Going Backwards

Post-Tam fix…with all the fixins’

Roger and I did a two-fer this past weekend: we attended both Saturday’s Alpine Dam Loop ride and Sunday’s Bovine Bakery Loop ride. That’s unusual for us mainly because getting the bikes and ourselves into the van and trucking over to Marin—well, really anywhere—is just a PITA. It’s simpler and less time consuming to ride from the manse. And with gas over $6 per gallon again, it’s also costly. Originally we thought we’d just go on Stephanie’s Sunday ride since it’s easier, plus a pleasant Sunday jaunt at a noodling pace into west Marin just sounded enticing, which is an unreal feeling for me because after many years of being a SF denizen I had become burned out on riding in Marin. I finally must have recovered! But even more appealing was the prospect of gorging on Bovine Bakery’s lovely pizza slices, at least two of them. Despite the Saturday ride fitting our schedule better, that involved going over the Golden Gate Bridge, which we just won’t do anymore on a weekend afternoon. In the end we took David Goldsmith’s suggestion to forego the bridge and just start and end the ride in Sausalito. That not only omits the moshpit on the bridge but also leaves just the best part of the route: around and up Mt. Tam!

On Saturday it was super easy to get to Sausalito by the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. We met the others and promptly found out they had changed plans and were now going to do the loop in the opposite direction, counterclockwise instead of clockwise. That was fine with me because despite the hurt having to climb the Seven Sisters I much prefer that than hurtling down the backside with my brakes melting and my life flashing before my eyes. Saturday’s ride, which was originally going to be a cool ride in Pescadero along the Stage Road, was a replacement due to San Mateo county’s aggressive chipsealing of coastside roads rendering them dangerous for cyclists. Apparently the prospect of thousands of vertical feet up steep climbs daunted many Spokers as it was just six of us—Mark and Jeff, the leaders; along with Eric; newish member Jacob; Roger and me.

After a flat dash through the Marin suburbs up to Fairfax, we stopped for a snack/early brunch at Perry’s before remounting and heading uphill. By now the day was warming up and intent on adding to the challenge of climbing Tam. Fairfax-Bolinas Road is a 7-8% grade and goes in and out of tree cover but mostly out so we were already sweating profusely by the time we reached the golf course. Each regrouping had us huddled under trees pining for any breeze. The entire time Eric raved on and on about how beautiful the scenery was and how lucky we were to live where we can ride in places like this. Hearing his enthusiasm I realized how inured and jaded I had become to the roads I had ridden a billion times. Ah, “beginner’s mind”. He went on to point out the trailheads of dirt rides he had done with Joan and Brian out here and how fantastic the trails were.

My memory was playing tricks on me. From the golf course it’s a net drop to the dam. But it had been many a year since I had ridden to Alpine Dam this direction, probably more than fifteen, and the “descent” to Alpine Dam had a couple of ascents before the pleasure of the final drop; each unexpected ascent was disheartening. At the dam it was cooking. Although Roger and I quickly went to the shade, everyone else was cavorting on the bridge taking selfies like Aussies on a beach. After another languid break we remounted for our encounter with the Seven Sisters. Until now Eric had been blazing each uphill but now Roger decided he wanted to get over it ASAP. So off we went and in trying to follow him I saw heart rates I haven’t seen in years! No pain, no gain. But usually it’s “more pain, no gain” anyway. The road is completely exposed and that probably was the whip that got us to Rock Springs quickly as our legs would allow.

At the Rock Springs parking lot was a food truck. Now that’s a new (but smart) one! I was out of water and longingly eyed it with the thought of a Coke. But the crowd of hikers had the same idea and I decided that being a cheap bastard was okay and I’d wait for Bootjack to refill with…plain water. At Bootjack we had another lengthy break even though just the fast downhill remained. I went last because I’ve become cowardly. Even though this is a descent that I’ve literally down hundreds of times and could play a video in my mind of the entire thing, I’ve just decided that it’s not worth it for me to risk skin and bones anymore. So I descend like the old man that I am.

Of course we got caught behind cars, no surprise. That allowed me to catch up. Well, that and the short but punchy uphill by the Mountain Home Inn. We ended up behind a long train of cars on Highway One and before we knew it, we were done. The others headed off to the Junction for pizza and adult refreshment while Roger and I went back to the car at Mike’s Bikes. They were doing a 60-mile day but we were doing only 35. Nice ride and surprisingly chill for a C-pace. But that made for an especially friendly ride. Maybe we should call these ‘Social C’ rides?

The next day was Stephanie’s ride to the Bovine Bakery. Perhaps the Siren call of west Marin has lost its allure for Spokers, as it was just five of us: Stephanie, Nancy, Roger S, and Roger and me. This morning was cooler—what a relief!—so climbing up Lucas Valley was the perfect warm-up. Being Sunday the ongoing road repair of the upper reaches of Lucas Valley was quiet. The new pavement and improvement of the turns is going to make it a really fast descent on the way back. Stephanie decided that instead of doing the usual counterclockwise loop from Pt. Reyes Station, we would instead do it clockwise. That’s actually a wise move because the climb out of Olema to the top is harder and longer than up Sir Francis Drake and down to Olema. Oh well, another day for the Garmin to get completely confused!

Although Stephanie never seems to be anything but totally amped when she’s on her bike, today we actually did have a relaxing ride in West Marin. We took plenty of rest breaks and no one seemed to have had too much adrenaline. Stephanie blazed the descent off of Lucas Valley and kept hammering all the way to Nicasio where there is a very convenient set of porta-potties.

As much as Lucas Valley Road is a great ride, it seems more cyclists are deciding that they prefer to get to west Marin by car so they can start enjoying the open space immediately: the parking lot in Nicasio was full of cars with bike racks. I confess that this development strikes me as antithetical even if I understand why it is happening. When I lived in SF I never drove to Nicasio. In fact even driving to Lucas Valley, which I do now because I live in the East Bay, was 50-50 back then. We would just ride from SF to Pt. Reyes Station and back. Joseph Collins was perhaps the last Spoker to uphold that practice. Perhaps it’s lack of time or the influence of mountain bikes: most mountain bikes today are so ungainly on the road that dirt bikers avoid pavement when possible. Instead of cycling to the trailhead on your mountain bike, one just drives there. To this day I still find it odd to see so many cars parked on Skyline by Redwood and Chabot parks. It’s so close to the ‘burbs you can just ride up the roads to the trailheads. But that’s not the practice anymore.

Cycling past Nicasio reservoir it looked low even though it’s actually at 75% capacity despite the drought. Marin residents must be doing a fantastic job of conserving water. Nonetheless everything in west Marin seemed dry and sere.

