never been short of participants—several thousand is the usual number—since being sold to Planet Ultra there is now a limit of 1,000 riders. Registration opens December 25 is now open.

April
15 Saturday. Cinderella Classic & Challenge. 95-, 65-, and 30-mile routes. $70-$30. Limit of 900 riders; women/girls only. The Classic starts at Las Positas College near Livermore and traverses a big loop through Danville, Dublin, and Pleasanton. Registration will open January 5 is now open.

22 Saturday. Tierra Bella Century. 100-, 77-, 55-, and 33-mile routes. $65. Limit of 1,500. Starts in Gilroy and takes in the climbs and reservoirs in Santa Clara Valley. New routes this year. Registration opens Jan. 1 is now open. There may be masking required at rest stops. And new “Southern Picnic” meal after ride!

22 Saturday. Levi’s Gran Fondo. 139-, 120-, 81-, 63-, 40-, and 22-mile routes. $295-$140. Some new routes this year. Registration is open.

20-23 Thursday through Sunday. Sea Otter Classic. 92- and 50- mile road routes. $125. Sea Otter returns to its usual April slot. Registration is open.

23 Sunday. Primavera Century. 100-, 90-, 63-, and 25-mile routes. $90-$40. Starting in Fremont the 100-mile route heads up Calaveras, around the reservoir and then out to Patterson Pass before returning and over Palomares to Fremont. Registration is open.

29 Saturday. SLO Wildflower. 63-, 52- and 30-mile routes. $85. Limit of 1,000. SLOBC has decided to cancel the 100-mile route due to climate change, ie. the wildflowers have all disappeared from the route. Last year the club went down to do this ride and had a great time. Registration is open.

30 Sunday. Chico Wildflower. 125-, 100-, 65-, 60-, 30-, and 12-mile routes. $85-$25. This used to be the ‘must do’ club ride qua getaway weekend. Terrific riding despite the incineration of Paradise four years ago during the Camp Fire. Registration is open.

Fun With Tubeless Tires: Dodging A Bullet. Again.

I’m so modern!

Typically when I return from a ride, I throw the bike in the corner and forget about it until later; sometimes ‘later’ is the next time I ride it. In this case I rode the bike with the tubeless tires and when I got home, I felt the tires: the rear was soft. In no mood to deal with it then, I put it off until the evening. I hate having to deal with bike repair issues when I’m tired but in this case I figured it wouldn’t take too long. I cleaned the tire and managed to pull out flints and small sharp objects embedded in the rubber. Then I felt the air rushing out and knew it was a simple, small puncture. But why wasn’t the sealant working?

I removed the valve core, which was semi-clogged with sealant—another issue I should deal with, and stuck a probe into the tire; it came out dry. Well, that answers that: I had allowed all the sealant to dry up and apparently hadn’t topped it off in recent months hence the leak. With Stan’s Sealant I wouldn’t have been surprised since in my experience I have needed to add Stan’s about every three or four months. But I have been using Orange Seal Endurance since giving up on Stan’s and this stuff lasts much longer, something like eight to ten months. Had it been that long since I had added sealant?

So here are a few words of advice if you’re running tubeless tires and sealant. First, mark down when you’ve added sealant or make a note in your calendar to check it at regular intervals. Despite my best intentions I never do this but I am sure that if my phone nagged me to do it, I would at least give it a second thought before ignoring it!

Second, put in more sealant than you think you need—I mean, a LOT more. That extra weight in your tire? Honestly you won’t feel it. And anyway, it’s going to evaporate more quickly than you realize leaving you with less weight and the joy of experiencing flats again. Also, putting more in means you can ignore it for a really long time until it dries up completely!

Third, just because you’re using sealant doesn’t mean you can forget about your tires. The previous rear tire I wore down to the casing. Was it because I’m a cheap ass? Well, yes partly. But it was also because I had gotten lulled into ignoring it as I wasn’t giving me any problems. I just happened to notice one day while out on a ride that I could see large sections of casing! So look at your tires every now and then. I also do this to pull pieces of glass, wire, and flints out, giving me the satisfaction that running tubeless plus sealant was a good decision.

