Different Spokes Chiang Mai Report, part 2

Roy (right) in Prachuap Khiri Khan with other stranded cyclists

Here is more on Roy Shachter’s life in Thailand with the latest chapter, his forced shelter-in-place in Prachuap Khiri Khan in the south of that country.

My life in Thailand continues to be good. Last year I traveled a total of eight weeks to Bali in Indonesia, and to Malaysia and Taiwan. This year, I had hoped to do more international and domestic travel – possibly to Laos, Burma or Vietnam and maybe to California in the Fall, if things dramatically improve in the U.S. and elsewhere. But I am now seeing that travel this year, even if things ease up substantially, could still be higher risk than best for me. Unfortunately I am clearly in the demographic of being at higher risks of severe complications due to age and underlying health conditions should I become infected. With that in mind I am taking many of the recommended precautions without 100% isolating myself. Since I am staying in a hotel for a couple of months, I buy prepared food to eat in my room and I try to handle that with care. However I don’t try to disinfect everything I bring home, which would be quite tedious. Without a kitchen or sufficient counter or storage space such precautions while not impossible are particularly difficult.

Fortunately so far no infections have been reported in this town where I am staying temporarily unlike the situation in Chiang Mai, where I have a rented townhouse. In Chiang Mai the number of infections is still relatively low and the last few days no additional cases have been reported. So far I’ve been able to adjust to changes without experiencing hardship but rather only inconveniences.

My biggest challenge are the limits to social connections. My choice to live in Thailand included many factors, one being the relative ease in meeting people and the friendliness of Thai people. Now I rarely try to engage persons I don’t know, even with my mask on. I don’t know who feels comfortable having me near them particularly since foreigners have been vilified here in the media as bringing the virus here and not taking sufficient precautions to prevent infection. As an example, many foreigners including myself rejected using face masks based on recommendations by international health experts while Thais more widely adapted to using masks albeit hardly universally. Now that some of our home countries have reversed course on this, attitudes are changing. Additionally in many areas here it is mandatory when out in public. I have a few N95 masks I purchased last year for protection from the bad air quality in Chiang Mai – and now temporarily staying at the coast where the air is far better, I don’t need this level of protection. So I use a cloth-sponge material mask, with a very small amount of essential oils to make it less unpleasant. I will save my N95 masks for my return to Chiang Mai, for safer travel or in case I am forced to leave here before the air quality improves in Chiang Mai.

I felt a great sadness yesterday as I was cycling around that my opportunities to meet and chat with Thai people has been greatly restricted. Social distancing obviously greatly decreases face to face social interaction, something I had planned to enjoy frequently during my two months away from my home in Chiang Mai. Usually I am often fine to be mostly alone for two or three days. But now for weeks at a time it is much more difficult. If anything this helps to better understand the severity of punishing people with solitary confinement. My situation is immensely better than that with many freedoms still. Being confined alone for 23+ hours/day must be extremely psychologically damaging to most persons. But as so many of us are experiencing I do have times of loneliness. So far though this has not been a big problem. I keep in touch with my expat friends in Chiang Mai, mostly American and Brits via the Line app on my phone, which is the preferred messenger app here used by nearly everyone. They are all hunkered down in their apartments in Chiang Mai except for forays out for food, etc, and a few still get together occasionally trying to adhere to recommended precautions. I also keep in touch with friends and family in the USA, Spain, Australia and Latin America via Facebook Messenger and email and chat with some Thai friends using messaging apps – usually in English, mixed with Thai language. I have also enjoyed a couple of video calls and will try to do more of these.

One other interesting note about Thai culture: theft and street crime is rare here. It does exist but compared to the several cities where I have lived in the U.S. and Latin America, or traveled to elsewhere, it feels incredibly safe here. As an example, in Chiang Mai bicycles are usually locked with a cable lock, some pencil thin. Even the thicker cables would be cut in a flash back in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere but not here. Additionally people routinely use the lock only through their wheels, without securing the bike to a stationary object – contrary to essential theft prevention practices elsewhere – even for higher cost bikes. I am still amazed. I have inadvertently left my bike unlocked for hours at a time in an apartment house bike parking area and elsewhere, without problems. In the U.S. I would be shocked at my carelessness as I would be lucky to still find my bicycle untouched. Here though I shrug my shoulders and remind myself I should try to be a little more careful. Also I leave all my bike accessories on my bike when I lock it up to go inside somewhere – helmet, three bike lights, and a pannier. I long ago learned the hard (and expensive) way not to leave those things out back home – but here no matter, no thefts.

