Up the Hill

Those of you who have known me for a while remember when I used to commute by bike down to the South Bay twice or three times a week with the group, sf2g. Those days ended when I returned to working in downtown San Francisco almost 7 years ago, but I’ve pretty much always been a morning workout guy. I did a 7:30 AM spin class for about 5 years, but the gym I was going to is closed now, and it’s not coming back. God save me from $$$oul Cycle, but I might check it out when it gets going again if I can’t find another good workout.

Anyways, I’ve been faced with the question many of us are facing now, which is how to get in shape after we’ve put on our “covid 15.” Well, for me, it’s been more like a “covid 7,” but that also feels like too much extra weight to be dragging around on a Tib loop. In addition to the weight, I’ve been stymied by a shoulder injury for months that just wouldn’t get better. But even though it got better around October, I just couldn’t get motivated to get back in shape.

At the last Jersey Ride, I was talking with Joan, and it turns out she likes to ride in the mornings, too. That’s how she commutes to her work on the western side of the city. So I asked if she might be willing to ride with me a day or two a week up the big hill in the middle of the city, and she said yes.

Joan is a lot faster than I am right now, and she’s been wonderfully patient with me huffing and puffing my way up Corbett.

We haven’t posted the ride as a club ride so far, but I wanted to see if anyone else might be interested in getting together with us at Philz on Castro 6:45ish and do a short and pleasant, but intense, morning workout. Great company, too!


Grrls Just Wanna Have Fun!

Boys, this year is finally your chance to ride the Cinderella Classic & Challenge. How’s that, you say? Isn’t the Cinderella the women/girl-only century ride in the East Bay? Yes, for the first 44 years of its existence the Cinderella has been female (gender) only. But this year the live Cinderella has been replaced with a virtual event and anyone can ride it. All you have to do is register, pay the fee, and then go do a ride—it doesn’t even have to be one of the official Cinderella routes—and you’ll be entered into a raffle to win some great prizes. How many miles you ride determines your fee, $25 to $45. Those funds go to replace the funds lost by not having a live Cinderella and are donated by the Valley Spokesmen (sic) to a host of non-profits and women’s organizations.

In previous years Different Spokes boys were so envious of the girls who could do the Cinderella that they created their own counter-event, the Evil Stepsisters. But this year you too can be the Belle of the Ball so there’s no need to seek out evil on Mt. Tam.

The virtual Cinderella can be ridden from Saturday May 15 through Sunday May 23. If you haven’t ridden one of the Cinderella routes, the most recent versions have started at Las Positas College north of Livermore rather than the traditional Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. The Classic is a 65-mile jaunt that weaves counterclockwise on roads through Danville, San Ramon, Dublin, Pleasanton, Livermore before returning to the college. The longer Challenge adds on Patterson Pass Road to the Altamont Pass before returning. There is also a very pleasant, briefer 31-mile route through Livermore.

Maybe someone in the club would like to volunteer to lead the club on the virtual ride this year? (hint, hint.)

You can read the details and register at the Cinderella site.

Kicking Off

This past Wednesday we had our annual Kick Off Meeting with a little help from Zoom. Last year’s Kick Off took place at the end of February before the SHTF and we locked down, so doing our annual membership meeting on Zoom was, unfortunately, another first for us. Next year we should be back live, in person, at Sports Basement. If not, then we probably will have much more significant things to worry about.

Zoom is not conducive to fervid schmoozing and, alas, all snacks and drinks were bring-your-own. Ah, but the trade-off was that all the food money got ploughed into raffle prizes!

Speaking of raffle prizes our winners were:

• Grand prize – a training session with Nick Nagy (our kickoff meeting’s speaker): Donald C
• Second prize – DSSF club jersey of your choice, from our Jakroo site:  Jeff M
• Third prize – $50 Emporio Rulli gift card (or other coffee shop of your choice):  Roger H
• DSSF club neck wrap, from our Jakroo site:  Roger S
• Primalwear mask (courtesy of David Gaus): Nancy L
• DSSF club cap, from our Jakroo site:  Greg M
• Trailbutter 3-pack: Stephen S

Congratulations to our lucky winners!

