Happy Trails

Have you ever wondered what happened to a Spoker you knew that dropped out of sight? A lot of folks have come through Different Spokes since 1982 and that means we have a lot of former members. What happens to them? I’ve been thinking about this because part of building the new website has been porting over the enormous photo gallery from the old website. We have digital images going back into the early ‘90s but most of them have been since 2004, and I’ve been going through the pictures one by one from 2004 through 2006. Unfortunately the pics on our site gallery had no narrative or names. At the time it hardly seemed necessary since members knew each other, mostly. But years later it’s sometimes a mystery who these people are. I’ve been trying to annotate the images as best I can and that’s gotten me thinking about people who used to be so active in Different Spokes but are no longer members and don’t bother to come on rides. Why is that?

In the early days of the club members disappearing often meant one thing: they were sick with HIV. Like many gay institutions of the ‘70s and ‘80s the club was hit very hard. But that is much less the case now. Obviously people move away and leave the club. The most notable example of that is Bob Krumm, our first president and one of the original members who was instrumental in the club coming into existence. After he helped form the club and get on solid footing he moved away to New York and continues to live there today. But most lapsed members leave the club for other reasons. Some people come to the club looking for a relationship and if they find it, then the club becomes less important to them and they leave; others (probably most!) don’t find a boy/girlfriend and move on to another social venue.

I wonder how many leave for other disparate reasons. Whatever need the club met it no longer was important. A long time ago we had a very active member, Abel, who rode all the time. But then he got into—of all things—Scottish dancing and Highland games that became his first love! He would occasionally ride his red DeRosa but he just found another outlet for his physical expression. Did he “outgrow” the club? Maybe. It was a “stepping” stone for him.

Some move on because the kind of cycling they like changes. If you’ve become enamored with really long rides—brevets and randonneuring—there aren’t many other Spokers who love to ride all day (and night) nor do they offer to lead that kind of ride. You’re most likely to gravitate to SF Randonneurs for that activity. If you’re into fixies and alley cats, you won’t find that in Different Spokes and no racing of any sort either. So maybe you start looking for a racing club.

The former Spokers I wonder about are those who were really avid cyclists and came on so many rides, and then stopped attending. Did they leave cycling? Or, did Different Spokes just lose its appeal and if so, why? Is it that cycling ceased to be important or did Difference Spokes no longer fill the cycling heart they had? In some ways it’s like breaking up with your lover: you move on and other than occasionally passing each other on the street you no longer occupy each other’s attention. Maybe there is some bitterness there and probably many fond memories. Perhaps the “drama” just got tiring and for your sanity you had to break up.

But affections are not abstract—if someone spends a lot of time with us it must be because they enjoy the company and have formed friendships. Sometimes those friendships end up moving outside of Different Spokes—you’ve found your riding buddies, those with whom you ‘click’ (clique?), and you start riding with each other outside of Different Spokes. Soon you realize you don’t need the club anymore. Perhaps it’s partly the transitory nature of Bay Area life: rootlessness and a certain measured disconnection from relationships due to constant job change and moving are more the norm?

Different Spokes Chiang Mai!

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“Wearing our freak flag high”

This past winter longtime Spoker Roy Schachter ditched the 40+ hour per week grind to retire to Thailand, specifically Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Of course one of the difficult parts of his move was, “Gee, which bikes should I take to my new home??” [The only right answer is ‘all of them!’]

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“Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”

You’ll find him there now enjoying the hella good life, studying Thai, riding his bikes when it’s not incredibly hot and the air quality is tolerable, and brushing up on the typology of Thai boys.

While it’s raining like heck here, it’s 96F and 90% humidity in Chiang Mai…

Free Is Not Free

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What I’ve learned from the Internet is vast and voluminous! It’s great having all that “knowledge” at your fingertips. For example, I recently had to learn how to bleed a Shimano hydraulic disc brake and in seconds there it was, a completely detailed video on YouTube. Problem solved for free! But the most important thing I’ve learned from the Internet is that “free” is not free. Almost everything that you get for “free” is actually paid for by Google selling our eyeballs to advertisers. Without being able to sell your eyeballs, those writers and videographers whom you rely upon for enlightenment or entertainment don’t get paid. The other revenue model is, of course, donation and subscription. Websites such as Wikipedia beg for donations or sites like the Washington Post set up a paid firewall to charge you for partaking of their resources. Given the distinctly small number of websites that rely on the latter and the immense number that use the former, it’s not a difficult to deduce that people hate paying for stuff when they can get it for “free”.