After the steep and fast descent to Olema, which Stephanie of course led, she took us the “back way” on Bear Valley Road to Pt. Reyes Station in order to avoid the at-times thick tourist traffic on Highway One. In town we made a beeline for Bovine Bakery only to be greeted by…nothing. Usually it’s a clusterfuck of cyclists and day tourists lined up at the front jittering like junkies waiting for their next fix. But today it was unexpectedly closed. There was the sign: “Today we are closing at 10 AM.” Perhaps it’s hard for them to find employees to work a Sunday. A disgruntled day tourist walked up to the front and started cursing, ranting about how he’d had it with Bovine and their untrustworthy hours. Wow, there’s nothing as uncomfortable as going ‘cold turkey’, is there?

I confess the wind more than went out of my sails: I felt suddenly adrift as if the world made no sense anymore. What was I to do except collapse to the ground in a fetal position and cry? Then Stephanie said, “Oh, let’s just go across the street to the Palace Market and get sandwiches.” Well, you get your fix wherever you can find it! I had never eaten anywhere else in Pt. Reyes Station except Bovine and back in the day, at Ed’s Superette #2, which is now Whale of a Deli at the other end of town. It turns out the sandwiches at the Palace are pretty decent and satisfying, so that was an ugly lemon turned into sweet lemonade! We lingered over lunch sitting at a picnic table next to Bovine. A man sat of the grass playing his acoustic guitar. Shortly another man approached him and engaged him in conversation talking a blue streak. We looked at each other and suddenly our conversation turned to schizophrenia and our experience with those who have it. Are we in Dolores Park? Time to move on!

Back on the road Roger S. proceeded to blitz the downhill to Platform Bridge while the rest of us tried to stay alive. I can’t say I was feeling especially eager and really felt more like taking a nap by the side of the road. At the top of Lucas Valley Stephanie again took off and despite the much improved pavement I was very cautious. In what seemed like just minutes we were back at the start. After the post-ride banter we bade each other farewell. Two days, two great rides. Thanks, ride leaders!

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!

What Different Spokes Has Meant To Me: Stephanie Clarke

So that’s why she’s so fast! (Not her usual ride!)

Ed.–Stephanie has been a member for almost twenty years. She’s done hundreds of club rides and led many herself. She was also the Ride Coordinator in the mid-Aughts, which is a thankless task. (Ask me how I know!) In her own words, here’s her take on Different Spokes and why she is still a member.

The reason I love being a member of Different Spokes is that it is an LGBTQ+ social club for bike riders. It is that shared passion that originally made me show up on a Different Spokes ride and it is that shared passion that keeps me coming back. I could go on to mention all of the great people I’ve met over the years and all of the fun times we’ve had together. But a story I’ve told many times before bears repeating:  my first DSSF get-away weekend was to the Palm Springs Century. There were at least ten of us as we rolled out together in the morning.  But the group was varied in experience and ability, and by the first rest stop we had spread out a bit. As everyone got into the first rest stop and started gulping Gatorade and salty snacks (it would reach over 90 degrees that February day!), the faster riders looked at each other and said, “let’s just slow down so we can all ride together.”  From then on we were sometimes a pace line, sometimes a loose group, but we all rolled into the finish together. It was right then that I vowed to buy the club rainbow jersey and to keep coming back. While I enjoy all of the local rides, my favorite times have been our club weekends to Lake Tahoe, Crater Lake, Monterey, Palm Springs, and Amador County. It’s just hard to beat a dozen people crammed into a tiny two-bedroom cabin, totally spent and blissed-out on endorphins from riding sixty miles in the Gold Country hills and heat, stepping over each other to find a seat on the floor, eating pasta and left-over BBQ, talking and watching the World Series on the TV and Cal Bears football on Will’s computer. More recently we’ve upgraded to AirBnB’s on the outskirts of Monterey that actually have a dining room table, but the comradery and good times have been the same. I am very thankful to all of the people that have contributed so much time and energy to keep DSSF running through the years. And I’m even more appreciative of all the guys that have gone out of their way to make DSSF a welcoming place for women and people new to the club. Community doesn’t just happen, it happens because we reach out to each other. Different Spokes has provided a place for all of us cyclists to do that. Ride on.

Ride Recap: East Bay Tiburon Loop

This past Saturday Roger and I unveiled a version of East Bay Tiburon Loop that we think Spokers will enjoy in the future as long as they ride it only during the dry season, which these days is almost all the time unfortunately. Thanks to Jeff Mishler for a recommendation to include a section of the Bay Trail in San Rafael, which is partly packed dirt and at bay level. During rain or King tides this section of the Bay Trail is wet but it’s fine the rest of the time. It’s less than 39 miles long starting from Little Louie’s Deli in Point Richmond, which by the way is a great place to get a meal or a cup of coffee with a sweet, and after crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge (RSR) goes around Paradise Drive to downtown Tiburon before returning over Camino Alto and back over the RSR.

This version of the Tiburon loop completely bypasses the Golden Gate Bridge, which on weekends is very congested. For East Bay denizens it’s the perfect way to get to Marin to cycle Paradise Drive. You no longer have to schlep to SF to do this scenic road nor abide traffic into and out of the City.

There are several ways to get to and back from Tiburon from the RSR; Roger and I have been trying them out to find a route that wasn’t dangerous or problematic as well as being scenic.

Today’s ride brought out an interesting mixture of folks. David was the only SF person to attend; everyone else was from the East Bay. David and Stephanie are DS stalwarts; Karry Kelley, who was president of Different Spokes in 1986, is back cycling after a long hiatus and graced us with his presence along with his friend Jordan. Finally we had a relative newcomer to the Bay Area, Angela, come along because she wanted to learn about riding in Marin after crossing the RSR. Karry and I go way back to the early days of the club. I believe that he was also the AIDS Bike-A-Thon coordinator in 1989. It’s nice to have another old fart return to the disco dance floor!

The weather today was brisk with a steady wind out of the west the entire day. But the sun came out and we had perfect weather for storming Paradise Drive. The path up and onto the RSR from Point Richmond is literally writ in asphalt—it’s a marked bike path. As you climb up to bridge level there is a series of annoying yet apparently necessary “speed bumps”—18 to be exact. The RSR itself has one former car lane dedicated to peds, cyclists, and other forms of micromobility. Keep in mind the RSR is long, much longer than the Golden Gate at about 5.5 versus 1.7 miles, so you get to enjoy it for an extended period. This time we got to ‘enjoy’ the strong headwind from the coast. The RSR has two humps and once you’re over the second hump it’s a long, steady descent to water level. Despite the headwind it was easy to hit over 20 mph, which in general is not a good thing on a multi-use path. But there were few users on this day–which by the way is also not a good thing as the bike lane is in a trial period only–so zipping along was pretty safe.