Having become quite accustomed to this, on this trip I stayed for a few days in Hua Hin, rented a bike and hung my helmet, which I had brought from Chiang Mai, on the handlebars without looping the cable through the helmet straps as I do in the U.S. Lo and behold, after being in a café a couple of hours, my helmet, along with the expensive helmet mirror, had been stolen. I was aghast – I had thought that doesn’t happen here in Thailand – although I wouldn’t make that assumption in Bangkok. I felt anger, more a great disappointment and a loss of innocence. No longer would I be able to let down my guard and assume theft is nearly non-existent. So now I do lock the helmet, but I still leave the other accessories in place. Anyway here in Prachuap I think it is a lot safer than in Hua Hin, which raises another potentially troubling issue: the shutdowns and lock-downs have caused an enormous amount of unemployment and loss of income especially for people with their own small businesses including the tens of thousands of food stalls and food carts. There is a rising concern that this could result in more crime – due to desperation, with the economic margin of safety and government assistance inadequate to meet many people’s needs. I think I’ll need to be more careful now, and also try to be more generous when I can help someone in an appropriate way.

The First Rain Cancellation of 2020

No Morgan Territory–had to settle for this!

What a difference a year (or three) makes. In 2017 it rained incessantly; in 2018 it was mostly dry–until March when it rained cat and dogs; in 2019 it was a dry January and then a wet February and March (again). This year we’ve gone well over a month without a drop of rain and we thought winter was over with the Equinox just on the horizon. Spokers were listing rides like it was summer. Alas, Stephanie and Will had the misfortune of posting Morgan Territory/Palomares for today when a storm front finally rolled in and dropped some water on thirsty Northern California. We were planning to attend, alas. Believe it or not, today was the club’s first rain cancellation of the year–in March!

In the East Bay the rain suddenly stopped around 2 pm so we headed out for some much needed head clearing on the Nimitz Trail, which is our version of the Marin Headlands. The rain was gone, the air was crystalline clear, and the East Bay still looks stunningly green. A short but sweet ride when you just have to get your legs spinning in circles. If you can’t ride with the club, we hope you’re still riding anyway. See you next week on the Jersey Ride!

The Future is Here, Now

Taking SMART with your bicycle

This Saturday (Dec. 14) SMART will open the link between the current southern train terminus in San Rafael and the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. This link makes it much easier for commuters to get to work in SF. But for those of us heading to play instead of labor, it is a bonus to getting to the outer reaches of the North Bay! With the recent opening of the bike/pedestrian path on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, we will then have an incredible multimodal path from the East Bay all the way into Sonoma. Those of us who live in the East Bay will be able to ride our bikes across the R-SR Bridge to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal and catch a train as far north as the northern boundary of Santa Rosa near the Charles Schultz airport. That area is where the Wine Country Century takes place and abounds with smaller, rural roads that are excellent for road riding (I won’t mention that dirt roads that will be easier to access too!) Yes, you could “just” ride up from San Francisco but you’d spend the better part of the day (after taking BART to SF) riding up through SF and Marin just to start those rides. (Keep in mind that downtown Santa Rosa is about 45 miles north, making it a 90-mile day just to get to the start.)

With SMART’s excellent bicycle infrastructure it will make the train leg much more hospitable than even CalTrain or BART.

Part of SMART’s plan has been to have a muiti-use path adjacent for much of the right-of-way all the way to the northern end. That part of the plan hit some roadblocks and did not open when SMART initiated service. But it now looks like the bikeway will be completed eventually. With that we will then have the option of either bypassing SMART altogether or embarking/disembarking along the way to ride sections of the path you desire.

You can read the details here.

Depending On The Kindness of Strangers

One of the changes I’ve seen in cycling culture is the diminishing interest in bicycle repair. Back in the day learning how to do basic bicycle maintenance was a part of becoming a cyclist. Fixing a flat was something I learned shortly after I learned to ride a bike. Although I don’t have any distinct recollections, I almost certainly was shown how to do it by my father who, by the way, was not a cyclist. Learning my way around wrenches, pliers, and screwdrivers was a part of growing up.

