What Different Spokes Has Meant To Me: Stephanie Clarke

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

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

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 It is that shared passion that originally made me show up on a Different Spokes ride and it is that shared passion that keeps me coming back.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

Mind Over Matter

I’m the Den Daddy and I’m going to kick your ass!

Yesterday we were returning from our “Tour of East Bay gated communities”—that’s from the outside of the security perimeters, not the inside!—when with whom do we unexpectedly cross paths but the Den Daddy. Despite being almost 89 years old Derek is a prolific cyclist and ever peripatetic world traveler (at least until the Pandemic started). For those of you who are too new to Different Spokes to know about whom I speak, I refer you to this blog post.

Running across a friend while riding is nothing to speak of (unless maybe that friend is Madonna/Obama/yo mama). But in this case it truly was remarkable. Undeterred by the threat of the coronavirus Derek had been riding up a storm last spring and summer when some of us, ahem, were instead hiding out. His local cycling adventures came to an abrupt halt when he crashed his bike in the Point Richmond tunnel and broke his hip or pelvis, I forget which. At 87 that can be a devastating injury leading to general incapacitance, disability, and an inevitable decline. Those who know Derek felt that this bump in the road would not keep him off the bike for too long. After all this is a guy who has survived a few bouts with the Big C and once had a horrific mountain bike crash requiring a helicopter evacuation. However after surgery and recuperation physical therapy has proved to be a tough row to hoe. You just don’t bounce back that quickly from injury and forced indolence when your years pile up (as I can personally attest). Getting on the bike with a stiff hip is a big challenge and building up muscle and aerobic strength when you’ve been off the bike and inactive for several months is only for the strong-willed and those with lots of testosterone. For the first time Derek thought about giving up cycling and retreating completely to his other love, very fast cars.

Confronting the decision to stop cycling can hardly be rational even when your body is giving you a grueling time. In Derek’s case it wouldn’t have been a bad call to move on to other less hazardous endeavors given his many interests. Although there is something to be said about dying with your boots on, cf. Joe Shami, I don’t consider it a more noble way to go than say, keeling over on BART from a fatal heart attack.

Just two weeks ago Derek told me he was doubtful he’d be riding again. Then a few days ago I received an email from him with a movie attached—there he was getting off and on his bike and pedaling around his cul-de-sac. Derek’s comment: “Did a couple of miles and it was tough going.” So now running into him cycling a few miles away from his gated community, Rossmoor, was a pleasant surprise. Clearly he’s had moments of doubt but he persevered with his PT program and got to the point where he could go for a real spin albeit a bit shorter than his previous rides. The clincher was when he quizzed us on our bike lights and wanted to know where to get them—I don’t think this is a man giving up cycling!

Different Spokes Chiang Mai Report!

Longtime Spoker Roy Schachter (now former member) retired and moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand at the end of 2018 mentioned here. Roy sends us a report on life in Thailand during the coronavirus epidemic. Here is the first part.

I chose to come to Prachuap Khiri Khan for about a two-month stay due to the terrible air quality for 3-4 months each year in my chosen retirement location of Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. In fact last year was worse than many prior years and this year is turning out to me even worse than that in part due to large forest fires close to the city. Last year I had hoped to be able to stay in Chiang Mai throughout the year. But after getting sick for a couple of weeks and having continued albeit less severe symptoms for much longer, I decided to take a five-week trip, leaving on March 29 to Bali with an extended stop in Malaysia on my return, getting back to Chiang Mai on May 2, 2019. This year I left on March 5 intending to return about end of April, until I began a long-planned, one month trip back to California for June. Alas, I almost surely will not be traveling back to the U.S. anytime soon because if I left Thailand now, I could not get back in. That might change by early July when I would have been returning, but who knows? Even if I could travel, I could be subject to self-quarantine at either end of that journey. And if things are still out of whack, I am probably better off staying in Thailand for the time being as this is home to me – and more practical and economical and probably also more enjoyable. Additionally, any kind of travel via plane, bus or train, with hotel or AirBnB lodging would carry far higher risks this year, particularly for me since I am in the higher risk groups of age and underlying health conditions. I know I should limit my travel this year, although I might still go to California in fall 2020 if things improve significantly.