We could have gone really total pig, hog-wild on the prizes but we’re saving our ammo for, um, something later…

Oh yeah, the rest of the meeting: Prez David recapped the past year—basically, we were locked down, the board squirmed and writhed in impatience getting a reopening plan in order, we opened up carefully, and we now exercise patience hoping that the pandemic will ebb sufficiently that we can do the nasty on our Pride Ride, club picnic, pool party, fall social, and holiday party later this year. Despite the paucity of rides David thanked those ride leaders who managed to squeeze in some rides pre- and post-lockdown, the latter mainly being Jeff Pekrul, who’s Mr. Jersey Ride 2020-21; the rest of the board continue to emulate Punxsutawney Phil and wait for spring (or the vaccine, or Godot).

Our presentation this year was by the personable Nick Nagy, an excellent and experienced personal trainer and fellow ALCer, who led an online workout and provided a plethora of information and advice about stretching and conditioning. As someone who is currently rehabbing a knee due to starting up too impatiently, I can say that Nick’s sage words fit in precisely with what my physical therapist is telling me. Nick knows his stuff! Oh, and Nick, next time please wear even tighter workout shorts and I guarantee you that at least the boys will be even more attentive! Those attendees who want more attention from Nick can contact him through the club to arrange a training or for follow-up questions to his Kick Off presentation. Big thanks to Nick for sharing his time and wisdom with us!

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!

A Leopard Changing Its Spots?

Is that a Clippercard in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Well, thank god for the pandemic. While the coronavirus has decimated BART ridership, that smaller number of riders has an “unexpected” beneft: there are fewer riders to complain about the wretched cars.

Have you ridden on one of the new BART cars—you know, the ones that aren’t as filthy and don’t smell like a locker room, have three doors, and are as rare as hen’s teeth? Well, they are still going to be hard to find because BART is refusing to accept delivery of any more of them from the manufacturer Bombardier until software bugs and some production/design problems are fixed. This was reported in the East Bay Times a while ago. BART was supposed to have 600 new trains by the end of 2020 and a full fleet by the end of 2021. At the end of January BART had only 286 new cars and the full order now won’t be here until spring 2023. But don’t hold your breath.

The article relates that software bugs are causing the trains to more frequently shut down compared to the old cars. The necessary system reboot takes 5-10 minutes. Plus, apparently the wheels go out-of-round more frequently than those of the old cars leading to more trains being hauled to the maintenance yard.

You may also recall that originally the new trains were supposed to be rolled out in January 2018 but that was delayed by problems including a crash during a test run in 2016.

Why does this sound so familiar? Don’t forget that the newish BART stations—Warm Springs, Milpitas, and Berryessa—all ended up opening years behind schedule and being delayed not once, not twice, but many times to the point where BART finally stopped forecasting when the stations would open. BART has a nasty habit of overpromising a bright, glorious future of system improvements and then having to backtrack. Of course that’s after we’ve voted to give them more money and they’ve hoovered up most of the local transportation money.

Project delays are a fact of life. Witness the repair of the Calaveras Reservoir or the Crystal Springs Reservoir Dam Road—they blew their timelines by almost a decade. Unexpected issues almost always crop up that confound timelines. But continuing to provide unrealistic, problem-free timelines to the public is not only deceptive but ultimately a great way to alienate your ridership. How about underpromising and then surprising us with some early good news instead?

Since I haven’t set foot on a BART train since the pandemic began, these problems have had zero impact on me. But it grates on me that when I do return to BART this year instead of being pleasantly welcomed by an improved system, it’s likely to be the same old BART both literally and figuratively. Changing spots is hard to do. In BART’s case it may be impossible.

This November I hope we’re most of the way out of the pandemic in the Bay Area so that we are able to host our annual ride, Mt. Hamilton in the Fall, which historically has had a large turnout. If you live in the City, you’ve had to drive to the start at Penitencia Creek Park. Due to BART’s late opening on Sunday mornings it has been nearly impossible to take public transit to this ride because of the long ride from Warm Springs station. Until now. Taking BART to the end of the line, the Berryessa station, now makes it possible to get to the start with just 20 minutes of easy pedaling. Assuming your train doesn’t undergo a software fault and require a long reboot.