But it wasn’t until I was in high school and fell in with a group of budding cyclists that I learned how to tear apart a bike and put it back together again. This was long before I was able to afford a decent 10-speed but that didn’t matter: we wanted to fix our bikes. John Youden, a high school buddy, suggested we spend a Saturday ‘cleaning’ our bikes and by ‘clean’ he didn’t mean just spit-and-polish; he meant take apart every screw and bolt, clean each part, regrease, and then put it back together. Keep in mind that neither of us had ever done it before but that didn’t matter. Either out of sheer ignorance, unproven boy-competence, or bravado, we spent an entire day disassembling our bikes down to the bolts. Have you ever disassembled an entire center-pull brake, or how about a freewheel? (You probably don’t remember freewheels because they disappeared from decent road bikes in the mid-80s.) We did it at John’s house on his outdoor patio (!) one summer day. We were almost out of our league even though we had very modest bikes; I had a 30+ lb. Schwinn Continental and John had a really cheap Ross. One thing we learned is that bikes have a lot of small parts and you best keep track of them all. Oh, and an outdoor patio is not a great place to spread a hundred bike parts! The big fun was disassembling a freewheel and having a few dozen extremely small ball bearings come tumbling out onto the concrete and pawl springs fly in the air. Somehow we got it all put back together after cleaning (hint: dental floss!). But I do recall it took us a lot longer than we ever expected and it was getting dark by the time we finished up.

After that experience I felt I could repair anything on my bike as long as I had the right tools. Years later I got my first good road bike and I did exactly the same thing: I took it apart to the bolts, cleaned it, and put it back together. In this case though it was all Campy and it was then that I started to collect real bike tools like a Campy t-wrench, Campy crank bolt wrench, and Campy bottom bracket wrenches. These, by the way, were and are not cheap.

In the early days of Different Spokes we had members not only with different levels of cycling ability but also different expertise in repairing bikes, from absolutely no knowledge at all, to self-made sorta bike mechanics, to the real thing like Leonard Riley, who was the head mechanic at Avenue Cyclery, and Jerry Walker, who owned the Freewheel Bike Shop on Hayes. Jerry offered evening repair sessions at the Freewheel Bike Shop. He came out of the hippie era with a funky bike shop that was really more of a community resource than what we think of as a bike shop today. Jerry didn’t look like a hippie but he sure thought like one. The Freewheel somehow made him a living but it must have been rather modest. He sold bikes but looking at his stock you would have thought it was mostly used bikes and he had nothing flashy or chic, just ‘regular’ bikes. That sort of bike shop is somewhat on trend again today selling commuter bikes rather than $10,000 Pinarello Dogmas. But Jerry’s bread-and-butter business was repairs and selling repair items like tubes, tires, and chains. Jerry thought it was important that folks knew how to do repairs themselves and he taught classes and held repair nights where you could bring in your bike either to repair yourself or be shown how to repair it. His store had an open area with several workstands to throw bikes on. He sold memberships to the Freewheel that allowed you to use come in and use the stands and his tools and he also charged a one-time fee if you just wanted to come in occasionally rather than regularly. For Different Spokes he hosted a no-charge evening session about once a month. A lot of Spokers learned the basics at this shop and of course there was nothing more fun than learning about ‘tools’ from a bunch of giggling queens.

A few years ago I was chatting with Bing about fixing a flat. “A flat?” he responded, “I just take it across the street to the bike shop.” My jaw metaphorically dropped. Last summer President David was on a ride we were leading and he got a flat. As he popped a spare tube and a CO2 cartridge out of his saddlebag he mentioned that he had never done this before. Hmm. Somewhere along the line the ethic of being able to take care of your bike started to fade. When people take up cycling these days, no one has bothered to demystify bicycles for them. Admittedly bikes are more complex than they were when I learned. Today we have new technologies that threaten to turn bikes into ‘black boxes’ that only certified mechanics should touch, gracious! Electronic shifting is the best/worst example. Don’t bother trying to fix a broken shifter or derailleur—just order a new one and have your mechanic install it and set it up! Although hydraulic brakes are hardly computer chips, they’re a royal pain to manage compared to regular cable brakes. Of course the same moaning was heard when indexed shifting appeared—what happened to the simplicity of the bike?! With carbon parts becoming common, torque values matter a lot more when overtightening means cracking a $300 carbon fiber stem. How many of you own torque wrenches? Understandably people avoid learning bike repair for fear of making a bad situation worse.

Nonetheless there are a plethora of minor repairs that you can do yourself such as replacing a chain, a cassette; adjusting derailleurs, saddles, stems, and handlebars; and replacing cables and brake pads, let alone fixing a flat or replacing a worn tire. And guess what? Local bike shops still offer repair classes. Check in with your local bike shop to find out if they offer a class. REI has ten store locations in the Bay Area and it regularly offers flat repair classes including classes just for women. In San Francisco the Freewheel continues to offer bike maintenance classes as well as memberships to use its tools and workstands. Also in San Francisco is the Bike Kitchen, a non-profit cooperative that’s trans- and women-friendly with a separate WTF (Women/Trans/Femme) night. In the East Bay the Missing Link in Berkeley is another cooperative that offers classes (although at the moment none seem to be scheduled for the summer). And if you’re a real DIY-type person there is always YouTube, but keep in mind there’s a reason we don’t go to school by watching TV…