Back to the flat tire: of course after I pulled a piece of glass out of the tire, the air rushed out as there wasn’t any sealant left in the tire. Adding more sealant was easy. I don’t like to pull off the tire bead and pour it in because it’s just asking to be spilled all over when I try to get the tight bead back on the rim. However the advantage of doing that is I can see more accurately how much sealant I’m adding. Instead I prefer to remove the valve core and attach a tube to the stem to pump the sealant in. Less fuss, no mess. The disadvantage is I have no idea how much sealant I’m adding. So I just pump a lot in because having ‘too much’ is kinda impossible. When I did this and then aired up the tire, the puncture started to spit sealant—thank god it was a tiny puncture because otherwise it might not seal and I’d have a bigger problem. All I had to do now was roll the tire so the puncture was at the bottom. In a few minutes it was sealed. I went to bed. Next day I checked the tire: still hard, so success!

In this case I was probably very lucky either to have had a very slow leak or to have punctured close to home because it certainly didn’t feel soft when I was riding. The last time I made this same mistake I flatted about a mile from home, so it was pretty easy to get back to the manse to deal with it. At least if I had been far from home with a flat and had to put a tube in, I wouldn’t have gotten covered in wet sealant unlike the last time.

Different Spokes Blues

Now Father Time is catching up with me
Gone is my youth
I look in the mirror everyday
And let it tell me the truth
I’m singing the blues
Mm, I just have to sing the blues
I’ve been around a long time
Yes, yes, I’ve really paid some dues
—BB King

What has forty years of the club wrought? There have been a lot of friendships and some serious relationships (and break-ups too). There’s been a lot of water that’s flowed under this bridge! The club is different than it was yet in critical ways it is much the same. We find each other through the love of cycling—or in a few instances the fear of cycling!—and unlike almost all other cycling clubs it’s the other love that keeps us together. The club endures because the purpose for which it was formed—to provide a haven for queer cyclists—is still relevant. Today it may seem that cycling is normcore to the max. But it isn’t really and it definitely wasn’t the case forty years ago. Back then being into cycling put you in an unlovable oddball category, the bike nerd. I submit for evidence the character Dave Stoller in the best bicycling movie ever, Breaking Away. He’s one of us and…he’s portrayed as a misfit nerd. That cycling somehow in recent years caught the misnomer of ‘the new golf’ is laughable because nobody makes jokes about killing golfers but many still do today about killing cyclists. As if you didn’t know: we are hated. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Being bullied for being queer or run down because you ride a bike, radio shock jocks like us both for fodder. So birds of a feather flock together and boy, do we flock!

I’m still not sure how it is that the club is still running. But I’m happy it is. In other communities there are no LGBTQ cycling clubs and it’s not because the community is too small to support such a niche organization. It’s likely because it is harder today to start a cycling club—any club —because frankly, no one wants to do the work. Instead what we find are Meetup groups. Some clubs have Meetup counterparts as we did for a short while and those seem to persist longer because the club is already in place. But new LGBTQ cycling Meetup groups seem to fizzle out after a while as it’s usually one or two people who are doing all the work. Why isn’t there a Different Spokes San Jose or South Bay? It’s not that we don’t have members there; we do have a few. But what are all the other LGBTQ cyclists doing? The South Bay is a huge environ with millions of residents and it supports two large recreational cycling clubs, Western Wheelers and ACTC and a bunch of amateur racing clubs. There really should be a Different Spokes South Bay. It isn’t rocket science to form a cycling club and the idea has no patent.

The dirty little secret is that it’s hard to keep a club running these days let alone start a new one. If you look at the websites of other small local clubs what you see may surprise you. Typically there is a very limited number of rides, maybe two to four per month (if that). More typically they have a list of regular weekly rides but no listed ride leaders. Whether these rides actually take place is unknown and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them don’t. In other words they’re more likely aspirational ride listings. Even among some larger clubs, who do populate their ride calendars with a plethora of listings, you see the same rides offered every week with just a few—or even no—new rides. That’s because offering a new ride presumes you have a member willing to create and lead it and that takes motivation and work.

