How Different Spokes Was Born

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the four of us….

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

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

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

Back to the four of us…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melanie Scott at the 1984 Marin Century

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

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

Other early core members were:

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

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

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

Luis Dufau with Shay Huston

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Jolles at our first club garage sale

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

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

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

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

Dale Miller
Curtis Ogden

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

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

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

Howard, 1982!
Howard today, with Dave Freling

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

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

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

Richard Palmer (center) at Gay Freedom Day 1983

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

Peter Renteria (right), with Lenny Thomas

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

Frank Sclafani (on wall, upper right)

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

Tim Shea

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

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

“Ragtag” or just unpretentious?

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

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

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

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

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

The founders: Bob Krumm and Dave Freling

Old friends
Old friends
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends

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

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

–Paul Simon

23 Skidoo

Over a week ago on the ride out to Winters I took my travel bike, which I hadn’t ridden since summer of 2019, the last time I did a bike tour. I did so because it has low gears, not that I would normally need them for this ride, but I’m in dire shape these days. I did a short shakedown ride with it a couple of days before going to Winters just to make sure it worked. It seemed fine but I did take note that it was shod with 23 mm width tires. (Since the front shifter failed on Sunday, obviously I did too cursory of an inspection.)

If you’re either new to cycling or a complete wheel geek, your reaction is either puzzlement—“You mean there’s a tire narrower than 28?”—or a combination of horror, disdain, and disbelief—“Dude, are you like friggin’ stupid or just old and outdated??” Perhaps a little of both, I’d say. Oldsters may recall that back in the day we were all riding 19 or 20 mm clincher tires. In fact when I got this bike in 2000 for an overseas bike trip, I got rid of the 25 mm tires that came with it and replaced them with 20 mm tires—yes, for touring albeit of the credit card variety. That admission certainly takes at least 20 points off my IQ—call me stupid but don’t call me ugly! We all used to think that if you wanted to go fast, you needed to go narrow and pump those suckers up to 110 lbs. of pressure. A friend and longtime road cyclist to this day still rides his skinny Vredestein tires pumped up to an unbelievable 130 lbs because that’s the max pressure on the sidewall. It never occurred to me that I’d need anything bigger and I wanted to go fast. (Yes, I admit I didn’t understand the meaning of ‘bike tour’.)

Of course when you’re touring in another country you do occasionally get lost, and guess what? You end up unexpectedly on dirt and unpaved roads. A lot of swearing took place accompanied by the dire fear of flatting in the middle of nowhere. Despite being an unnaturally pessimistic sort, ie, “Shit always happens!”, I kept riding those 20 mm tires up until about 2010 when I switched over to what seemed like ridiculously wide 23 mm tires “just to be safe”.

Since that time my eyes have been opened a bit. I live in a city that a few years ago had one of the worst pavement indices in the Bay Area. The pavement index is a measure of how crappy or good your roads are. And Bay Area roads haven’t been getting any better to wit Sonoma county roads, which often seem to aspire to Planet of the Apes quality. So riding on 20 or 23 mm tires is just asking to have your teeth rattled, hands go numb (and other body parts as well), and become intimately familar with snake bite flats. I’ve since moved on to wide rims and wide tires and they’ve spoiled me. I’m getting older (some say the ‘getting’ part is self-flattery or denial) and since I’m no longer on intimate terms with my friend Speed—he’s moved on to younger fare since he’s a chicken hawk at heart—I’m getting to know my new BFF, Comfort.

That’s a long way of saying Sunday was painful riding county roads with narrow tires. I had enough travails fighting the wind and trying to stay upright that day and then I deliberately ride tires that are guaranteed to hurt. What was I thinking?

But here’s the irony: those wheels are still awesome. The next day I rode it in the East Bay to try to figure out what was going on with the wonky front shifter. Riding on smooth pavement those wheels really sing! They’re narrow and cut into the wind easily and they’re very light so they spin up like a top. Until you hit old, deformed asphalt. So despite having moved on to Big Butt tires, I still lust for anorectic, whippet-like hoops. But it’s getting harder and harder to find places where I can really enjoy them. Not only can wider tires be more comfortable but you can roll over a lot more incongruities in the road rather than have to roll around them.

Riding on 23 mm tires once again was hardly like Proust’s madeleine. It may have brought back fond memories of another time but any reverie was quickly dispatched by the beating my body was being subjected to.

Asphalt Perversion: Mines Road

Some rest for the wicked. Climb that hill!