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!

“Sesame, Ouvre-toi!”

Hell no!

It’s not quite that easy to reopen, is it? A magical incantation may have worked in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves but it will take something beyond words to get the club to really open up and reveal its treasures. It’s proved that way at other Bay Area cycling clubs as well—being able to reopen for rides has not led to a spate of listings nor of participation. Most members are still eschewing group rides even though they check off just about all the safety boxes: health and safety protocols, outdoor and mostly uncrowded, and constantly moving air. Everybody’s assessement of risk is going to be different and although we’d like to think there is a rational calculus, so much is unknown about COVID spread that the penumbra of uncertainty seems large and hazy. I have read anecdotally that in Florida, which pandemic-wise is a world unto itself, large group rides (e.g. 50+ riders) take place almost every day of the week where riders ride in close quarters unmasked, i.e. conduct rides as if nothing were different today. Actually I still see a few “relatives” of those Florida training rides out here although they aren’t quite as big and more of the riders are carrying face coverings even if they aren’t wearing them. But for the most part Bay Area cyclists seem to be riding by themselves or only with small groups of family or friends.

We restarted our club rides in October and they’ve mostly been led or co-led by our Secretary Jeff Pekrul. They seem small—maybe four to eight participants—but those numbers were pretty typical prepandemic. Of course you can’t have club rides without ride leaders/hosts and since that population has always been small—about fifteen or so members—the limiting factor is going to be the number of hosts that are willing to lead now. Whether it’s because the pandemic has upended personal lives, fear of COVID transmission, or the fact that it’s currently the rainy season and cold, ride leaders aren’t leaping forward to grab the reins, so to speak.

Looking at who’s showing up on our pandemic rides it’s mostly the same people, ie. those who aren’t fearful of congregating with fellow Spokers. Everybody else seems to be hunkered down waiting for the plague to blow over. But with mass vaccination no longer on the horizons and well into view, more Spokers are certain to emerge like Punxsutawney Phil and not be scared by their shadows.

I’ve certainly been pondering this question although it’s mostly theoretical since I’m still recovering from an injury that’s keeping me off the bike: when I’m vaccinated, will I then start leading club rides just like before? Will I then join a club ride? I hate to admit it but there is one thing that is a real turn-off for doing a group ride right now: I can’t stop someplace, sit down, and have a nice lunch midride. Restaurants are currently open only for takeout and it’s cold outside. Eating takeout under those conditions is not a whole lot different than stopping at the Kwik-E-Mart for a snack. Yeah, it’ll get you home but it’s…disappointing.

I’m looking forward to the day when we can do a ride, sit down for a delightful meal filled with insouciant and witty conversation, and then after an inspiring postprandial coffee saddle up again for a slow roll back to the manse. Without a mask.

Oh yes!

Summer 2021 Centuries [updated 7/28/21]

Almost all—but not all—spring century rides have been cancelled or converted into virtual events where you do a ride on your own; some are entertaining postponing their rides to the fall and the result is a very dense selection of events in September and October. Postponing is risky because the future state of the pandemic is not easy to predict. Will stay-at-home orders and social distancing still be in effect in the Bay Area and will local governing bodies refuse to give out permits for large events? Club or organization volunteers also need to feel safe enough to be willing to staff an event involving a lot of social contact.

The prospect of centuries during the summer is more likely than spring but that still doesn’t mean clubs are fully committing to hosting their rides. Despite problems with vaccine distribution approximately 2.5 million Californians, or about 6% of the state, has received at least one shot, which will provide them with at least partial protection. Those folks will receive their second shot within weeks if not already. It’s also good news that the current approved vaccines are providing some protection against the known variants such as the UK, Brazil, and South African. We can expect vaccinations to accelerate with more FDA approvals and the distribution system to improve with time. Even at the roughly current rate of about 6% per month, by end of June only about 40% of the state will be vaccinated; by end of September about 60% of the state will have been vaccinated, which is getting close to herd immunity. So things are looking good for fall. (But we thought the same last year and were blindsided by a surge in early summer.) The tricky one is summer: will the threat have abated enough that rides can proceed? These clubs and organizations have more time to ponder their future, so we may be pleasantly surprised come June with open events.