For clubs that list ride leaders a close inspection will show that it’s almost always the same people over and over. That is not a surprise because only about 10-15% of members do more than passively belong, ie. lead rides, take on officer roles, or do the scut work that keeps a club running and vibrant. For a club like Grizzly Peak Cyclists whose current membership is about 800 that should mean 80-120 active members yet when you look at their leadership page and the listed ride leaders in a typical month it’s more like 40-50, which seems like plenty for any club. But in our case since we have less than 120 members—really no more than we had than at the end of 1983 after just one year of existence—we can expect about 12-18. And that’s about the number we have for the entire ride leader cohort and board. In other words we can’t do any more than we are doing without beating the odds to raise more volunteers. It’s downright amazing we have such a robust ride calendar despite a small set of volunteers. But upon closer inspection you’ll see that that most of our rides are led by about five people. When one of these members gets injured or gets overloaded with work or personal issues and can’t lead rides, the ride calendar noticeably contracts—there isn’t a lot of ‘slop’ room.

Different Spokes over forty years has had its up and downs. At the end of 2001 we almost folded. We didn’t because a small group led by Chris Larussell, who became president in 2002, made it her personal effort to revive the club and pull it back from the brink. Did you know that one of the results of that is the creation of our monthly Jersey Ride, which happens to be the most popular ride on our calendar month after month? Then around 2018 our membership was down to a little above 60—not enough to keep the lights on—and we had to claw our way back to where we are today at 121, which still isn’t enough to keep the lights on! Our annual membership fees in toto are not enough to pay our bills. Again it was the determination of the board to reinvigorate the club by streamlining website management, leading more rides, broadening the types of rides we offer, and putting on different kinds of social events.

So here we are still alive and kicking. But just. That’s due to a sizeable injection of effort, creativity, and devotion from your board and ride leaders. The current board isn’t going to last forever; ride leaders come and go. If we want to make sure that Different Spokes survives another year, let alone forty, we are going to need people like you who love Different Spokes to make the club your personal effort, to volunteer and put energy into the club. Everybody’s lives are busy. But if you don’t make space to give to Different Spokes, there may not be a Different Spokes at some point. You can walk away from the club—after all you can always ride by yourself or join one of the other local non-LGBTQ clubs when you want some company—but heaven forbid that Different Spokes ever folds as did Different Spokes Seattle only a few years ago! It would take a lot more effort to revive it at a future point, more effort than keeping it chugging along. But who would do the work to revive it? We could end up as a Meetup group after all. Birds of a feather may flock together—but where will they flock?

Tune In, Turn On, Drop Down

LSD: long, slow distance!

I just installed a dropper seat post, which is not something I would have imagined I would ever do. If you are a road-only cyclist, then “dropper post” is likely not part of your everyday parlance as it has heretofore been a piece of equipment you would find over on the dirt side of things. But now so-called gravel bikes are being touted as the new frontier for dropper posts as companies, ever seeking a new market, are hoping to convince you gravelleurs that you must have one so you can be as rad as possible on the trails. So like fat tires, suspension, hydraulic brakes, and one-by drivetrains we’re seeing adoption by roadies of yet another bit of mountain bike technology. Although I also ride dirt, I’m a relic of another era as I have no suspension, no hydraulic brakes, a triple crank, and only seven cogs in back. Oh, and no dropper post, not even a Hite-Rite.

So what was I doing trying to figure out how to install a dropper post? Roger has been carrying a second e-bike battery on the back of his bike for our longer and climbier rides. That has meant putting a rack on his bike. With the additional length on the back, his arabesque when he mounts or dismounts has to be more pronounced in order to clear all that mishegoss in the rear. So why not just lower the seat to make that a tad easier? Hence the dropper post. On a road bike!