Different Spokes and Charity Fundraising

Double Bay Double

As you know Saddle Challenge is our sole club fundraising effort now that Double Bay Double is on hiatus. Every March we offer Saddle Challenge for two reasons: to encourage members to get out of the rainy wintry doldrums and start riding in earnest, and to raise a little money for Project Inform. The amount of money we raise for Project Inform is pocket change, just $300-500 each time. But SC is a low-key event and running a cycling fundraiser in March is “challenging”—witness last year when half a year’s worth of rain came just in the month of March and washed out most of our rides. It also pales before our club’s first fundraising project, the AIDS Bike-A-Thon, which over its eleven years raised about $2.3 million for various Bay Area AIDS/HIV agencies. Know that AIDS Lifecycle is the 800-pound gorilla that sucks up the majority of AIDS/HIV related fundraising around here and it’s important to help out other significant AIDS/HIV services.

It’s not uncommon for local cycling clubs to do fundraising if they offer a century ride. The monies they collect don’t simply line their coffers to fund extravagant parties for members. These clubs donate funds to local charities, oftentimes cycling related such as Bike East Bay or SF Bike. For example, Valley Spokesmen, to which I also belong, puts on the annual Cinderella Classic. VS has donated event “profits” to Stand Against Domestic Violence, A Safe Place Domestic Violence Shelter, Bay Area Women Against Rape, and the Rainbow Community Center along with 19 other organizations. In effect clubs such as Valley Spokesmen perform a function similar to Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, Optimists International, and Lions Clubs: they raise money and do service in their communities.

1985 BAT stage1
Half of the 1985 Bike-A-Thon riders…

Different Spokes also has a history of fundraising even though the club didn’t start with that intention at all. When the Founding Daddies & Mommies started Different Spokes it was to be able to cycle with other LGBT folks. Some cycling clubs form at least partly because they want to field a racing team. Not Different Spokes! We were the antithesis of an amateur racing club in that the original founders were not interested in racing in the very first Gay Games and wanted specifically to tour and do recreational rides with each other. Such is the origin of recreational cycling clubs: girls and boys just wanna have fun! But the fact that we were a queer club meant it couldn’t just be about getting that endorphin high from riding. The very fact we existed, loud and proud, was a direct challenge to stereotypic notions of queers as were all LGBT sports clubs in that era, and at the time the club officially formed AIDS was beginning to hit our community. I won’t recapitulate how the AIDS Bike-A-Thon came into being (you can instead read my account here) other than to say it was started by Different Spokes in 1985 and ran for eleven years. By the time the club handed BAT over to Project Open Hand we were ready to take a break, as organizing each BAT consumed a year’s worth of planning and work by about two dozen dedicated Spokers. In subsequent years Spokers participated in the California AIDS Ride and AIDS Lifecycle but there was no club-backed fundraising project until we inherited/adopted the Ron Wilmot Ride For Project Inform, which because it ceased as a separate event in 2007 exists now only as a reference point in Saddle Challenge.

1985 BAT stage2

…And the other half!

The most recent charity effort was Double Bay Double, which was the pet project of member Chris Thomas. If you’ve done ALC, you’ve probably either heard of or run into Chris. Chris not only rode ALC religiously, he became a TRL and annually led his own training series in the South Bay, which he supported with his blog until he moved out of the Bay Area a few years ago. As a side project he started Double Bay Double in 2011 and he ran it for four years almost singlehandedly. Double Bay Double was a much lower key local version of ALC to raise additional money for the SF AIDS Foundation. He designed DBD to be fleet: no bureaucracy, brutally efficient, get-in-and-get-the-job done. It was deliberately a small-scale effort in order to fly under the radar of local agencies, city halls, and the police by avoiding the need to acquire permits. It also required minimal support from SFAF thus turning DBD into essentially free money for them (i.e. SFAF was the dom, Chris was the sub). Although Different Spokes was the sponsoring club and a few members did participate and assist, it was really Chris’s show and the club rode on his coattails. The interesting thing about DBD was that it raised at least $52,400 for SFAF in four iterations with a total of only 70 riders! Those numbers are comparable to those of the very first BAT, which raised about $33,000 with 63 riders back in 1985.


Double Bay Double

When Chris moved out of the Bay Area, Project Inform adopted Double Bay Double. PI ran it in 2015 with Different Spokes providing almost no support. If I recall correctly, the results were dismal and the event was then put on hold. In 2018 PI and DSSF revived DBD and despite a significant amount of planning and support including some from our club, the interest in the event was virtually non-existent and it was cancelled less than two months before it was scheduled to take place.

