How Different Spokes Was Born

An expansion of remarks made at Different Spokes’ Fortieth Anniversary Celebration, on September 18, 2022, by Bob Krumm

First, I’d like to thank the current leadership of the club for deciding to have this celebration. I know it was no small effort on their part to put this evening together. I suspect there are many groups of members and ex-members present tonight who appreciate, just as I do, this opportunity to reconnect with our friends.

I’d especially like to thank Tony Moy. Tony has done a relentless job finding early members, cataloguing photos, and countless other tasks associated with organizing this whole affair. We are all indebted to Tony for the work he has done and continues to do preserving the club’s history.

Tony asked me to say a few words about the starting of the club, and I’m glad to do it if for no other reason than to set the record straight. I’ve read some accounts that are not quite accurate, so here it is as best as I can remember.

The club started from a notice that appeared in one of the gay newspapers—either the Bay Area Reporter or The Sentinel around February 1982. It said that the Gay Olympics Committee was looking to form a bicycle racing team to represent San Francisco in the Gay Olympics to be held that summer.

The notice also said that if riders were interested, they might form a recreational bicycle group that could nurture riders for the racing team. Those interested in either group were asked to attend a meeting at the Gay Olympics headquarters at 19th and Castro.

Bob Krumm, Brad Ennis, Lenny Thomas, Dave Freling
Spring 1982

Dave Freling, Brad Ennis, Lenny Thomas and I showed up. The four of us didn’t know each other before that night. We met Jerry Ford of the Olympics Committee. Jerry said that he was mainly interested in getting a racing team together and that he had to act quickly because the Olympics were scheduled to begin in about four months’ time and he needed to start training. The four of us said we were not interested in the racing team but we would like to start a recreational gay bicycling club. Jerry wished us luck and asked us to refer potential racers to him if any showed up in our group. We wished Jerry luck with the racing team. That one meeting was the extent of the Gay Olympics Committee’s involvement with Different Spokes. I don’t think I ever saw Jerry again, but I believe he later rode with Different Spokes.

The four of us walked down the hill to a restaurant, the Sausage Factory, where we got to know each other and talked about our enthusiasm for bicycling. I remember that the chemistry among us was electrifying because we all had a common drive to find other gay people to ride with.

1978: When assassination of gay leaders and their allies was almost legalized!

A little bit about February 1982: It was not that long after the City Hall murders. And if you count from May 1979 when the verdict came out, it was less than three years. There was still a lot of outrage and defiance in the gay community at that time. There was a general feeling in the community that we had to become strong, individually and as a group, in order to prevent something like the murders from happening again.

I think that’s why several gay sports groups came into existence at that time. In addition to the Gay Olympics, there was the Front Runners, the gay running group. It was formed a bit earlier — in the late 1970’s. There was also W.O.W., Women on Wheels. They formed just after us. We rode with them once or twice. And there was Sundance Outdoor Adventure Society which formed in 1981 in New York City, although I didn’t know of it at the time.

About the four of us….

Brad Ennis was an artist and bicycling enthusiast who didn’t own a car. Later he chose to be known by his real name, Brady. Some of you may have known him by that name.  He got around everywhere using Muni, BART and bicycle. He was the one who thought up the name, “Diff’rent Spokes” with the word “Different” spelled with an apostrophe as in a popular TV show of the time. He also came up with the name for the newsletter The Chain Letter. Brad died in a car accident in 2006 in Illinois, his home state.

By the way, I do remember some of the other names we considered for the club. “Cy-Clones,” was a nod to a look then popular among the denizens of Castro Street. Another candidate was “Outspoken,” which we liked because it had the syllables, “out” and “spoke.” But we thought it implied a strong advocacy for something. We didn’t feel like advocates or activists ourselves and we thought it would be hard to live up to that name day in and day out. And besides, it’s an adjective! 