Dropper posts for road and gravel bikes are getting easier to find. Roger’s bike although it does have a sloping top tube, doesn’t have kind of super long seatpost extension one typically sees on dirt bikes. Dropper posts are built for a lot of extension, which is less common on road bikes. But we were able to find a “short” dropper post made by PNW, the Cascade, with just 125mm of extension, which was just short enough to work on his bike. If you’re really old school and your seat post doesn’t stick out much above your top tube, then a dropper post is unlikely to be in your future. Now with the flick of a lever Roger can lower the seat and then be able to get his leg over all his stuff more easily since he’s no longer hurdling an elevated seat.

Never having even seen a dropper post before I dutifully read the installation instructions. It didn’t look hard. And it turned out it wasn’t complex but just fiddly due to the tiny parts requiring a 2- and 3-mm hex wrenches. Working on seat posts is an ugly reminder that there are almost no good designs to be found for attaching a saddle to a post. Almost all of them involve contorting your fingers into the tiny space under a saddle to adjust a nut or a screw and the PNW post was no different. Levelling a saddle also requires the patience of Job. But at least the adjusting bolts could be turned from below the post rather than under the saddle unlike the ancient Campy seat post (and that also required a special wrench). As fate or lassitude would have it, I have the proper tools but they’re not laid out nicely and easy to find. So I have to march all over the shop peeking into bins looking for the correct wrenches; this was not a job for the multitools I usually default to out of sheer laziness. And no home maintenance work would be complete without fumbling and dropping said small parts on the shop floor and watching them vanish into crevices or under a tool chest.

Eventually I got the saddle attached to the new post, sort of. Then I switched over to inserting the post, which was easy for a change. Things got interesting in trying to attach the control lever to the handlebars. Roger’s handlebars are cluttered. He’s got a Spurcycle bell, a mount for his computer and Cycliq light/camera, and then a big, honking control panel for his e-bike. In other words all the real estate is already taken. I had to nudge the bell and the computer mount to create enough room for the lever mount and just barely got the space to squeeze it onto his bars. What was left was attaching the control cable from the seat post to the lever. This is where the small, fiddly parts came in and I needed Roger’s assistance because it required three hands. I could have used a bench vise in lieu of a third hand but that wasn’t nearby, and I needed another hand anyway because the cable had to be pulled taut while I tightened the set screw. Much fumbling and cursing ensued but eventually it was put together. We tested it and it worked—push the lever and we could push the saddle down; release the lever and the saddle popped right back up!

The next day we went for a test ride. The ride itself is a story that I won’t go into except to say that despite seeing the forecast for some rain, we of course went out anyway and just to make it extra fun we didn’t have fenders or extra raingear because it wasn’t going to rain, right? We got dumped on and for good measure Roger then got a flat for an extra kick in the ass. But the post worked as advertised. He was able to pop the lever, drop the post, and dismount like a ballerina!

Ride Recap: Mt. Hamilton in the Fall

Ed. Ride leader Stephen Shirreffs submitted the following ride recap of our annual Mt. Hamilton in the Fall ride. Looks like it was hella fun!

On November 19 seven hardy but cheery club members gathered at the Berryessa Community Center in San Jose for the club’s annual Mount Hamilton in the Fall ride. Thanks to President David Goldsmith’s efforts four of the participants arrived together by BART and for future reference that mode of transportation went well now that BART is only three miles away. As is pretty usual on this ride, once we got into the climbing we quickly devolved into a few groups but we reconnected at the first rest stop at Joseph D. Grant Park and again at the top where we had a lengthy regroup and refresh. Stephen, in his first stint as a club ride leader (ably assisted by co-leader Roger), enjoyed his annual Starbucks chilled Frappucino from the tuck shop. Eric was meanwhile geeking out at the astronomy tech. We eventually herded the cats back together for a victory photo. A usual the descent was long and magnificent with very little traffic making it all the more enjoyable. The weather was surprisingly warm. But all those layers shed on the way up were still mighty welcome for the long descent in the cool autumn air.