For the uninitiated once in Marin it’s a bit confusing where to head. But head west on the frontage road for a short distance and you’ll then see the crosswalk over to the flyover for the I-580 exit to San Quentin on which a multi-use path has been added. After the top you pass the prison entrance and head by the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. You’ll have to take the pedestrian crosswalk to the south side of Sir Francis Drake at the light and ride on the sidewalk until you see on the left a multi-use path heading south along I-101. Don’t take the first one you see as it’s the ramp over Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to the Cal Park Hill tunnel! You will take that on the way back. Take the second left, which comes immediately after the first one. Until recently this path was extremely narrow, so much so that it was impossible for a cyclist to pass if anyone else was on it. It’s now rebuilt and comfortably wide. You’ll then join the Redwood Highway that takes you over to the Corte Madera shopping center. Just before that you pass the Larkspur-Corte Madera path, which is what the Jersey Riders take. So if you time it right you can meet up with them on the second Saturday of the month. We didn’t have any issues navigating from the bridge to Corte Madera. This time we took the bike path adjacent to the Redwood Highway instead of riding on the street although either is fine. The bike path used to be broken down asphalt and quite bumpy but it is now repaired and very smooth.

At this point the route will be familiar to you if you’ve ever done the Tib loop.

When we got to Paradise Drive everybody rode at their own pace. However although we spread out to the point of not being able to see each other at times, at Woodlands Market everybody arrived within about two or three minutes, so it was actuallly a very evenly paced group. We ended up at Woodlands for lunch if only because it was convenient and old habits die hard. Karry used to live in SF decades ago but like me had moved to the East Bay. He remarked that he hadn’t cycled to Tiburon in probably 30 years! Despite having moved to the Bay Area a year ago Angela still hadn’t explored much beyond the East Bay, so getting familiar with Marin was a relief for her. Stephanie doesn’t usually ride into southern Marin preferring to hit to open roads in western Marin. But a two-week layoff from cycling meant she was building back up again, this time to get ready for Foxy Fall in October.

After lunch we headed out of Tiburon and took Camino Alto back to the RSR. Although the shortest way back is just to get back on I-580—yes, bikes are now allowed to ride on the section of 580 from San Quentin to the very next exit, which drops you off at the western foot of the RSR—we did the long but more scenic route through the Cal Park Hill tunnel to get over to the Bay Trail. It’s a diversion that adds about three miles but also adds the enjoyment of the view at water level of San Rafael Bay and the RSR.

Once back at the RSR it was just six miles back to Little Louie’s. Oh, and this time we got a slight tailwind from the westerly rather than the oft sidewind from the wind blowing through the Golden Gate. Good thing too because the climb up the RSR may seem easy slight but it can be taxing with a gnarly headwind.

Fun With Tubolito Tubes

Although I am still running road tubeless tires on one wheelset, I have been curious about developments at the opposite end of the spectrum. You can now buy inner tubes that are made of thermoplastic urethane (TPU). These tubes are significantly lighter than both butyl and latex tubes. Butyl tubes are what you’re used to running but you can also buy latex tubes, which are usually lighter than butyl tubes. Butyl tubes run the gamut from “ultralight” to heavy duty with purported weights as low as 65 grams. But a typical butyl tube you might use for fast recreational riding runs about 110 grams. Latex tubes are usually about 75-95 grams.

Considering that a TPU tube like those sold by Tubolito is about 35 grams, switching out tubes is tempting. Until you see the price tag: one Tubolito tube costs about $32 compared to a run-of-the-mill butyl tube for about $5. That’s a hefty premium! So the question is: what are you getting for that extra coin?

Tubolito wasn’t the first seller of TPU tubes but they seem to be the most prevalent. They’ve recently been joined by Schwalbe and Pirelli: the Schwalbe Aerothan tube is $40 and the Pirelli P Zero Smartube is $36. You can see that they are all extraordinarily expensive. Perhaps if TPU tubes become more popular the cost will go down. But for now the price is quite high.

If you’re racing or just obsessive about your bike weight, then the gram count is about the only thing that will matter in your decision. You’re going to be using TPU tubes because they’re the lightest, even lighter than a tubeless tire with sealant. Why is that? Tubeless tires are coated on the inside with a layer of butyl rubber, which adds weight. Then you add sealant, anywhere from one to two ounces of sealant per wheel. One TPU tube weighs less than the sealant you need and you still have to contend with the extra weight of the buyl coating.

Although I like light bikes and wheels, this is no longer my top priority. Whether it’s due to changing taste, getting older, or a developing a princess-and-the-pea mentality, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to ride quality. I like really smooth wheels and bikes these days. A bike that bucks and jolts or that rides harshly is just a drag both figuratively and literally. Riding in places that have degenerate asphalt, which is all too common in the Bay Area, really calls for mitigation from your wheels and your bike. At the same time I don’t want to be riding a heavy, inert bike—I mean, I could just ride a full suspension MTB, right?

After a long experimentation period with tubeless tires, I think I know what that technology can offer me. Tubeless tires do reduce the on-road hassle of flats as long as you take proper care by monitoring your sealant level. I’ve been using Schwalbe Pro One tires with Orange Seal Endurance on a HED Belgium wheelset. This setup is light but not the lightest. Yet it spins up quickly and generally I don’t mind the slight extra weight. They also roll rather sublimely—smooth, damping bumps and pavement roughness. But it could be better.

It may surprise you that these aren’t my preferred wheels. My favorite wheels have latex tubes. These are also HED Belgium rims but with regular Michelin Pro 4 tires in nominal 25mm width. Although I’ve used a variety of high-end tires, overall I’ve ended up preferring these tires. The interesting thing about Michelin tires is that they are undermeasured: they always seem to measure wider than the label says. Putting them on a wide rim like the HED Belgium and they balloon out to 30 mm! Oh, and they also weigh just 205 grams. So they are light and the extra girth makes them floatalicious on HED rims. As far as I can tell the casing construction, which affects ride quality, is nothing special and they’re not expensive, running about $42. So I’m not sure what ‘secret sauce’ Michelin is using to make such supple tires. In my experience latex tubes make a noticeable difference in the smoothness of a wheel. The above wheelset is the first set of clinchers that feel close to a set of high quality sewup tires, specifically the Clement Criterium Setas. The Clements are the best tires I’ve ever ridden, period. They had silk casings as supple as can be and latex tubes. And they weighed only 250 grams! (Oh, and the rim was a tubular Nisi, just 360 grams so two out of three: light, smooth, but not convenient.)