To view the current status of spring and early summer centuries, go to an earlier post. I’ll try to keep this post updated as I have the earlier one.

?Saturday, June 26: Giro Bello. No word yet. Rescheduled to Saturday, September 25. Registration to open on June 1. Due to the conflict with the Wine Country Century, the events have been combined. See listing for Wine Country Century below for details. SOLD OUT.
Saturday July 17: Death Ride. $169-149. Registration is open.
Saturday July 17 to Sunday July 25: Santa Cruz Mountain Challenge. 127, 102, 45 mi and 100k routes. Will either be cancelled or a virtual event. The 2020 CZU fire damaged sections of the routes. 100- and 50-mile options. Now a virtual event; registration is open. No fee but donations appreciated.
Saturday July 17: Fall River Challenge. No word yet. 200k, 100-mile, 100k & 25 mile routes. $75-50. In 2020 this century was postponed from 6/14 to 7/18 and actually took place. Registration is open. Limited to 500 riders plus no more than 100 day-of-event registrations.
?Saturday August 7Saturday October 2: Marin Century. The sponsoring club, Marin Cyclists, is not yet hosting rides of any sort and the Marin is not on their club calendar. Unlikely to happen. Now calendared for October 2! Registration is open now. 122-, 96-, 86- 51- and 26-mile routes. $130-$90.
Saturday August 7: Cool Breeze Century. 30-, 60-, 100-, hilly 100-, and 125-mile routes. $95. Registration is open. No Class II or III e-bikes!
?August: Crater Lake Century. 100 or 62 mi. No word yet. CANCELLED
?August: Tour of Napa. No word yet. CANCELLED
Saturday Sept. 11 & 18: Ride The Rim. 33 mi. Registration is open, free but $10+ donation encouraged. Sponsored by Crater Lake National Park, Friends of Crater Lake, and the Klamath Visitors Bureau. About two-thirds of the route is car free.
Saturday September 11: Best Buddies Challenge. 100, 62, 30, 15 mi. Raise $1,550 ($50 reg fee) reg is open. Event is capped at 50% capacity compared to previous iterations.
Saturday September 11: Mammoth Gran Fondo. $99-79. 102-, 70-, and 42-mile routes. Reg is open. Somewhat far away but riding on the eastern Sierra is scenic.
?Saturday September 11: Tour de Fuzz. $79-99. 50-, 100k-, and 100-mile routes. No info yet except you can reserve a spot without paying. Registration is now open. Limit of 1,300 riders. SOLD OUT.
Saturday September 11: : Gold Country Cycling Challenge. 100, 100k, 42 mi, 10 mi. $90-70; reg open now. Postponed from June.
Sunday September 12: Eroica California. $220-150. Rescheduled from April. Registration is not open yet. Registration is open now.
Sunday September 12: Grizzly Peak Century. 50-, 75-, and 100-mile routes. $75. Rescheduled from May. Also a virtual ride from August 28-September 11. Registration is not yet open. Limit of 1,000 riders. CANCELLED; next one is May 1, 2022.
Saturday September 25: Lighthouse Century. 100-, 75- and 45-mile routes. $75-85. Tentatively scheduled; final decision to be made by June 1 whether to cancel. Limit of 1,000. Registration is now open. SOLD OUT.
Saturday September 25: Wine Country Century. 50k, 100k and 100-mile routes. $100-75. Rescheduled from May. Now combined with the Giro Bello. SOLD OUT.
Saturday October 16: Tour delle Vigne. $55. 30k and 60k. Rescheduled from May. Registration is open.
Saturday October 2: Best of the Bay. Double century through the East Bay hills and Diablo valley. No information yet except the date. CANCELLED. Next one is October 1, 2022.
Saturday October 2: Konocti Challenge. 100-, 85-, 65-, 40- and 20-mile routes. $90-40. Reg is open. This is the last time the Konocti Challenge will be offered.
October 7-10: Sea Otter Classic. $90-115. Registration opens June 28 is open now. Rescheduled from April.
Saturday October 16: Foxy Fall Century. 100-mile, 100- and 50-k routes. $70-35. Registration will open sometime in June is open now. Capped at 1,500 riders and no day-of-event registration.
October 22-24: Campovelo. $795. Women-only version of Chris Cosentino’s velo and food event.