My situation here in Thailand is still rather quite good despite the many changing and increasing restrictions. I am not experiencing the severe hardships faced by so many and I am still able to get out on my bicycle a couple of hours each day. I try to keep up with local and international news and I know many people are experiencing hardships during this time, with unemployment or loved ones sick or even dying or the imposed restrictions being very problematic. I feel for all who are suffering, all around the world – the income interruption alone will be an extremely difficult challenge for so many who just get by and have few resources for an extended economic shutdown. For me, even with the dramatic drops in the financial markets, and my investments, fortunately I am still reasonable financially secure and stable. So, with the pandemic and its health challenges to each of us and our families and friends and others in our communities and also the stark economic difficulties faced by many, I am one of the luckier persons. As a contrast, a friend in Spain is facing the loss of loved ones, and his life is a daily challenge to maintain hope for a better tomorrow.

It feels like I am living in a parallel universe. The health crisis seems to be nonexistent here in Prachuap Khiri Khan, even though it most certainly is affecting the country and in many key areas, many things have been closed. The most beautiful and peaceful beach is at the edge of town and within a Royal Thai Air Force base, which is open to the public after taking a minute to sign in and get a temperature check (which has given incorrect readings of about 34.5 C for me on two consecutive days, a full two degrees below what my own digital thermometer indicates.) Once through the entry gate checkpoint, it is two km on my bicycle to the beach, crossing the landing strip and military housing and other buildings. Lounge chairs are available for daily use at the beach for twenty baht. Tasty, inexpensive Thai food is available for delivery to your chair or across the street at the food court. I saw a guy riding a motorbike a short distance, balancing a tray with the traditional tom yum soup serving ring which usually has a flame at the center, managing to drive and keep the soup from splashing over the rim of the serving dish – quite a sight! This beach, called Ao Manao, is even better than I imagined. The land forms a bay with beautiful outcroppings at each end and an island in the middle. The water is shallow all the way to the buoys delineating the swimming area, about 100 to 130m from the beach – where the water there was at waist level. Maybe only once before, somewhere, have I felt so buoyant. I can lie in the water on my back or front, without movement and my body floats including my legs, which usually sink. I know there are other places in the world like this, where the salt content makes you so buoyant. But it’s new to me and so nice to be able to lie just on top of the water.

My parallel universe quickly converged with much of the rest of the world. Fortunately the actual situation of CV infections and fatalities in Thailand is still relatively low and there are no cases in town. In contrast Chiang Mai has had 40 cases and fortunately no new cases for the past five days. Thailand’s CV cases, which had remained under 50 for weeks, suddenly started multiplying and is was over 2,000 last week. That resulted in a series of increasing and substantial restrictions which has dramatically shut down most travel as well as tourist businesses, hotels, restaurants (take-out only), parks, some beaches, and much more. Fortunately after a period of 100+ new daily cases nationwide, much of the past week has seen daily increases of less than 50. The nearby Royal Thai Air Force Base closed to visitors just recently. My plan to spend several hours at the wonderful Ao Manao beach several days each week is now just a dream. I get most of my info about the COVID-19 situation here on Facebook and am careful to discern which sources are reliable. Last week I gasped when I saw a notice requiring all foreigners who arrived in Prachuap Khiri Khan province (where I am now) after March 15 to report to the local hospital. I arrived on March 14, so the order does not apply to me. But I was worried – what if my hotel or the police think I should report to the hospital? I talked to the hotel mgt and they told me not to worry. And nothing has come of it since.

Then the next day I saw an order for all hotels in the province to close – except if there were any remaining guests, who would be allowed to continue to stay. But if my hotel chose to close, I could not get into any other hotel here – and it would be very difficult or impossible for me to return to Chiang Mai at this time. I talked to the hotel owners and they told me not to worry, I could stay. The next day, I saw someone else in town say his hotel would not extend his stay, so he had to leave within one day. I gulped again, talked to my hotel’s owners and they assured me I could stay beyond my current paid month. That was a big relief and actually an emotional moment for me, as I felt threatened with eviction with no good or easy options. And so I learn in a very personal way how some others face this kind of difficulty in their lives, not just due to the current health crisis. Of course, I am fortunate in many respects and even though I could be subject to some big challenges, I know I will be okay – unless I get the novel coronavirus. But it’s still kind of scary and upsetting.