Back to the Tubolito tubes: I wasn’t sure what ride quality to expect with these tubes. When you handle them TPU tubes don’t feel as elastic as a latex tube despite being so light and thin. The inflexible feel of the TPU doesn’t bode well for ride quality since suppleness comes from the ability of the material to flex easily. I put them on a different wheelset, a pair of Astral Solstice wheels. These wheels are traditional aluminum rims but very light, about 1,400 grams, and a low spoke count, 24 front and 28 rear. The rims have a 19.5 mm internal width. I was trying out some Rene Herse Cayuse Pass tires; these tires are whisper-light, only 183 grams in 26 mm nominal width. When inflated they grow to just 27 mm on the Astrals. So this was a little like comparing apples to oranges since this wheelset is lighter but narrower than the HED wheels just to confuse things.

I ran into a series of problems with this combination of parts but they revealed a problem with the Tubolitos that I was unaware of. The tires were extremely tight and getting them on the rims required I use a tire lever—never a good thing. Naturally I punctured the tube. But that gave me an opportunity to test the special Tubolito patches. TPU is not rubber so regular vulcanizing patches like Rema Tip Tops will not work. Instead Tubolito sells special proprietary adhesive patches for repair. Conceptually they are similar to Park Tool glueless patches. You are supposed to apply pressure for five minutes to the Tubolito patch before inflating it. Long story short: the patches don’t hold well, at least for a long period. The first patch failed after a few days. I clamped the second patch in a C-clamp to apply pressure for three days. It failed after about two weeks. I now have a third patch in place that I also used a C-clamp to apply pressure. Subsequently I got a real flat and patched that. After about a week the tube went flat and I have not been able to uncover the leak. My suspicion is that the adhesive is just not strong enough and with sufficient air pressure a tunnel is created to the edge of the patch for the air to escape; after the pressure drops, the adhesive reattaches but only for low pressure (like when you’re looking for the leak!)

As for the ride quality it was merely okay. The wheels felt similar to what butyl tubes feel like if that. They lacked the distinctive “whine” that a supple tire makes when it deforms while pedaling. If you’re ridden the best tubular tires you know what I’m talking about. To be honest I can’t give a definitive answer because this wheelset is different than the HEDs: it’s lighter but narrower. So perhaps the ride quality is tempered by the narrowness (and perhaps by the slightly higher pressure I was using, 55 versus 50 psi on the wider HEDs). Or, it might have been the spoke count or the rim weight. (The HED rim is slightly heavier but has fewer spokes.)

At this point I’m skeptical of TPU tubes. They’re expensive and patching is not reliable despite best practices. Tossing out a Tubolito because it flatted is just not common sense. Even latex tubes can be repaired. The only thing they have going for them is lightness. Originally I bought three tubes, one as a spare. But I’ve put the third tube in and when it flats, I’ll try to repair it. But if that patch fails, then I’m tossing them all in the trash. It’s ridiculous to spend that amount of money for something that might not last one ride. Even sewup tires can be mended after a flat, making that $120 investment a meaningful one.

For the kind of riding quality I’m looking for, latex inner tubes provide the best solution. They’re light—lighter than butyl, they’re repairable, and they’re not silly expensive, about $15 instead of $32+. But best of all the ride quality is better than both butyl and TPU, and for me that is the most important criterion. You could say that I didn’t give the Tubolitos a fair chance—I might not disagree—but even on a slightly narrower rim I would have expected them to ride more smoothly. Don’t get me wrong: these tubes don’t feel awful, they just feel ordinary. That doesn’t justify the extra cost, I think, unless you are looking for the lightest setup possible.

Last comment: Tubolito tubes are not only very light but very small. The thickness of the TPU is so much less than butyl or latex that you can roll one up into half the size of the lightest butyl inner tube. That makes them near perfect as a spare tube in your saddle bag or pocket. They’re so light and packable that you can carry two or three and not feel burdened at all.

What Different Spokes Has Meant To Me: Joan Murphy

Here we are at 40 years! How has the club managed to survive this long? Members and former members reflect and speak out about the club and what it has meant to them. Here’s Joan’s comment.

DSSF can most succinctly be summarized by one phrase: Open Arms. The immediate acceptance and support I received from the club has been amazing. It’s not just me, and it’s not just at this time. My first rides with DSSF go back to the days when David Gaus was president; then as now, the club readily welcomes all. In these dark days of cloudy social-factioning, that’s a pretty special thing. When you add in being a transwoman who shows up to road rides with a mountain bike, well that club kindness is a pretty remarkable thing! This is why I keep showing up to rides – for the people who make DSSF what it is, and for the super friends that I’ve made there. We’re all pretty lucky to have each other, so let’s keep our arms outstretched in support of one and all. Big HUG!  

— Joan

Forty & Fabulous!

Bob Krumm was the first president of Different Spokes, which he helped found in 1982. In 1985 he relocated to New York to begin a new job and penned this farewell message to the club published in the June 1985 Chain Letter. He recounts the short history of the club and how it came to be. Bob will be coming from New York to join us for our 40th anniversary bash at il Casaro restaurant. He along with fellow founder Dave Freling and early members will reflect on the import and significance of the club and its effect on their personal lives. Our anniversary bash will be on Sunday September 18. For details and to make a reservation, go to the club website event listing here.

Different Spokes: Personal Reflections, by Bob Krumm

Whenever Different Spokes oldtimers get together we recall the early days, how San Francisco had probably been ready for a gay bicycle club years before Different Spokes actually began. The scene was particularly ripe in 1972 in the midst of the national fitness craze and the Gay Games of 1982 here in the City.

Organizing Cyclists.
In the late winter of 1982 the Gay Olympics Committee announced in the B.A.R. that gay athletes in particular sports should start unifying to become teams for the games representing San Francisco. Jerry Ford, a member of the Games committee also had an interest in bicycle racing. He assumed the role of organizing a bicycling team for the Games.

Early meetings took place at the offices of the Games on Castro. Throughout the spring and summer of 1982 interest in the biking contingent grew. Regularly five to ten people attended meetings and twenty to thirty others expressed continuing interest. The people who became involved were either interested solely in participating as racers in the Games or had an interest in bicycle touring and recreational cycling. Early on everyone agreed to keep the two groups together. It was thought that a touring/recreational club would have the ability to nurture a racing team.

Decide and Ride.
Starting in March of 1982 riders informally met at McLaren Lodge on Sunday mornings to caucus and set off on an informal ride. These rides were the predecessor to “Decide and Rides” and were the only formal activity of the group.

On May 27, 1982 the group felt it was necessary to raise money for a mailing. A bake sale was organized and all the proceeds (less than $40) was used toward a mailing directed at people interested in racing.

Several months later the touring/recreational side of the group becames disenchanted with the racing focus in preparation for the Games. Four individuals—Dave Freling, Brad Ennis, Lenny Thomas and I— met at the Sausage Factory and began discussing ideas about developing an organization that was not affiliated with the Olympics. Other early participants included Howard Neckel, Jim Frizzell, Curtis Ogden, and Dale Miller. Many of us rode as a group in the 1982 Sequoia Century, which was a thrill for all of us.