So that is where we are today. The club has a storied history of charity fundraising even though it may have been accidental or half-hearted at times. I say half-hearted because the club has always been schizophrenic about fundraising; there have always been two tendencies within the membership—those who are enthusiastic about charity fundraising for AIDS efforts (note there hasn’t been any other focus) and those who just want to ride their bikes. For recreational clubs a fundraising event such as a century is invariably a major stressor. It takes a lot of work to put on a ride on public roads for hundreds (sometimes thousands) of cyclists. A club may have a lot of members but only a fraction eagerly volunteer and only a slightly larger fraction can be cajoled into helping out. Most members just want to ride their bikes. Different Spokes is, ironically, no “different” except that we are much smaller—less than 70 members currently whereas Grizzly Peak, Valley Spokesmen, and Western Wheelers each have several hundred members, which makes rounding up volunteers to staff rest stops, plan food, get up early to run registration, stay late to close down the course, etc. easier (but not easy).

Today much of the energy for service is sucked up by ALC. You only need to see the dedicated TRLs and roadies to know ALC has done a wonderful job of harnessing that enthusiasm and dedication. I wonder sometimes if there is really room in Different Spokes for more fundraising effort. The club is not large and a small but significant number of members put their energy into ALC (in fact some put their energy into ALC instead of Different Spokes). Perhaps that’s for the better and that the club return—full circle—back to its roots: a LGBT recreational cycling club that focuses on fun.

Looking for a Great Cycling Vacation? Sierra To the Sea or Cycle Oregon

Cycle Oregon1

Here are a couple of supported bicycle tours that Spokers have enjoyed in the past, Sierra-to-the-Sea and Cycle Oregon. They are both a week long and make great cycling vacations.

Sierra to the Sea (SttS) has been offered for many years by Almaden Cycle Touring Club in San Jose (ACTC). They’re the same folks who put on the Tierra Bella Century every spring down in Gilroy. ACTC is a pretty big recreational club and they know how to put on a tour. This year SttS starts at Lake Tahoe and wends down the Sierras and through the Valley to the North Bay and ends at Golden Gate Park. It’s 420 miles averaging 60 miles per day over the seven days. The tour takes place June 15 to 22, 2019. The cost is $975 but you get a $50 discount if you register before Feb. 1. It’s fully sagged but you do have to camp. If you absolutely eschew sleeping tents and sleeping bags, there are motels near all the layovers but they’re not included in the price. All breakfasts and dinner are included except for one night in Calistoga where there are plenty of restaurants. Registration opens on January 15 and no more than 130 riders can participate. And they do sell out, so don’t delay if you are interested. ACTC offers an optional bus ride up to Lake Tahoe for $50 but you have to get to San Jose to join it; similarly there is a $35 optional bus ride from Golden Gate Park to San Jose at the end. Go to their website to get the details. What do previous participants have to say? David Goldsmith: “I would definitely recommend it to other Spokers. The pace is reasonable, the ride is not too difficult but challenging in spots, the campsites are OK (even though I’m more of a hotel guy), the crowd is friendly, and the route is interesting. At the time, the price was reasonable. (I don’t know what they’re charging nowadays.) I’ve ridden multiple Tierra Bellas and SttS (once) and for my money, ACTC always puts on a good show.” Nancy Levin: “I enjoyed it. I camped. It was cold/snowy up at Big Bear, but got less cold once out of mountain and then super hot going through the valley. Some of routes may have changed. [Tony: The 2019 route is new.] Generally good but one very bumpy one on the first or second day. Only issue is getting up to Big Bear – I went to San Jose or wherever and got the bus they went on. It was terrific to ride home.”

Most of you are probably not familiar with the other ride, Cycle Oregon, even though it’s super popular in the Northwest. Put on by the non-profit Cycle Oregon, the route changes every year and takes in different towns and areas of Oregon especially on the eastern side. Cycle Oregon seeks to showcase the small towns and pours money from the tour back to the communities. Next year’s tour will be announced on January 15 with registration opening up on January 31 and limited to about 2,200. They always sell out quickly. In 2018 Cycle Oregon cost $999. Cycle Oregon like SttS is a camping trip with full sag. The fee includes seven days of riding and all three meals per day are included. You can expect the tour to cover anywhere from 380 to 450 miles. Stephanie Clarke has done it and here is what she has to say: “I have done both Sierra to the Sea and Cycle Oregon.  [I did the] Cycle Oregon, 10th year anniversary edition from Sisters to Bend to Crater Lake, and back up.  Awesome.  Would highly recommend any edition of C.O. — great routes, good food, nightly entertainment, pizza oven, beer garden, wine bar for those nights when you just don’t want to deal with the food tent.  Big-time value for the money (~$1,000), and they still donate about 30% to the local towns that host the ride.”