It Was 44 Years Ago Today

SFO Museum Exhibition; “Moscone, Milk Shot to Death” November 27, 1978 San Francisco ExaminerHarvey Milk Archives-Scott Smith Collection,James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center, SFPL R2020.0602.019

Sunday November 27 is the 44th anniversary of the assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone by ex-Supervisor Dan White. It was nearly a lifetime ago and for most of you it’s easily forgettable historical trivia. But for those of us who lived through it, it left an emotional scar so deep that we bear the mark of it for the rest of our lives.

This year Roger and I are not leading the ride to visit Harvey’s memorium in the San Francisco Columbarium nor the gravesite of his predecessor Jose Sarria and of Moscone in Colma. But that does not mean we are ignoring it. Perhaps we will next year if we are still alive and hale.

In the meantime I refer you to last year’s ChainLetter blog post about the ride, which was no more than a recapitulation of the first time that we led it in 2018 on the 40th anniversary of the assassination.

Ride Recap: Cavedale

View of Sonoma Valley

In the compendium of Different Spokes rides there are the usual suspects and the unusual suspects but rarely do we encounter a Bay Area road that we have never visited. However Cavedale is such: as far as I know it has never been offered as a club ride despite sitting glaringly in the middle of the Mayacamas range connecting the Sonoma Valley and the Napa Valley.

Ten years ago for the 30th anniversary Roger and I resurrected the undead and led an ancient Michael John ride from Santa Rosa to Calistoga and back. That got us interested in the various ways one can map a loop between the two valleys. Michael John’s route took in Mark West and Petrified Forest Roads. We checked out Saint Helena Road and tried to make Kortum Canyon Road work only to find that the latter’s midsection is privately owned. Or at least has a big-ass locked gate in the middle of the road, which was never disclosed in AAA maps, Mapquest, nor Google Maps. So we stuck with Michael John’s original route. These roads are in the northern part of said valleys. Towards the south you’re left with Trinity, which has plentiful car traffic since it’s the only way to cross over. Except for Cavedale. Cavedale starts on the Sonoma side, summits the Mayacamas, and drops to intersect Trinity. Because you’re descending Trinity at that point it’s not so bad riding with car traffic downhill at speed.

Not having ridden Cavedale before I looked at Google Streetview, which shows that it’s a little-used, narrow road with several steep hairpins climbing quickly about 2,000 feet. The views of the Sonoma Valley are fantastic but in exchange is execrable Sonoma county pavement that looks that it hasn’t seen a paver in over thirty years. The road patches have patches that have patches! But at least it was paved all the way. Once you’re on Trinity the pavement is good.

Roger and I were joined by Stephanie and Darrell. Lucky for us Darrell is an old-hand at Cavedale and knew all the roads like the back of his hand. He was able to warn us of all the steep sections, where the cave was—it is called “Cavedale” for a reason—and how much more climbing was left. We started in the Sonoma town square early enough that the day tourists hadn’t arrived yet. It was a chilly 50F but we knew we were going to warm up shortly. A quick four-mile jaunt north along busy Highway 12 got us to Cavedale. We were in for a pleasant surprise: it had brand new pavement. This was no slurry seal but actual thick asphalt on a reconstructed road bed. That was good news for Darrell since he was riding his back-up bike that had mere 23mm tires. The rest of us had good sense to bring the fattest tires we had although now it looked like we didn’t need them.

Smooth as glass!

Cavedale is no slouch. You don’t get an easy introduction to the climb, you just start off at 8+% and regularly hit stretches in double digits. But the sun was out and view was great and there was almost no car traffic so we were able to use the entire roadway, especially nice in the sharp hairpins. We were stopping to rest, take pictures, take off jackets.

Taste of the soon-to-be old Cavedale

Alas, the repaving was not entirely finished. About two-thirds of the way up we were on a mixture of old pavement and short sections of ground up roadway, which made for a bumpy ride. However for newbies like us it was good to get a taste of the ”classic” Cavedale knowing that it will soon be history. We won’t miss it! The pavers were parked on the sides of the road so we knew that this was a work in progress. When it’s done Cavedale will be as smooth as glass.