“Flying Faggots”?
Plans were laid for the first meeting of the new club, which was held at my home on August 5, 1982. Ten people turned up for the meeting. At this meeting Different Spokes/San Francisco was officially named. Rejected names included Cy-Clones, Flying Faggots, and Chain Reactions. We all had a deep feeling of excitement about the prospect of finally acting on our ideas. We had talked relentlessly about it all during Olympics meetings. Finally we were actuallly doing it.

Rides started to be organized. A photo of a group departing on a ride to Orinda was published with a story in the B.A.R., which generated the first influx of new members. As a result this small circle of early members and friends began to shift to a broader group of people with varied interests in cycling. It was a bit of a watershed time for us. Still we had not developed a formal membership nor did we have any rules or bylaws.

A Growing “Different Spokes”.
An informal steering committee had emerged during the fall of 1982 comprised of Lenny Thomas, Dave Freling, Brad Ennis and myself. Brad left in early 1983 and Melanie Scott stepped in to take his place. I generally chaired the meetings along with Lenny. Dave handled the fiscal matters and Melanie handled the secretarial duties.

We met monthly in various homes, our mailng list grew to 150, and meetings drew as many as 40 people. Matters discussed included ride rules, publicity, BART passes, scheduling of rides, a newsletter, outreach, etc. The first newsletter was published in December 1982 just before Chirstmas.

In February 1983 memberships and dues were offered and we instantly had 25 paying members. In April the meetings had become so large that they were moved to the Community Room at the library in the Haight-Ashbury. Later in the spring the steering committee was informally elected as the first officers of Different Spokes.

New Face, New Energy, Some Folks Move On.
By late spring membership had grown to 75 and by the end of 1983 it stood at 116. At about this time the early founders and core group began to disperse and new leadership within the club began to emerge.

In those days, as today, the club’s success was built upon the special efforts of members who contributed in ways beyond the mere payment of dues. Those people channeled their special interests or abilities into service for the club. They have all brought to it a vitality that has made us unique and become our trademark.

The June 1985 meeting will be my last. From there it’s “Eastward Ho” to New York. What a pleasure it has been to be associated with Different Spokes over the years. There have been good times and bad but the sum total has been immensely rewarding and gratifying. Bicycling together has a way of cementing friendships. This is something we have all appreciated from Different Spokes regardless of our length of time with the club.

From here on I’ll be happy to serve as the “New York correspondent”. I plan to catch up with the Manhattan club, Diff’rent Spokes, and will report on their scene. Meanwhile all you friends and cross-country cyclists, please look me up when you arrive in New York and we’ll go on a two-wheeled tour of the town!

ALC 2022 Recap

Breaking all records

Stephen Shirreffs rode this year’s AIDS Lifecycle and gives his personal recount below.

Our Fairy Godmother

It felt crazy standing in the AIDS/LifeCycle starting line with my bike at the Cow Palace, ready to ride out for the first time since 2019. There was the usual buzz of anticipation but also a kind of a hush of disbelief that here we are again. Everything felt just the same except of course for all the masking. There was palpable excitement at our having broken all records in fundraising, just shy of $18 million. But that could not explain the swarm of butterflies as we waited to clip in.

It was San Francisco foggy and cool; there was a prediction of a 40% chance of .04” of rain. That did not prepare us for getting soaked to the skin all the way to Rest Stop 2.

Day 1 Rest Stop 2 pouring rain

Between Devil’s Slide and Half Moon Bay it was raining cats and dogs. I think most of my fellow riders were none too pleased but I had to laugh. I always laugh when I ride in the rain. At Pigeon Point the usual bevy of cheerleaders greeted us, dry and unfazed by the threat of rain that never quite made it that far. By the time we reached camp in Santa Cruz, we had all dried out and it was actually pretty warm.

Day 1 The Cheerleaders at Pigeon Point

Day 2 was the usual interminable slog once we got past Salinas. This year’s hot tailwinds were epic; by report they reached 32 mph. The final water stop was an apocalypse of gale force winds whipping sand in our faces. The roadies were hanging onto gear lest it blow off and be forever lost. Alas, Otter Pop Stop was canceled this year with promises that it will return next year.

Day 2 Camp in King City

It got plenty hot on Day 3. A bunch of us Marin Marauders (my team and training group) did Quadbusters twice in memory of our friend Jim Ernst who was killed in a cycling accident four years ago. There is nothing quite as thrilling as riding DOWN Quadbuster knowing what you have signed up for, and I made sure to shout out Jim’s name several times in case he was listening.

Day 3 $100 Burger Club in Bradley

Lots of folks did the $100 burger at Bradley School and the school raised record funds this year. Covid meant we had to sit outside. But the kids were great as usual and we had a blast of a time. We were able to ride through Fort Roberts again and take our pictures astride various ancient tanks with big guns. For the second time Rest Stop 4 was in a park in San Miguel and not at the mission; I have always enjoyed moments of quiet cool reflection in that mission church. By the time we got to Paso Robles it was “only” 96˚.

Day 3 Lorri Jean send off

Day 3 Camp Stage was special. Lorri Jean, the longtime head of the LA LGBT Center, is retiring and there was a moving send-off. Lorri is a larger than life figure whose boundless energy and all-inclusive commitment is the major reason why the LA LGBT Center is one of the largest gay organizations in the world. She was clearly moved by the long, standing ovation and she deserved every bit of the accolades. We will certainly miss her peerless ability to combine wit and meaning from the stage. Irreplaceable.

Speaking of the stage Tracy Evans, the Ride Director, led off every night and she too has a remarkable ability to combine humor and a pointed message. The riders actually did better this year in terms of safe riding and that made her job easier. Joe Hollendoner, I am sure, will miss being able to play off Lorri but he was his usual ribald self on stage. Tyler TerMeer, the new head of the SF AIDS Foundation, is actually a funny guy and I am quite sure he will soon enough learn how to be funny on stage.

Day 4 Halfway Point, William, James and Stephen

Day 4 is the best day in my book. The halfway point was the usual madhouse but the roadies did a superb job of moving everybody through. That long, long descent down to Highway One is the high point of the ride for me. I make a habit of shouting loudly out to the wind the names of the men I personally lost to the epidemic. Bittersweet, of course, but it felt good to be talking to them again in that magical place.

Day 4 Cinnamon Roll Stop

Somewhere in the early part of Day 4 I got to ride with James, another member of Marin Marauders, and we ended up riding together pretty much all the way to LA. He likes cookies so we stopped at Brown Butter Cookie Company. And of course we had to stop at Old West Cinnamon Rolls in Pismo Beach where the line was blocks long. Fortunately for us somebody had an extra roll they couldn’t manage and gave it to our fellow rider William. So William, James, and I shared a free (timewise) roll.