If you are interested in doing either of these tours, maybe we can organize a Different Spokes contingent to go up and ride together. Let your ride coordinator know.

The First Gay Pride

DSSF 1983 Parade
Our 1983 Parade Float with Spokers

The year was 1983 and the club had only been in official existence a few months, since November 1982. But the Founding Daddies & Mamas had a goal to have Different Spokes participate in the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade. Mission accomplished! Our “float” may have been decidedly homemade but it fit in with the ethos of the club, plus we didn’t have money anyway. From the August 193 ChainLetter:

“The Sunday Decide & Ride on June 26 was already decided for us nearly a year ago when we established as a long-range goal our club’s participation in the 1983 Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parade. Rising at the crack of dawn, nearly 30 of us assembled at our South of Market “slot” in the parade at 9:00 a.m. and began decorating our bikes and our bodies for that glorious gait down Market Street and all the gaiety that lay ahead. Dick’s truck, topped off with all the great looking bikes, added an element of butch appeal to our motley crew! Our buddy Hal kept a tight reign [sic] on things, his tail perched on the tailgate of Dick’s truck and his broken leg cast out to the thousands! Meanwhile, our mobile members pedaled continuous rings around the truck as we paraded down S.F.’s main drag, all the way to Civic Center, flashing all the way! Shay, David, and Ron spent the day at the booth and reported a lot of interest shown in the club as a result of all the fanfare. Thanks to Dick for the use of his truck, to Bob, Derek, and Peter for engineering the affair, to Lenny for securing the contingent monitors, to David for setting up the booth, to Shay for Parade Committee liaison, to Bianchi/Vespa for sponsoring us and providing our sign, and to everyone who participated in any way to make the Parade such a big success! It was a parade unlike any other I have ever seen, except the 1980, 1981, and 1982 Lesbian/Gay Freedom Day Parades…the difference was that you WERE THERE (and Walter Cronkite wasn’t for a change)…And we were SINsational!”

Hal and Dick's truck
Hal Baughman (broken leg) on our float

The club T-shirts had just been designed by Michael John (D’Abrosca) and everybody was sporting them. We did not have a jersey yet.

1983 Spokers 1
Jamie, a very young Den Daddy, two others, and Dick Palmer

1983 Spokers 2jpg
Jamie—love the mullet!—Luis, and Curtis

2018 Fast ‘N Fabulous Kit!

Jersey 2014
Fast ‘n Fab Jersey 2018

FastnFab, our sister club in NYC, has a new kit coming out this June. This year’s iteration features a very New York graffiti design. The kit is made by Verge and you can see sizing here. Bob Nelson at FastnFab wants to have all orders no later than January 31 and delivery will be June 1. Cost is $80 for the jersey and $86 for the bib shorts. There are upgrades available too—contact Bob for more information: fastnfab@gmail.com

On the right side of the pic Bob is modeling the full kit.

2017-07-30 8.05

Quick East Bay Road Update

As we approach winter we are finally seeing progress on reopening the storm damaged roads from last winter. Here’s the status update.

Morgan Territory Road. Still closed but expected to reopen by mid-November. Strangely the ribbon cutting ceremony is set for December! See the details here.

Redwood Road. Still closed but projected to open January 2018. Details here.

Palomares Road. Already reopened.

Calaveras Road. Still closed indefinitely from the Sunol side. The Milpitas side is now open but you can’t go all the way through.

Canyon Bridge/Pinehurst. Still closed but the temporary bridge is projected to be open by late November. Details here.

Alhambra Valley Road. Will open this Friday, November 3. Press release here.

And over on the Peninsula, Skyline Boulevard (State Route 35) at Castle Rock Park is still closed with no news of a reopening date.

Fun With Tubeless Road Tires [updated 9/10]

Schwalbe Pro One tire
Schwalbe Pro One, 700×28, on Hed Belgium Plus rim

Last September I got a new tubeless wheelset for my road bike. This is a report on my experience for those of you who have been mesmerized by all the current hype on tubeless road wheels yet are not ready to make the leap. The bottom line is: it’s been a mixed bag—some good, some not so good.

