Forty & Fabulous History: In 2001 the Club Almost Shutters

Most of the current members of the club are likely not aware that we almost closed the club down in 2001. The membership was waning down from the 300’s to about 150 paid members; the rides had decreased to perhaps two or three per month; the treasury was hovering around $676. The leadership of the club at that time was shouldering a heavy burden: the board was shrinking due mainly to natural attrition but there was also little interest by members in assuming a leadership role, be it as a ride leader or a member of the board. Keep in mind that our monthly print newsletter, The ChainLetter, was still being produced. That alone was a substantial amount of work as well as a money hole due to printing and mailing costs.
A proposal was put forth to dissolve the club and become an special interest section of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. A meeting was held on October 14—almost twenty-one years ago—to discuss the proposal and vote. About twenty members attended and voted against dissolving the existing club. I’ve resurrected an old article I submitted to the September 2001 ChainLetter that I felt summarized the thoughts and feelings of a lot of members. Some of the language is dated and certain specific conditions such as the publication of the now-defunct ChainLetter are quaint. In fact most of the “What Needs To Be Done” section is horribly dated. [Aside: I toyed with the idea of calling that section “What Is To Be Done” to amuse the Leninists among the Spokerati.] But I think the article’s main point is still relevant today: if you want a LGBTQ cycling club, you have to help it continue to exist.
Obviously the majority of members would do no such thing other than put a check in the mail. For them joining the club is hardly different than throwing money at another amusement or to make a problem go away, and if work is involved, they’d likely move on to another amusement. A proposal to close the club and just 20 of 150 members show up?? How telling. But I get it: you can’t be emotionally invested in everything (and, hey, the club will take your money anyway because we need it; our membership fee still doesn’t cover the cost of running the club.) However there was a minority of members for whom the club was worth sweat equity but they just thought somebody else was taking care of the “problem” so that they didn’t need to do much. Interestingly after the announcement went out in June about the proposal to close the club, the ride listings shot skyward. And after the October meeting some members were jolted awake by the clarion call and stepped forward to contribute to the work of running our club. Lesson: don’t let sleeping dogs lie!
Here we are at age 40: our membership number has risen from a nadir of 62 in 2018 to 122 today; our treasury is currently enough to keep the lights on thanks to many generous donations (but our costs still exceed membership fees!); we have a website that makes some aspects of running the club easier; we’ve got loads of rides including more dirt rides and easy rides. So what’s to worry? Getting to where we are today has been a lot of hard work by the board and the ride leaders. We still need more members to join the board: at the minimum we need a website manager as Nick is ready to retire from that position. We could stand to have a men’s and a women’s outreach chairs to help us recruit more members especially women. And current board members are all waiting for their parole board hearings!
The usual exhortations to join the board involve playful and coy banter about how much fun it will be and that it’s not a lot of work. Well, part of it is true: it can be fun to create something with your BFFs. But the board is a working board with “all hands on deck”. It may look like it all happens by magic. But behind the grand curtain the wizards are working very hard, not just doing the scut work but also thinking about what the club needs and where it needs to go and making that vision come true.
Many hands may make light work but few hands make heavy work. What happens when those hands get tired? The club is the product of the collective vision of its members. But that’s only true if you take ownership of your club. Without you the club is just an empty shell of a machine. If there is anything we can learn from forty years of survival, it’s that the club can’t coast and it needs constant injections of energy, ideas, and the hands willing to make something of them–don’t fucking soft pedal if you want to keep moving forward. You like making things, don’t you? Why not the future club?
What would it have been like if we had folded? With whom would you be riding your bike?

Why Different Spokes should remain Different Spokes (June 2001 ChainLetter)