Day 5 Marin Marauders Red Dress Day

Red Dress Day 5 was a gay-crazy explosion of creativity. Our team had a theme, which made it easy to get into the spirit. Thanks go to Michael Brown who knew how to securely attach a wild wig to a bicycle helmet. Rest Stop 1 is the craziest place because everybody wants to preen and show off and the costumes have yet to be subjected to the wind, sun, and rigors of the road. I stayed a long while taking in the 360 of mad creations. Curiously at the end of the day we had lunch in the old camp spot and camped in the old lunch spot … and that worked out really well. Kinda wonder why they didn’t do that years ago.

That evening brought the first bad COVID news. Three members of our team and a number of other folks tested positive on or around Day 5 evening. Those with whom I have spoken reported that the ALC staff was very effective in helping them make arrangements. Mostly folks rented cars and drove back to SF. In at least one case, ALC forwarded my friend’s bike to the end and ACE shipped it back to SF; I think other folks took their bikes with them. There has been no release of figures of how many infections there were but I personally heard of only four cases albeit all people that I knew.

Those of you who have done the ride will no doubt recollect the epic descent through Gaviota Pass that is the highlight of Day 6. We managed to do it again with no injuries. James and I were cooking down the road and it sped by with nary an incident. The folks at Paradise Pit in Santa Barbara were over the moon that we were back—such a joyous mosh pit. I had, I swear, seven scoops of ice cream, but nobody was counting. Reports are that the dance party at Rest Stop 4 was crowded and lively. I rolled by with a wave and a smile, and got my shower done before the late arrivals. 

Day 6 Candlelight vigil

The candlelight vigil on the beach at Ventura was exceptionally solemn and quiet. The riderless bicycle was not on the beach as in previous years but the crowd spontaneously formed a large circle and people placed their candles in the middle, quietly remembering. We know your names, beloved lost friends, and I am sure that many in that crowd were silently saying those names. Say their names. Say their names as long as you have breath.

Day 7: Git ‘er done!

I never look forward to Day 7. It is the end of the party. It is like a countdown, especially once we get back to the coast after Oxnard. For the second time we were not allowed to have an official stop in the 28 miles of Malibu, thanks to the entitled rich I suppose, so the lunch stop is perilously close to the end. We sat in the dunes together, reveling in each other’s company one more time. And then to the finish line where once you cross … poof … the Love Bubble disappears and it is back to the everyday grind of making your way through the ordinary world.

There was a bizarre tragedy at the end. An experienced rider had a solo accident and died on the spot from his injuries. I have heard a lot of speculation but I have no facts other than that he crashed with a block and half to go and did not make it. We all know this is a sport with dangers and it should remind us to take care at every turn.

The ride is over again, and we are all looking forward to next year. For those of you who were on the ride, congratulations, and I hope to see you again next year. For those of you who did not do the ride this year, hey, how about signing up right now? There is no experience in amateur cycling that tops AIDS/LifeCycle.

City vs. Suburb

For some time the Different Spokes ride calendar has been heavily populated with rides that start outside of San Francisco. The notable exceptions are the Early Bird and Hump Day rides, which are quite numerous, and of course the monthly Jersey Ride. When club rides start in San Francisco they mostly go to Marin—think Tiburon loop—and less frequently take in San Bruno Mountain. That isn’t to say that the San Francisco members don’t ride in San Francisco—I’m sure you do because when I lived in San Francisco I did a lot of my riding within the city. There is something to be said for the convenience of simply stepping outside your front door and taking off for a ride. Getting outside of SF for a ride—as opposed to riding from SF to outside—involves more time and the hassle of getting “there”: taking BART or Caltrain, or taking a car and possibly crossing a bridge. That’s extra time to get ready and then travel before you even get to pedal. For a Saturday or Sunday ride maybe that’s something to look forward to. But for any other day—and most weekends—it’s just a lot easier to start from home especially if you have to work that day or have a typically busy Bay Area life.

That is, if you live in San Francisco. In the early days of the club that meant almost everybody (“There are gay men and lesbians living outside of San Francisco??”) The initial outreach that formed the club was, believe it or not, putting flyers on bikes that the founders noticed parked mainly in the Castro district as well as posting them in a few local bike shops. So the early club was overwhelming San Franciscan. When word spread about the club it didn’t take long for the suburban members to come out of the closet/woodwork and join. Where members live now is more dispersed throughout the Bay Area. Currently about 55% of you live in the city, 15% in the Midpeninsula or South Bay, 20% in the East Bay, 5% in the North Bay, and 5% outside the Bay Area. So we’re still a majority San Francisco club but more of us reside in the suburbs now. (Calling San Jose a ‘suburb’ is a stretch—it’s a big city in its own right.)

Even the club ride leaders who live in San Francisco like to lead rides outside of the city. But the ride leaders who live in the suburbs rarely if ever lead a ride in or just starting in San Francisco. This is entirely understandable: riding in the city has its attractions but it’s a taste that is acquired rather than coming naturally. Almost everything is denser in SF—peds, cyclists, cars—and lights and stop signs are everywhere (which some, ahem, consequently ignore). One nicety is that the average speed of cars in San Francisco seems to be much lower than in the suburbs where I live and car drivers in SF generally speaking seem to have more experience driving alongside cyclists. But cycling in the exurbs, or at least in areas with more open space, is what drives folks to get in their car/BART/Caltrain and escape the confines of the City even while that open space is slowly been consumed by development. The difference is that in San Francisco you can still walk almost everywhere but here in the ‘burbs it is much more difficult to navigate life without a car. More cars, higher speed, and less experience with cyclists equals more danger for cyclists. Yet somehow the exurbs are preferred for riding!

For many of us the “gold standard” of recreational cycling is not just getting out of the city but getting out to truly rural areas where you are surrounded by nature—such as it is—rather than detached single family dwellings, lawns, and lots of cars. That’s why so many San Francisco cyclists head across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin where more open space exists mainly due to agricultural trusts. Relics of open space exist around the Bay Area but they’re hemmed in by expanding urban lines. State, county, and regional parks as well as water districts and a few land trusts limit some development. But private lands such as ranches are fair game for housing. With the “housing emergency”—that really should be called a growth emergency—we can expect our existing open space to be eroded at a faster pace, making it even harder to get away from city and suburb. Although you wouldn’t notice it if your world has devolved solely to San Francisco, here in Contra Costa County country roads have vanished to be replaced by suburban tracts well within living memory. For example I recall doing club rides amidst empty grass fields in what is now Danville and San Ramon. Those spaces are now middle-aged neighborhoods that one would never realize were green hills just thirty-five years ago. Even today the City of San Ramon continues to expand on the west side of I-680 into the hills, green just two or three years ago are now encrusted with enormous housing developments such as The Preserve.