Summit of Cavedale looms

This section of the Mayacamas was burned severely by the Nuns fire in 2017 and it shows: the upper portion of Cavedale is completely exposed having lost any tree cover it once had. Houses that miraculously had survived (or perhaps had been rebuilt subsequently) stood imperiously atop the range no longer concealed by any foliage whatsoever. Burnt trees still stood stick-like against the horizon.

At the top we had to descend carefully in order to avoid the most egregious pavement disorders until we hit Trinity. The fire station at the intersection had water but it was terrible, probably well water, with a sharp metallic tinge. There we began the descent down Trinity towards Napa. The road was in good condition although being unfamiliar with it I rode it carefully never knowing if I’d drop into a pothole since we were now deep in tree cover. Like Cavedale Trinity is steep with sections of about 11 or 12 percent. (It would make an challenging climb and then a fantastic descent down Cavedale once the paving is done.) Eventually Trinity becomes Dry Creek and passes the intersection with Mt. Veeder Road and it all becomes familiar.

After the long, always pleasant descent down Dry Creek we veered east into Napa to get lunch at Fumé. Although practically empty when we arrived, by the time we left it was full of diners enjoying a delicious brunch. For the record the huevos rancheros and the quiche were both excellent. Darrell had a ricotta pancake and Stephanie the butternut squash soup. I’d come back again!

With almost all the climbing now over it was mainly a flat and rolling run back to Sonoma. We headed back to Dry Creek and then by Redwood and Old Sonoma Road to the Carneros viticultural area south of Highway 12. This area south of the highway used to be grazing land. No more: it’s covered with young vineyards, and the few tracts of ranchland are hemmed in by them and probably soon to be converted. The grape leaves were all turning bright red, yellow, and orange making for colorful hillsides. A quick run back into Sonoma and we were done, all 47 miles.

Cave decorated for Halloween

Footnote: I found out that Cavedale was scheduled to be repaved “by the end of October”. Apparently it is behind schedule but they are about two-thirds of the way up to the summit. The revised schedule now shows that repaving is supposed to be completed by November 10. The paving is for the entire length of Cavedale including from the summit down to Trinity. In addition the upper section of Trinity is also being repaved. When it’s completed, it will be time to revisit this route!

Ride Recap: Fall Social

This year’s Fall Social was back at Phil Bokovoy’s house in a slightly slimmed down version. Somehow the intoxicating allure of grilled turkey enticed just twelve Spokers over to the East Bay despite the weather being near-perfect for a jaunt around the Three Bears and an afternoon spent idly in Phil’s backyard noshing homemade goodies. Due to lack of interest the Rosie the Riveter ride was cancelled. Where were all you Short & Sassy followers? Ah, you were all riding your indoor trainers while watching the 49ers game! Nine of us led by Roger Sayre rode al fresco over the Berkeley hills and into Contra Costa. When you live in wall-to-wall asphalt cities like San Francisco or Berkeley there’s nothing better than to head over to Contra Costa for some inspiring open space. The route of the Three Bears is still protected—for now—from development by copious EBMUD watershed, East Bay Regional parks, and a few ranches and farms. Although it was chilly at the start, traipsing over hill after hill had everyone warmed up quickly. Slathered in sunlight we warmed up in a trice. Other than Roger suffering a flat the ride was uneventful.

Back at Phil’s we had a first: no one brought any chips! Some variety of chips is the common potluck fare at the Different Spokes events but not this year. Jeff brought a delicious homemade shrimp salad instead. Roger S. thought stuffing was the perfect accompaniment to turkey and Tony knew that carbs, fat, cheese, and lots of salt were in order so he made scalloped potatoes. We had a wide assortment of desserts including Roger H’s homemade apple pie with two kinds of apples, poppyseed cake, german chocolate cookies—yum!—and other cookies and sweets I didn’t partake of because I was stuffed. Although he didn’t ride, the Den Daddy made a surprise appearance and broke bread with us all.

Next stop: the Holiday Party!