My point is that only in very rare instances does stuff happen without money and support. It all looks like magic: you get your stuff/information/news/etc. and you didn’t have to fork over any cash. The reality is that it is all subsidized one way or another. So it is with Different Spokes. Different Spokes does not sell eyeballs or make any other demand for money. You don’t have to pay to go on club rides. With the ChainLetter moribund there isn’t even a newsletter to charge for. The only dividend for paying money and officially joining the club is access to the club Yahoo! Group, which isn’t going to give Facebook any competition, which is to say it’s nearly moribund as well. But the club is able to keep on rolling because it has income. So there’s no “goody” we can charge you for and withhold if you don’t throw dollars our way.

The bottom line is that we depend on your magnanimity in spirit and wallet. If you have been a member, you must have put money on the table because you felt that Different Spokes was making a difference in your life and you wanted it to stay around. Either that or you just took pity! In the last decade or so this has amounted to about a hundred individuals and families every year. Those paid memberships have supported our club and kept it alive. Of course the number of folks who have come on club rides or social events is larger; but how much so I’m not in a position to say. And some of them may then have realized that the club isn’t really their cup of tea and they decided not to come back.

A few years ago the club switched from a rolling annual membership to a January 1 start: no matter when you join, your annual membership lapses on December 31. That means that every New Year the membership roll zeroes out and we start building up all over again. We currently have 61 paid members for 2017 and 48 who have lapsed and not re-upped yet. Hopefully those latter folks are just procrastinating!

Membership in Different Spokes has always had a fair amount of “churn”, i.e. turnover from year to year. In the long run that is completely understandable: people’s priorities and time commitments change. Someone who loves to cycle finds out that they like paddleboarding even more and lapse; people move away; somebody’s job becomes a huge time suck and/or they find out that having kids is just going to take a little more time out of their day than they realized! But by having a January 1 renewal date there is no longer a meager but steady, trickling stream of dough. So boys and girls, if you’re delaying rejoining, dillydally no more and PayPal your way to Different Spokes joy!

Our biggest expense is probably our website and it’s cheap compared to other clubs’ because of Jerome’s laudable work in cobbling together low-cost software and services and all the hours he’s personally donated. If we had to use a commercial website manager, we’d likely be knee-deep in bills, have to charge more for membership, or just be broke.

But you and I know that the blood of the club is much more than money. It’s also about literally the hundreds of hours a year of volunteered time by club officers and ride leaders. They’re not getting paid either. Not one cent. They’re planning rides, organizing events, attending other community and civic meetings on behalf of the club because they love the club. If they didn’t, they’d be volunteering their hours at one of the dozens of other LGBT social organizations here in the Bay Area. If you’re like most club members or fellow travelers, you just come to depend on the club being there when you’re itching for a group ride. But will it be? If you like riding with Different Spokes, there is never a better time than now to ask how you could be contributing to the club. If you would like to lead a ride, then there several seasoned ride leaders who’d be willing to show you the ropes. If you don’t know whom to ask, email our President Sal or our Vice President David and they would be happy to refer you on to one of us. If you’d like to do something more in the background, there are plenty of ways you can contribute. We have been lacking a ride coordinator and an event coordinator for several years. No one has stepped forward most likely because it seems too daunting. Which is why I’ve been thinking that we might want to try another tack: a ride coordinating team. It doesn’t have to fall on just one person’s shoulders! I’d be willing to work with some other well-intentioned members to try to pull together a more robust and diverse set of rides every month. The same goes for planning more social events and weekend trips. We haven’t had a getaway bike weekend in quite a while. Perhaps what we need is a small group of eager members to share the load instead of relying on just one person.

Will 2017 be the year that you want to make a difference in your favorite bicycle club?

Different Spokes: Where We Live

It used to be the case that 75% or more of the Different Spokes membership resided in San Francisco. A quick look at the current membership list shows that has changed; out of 105 members 61, or about 58%, have a SF address. The Peninsula, particularly the South Bay, and the East Bay had just a scattering. Well, that’s no longer the case: there are 21 members on the Peninsula and almost all of them reside in the South Bay (Redwood City and south) including one person in Santa Cruz; there are 16, or 15%, in either Alameda or Contra Costa County. Perhaps it indicates the slow outmigration of LGBT folks to the suburbs, the growth of Silicon Valley, or just the increasing acceptance of LGBT people in general allowing more people to come out who aren’t in liberated zones. Having had two very active members, Chris Thomas (now in Utah) and David Gaus, in the South Bay certainly helped increase membership probably because of their high profile in leading ALC training rides. (I remember years ago when Doug O’Neill, Sharon Lum, and I were beating our heads against the wall trying to drum up LGBT cyclists on the Peninsula. No more it seems.)