For those of you who either don’t mountain bike or have been emulating Rip Van Winkle, tubeless tires are clincher tires that do not require an inner tube. Tubeless tires are somewhat common on mountain bikes mainly because they allow you to use lower tire pressures without risking ‘snake bite’ or pinch flats. With tire pressures regularly below 35 psi and terrain rough and rocky terrain, the odds of flatting when mountain biking are higher. Tubeless tires mitigate if not eliminate pinch flats entirely. Now they’re migrating to road wheels.

Tubeless tires are usually set up with sealant in lieu of inner tubes. There are many brands of sealant, the most well-known of which is Stan’s NoTubes. Sealants are usually liquid latex with particles. When you get a puncture, sealant flows to the cut and coagulates to seal it up. Depending on how large the cut is, the sealant may or may not be able to close the cut: the larger the cut, the less likely success. You can set up tubeless tires without sealant but then you forego the convenience of punctures self-sealing.

True tubeless rims and tires are designed differently from regular clinchers. The main difference is that tubeless rims have a different inner rim shape in order to lock the tire bead in place. Tubeless tires have tighter beads (or at least less variation in bead diameter), a coating to help keep air in, and often a particular bead shape to better ‘lock’ to the rim. It is possible to use regular rims and tires without tubes but the chance of success are hit and miss. I won’t go into that; I’ll merely say that mine were dedicated tubeless tires and rims.

Why would you want to use tubeless wheels on a road bike? That’s a good question. The hype is that road tubeless tires: (1) reduce flats, (2) allow you to ride when you do get a puncture, (3) roll faster and “feel just like riding a sew-up!” However you almost never hear about what hassles tubeless tires cause yet we know that there is almost nothing in life that is a perfect net gain—everything has a down side.

Before I get into my experience, here is the set-up I had. The rims were HED Belgium C2 rims and Schwalbe Pro One tires. (These rims are wonderful—I have those same rims on another bike that is set up traditionally with inner tubes.) They are light, seem to be strong (I haven’t dented them yet), and are wide thus increasing the tire’s volume. I had never used Schwalbe tires before let alone Schwalbe Pro One tires but they have an excellent reputation. I have no other experience on dedicated tubeless road tires with which to compare them. The rims were taped with Stan’s tape and set up with Stan’s sealant. The Schwalbe tires were nominal 28 mm in width. But on the wide HED rims they balloon out and measure out about 30 mm thus providing a cushier ride. I inflate them to 50 psi front/60psi rear, which is close to Frank Berto’s guidelines, although I have also experimented with lower and higher pressures. I’ve put about 1,900 miles on them since last year, riding them mostly on pavement but also on fire roads.

I’ve inspected each tire after practically every ride in order to detect any foreign objects embedded in the tire because with sealant it is possible to have a puncture and not know it at all if the sealant is able to seal it quickly, most likely with pinhole type punctures rather than cuts. I finally incurred my first puncture a few weeks ago, on the rear tire. Oddly it was a cut less than 1 mm and there was no sealant leaking out and no foreign object embedded. The tire pressure was about 25 psi. I pumped it up to 60 psi and it seemed to hold, but during the subsequent ride it deflated again to about 25 psi. Because I didn’t see any sealant exiting the cut, I presumed the problem was insufficient sealant. Sealants are water based and eventually dry up; I had checked my tires over the previous nine months and they always seemed to be fine. So the next step was to add more sealant. I added roughly one more ounce of Stan’s to the tire, rotated it to spread the sealant around and then pumped it up. Immediately sealant started to ooze out of the small cut. Eventually it stopped around 45 psi. I left it overnight and it seemed to be okay, so I pumped it up again to 60 psi. No leakage. So I went for a ride and halfway through the ride noticed that the tire was soft. Looking at the tire I could see I had sealant sprayed all over the back of the seat tube, the chainstays, and the saddle bag. Also there was a noticeable patch of flattened, semi-sticky sealant around the cut area. Pumping up the tire seemed to work but later down the road the tire softened and I had more spray and gunk on my bike and tire. When I got home the pressure was about 35 psi. That incident highlights some of the problems with tubeless road tires. First, since the tire pressure in road bikes is quite high compared to mountain bike tires, it’s a much harder job for sealant to seal a puncture even one as small as one millimeter (which is supposed to be possible with Stan’s). And Stan’s is the most popular and supposedly a very reliable brand. Second, the degree of sealing isn’t all or nothing but variable. The first time I was riding on about 25 psi; the second time about 35 psi. During the day as the temperature of the tire increases with the ambient environment and with friction, the pressure goes up. Also, as you ride the tire flexes. Both seem to affect how good a seal you achieve. Since I’m pretty light and I was aware of the low pressure, I was able to ride very carefully over bumps to avoid bottoming out the tire and getting a pinch flat. But I was paranoid the entire time.