The Long View

1982…

I joined Different Spokes shortly after I moved to San Francisco. I don’t recall exactly when but it was around 1983 or so. Except for a few years in the mid-90s I’ve been a member almost the entire time the club has been around. Everyone else who was a member when I joined is now gone except for Derek although Karry, who joined just slightly before me, has recently rejoined after a thirty-year hiatus. Derek has me beat since he was one of the very first people to join the club—we have pictures of him on the earliest club rides in 1983—and he’s been a member the entire 40 years! I’ve seen the club wax and wane over the years. The club grew very quickly when it opened for business. Why is that? As was the case with the gay softball league, gay rodeos, the gay bowling league, Frontrunners, gay swim teams, Gay and Lesbian Sierrans, our club formed at a time when LGBT socializing had been a hidden undercurrent in American life but broke into the open after Stonewall. No longer willing to be limited by bars and bathhouses we were reclaiming all aspects of our lives including sports and recreation—bending [pun intended] the fag stereotype as it were. (Lesbian stereotypes to the contrary included the “gym teacher”.) Different Spokes came into being at a time when LGBT life in the west was coming out of the shadows gangbusters thanks to—among other things—Stonewall. Even though it took a lot of hard work to get the club up and running especially back in the day before the Internet and mobile phones became commonplace, Bob Krumm was exactly right: the time was ripe for a LGBT club and if it hadn’t been us, it would have been some other club because all the signs were there. He and the other founders just happened at the right time and place and also we were fortunate to have had such energetic and determined founding “parents”. The fact that a series of LGBT cycling clubs popped into being shortly after we did—Women on Wheels, Diff’rent Spokes in NYC, Rainbow Cyclists in SD, River City Cyclists in Sacramento, the LA Spokesmen in LA, Different Spokes in Seattle, and Sydney Spokes in Australia—demonstrated that the time for out LGBTQ cycling had arrived.

Then the 1985 AIDS Bike-A-Thon blew the doors open for us. The club got a lot of positive publicity, a ton of goodwill, and consequently our membership skyrocketed to well over 300. BAT got our name in the papers and was great PR, and we had a lot of people join just to support what we were doing even though they may have had little or no interest in recreational cycling. After the end of the BAT in 1995 our rolls slowly began to dwindle until by 2018 we had little more than 60 paid members. Today we have about 120 members, which coincidentally is the number of members we attained by the end of 1983, one year after forming.

Bike-A-Thon was important for giving the club a sense of mission and a community role instead of being “just” a cycling club. It created friendships forged through hard work and a lot of shared tears; those friendships continue today even with BAT long gone. Although BAT was a club success, it was also a huge burden. In those years the club at times felt like it was only Bike-A-Thon—the tail wagging the dog. Bike-A-Thon was a completely volunteer effort by the club and its allies, and after ten years the price was burn out even though it was rewarding to generate $2.3 million for AIDS beneficiaries. How many charity efforts give every cent gathered to its beneficiaries? Perhaps we wouldn’t need websites like Charity Navigator if that were the case generally. Bike-A-Thon and the spirit of volunteerism and giving were distinctly unique and that is likely the main reason it burned out: it wasn’t self-sustaining for the long run—who wants to work hundreds of hours unpaid in their spare time? It was part of that era: the imminent spectre of disease and death, the need to do something good NOW, and to vanquish the sense of helplessness we felt.

After BAT ended the club went back to its primary business: providing a fun haven for LGBT cyclists! Small social clubs constantly need an injection of energy, effort, and volunteers to stay alive and somehow that dwindled until in 2001 we faced a proposal to close the club as it is and become an interest group of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Sleeping dogs awoke and soundly defeated that proposal and out of that grew—very surprising to me—a resurgence of enthusiasm to rebuild the club. The new board created the Jersey Ride, which we still have today as well as the Saddle Challenge to raise money for Project Inform, which after many years we no longer hold. But during that time the ChainLetter, our club newsletter, dwindled nonetheless. The Internet was here and a print newsletter seemed vestigial when you could post rides online at any hour of the day. The ChainLetter went from a monthly publication to hiatus for a few years, to revival as a quarterly and running for four more years before the writing was on the wall: no one wanted to step up produce the ChainLetter. So it ended in 2012 apparently for good. On the plus side the rise of digital photography made it easier than ever to take pictures—lots of them—and put them up on the web. Our club photo albums were now online and they exploded. Here part of the club’s history is preserved. And those photos in our Photo Gallery—well over 40,000—are annotated.