A more interesting question is why our membership roll continues to decline during a period when cycling is growing. Some speculate that we’re already in a post-Gay world and this has lessened the need for a ghetto either physical or social. That is, LGBT cyclists are cycling with straight groups rather than with Different Spokes because we’re more accepted and have less need to hang out with other LGBT cyclists. Another argument is that this is an effect of digital technology: our relations are less determined by physically hanging out and more dependent on virtual relationships. I’ve speculated in the past that it’s partly due to the club becoming more narrowly defined as a fast male recreational club and having less relevance to LGBT cyclists of other types (i.e. mountain bikers, women, slower riders, newer riders, any riders with kids, touring cyclists, commuters/transpo cyclists, etc.). Regardless, at least we’re geographically becoming more disparate.

Antisocial Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest?

Howard Neckel was one of the original members of Different Spokes when it was founded back in 1982. I recently found out that Howard was no longer a member and wanted to find out why after 32 years he no longer was a part of the club. In his own words here is what he related to me—

It’s been a while since I’ve realized that I’m just not in the kind of shape I was when I was younger. As much as I’d like to ride with other gay cyclists, I just can’t manage to keep up with the ones in DSSF.  A great many of the posted rides are in the 70+ mile category, but even when I try the shorter ones I get dropped. The core group of Spokers are very strong riders, and weaker riders like me get left in the dust. After a few repeats of that scenario, you ask yourself what the point is of participating in a club ride because you’re essentially riding solo after a quick hello at the start. It’s a sad fact of life but I have deal with the fact that I’m 67 now and not the rider I was even ten years ago, and certainly not when I first joined the club. I simply don’t “qualify” for DSSF rides anymore. It’s a shame since they’re right here in town and it’s a gay club—two big pluses. But almost all the club’s rides target the core group of really strong riders. The club doesn’t have a contingent that accommodates older, slower folks like me. That may also hold true when it comes to slower-but-NOT-older riders, for example those new to the sport who might not yet have built up a lot of speed and endurance. As a result I’ve been riding mostly with Western Wheelers. Their club is large enough that the guys who really like to burn rubber plan their own separate rides; those who like to go at a more leisurely pace with social regroups plan theirs. Actually, many rides manage to accommodate multiple skill levels simultaneously by having a slightly earlier start time as well as longer routes for the stronger riders. The multiple routes will often intersect either for lunch midway or for snacks at the end. Personally, I tend to ride with the middle (and sometimes low-middle) skill range and that allows me to talk to folks along the way and at regroups, several of whom I am happy to count as good friends now.

Unfortunately Howard’s experience seems to be shared by quite a few members and participants. Over the years I can’t count the number of times I’ve spoken with cyclists about why they didn’t come back to a Different Spokes ride or rejoin the club and with them expressing the same frustration as Howard’s: they were dropped at the beginning of a ride and ended up riding alone or riding at a faster than comfortable pace to keep up, and otherwise just didn’t get a chance to socialize with other Spokers. In fact you have only to look back to 2012 on this very blog to see the same comments mentioned by others. Those new riders who do keep up perhaps get the kind of social experience we are all looking for and consequently they might come back. They get positively reinforced because they are stronger (or more stubborn) riders. Similarly for women cyclists, they might come on a ride, see that there are very few or no other women, and then not come back. Perhaps given the dearth of dirt rides over the past ten years mountain bikers also eschew coming to Different Spokes. The result is the same: we end up with a club with the same kind of members it already has, i.e. fairly fast, or at least very avid, male road cyclists.

This wasn’t always the case. When Chris LaRussell was President, it was no surprise that having a female leader helped raise the club to near gender equity with about a 40% female membership [I believe this may also have been the case when Cathy Cavey was President in the ‘90s]. There also used to be a very active dirt contingent—why it has faded away is not clear to me. But dirt riding ascended in the early late ‘80s precisely because there was a core, active group of riders including the President at the time, Dennis Westler. It may be lost on the current membership that the original core group of Spokers were touring cyclists, not racers or wannabes. Those early club rides for the most part took place at a friendly pace with just a few animals off the front. However one aspect that has changed over the years is the age distribution. In the ‘80s the club was heavily skewed towards the twenty- and thirty-something cohorts. The number of older cyclists (older than 60) was very small—who remembers Gene Howard or Walter Teague? But those younger riders have aged up and gone grey and like many clubs, cycling or otherwise, the age distribution has shifted upward. Even our current President is a retiree!

Howard is right though: the club’s rides target the faster riders precisely because they have stepped forward to lead more rides. When a free weekend day to ride is a precious commodity, you want to do rides you enjoy and not rides you might do out of a sense of obligation. You can’t fault folks for doing what they want to do; after all, being a club member isn’t like your job (or your family!) where sometimes you just have to do things even if you don’t like it. And being a small club naturally makes it harder to cater to and invite the kind of diversity we’d like to see. The general rule of thumb for volunteer organizations is that ten percent of membership will step forward and do the work. That means of our 130 members about 13 people are club officers, ride leaders, and volunteers who do the work that makes a club run and survive. That’s not a lot of people to cover all the bases, is it?