Mines Road is a peculiarity in the canon of Different Spokes rides. For one thing it’s a real latecomer. In the early years of the club this ride was not offered at all. Ride forays into the Pleasanton/Livermore area were confined to flatter terrain, ie. the Shadow Cliffs Water Slide, and god forbid you wanted to scale anything higher than a freeway overpass! It was really David Gaus who championed this ride starting around 2010. The idea of a major schlep to Livermore to scale a godfersaken one-way-up-and-down road with serious vertical was bizarre. But then again David lived in Hollister at the time and riding in dried out, desolate landscape was nothing unusual. During the same era Will Bir had done the Canyon Classic Century (now defunct), which started in Patterson (home of Patterson apricots, mind you) and headed up Del Puerto and then descended Mines into Livermore, and he led that ride a few times. Somewhere along the line Stephanie Clarke got into Mines Road and she or David have managed to lead this ride practically every year since then.

Yay, more climbing!

This ride is also peculiar because it’s and out-and-back route rather than a loop: you get to withstand the startling uphill and then “enjoy” the spectacular downhill with all the neat views into Livermore that you were oblivious to while heading up. Unless you hit the hellacious headwind, which happen almost everyday in the afternoon, which is when you’re ending this ride. So you usually get two times the enjoyment: vertical and headwind in one ride! The other peculiarity of this ride is that it’s never led at any time of the year except spring in order to enjoy the wildflowers. Summer and early fall are absolutely out of the question due to the blistering heat (unless you go very early in the morning). Even late spring can be a challenging time to take on the climb, which is almost totally exposed for maximum sunnage.

Hmm, no wildflowers yet…

The ride starts anywhere on Mines Road after leaving Tesla Road and usually goes to the Junction Cafe at the intersection of 130 (Del Puerto Canyon Road). After a snack or lunch at the Junction we then turn around and head back to the valley. In a good, rainy year the wildflowers are actually better further up San Antonio Valley but most of the time the prospect of a burger and fries daunts any inkling to enjoy flowers, especially because it would involve even more climbing.

The Junction Cafe has been there for aeons in various incarnations and with various vibes, anywhere from serious biker drag (the motos love to do Mines and Del Puerto) to a western version of Deliverance. Currently the Junction is open on weekends only and at least prepandemic the line and wait for a meal could be onerous depending on how sunny the weather was to bring out the bikers. But the food is hearty and enjoying a leisurely nosh at the picnic tables is worth at least three out of four stars.

“Who’s up for climbing into San Antonio Valley for wildflowers?” [deafening silence]

With the pandemic still hovering over our heads this may be another year we skip Mines. It doesn’t help that we’ve had very little rain. But between now and early May is when they’ll be putting on their show. Anyone want to volunteer to lead it this year? Better hop to it!

Ten Years Ago Today: Darth Veeder

Remember life pre-COVID?

Our President David Goldsmith was the originator of this ride as well as L’Alpe de Fromage. “Darth Veeder” takes riders up the ever-popular Veeder Road in Napa. David first led this ride in 2010 as part of a spring training series. This was the second year on tap at our ride calendar. Veeder runs approximatly north-south and can be ridden in either direction. David wisely chose to ride it from the south, which is less steep than doing from the north. It also gives riders the chance to amble peacefully next to Redwood Creek, lending a very pastoral feel to this relatively isolated road. Along Veeder you pass estates and vineyards and then at the top get a fantastic view of the Napa Valley and the nearby mountains. The descent is curvy but not crazy except for the pavement breaks that seem to come out of nowhere. Fortunately traffic is usually sparse. After Veeder is a fun, easy descent on Dry Creek Road. David also started this ride at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, giving riders a chance to fill up on exquisite pastries both before and after!

David reported:
Today was beyond beautiful. To start with, we were surrounded by a ring of snow-capped mountains. In Napa Valley. Unreal. Mt. St. Helena was particularly impressive viewed from Highway 29 while driving up to Yountville. Once we got on our bikes and started climbing the mountain, there was water everywhere. I figured there would be, since it had rained all week. But the flow through the creeks, occasionally spilling over onto the roads we were riding, was massive. Redwood Creek was churning away and Dry Creek was not dry. When we got to the top, there were daffodils blooming among green mountainsides. Just before we left the summit, I turned around and espied Mt. Diablo, probably 50 miles south, huge and blanketed with snow. It looked like one of the Sierras, very impressive.

Redwood Creek at its best
At the top of Veeder Road
That white stuff is called “snow”

If you’re a club member, log into the club website and view all the ride pics in the 201102 Darth Veeder photo album!

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.