As Doug O’Neill [ChainLetter Editor at the time] and our President [at the time] Phil Bokovoy pointed out in the last two issues of The ChainLetter, Different Spokes is at a turning point. Ride listings have dwindled, paid memberships have declined, and the treasury has shrunk. Now, publishing The ChainLetter is a burden, indeed threatened.
In last month’s issue, Rob Bregoff suggested that Different Spokes merge with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to prevent the total collapse of the club.
Can or should the club continue to exist in its present form? The answer is yes, it should.
Identity & Community
An independent Different Spokes is terribly important not only for those of us who cherish the club, its history and tradition, and all it’s done for us, but also for all future gay & lesbian riders who have yet to join. Over the years I have ridden with other bicycle clubs in the Bay Area. They’re all nice organizations dedicated to meeting the needs of their members. I have enjoyed the company—to a point. Usually, I became tired of the “straight boy” banter and the clueless sexism and heterosexism that unconsciously permeates most of the rides and events. When I want to feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging, a sense of “us-ness,” I come to Different Spokes.
Though it is often easy to be openly g/l in San Francisco, this is not always the case elsewhere in the Bay Area. As gay men and lesbians, we are almost always in the minority. Different Spokes exists so that we can escape the at-times claustrophobic heterosexuality in other areas of our lives. This is also why Different Spokes is a regional club; we are a center for g/l bicyclists throughout the region, not just San Francisco. Our membership reflects that.
Different Spokes is not just a haven for g/l bicyclists, where homosexuality and its culture and values—our culture and values— are presumed; Different Spokes is also a community. Whether by sharing the latest new piece of bikie equipment we just got, ogling the hunky cyclist who just passed by, or chatting about last night’s date, we Spokers have created our own distinctive community of two-wheeled, lavender (well, actually more often pink!) hedonists.
Community is built through a common history and through shared experience. For us that has mainly been through rides and The ChainLetter [ed note: the now defunct ChainLetter newsletter]. In the “old days,” that social glue was built not just on rides but through the monthly club meetings, the regular annual events such as the Tahoe and Guerneville weekends, and the work on Bike-A-Thon. Both monthly club meetings and Bike-A-Thon have fallen by the wayside. Rides are the heart of the club, and The ChainLetter exists not just to circulate ride listings but to inform all of us about what happened on those rides we missed—to tell us about the latest gossip of our fellow Spokers. The ChainLetter is a nexus for nourishing bonds between members who are separated by geography and, all too often, do not have enough time to ride together. I may not have gone on a ride but I want to read about who was there, what happened, and who’s dating whom.
Bob Krumm’s recounting of the early days of DS shows us that long before DS was formed there was a need for a g/l bike club. That need will not disappear if DS folds or merges with the SFBC. If DS vanishes as a separate entity, another g/l cycling group almost certainly will coalesce in its place. Although the SFBC is a worthy organization, its goals and orientation are different. SFBC exists primarily as a bicycling advocacy group whereas DS is a gay/lesbian social group. Having gay members is not the same as being a gay organization. Furthermore the SFBC is not a regional organization serving a diverse membership throughout Northern California.
What Needs to be Done
How can the club survive in its present form? First we must address finances. I believe the club made a mistake in publishing The ChainLetter online for all to receive without paying for a membership. We should continue to post the ride calendar online, but not the newsletter, at least not until the month is over. For those who prefer not to receive a paper copy, we should e-mail the newsletter rather than posting it on the DS web site. Receiving a current newsletter is a benefit for paid members. Otherwise what is the point of paying at all except out of good will? There is no compelling reason to join.
Eliminating the paper version is not a good idea. Not everyone prefers a PDF file. Despite being electronically networked to the max, I prefer to receive my ChainLetter in print. And not everyone has easy access to the Web. A print copy can be posted at participating bike shops or left sitting on a coffee table. Asking folks to print their electronic copy and post it or leave it someplace is an unneeded burden.
Furthermore perhaps membership fees need to be increased to pay for The ChainLetter. The cost of membership needs to reflect the cost of running the club, and that includes publishing and mailing the newsletter that is the communication link between members.
The newsletter is undergoing a significant change and has more content. Ride leaders need to submit a ride review or get an eager participant to do so. The Ride Coordinator can follow up and make sure a review is submitted. And if you’ve never been involved in newsletter production, believe me, it is a lot of work. The Editor alone cannot be responsible for writing, editing, producing, laying out and printing the newsletter, at least if we want him or her to be around for a while. Now’s the time for you budding writers to exercise your fingers and whip up some frothy, dishy articles.
Traditionally the Ride Coordinator has been just one person. With the fragmentation of our membership by geography, gender, and ride preference, we must share the responsibility of gathering and supporting rides. A ride coordinator cannot participate in every ride nor can he or she know the entire membership. Ride leaders can help, too. Leaders can announce other upcoming club rides and encourage participation. Leaders can query participants about the kinds of rides they like to do and inform the Ride Coordinator. And leaders can ask participants if they’d like to lead a ride (and pass their phone numbers to the Ride Coordinator!)
Now is the time for you to speak up… and act. If you feel there is still a need for an independent gay-identified bicycle club in the San Francisco Bay Area, if you care about Different Spokes, then you need to let the leadership know. Please come to the General Meeting on Sunday, October 14 and speak up. Or, send in your comments to The ChainLetter. If you’ve been waiting for others to solve the club’s problems, you may have waited too long unless you act and participate now. If you’re a DS old-timer whose participation has receded through time but you still love the club, we need you now to make sure it survives!

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