It’s going to be harder and harder to find those elusive country roads and the ones that seemed safe now are going to have increasing amounts of traffic as housing density increases. Some of those quieter roads make enticing cut-through routes for commuters when the freeways are jammed. For years beautiful Pinehurst Road in the Berkeley/Oakland hills has been a ‘secret’ route when Highway 24 is clogged since it’s so easy to get to via Highway 13 and 24. This narrow, curvy, and otherwise quiet road regularly has commuter cars speeding at 40+ mph trying to make up for lost time by racing down the grade hellbent. I learned the hard way not to cycle on Pinehurst from 3 to 7 PM on weekday afternoons. The same is true for Redwood Road: commuters use it to bypass 880 and 680 and race their cars as if they had the road all to themselves. In this respect as cyclists we are experiencing a form of ‘habitat’ loss and we have to move further and further away from the core Bay Area to ride quiet roads.

One solution is to switch roads: go off-road. From San Francisco it’s not that difficult to get to the beckoning dirt roads of Sweeney Ridge to the south or the Marin Headlands to the north. However unless you drive to the start you will still have to deal with cycling on roads to get to the good stuff and if you drive you’re becoming part of the problem. A few years ago I led a dirt ride in the Headlands after a long hiatus—like, decades—and discovered that there were a lot more cyclists particularly on ‘gravel’ bikes’ using the Headlands on a Sunday. It wasn’t unpleasantly crowded; in fact, it was great to see so many other cyclists. But it also intimates, perhaps sadly so, that to enjoy cycling you may have to get off the streets and cede them to automobiles.

A drastic solution is to move out of the urban center to places that offer more peaceful roads like Mendocino, the Gold Country, or Central California. If you’re stuck in the Bay Area for other reasons, then it’s not an easy solution for you. People fleeing the Bay Area for quieter locales is why Lake Tahoe is currently experiencing a housing shortage. We take the problem with us because we are the problem. Nonetheless it’s become a thing to cash out your Bay Area home and move to, say, Oregon where it’s less crowded. And Oregonians complain about being Californicated!

The less obvious solution is to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse: look for the attraction in urban riding. Urban riding is not just to be tolerated but can be embraced for its hidden attractions. Number one is convenience and time savings: it’s just outside your door and preparation time is minimal. You spend more time riding, less time in its penumbra, freed sooner to get on with your busy life. The second is exploration: there are a lot more streets in cities and suburbs than in the countryside and each one may hold something unexpected and glorious. In the case of a club ride to Pacifica this past spring, David Go. found us a cute little coffee house just off the well-trodden path. This coffee house (I use the word ‘house’ hesitantly because it was smaller than an apartment living room) had delicious coffee and treats as well as a comfortable and sunny back patio where we schmoozed and lapped up our caffeine. The third is you go slower. Slower?! Well, not all the time but those stop signs and red lights plus pedestrians and cars can be viewed as impediments or as a siren call to chill and enjoy the ride. Or, you can use the opportunity of each stop light to work on your track stand and your subsequent sprint. When I lived in SF I got tired of unclipping (and in the old days unclipping meant getting out of your toeclips and straps) at each light and pretty quickly learned how to track stand. Fourth is the innumerable opportunities to check out another eatery. We’re not like Italy where you can cycle in the countryside and in the middle of nowhere find an incredible inn serving farm-to-table meals. More likely you are to run into a McD. But in urban settings like SF you will pass by many of the estimated 10,000 restaurants and food stands we have. Fifth, the majority of streets in San Francisco actually don’t have lots of traffic despite the density because city drivers tend to use the wider thoroughfares and avoid the lesser streets with lots of stop signs. Those streets are admirably comfortable for cycling. For example, everybody likes to take the Great Highway when heading north or south. But most of the numbered avenues are relatively calm as well. And some of the houses have very interesting front ‘yards’!

If you’re looking for something more challenging, the City has several loops where you can bust a gut. The Early Birds head up Twin Peaks by Corbett Avenue. This is part of a great training loop of about five miles and you can always do several laps if you want more. The Presidio Hills loop is another challenging ride with five or six short, steep climbs. Of course, there is always the race loop in Golden Gate Park where you can do training races Tuesday early evenings during the summer. And the oval track at the Polo Field in the Park is the classic place to work on your sprint speed or just chill with your buds as it is so easy to converse at length without shouting doing laps. If you’re after this kind of cycling, you’re probably not too interested in what the aesthetics of your surroundings are so it won’t matter whether you’re riding in the city or the country. If you’re a member, be sure to take a gander at our club RideWithGPS collections for more ideas on where to ride your bike in San Francisco.

Ride Recap: Forty & Fab Peninsula Romp

Saturday’s ride over the Coast Range to Pescadero and back via Tunitas Creek was like a mini-vacation. It was only 51 miles but we took the entire day to enjoy the ride, the scenery, the food, and get a glimpse of the Pescadero Road Race along the way. It was on the cool side the entire day yet sunny, which made the climbing—and there was lots of it—very comfortable. The weather brought out lots of other cyclists as well as sports car enthusiasts out for a spin. It was a great day to be riding or if you were in a car, take out the convertible with the top down.

There were just five of us but the quality made up for the quantity. Nancy was putting the final touches on her conditioning for her big Montana tour. Michaelangelo, whom we don’t often see probably because the vast majority of our rides don’t traverse the South Bay, showed up since the ride was in his stomping ground. Roger S made the trip down from SF. My husband and I completed the group.

These roads are so well-loved by cyclists that it’s not hard to imagine a rut in the roads made by all the cyclists’ tires over the years: up Old La Honda, then down the other side of OLH to La Honda, then up Haskins Hill and down to Pescadero, then up the Stage Road with the pièce de resistance being Tunitas Creek. This loop takes in roads that are less frequented by cars and quite peaceful. Predictably the one stretch on Highway 84 from the OLH turnoff down to the town of La Honda, which cars also use to get to the beach, was a speedfest of tech bros’ shiny and noisy toys. Otherwise we pretty much had the roads to ourselves.

We left the Woodside Town Hall early enough that there was little traffic and had a quiet run out Mountain Home Road to Old La Honda. Rather than the usual time trial up OLH we took it pretty casually. Other than other cyclists we had the redwood shrouded road all to ourselves. What a great place to have a home—peaceful, quiet, and the everpresent smell of redwood! The drop down OLH on the other side of Skyline is narrow and curvy. Fortunately cars prefer to take 84 since it’s much faster. Although it’s now paved, in the not-too-distant past OLH was not. I recall cycling down when it was a packed dirt/gravel road, which made for an, um, exciting ride if you took it at speed. I recall once riding it in the rain and boy, was that a mistake. But it’s still rather narrow and that means you have to watch out for that unexpected car coming up. Except you can’t because the sight lines are generally nonexistent. Prayer is the obvious substitute. This time we encountered just one pickup and he wasn’t going fast. Whew.