Yet the quandary is that we’re all the worse for it. The club is supposed to be an umbrella for all LGBT cyclists, not just fast ones. How can it welcome all of us if it offers nothing to the majority of cyclists? The club takes on an increasingly one-dimensional mien that just turns off other riders and drives them away rather than towards us. At some point this becomes a self-replicating process. Think about it: it takes a abnormally committed and perhaps somewhat crazy person to come to the club and say, “Well, this club doesn’t offer what I want, so I’m going to jump in and change it!” Yet that’s what we seem to be saying, i.e. “If you don’t like it, well then roll your own!” A normal person would walk away and keep looking, and that’s exactly what most new riders (and now some old-timers) seem to be doing. Fortunately for Howard he’s found another club where he feels welcome and that seems to have embraced him with open arms. The irony and sadness is that we, a LGBT club, don’t have something to offer the Howards out there. Of course, if you’re happy doing the rides that the club currently offers, the answer is you do nothing because the status quo is perfect in meeting your needs. So nothing changes.

But for those on the margins of the club or even for those of us more actively involved but disturbed by this trend, is there a way out of this quandary? There’s a part of me that thinks that not only does it not have to be this way but that we as a club actually do have a responsibility to change it. I don’t believe that our current state is an inevitable step in the evolution of our club. I ride infrequently with Different Spokes, but I do manage to show up on a few B or C rides every year and even the very infrequent A rides (I mean, other than the ones that Roger and I lead). Occasionally there are new faces that I never see again, and I wonder why. Were they simply “bees” that flit from flower to flower all the time or did they just not have a good time with us and why? We rarely get post-ride verbal feedback from those who *don’t* come back; of course, not coming back is feedback, n’est-ce pas?

I don’t know what the solutions should be. For the Howards out there, their solution is more clear: roll up one’s sleeves and try to change Different Spokes or move on to a club that offers rides that meet your preferences. Unfortunately there aren’t any other LGBT clubs in the Bay Area, so you end up riding with “straight” clubs. It would be lovely if some in the club were just to step forward and say, “Okay, I’ll do it.” But I think that’s not likely to happen given the current lethargy. However if you are a member and want to see things change, it doesn’t hurt to take the initiative to make it so. If you want to see more leisurely paced rides, why not volunteer to lead one? Perhaps those of us who’d like to see more “A” rides on the ride calendar should start talking to each other about planning and co-leading rides. You don’t have to do it alone. It won’t change unless either we do it or we luck out and the Messiah miraculously shows up to lead us. If you’d like to see more diversity in our ride listings, give me a holler, speak out on the blog, or comment on the DSSF Yahoo! group site.

Kick-Off General Membership meeting

Last night Different Spokes held the 2008 Kick-off Membership meeting at the new Sports Basement Potrero Hill, and what a great turn out! Over 30 members, several having just joined, and many returning members came out to meet the 2008 board and kick-off this new year of cycling and events for Different Spokes.

Highlights included:
* Stephanie Clarke, Ride Coordinator
She spoke to members about the need for rides. There is a growing library of routes available in the Yahoo! group Files section, both member developed and routes from various organized rides. She also mentioned a great way for first time ride leaders to jump in, ask a member or board member to help one co-leading a ride!
* William Bir-Event Coordinator
Will announced the club’s weekend trips and dates for the year. Back this year is the ever popular Russian River weekend, 7/25-27, with a ride to the River on Friday, various ride options on Saturday, and a club dinner being planned for Saturday night. The Amador County weekend returns with three days of riding in the Sierra foothills, staying at the Far Horizons 49er Village, 10/16-19.
* Lorri Lee Lown-Velo Girls
Our guest, USA Cycling Coach Elite, Lorri Lee Lown did a presentation and demonstration on bike fit, with yours truly as the guinea pig on the Computrainer. She went over the issues cause by an incorrect fit and spoke of technique and correct positioning and while we ran out of time, members had lots of question and issues. For more information on a bike fit session with Lorri, check out Velo Girls Coaching Services.

We closed the evening with a raffle and then all members hurried off to shop and take advantage of the 20% off beads for those attending, compliments of Wendy at the Sports Basement. I heard the check out line grew quite long, so we were glad to know that members did take advantage of the discount!

Special thanks to — Chris Contos for organizing the space with SB, Roger Chapman & Chris Contos for coordinating the pizza and beverages, Patrick Heryford for handling reception and the raffle, Lorri Lee Lown for her time and knowledge, Raymond Pelayo for photographing the event, and Sports Basement for providing the space.