The Stan’s sealant just wasn’t working. So I took the tire off and cleaned out all the sealant and put in other brand, Orange Seal, which is supposed to close up bigger punctures.

Before I get to the rest of my story, let me digress slightly about removing a tubeless tire: it can be a lot harder than a regular clincher because the tire beads are more inflexible. I tried putting both beads in the wheel well to create ‘slack’ and that didn’t work. I had to use tire irons to get the damn thing off. Try doing that by the side of the road without getting covered in sealant! The other hassle is that airing up a tubeless tire can be impossible with a regular floor pump let alone a hand pump; you just can’t pump enough air in fast enough to blow the beads against the rim wall to seal. Fortunately I was doing this in the shop and not out on the road, and I happen to have an air compressor that was able to do the job. If you flat a tubeless tire when you are out riding and the sealant doesn’t work, then you’re going to have to put in an inner tube to get home, which means you have to remove the tire. But you’re not going to have an air compressor when you’re out riding. You can try a CO2 cartridge to blast the beads in place. However CO2 is not recommended for tires with sealant because the rapid cooling induced by the CO2 sets off a chain reaction that turns solidified the latex in the sealant. If you’re putting a tube in, then this is irrelevant.

Back to my story: once the tire was pressurized to 60 psi, sealant began bubbling out of the cut. Eventually it stopped. I let it sit overnight, pumped it back to 60 psi the next morning and no sealant leak. Apparently Orange Seal worked. I’ve been riding that tire since on asphalt and dirt and it’s holding air fine.

Moral of the story:

  • Tubeless tires may save you the hassle of an occasional flat. But when you do get a flat it can be more hassle than using inner tubes. First, if you’re using sealant, you and your bike are probably going to be sprayed with sealant. Fortunately sealant dries and you can remove it easily; including rubber gloves and some paper towels in your repair kit is advised. Second, getting a tubeless tire off of a rim is harder and sometimes near impossible. Not good if you need to insert an inner tube by the side of the road. Third, sealant may seal a cut but you may not be able to run your regular pressure. With a soft tire you need to ride carefully especially when you corner or go over bumps. Note that by road standards I run pretty low pressure already—45 to 60 psi. Higher pressures make it even harder for sealant to work. If you regularly run 90+ psi, sealant may not work except for the smallest of punctures. (There is another danger of completely blowing a tubeless tire off the rim at those pressures.)
  • Regarding ride quality I was disappointed to find that it was just so-so. As I mentioned, I have another Hed Belgium+ wheelset on another bike but it has Michelin Pro4 Service Course tires, 700×25, with latex inner tubes. The 25 mm Michelins balloon out to 30 mm (!) on the Hed rims, so they are the same width as the Schwalbe tires. (I’ve found Michelin tires to run wider than they are specced even on regular rims.) The Michelins have a deliriously smooth ride that are so close to that of high quality sew-ups. So the difference must be in the Schwalbe tire casings. I am guessing that in order to beef up the casing for tubeless use Schwalbe compromised their tires’ suppleness. Or, it could just be that Michelin makes better casings than Schwalbe. I’m not saying the ride quality of the tubeless Schwalbe is bad, just that it wasn’t as good as the hype would make it be!
  • I’m going to continue to run tubeless tires for a while as an experiment. It’s too early to say that they really reduce the number of flats I get, as I just don’t see any other cuts or punctures in the tires that were sealed by the Stan’s. We shall see. With only so-so ride quality I’m inclined to swap these out for Michelins with latex tubes at some point. Inner tubes may be an inconvenience but they will get you home albeit later than you had planned; with tubeless tires and sealant you may fewer flats, but you could be in world of trouble if you do get one out on the road.

UPDATE 9/10: Well, I had a second flat a few days ago, merely weeks after the first one. This was also in the rear tire, a 2mm cut off-center. I was immediately aware of it, hearing the swish-swish-swish of leaking air. It also stopped! The Orange sealant was able to stop the leak at about 25-30 psi. I tried pumping more air in and sealant just oozed out. So I rode it about five miles more and checked again: no leak and instead of having an oozing sore on the tire I now had an odd looking ‘scab’–more of a dried plug. I pumped up the tire to 60 psi and it held! No problems since then. I conclude that for a 2 mm cut Orange Seal does indeed work but not immediately. It needs time to flow to the site, set up, and dry. In the meantime you’re stuck riding on a road tire at very low pressure. Or you could take a nice break. Although moderately convenient (after all, I was able to keep riding albeit carefully), it wouldn’t have been a hassle just to change an inner tube and pump it up to the correct pressure. Of course I don’t have to deal with patching an inner tube, so that counts for something.