Old La Honda is narrow!

The descent to La Honda is wicked fast and since it’s wide open you can really let the bike run. What a blast! All you have to do is ignore the cars passing next to you at 60 MPH. At La Honda the Pescadero Road Race was in full swing and course marshalls were controlling traffic. Since we were heading up Haskins Hill to Pescadero—the same as the racers—we got a bird’s eye view of the action. Alto Velo apparently did a great job getting volunteers to marshal the course and to my surprise there were quite a few spectators. This ain’t no ‘Tour day France’ but I guess the racers have lots of friends and family to cheer them on as the roadside was packed. As we passed the feed zone a gust of wind caught their tent and up in went into the air! We were passed by group after group. One guy’s front derailleur wasn’t working so he was climbing Haskins Hill in the big ring—ouch! It was interesting to watch the racers. Obviously they were making an effort to draft one another even going uphill. Most were pedaling very smoothly despite the incline; these days even racers are using lower gears but spin so much faster they can still go fast. Everybody was using deep section carbon rims for the aero benefits.

We dropped down the other side and had a fast, pleasant run into Loma Mar. Loma Mar is a ‘town’ that’s barely a spot on the map. But it has the Loma Mar Store, a community mainstay. The store has been there for as long as I’ve lived in the Bay Area. But around 2014 or so the store closed for a remodel. It wasn’t until mid-2019 that it finally reopened just in time for the pandemic. It was closed for so long I thought for sure the store was gone for good. In any case it has survived and unlike in the past where it was basically a mini-mart for the little community it now has a kitchen and bakery and prepares really good food. So I planned a “coffee” stop there. No one had heard of the Loma Mar Store despite everybody having ridden to Pescadero many times. We rolled into the inviting store and our short coffee stop turned into a coffee klatch/gabfest. Only Roger S got lunch, a grilled cheese, while the rest wanted to wait until Pescadero. So I ordered a breakfast sandwich to go and settled for a bear claw and big mug of coffee. Pastries and coffees all around. Nancy ended up ordering a sandwich to go as well. We settled into their front deck and watched pod after pod of racers roll by. The sun was out and it was temperately comfortable just sitting sipping coffee outside. Lost in time we didn’t leave until 40 minutes had gone by.

In Pescadero we did the usual stop at Norm’s Market aka Arcangeli Deli. A sunny Saturday at lunch time usually means the deli is packed and it was. But the picnic tables in the back were not. The race now being over a couple of tables were taken by racers recounting their rides. Ah, to be young, fast, and fashionably dressed. Roger had to have their delicious artichoke bread and he got a loaf that had just come out of the oven—hot, steamy, and heavenly! More eating ensued. And by the way my breakfast sandwich—a croissant with a fried egg, cheddar, and bacon—was still warm and the egg yolk was still runny. Perfect! By the time I had also woofed down some artichoke bread I was stuffed. More gabbing ensued. Before we knew it another hour had passed. Nobody was in a hurry to depart but none of was was whipped either, maybe because we were cruising and not for a bruising.

Stage Road is a picture of how it once all was: isolated, pastoral, occasional ranches. It heads north but not at all in a straight line weaving through the fields and has two short but steep ascents to wake you up. The San Gregorio Store, which I hadn’t visited in years, now has a large outdoor dining area and it was doing good business. But we didn’t linger and climbed up the last steep bit to Highway One. Now I was feeling tired! But it was all downhill to the turn off to Tunitas Creek. Michaelangelo went down like a rocket even faster than Roger S, which is no mean feat since Roger not only is fearless but his new bike is seriously aero.

Racing to an inviting bench

What did we do next? Stop at the Bike Hut for another long idyll! The Bike Hut is an oddity: the local farmers just like cyclists so they erected this rest stop that is funded by their immense goodwill and any cyclists’ donations. They also have a portapotty for cyclists to use. With inviting Adirondack chairs and wood benches it’s a great place to cool your jets before the grueling climb up Tunitas. I was ready to take a nap. It was now 3 PM and the sun was lower in the sky. A crow sat on the telephone wire above us the entire time—he was enjoying the afternoon sun as well. How do birds stay upright on wires when the wind is blowing? You would think they would soon be upside down!

Before I let torpor get the best of me I rousted everyone to get going. Michealangelo was still effervescent and ready to jump forward. He set a mean pace and towed me and Roger up the increasing gradient. Tunitas is a long climb. From the Bike Hut it is 8.4 miles to Skyline and ascends about 2,200 feet. Those numbers are a bit deceptive because the gradient isn’t constant. The beginning and the end are easy and the middle section hits a gruesome 11%. It was already a long day and I was moving forward by dint of willpower alone. But it was pleasantly cool while climbing, there was no traffic to speak of, and the redwoods are always so reassuring. About three miles from the top the gradient eases considerably. Literally every time I’ve ridden up Tunitas from the coast I get impatient at this point. It seems you should be at the top—it’s practically flat. You go around each bend and think that Skyline is going to be right there. But it isn’t. For almost three miles. Over and over again. I’m always exasperated by this and today was no different probably because I was hella tired and I was in ‘smelling the barn’ mode.

At the top it took less than a minute for Roger and me to get chilled waiting for the others. The wind was up—it actually had been blowing all day but now was stronger blowing over the top of the Coast Range. The sun was disappearing. We huddled to find shelter from the breeze. Michaelangelo appeared shortly. But Roger S and Nancy were nowhere to be seen. Nancy eventually caught up and told us that Roger had left his phone at the Bike Hut and had to turn around to retrieve it. Hey, bonus miles and climbing! We waited over a half-hour for Roger to catch up. By then Michaelangelo had already departed and said to text him if we needed a car to retrieve Roger S. No need now! Phone safely in hand we all dropped like rocks down Kings Mountain Road.

Kings Mountain is a road better climbed than descended. As a climb it’s probably the second hardest way to get to Skyline (Page Mill is the worst—steep, long, and little shade). But as a descent it requires your full attention especially in late afternoon when the sun is low and it’s dim under the towering redwoods. The fact that it is exceptionally curvy and has multiple hairpins makes for a thrilling rollercoaster ride but also means you better not cross the centerline—when there is a centerline—since sections are substandard width. It didn’t help that we were now thoroughly chilled. It’s a five-mile descent so it took less than fifteen minutes but felt like an eternity. In Woodside it was warm enough that my shivering stopped.

Back at the cars: a 51-mile and 5,500 feet elevation gain day. My kind of day!

Back at the cars Michaelangelo was still there waiting for us. Everybody had a smile on their face! End of ride: 5:08 PM. That was an entire day. We may have been taking our time but it was time worth taking!