Then because it’s alliterative, but quite facetiously, we toyed with the name Flying Faggots. That name was rejected immediately, mercifully!  (I don’t think we would be here tonight if we had chosen that name!) We were never serious about that name but we did like the word “Flying.” We talked about the exhilaration we feel when coasting down a hill at great speed—like flying—with the pavement zooming by. We thought it would be wise to try to express that feeling in our name. It was Brad again who came up with Flexible Flyers. But we quickly realized it was probably already copyrighted as the name of steerable toy sleds and wagons. (I think Flexible Flyers would be a great name for a club of bisexual airline pilots.)

Back to the four of us…

Lenny Thomas was one of the most interesting people I ever met. He was a professional gunsmith who worked in South San Francisco and commuted there by bicycle from his home on Market Street. Not only was he a firearm mechanic but also an expert bicycle mechanic. Later he gave several repair workshops to club members. Later when he and I were on a bicycle trip together in Montana, his home state, I watched him true a badly mangled wheel in just a matter of minutes by using only his spoke wrench and the brake calipers.

He was also a very talented camera mechanic and photographer. On rides he always brought panniers full of cameras and lenses, which used to amaze me because back then cameras were big and heavy as you may remember. Lenny was the one who took many of the striking photos of early club rides. Lenny died in 1988 in Mexico in a truck accident.

Dave Freling was perhaps the most sophisticated bicyclist among us. He rode a Miyata bicycle, which sounded cool to me; he wore a cycling jersey; and had proper bicycling shoes and toe clips. I remember I was impressed. Dave had a talent for financial matters. So when dues money started flowing in and we began to have expenses, Dave stepped up. We knew we were in good hands with Dave. When I learned Dave was from New Jersey, as I am, I knew he was a great guy!

I was a long-time bicycle tourist. I had ridden from Sunnyvale to San Diego in 1974 and across the country in 1976. Both times I tried to find a gay rider to come along but I had no luck.

That’s why I was so excited when I saw the announcement by the Gay Olympics Committee. It meant that at last I would be able to find other gay bicyclists for touring.

Almost immediately the four of us got to work and the club started to grow. We held monthly meetings at a public library on Page Street. I’m afraid some of those meetings were mis-guided and boring and for that I take full responsibility.

Melanie Scott at the 1984 Marin Century

We quickly realized that we needed to divvy up duties so that any one of us would not become overwhelmed. When we were ready to have officers, Brad decided to step away. Fortunately for us Melanie Scott appeared just then and agreed to become the first secretary. We were thrilled to have her. I’m very proud that Different Spokes had a woman of color in our leadership ranks practically from the start. I’m sorry we were not able to locate Melanie for tonight.

Dave became the first treasurer and held that position for many years, Lenny was the first VP and I was the first President.

Other early core members were:

Hal Baughman, with broken leg on 1983 Pride “float”

Hal Baughman who kept a collection of maps and bicycle literature, which became the Club Library. He brought it to meetings where members could borrow items.

Bob Bolan was and is a medical doctor and a strong rider. We always felt safe when Bob was along on our rides. 

Luis Dufau with Shay Huston

Luis Dufau brought his charm to the club, his Argentine charm. He was the “Prince Charming of Different Spokes.” I still miss him very much. [Luis died of cancer around 1991.]

Dave Gilchrist on the very first official club ride, November 1982.

Dave Gilchrist was a strong rider who could be counted on to come on almost every ride.  He was very supportive of our ride calendar, as was…

Shay Huston with chic Bata Biker shoes, November 1982. And that’s not a joint she’s smoking!

Shay Huston, the first woman in the club who was there from the earliest days.

Mark Jolles at our first club garage sale

Mark Jolles was the “club comedian.” He can be seen in a photo of the club’s garage sale demonstrating the merchandise.

Derek Liecty   Derek showed up at an early club meeting and handed me a business card with a bicycle on it.  I remember thinking, “Boy, are we attracting the right people!” We always appreciated Derek’s very professional contributions to the club.

Lenny Thomas, Shay Huston, Jim Lindauer, Luis Dufau, and Clay Robbins

Jim Lindauer was another medical doctor.  He and I did the Davis Double Century in 1984 and he did it alone another four or five times!

Dale Miller
Curtis Ogden

Dale Miller & Curtis Ogden. These two friends can be seen in a photograph of an early Halloween ride costumed as a witch and pumpkin. They were always fun to have along on rides.

