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.
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 Lennard, 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…
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.
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.
…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.
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 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!”
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.
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: email@example.com
On the right side of the pic Bob is modeling the full kit.