During this time having our second women president, Chris Larussell, made a difference in the number of women in the club. The club has always had a minority of women. But while Chris was president our roster rose to 40% female, the most we ever had, a fantastic accomplishment. Of course after she stepped down and eventually stepped away from the club our female membership shrank again. I think that says something about birds of a feather flocking together, don’t you? It also holds a mirror up to the club around our lackluster diversity, I think, and the need for more female membership and leadership in the club. When will the club wake up that this is one of our significant failings?

After a nice bounce in membership the club then continued to shrink albeit more gradually. We had new leadership, a renewed ChainLetter, and lots of rides. There was speculation that we were now “post gay” and younger LGBTQ adults were happy to socialize in non-LGBTQ cycling clubs. At the same time newer LGBTQ cyclists were flocking to ALC instead of Different Spokes. ALC provides the same sense of purpose and mission that Bike-A-Thon did and although not exclusively LGBTQ it is heavily populated by us and has a serious queer vibe. Adding in the nearly year-round training rides around the Bay Area and what you have in everything except name is another queer cycling club. Instead of the tail wagging the dog, the tail IS the dog!

In the meantime member Chris Thomas decided that he would take club charity fundraising as a personal mission and started Double Bay Double, a two-day ride around the greater Bay Area to raise money for the SF AIDS Foundation. His concept was to host an event so diminutive that it would be swift(er) and easy(er) to organize and pull off, which is why it was limited to no more than 50 riders. Although he had help from the club with recruitment and training rides and got some assistance from SFAF, he really ran the show with a small coterie of enthusiastic volunteers. As with Bike-A-Thon the effort was primarily done by a small number of Spokers and it did not capture the imagination of most members of the club, and so it too came to an end after seven years, our most recent foray into “more than just a recreational cycling club” terrain. Perhaps if it had been an event with a higher profile, it would have helped energize the club. But keeping it small and simple was the goal rather than to put on and support a much bigger (and thus burdensome) event.

The club continued to shrink gradually until the 2019 board held an all-board weekend retreat to get to know each other, bond, and strategize a resurgence. I’m not in a position to give an unfettered and neutral account of where are today since I have been part of that board. But from the get-go that 2019 incoming board knew that we had our hands full with trying to lift the club out of the doldrums. The Saddle Challenge was getting less and less interest, so it was axed even though it was the last vestige of our charity fundraising; we (re)committed to hosting the Jersey Ride monthly because it’s consistently our most popular ride; we started a MeetUp group to test whether we could recruit through a different avenue; we got a new website in order to simplify website management and to integrate and improve communication with members; we consciously revived getaway weekends; and when the opportunity to expand our ride offerings into dirt territory and to shorter rides came up, we grabbed it.

What forty years of survival has taught me is that we should never take the club’s continuation for granted. The club only survives through the effort of its members. We can’t coast. No, really we can’t! When members cease to believe in the mission of the club, then it will fade away perhaps for good. Sure, it’s a place to have fun and meet new friends through one of your favorite activities, cycling. But what makes the club different and special is that it’s a haven where we can be ourselves and to make sure that future LGBTQ cyclists also can be themselves. We have to continually pass it on to the subsequent cohort of LGBTQ cyclists and keep it relevant. To do that we need members to give energy to the club by volunteering to keep it running, to make sure it is there for the next queer cyclist to stumble upon.

Although we’re no longer in the limelight, we have survived for a simple reason that the club provides a place for LGBTQ cyclists to relax safely, be themselves, and find friends. Who like to ride bikes, that is! Whether you’re a dirt biker, a pavement pounder, bike commuter, or Sunday cyclist, there is a place for you in Different Spokes.

…to 2022!