Jim Lindauer, Peter Renteria, ?, Derek Liecty, ?, and Jeff Mendelsohn

Jeff Mendelsohn was another strong rider.  I went looking for his address to invite him tonight, and instead, I found his obituary. It said that he died in a “tragic bicycle accident.” I was very sorry to hear that.

Howard, 1982!
Howard today, with Dave Freling

Howard Neckel was one of the few members who owned a personal computer in 1982. He graciously produced the first club contact list. I have a copy of it here, in all its dot matrix glory!

MJ, Tom Crites, and a very young Mark Paez, Mark Jolles, Ron Decamp

Mark Paez was a strong rider and city planner, by profession.  He used to keep us apprised of proposed bike lanes in the city.

Richard Palmer (center) at Gay Freedom Day 1983

Dick Palmer was the owner and driver of a pick-up truck that served as our “float” in the 1983 Gay Parade.

Peter Renteria (right), with Lenny Thomas

Peter Renteria. Even if Peter could not come on a particular ride, he could be counted on to be at the start to send us off.  Pete designed the club’s first logo, the one with the connecting bicycles. It was in use for many years.

Frank Sclafani (on wall, upper right)

Frank Sclafani was a strong rider. Once on a Russian River trip, he pedaled ahead to make sure things were set up before the pack of riders arrived.

Tim Shea

Tim Shea, last alphabetically, but an important member in many ways. Tim was the “cop” of Different Spokes, or should I say “the attack dog.” If drivers got too close to us or tried to cut us off, they would hear from Tim! Tim was our “ride protector.”

Sadly many of these people are no longer with us. But at the time, all of these core members could be depended upon to support the growing club in their own unique way.  Each one of them brought to the club certain skills and talents that helped us attract new members.

“Ragtag” or just unpretentious?

I once read an account of the early days of the club that described us as “ragtag.” At first I was slightly offended but then I realized, well yes, we would appear to be ragtag. But back then everyone was ragtag! 1982 was at the tail end of the hippie period; San Francisco was still an inexpensive place to live and many of us lived very frugal lives. On rides we wore jeans, cut-offs, shorts, bathing suits, sneakers and even street shoes.  Several early members rode three-speed bicycles and they managed to keep up. When we decided to do our first club garment, it was a tee shirt, not a jersey.

1982 was way before email or the Internet so all club communications had to be done by US Mail or telephone and this was at a time when many people didn’t even have answering machines. Once to drum up membership Brad and I walked around the Castro and Polk Street districts looking for bicycles chained to signposts or poles. When we found one, we would tuck one of our mimeographed notices under the brake cable on the top tube.

One very successful ride concept we came up with early on was the “Decide and Ride,” which the current club leadership may want consider reviving.  It was a term we coined by adapting a slogan then popular in the motorcycle community regarding proposed legislation on the wearing of helmets: “Let the rider decide!”

We needed a way to let members know even if they had not yet received their monthly newsletter that there would always be a ride every Sunday leaving from McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park at 11:00 a.m. At first we called these rides “Free Rides”. But we realized that would imply our other rides had a participation fee although they did not. If there was a major overnight ride on a weekend, the Decide-and-Ride would give those not participating an alternative opportunity to ride with the club. Decide-and-Rides also became a good way for members to hone their ride-leading skills. I remember we felt very influential in the Bay Area bicycling community when we saw “Decide and Rides” listed in the calendar of another bicycling club.

One thing Lenny, Brad, Dave and I were always sure of—right from the start in the restaurant—was that the time was right for a gay bicycle club and if we could get this one off the ground, we knew it would be successful, because—simply—it’s fun to ride bicycles in groups. We knew that the club would survive even if we burned out, which we did, because new people would come along and feel the same joy that we did in riding together. And just look at us now: Forty years on and still a force in the LGBTQ community!

The founders: Bob Krumm and Dave Freling

Old friends
Old friends
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends

Can you imagine us
Years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy

And what a time it was
It was . . .
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

–Paul Simon