The very next day all of a sudden I am the only remaining guest at my 24-room motel-style hotel. What a strange feeling! They turned off many of the lights, drastically reduced their staffing and only have the front desk staffed from about 8 pm to 6 am, for security reasons. Much of the day I am the only one around. I stay most of the day in my second floor room or on the comfortable first floor patio-corridor. I had reserved a hotel room for my first week here at another hotel in front of the beach, but I wanted a room better for a longer stay. I found an ad for a nice little furnished house, but they would not consider a short-term rental of 1 to 2 months. Unfortunate, and I imagine that house is still not occupied, but many places are only available for a minimum of 6 months or a year. I checked out many hotels as well as an apt-room which does rent monthly and found some viable options, but then I found out about the emergency decree which would come into effect in a couple of days. With that in mind, I quickly choose my current hotel room, at double the cost of some of the other options, since I knew if I might have to spend most of the day in my hotel, so I felt I would be more comfortable here. Included in my consideration was my very good first impression of the woman owner and her son – and I was right about that. She gives me food treats some days such as sliced watermelon, fresh corn salad with basil leaves, and Pa-Tan-Go, a Chinese style fried dough. Every culture seems to have a fried dough food. Fortunately this one was not very sweet. I would have felt more isolated at the other lodging options, with little help available and no one to talk to. The U.S. gov’t relief “check” which I will soon get will offset some or all of these higher costs. With all the U.S. taxes I still pay, I have no qualms about accepting this payment, which also allows me help out some local friends a bit.

I shipped my travel Bike Friday bicycle, which collapses and can be packed in a hard-shell suitcase, to my hotel here from Chiang Mai, which only cost about US $13 – similar shipping in the U.S would probably cost $50-$75. This has allowed me to have a comfortable bicycle for my extended stay – and I use it every day. I buy most of my food at a long open-air covered fresh market along the rail line, one km, less than five minutes by bicycle from my hotel. Everyone, including me, wears a mask. I eat nearly all of this low cost and tasty prepared food in my hotel room or on the patio. One exception is the tasty pizza I’ve been getting a couple of times each week, available for take-out only – cost about US $7. I’ve hidden behind the stone beach wall, looking at the waves, to avoid being noticed, but always alert to any approaching authority that might chase me away or cite me. I feel like a criminal and now I think even that is getting more risky. Less appealing but safer will be to take the pizza back to my room less than 10 minutes away by bicycle.

Shelter In Place

The DSSF Board of Directors recommends that all club members follow the directions of the Governor’s office to “shelter in place” until April 7th. We are therefore cancelling club rides and events until that time.

There won’t be any club rides for at least the next three weeks and probably longer. In the overall scheme of things it’s not a big deal. Life, death, and serious illness and disability are.

Strange coincidence? Today the SF AIDS Foundation announced that AIDS LifeCycle for this year has been cancelled because of the coronavirus. In 1982 the club formed and it was about that time AIDS first appeared in the community. I had the sad and unreal experience—as did many members at the time—of seeing friends, loved ones, and acquaintences very rapidly get sick and die. First it was only one or two but later on it became a dismal commonplace. In the club before they died they often disappeared from riding regularly. We’d find out they were sick, or rather, rumors went out that they were ‘sick’. We’d just stop seeing them on club rides and then the word got out they had died. That was an ugly experience that scarred me and I’m sure others, a real coming of age. If you haven’t had an experience like that, then the prospect of a multitude of deaths due to COVID-19 is likely just an abstraction. We’re not there yet. But we probably will be even with the measures taken so far.

So yeah, the shelter-in-place is a PITA. But the shattering grief at losing a friend to a stupid disease is even more of a PITA.

Keep washing your hands often and maintain your distance for a while so you don’t get infected. Infected but asymptomatic people are apparently the primary vector for spreading this disease. (“What’s the fuss about? I feel fine!”) You’re perhaps not just saving your own life but the lives of others some of whom you know and cherish and some whom you may never meet.

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!

“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!’]

“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


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.