Serving or Self-Serving?

As you know we continued to offer club rides despite the winter CoViD-19 surge and the December statewide Stay-At-Home order. Some board members had a discussion about this prompted by the news that Western Wheelers ceased club rides in early January when Santa Clara County informed them they could no longer have gatherings. You may be wondering the same thing: how could a club like Different Spokes have continued to host club rides, which involve gathering, when all gatherings supposedly had been banned?

A little history: since last March every local cycling club—that I could think of—either explicitly stopped club rides or emptied their ride calendars (leading me to conclude that despite no announcement they too were not hosting rides). In June San Mateo County got a variance from the State that allowed outdoor gatherings up to 50 people. Suddenly group outdoor recreation was now licit in that county. Western Wheelers quickly reactivated club rides just in San Mateo. When Santa Clara also allowed outdoor group recreation, WW, which is based there, reopened rides in their home county as well. Thereafter other cycling clubs followed suit in their communities. (Some of those clubs were in counties that hadn’t yet allowed group outdoor recreation but some clubs did it anyway.) Several of the larger clubs in the Bay Area reopened—Fremont Freewheelers, Almaden Cycle Touring Club in San Jose, Grizzly Peak Cyclists in Berkeley, Sunnyvale Saratoga Cycling Club. There were also large cycling clubs that didn’t reopen, including Marin Cyclists, Valley Spokesmen in Dublin, Davis Cycling Club, and Sacramento Wheelmen and have continued to eschew group rides. We decided to reopen.

The restart of group cycling was initially prompted by San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties allowing it. But it really gathered steam when the State switched to the State Plan and the color tier system—ie. the State Blueprint For A Safe Economy—to give guidance to all counties. This was helpful because when each county had no choice but to implement its own pandemic plan, we ended up with a confusing patchwork or regulations. The new tier system meant that counties could just adopt the state rules instead. Some Bay Area counties eventually did exactly that including Alameda and Contra Costa whereas others continued to draft their own more restrictive plans such as Santa Clara and San Francisco.

The import of this has to do with (a) what was considered an allowed gathering in a county, and (b) how governmental bodies viewed cycling clubs. Although never explicitly stated, governmental bodies viewed cycling clubs the same as informal social groups unless they had a business license or non-profit status. Clubs without formal legal status were then subject to general restrictions on gathering. But clubs that had legal non-profit status were treated the same as businesses and hence their gatherings were subject to the regulations in the State Blueprint, which devotes the bulk of its attention to which businesses may operate and how they can operate. In other words for clubs that didn’t have some kind of business or non-profit status, their gatherings were treated no differently rulewise than just a group of friends or neighbors who were hanging out together. It didn’t matter if your club had a professional-looking website and snazzy kit: if you hadn’t bother to file for non-profit status (or perhaps your rides were not sponsored by a local bike for-profit cycling business), your club’s rides were no different than a generic gathering and hence subject to all the regulations—e.g. pod size, limited number, limited number of households, etc. Under the December emergency order their gatherings were purely social gatherings and were banned. You’d be surprised how many cycling clubs were in this situation. There was even one local cycling club that subsequently entertained the idea of becoming a religious organization/church in order to offer rides presumably because they didn’t have business or non-profit status.

In late summer and early fall, counties were allowing some social gathering either by requiring social distancing and face coverings, limiting the maximum number who could gather, requiring closed pods, or other such devices. Businesses were also required to do similar things for their patrons and employees, eg. by limiting the number who could enter an indoor business or work in a space. But the regulations for social gatherings and business gatherings were not necessarily the same with the latter spelled out both in the State Blueprint and in specific county regulations (if the county wasn’t following the State plan).

Last summer when non-profit organizations such as Different Spokes, Grizzly Peak Cyclists, or Western Wheelers looked at the State Blueprint For A Safe Economy for guidance, there was no obvious category for us. At that time the only category that even came close was Outdoor Recreation and RV Parks and we, as well as several of our fellow cycling clubs, ended up following those guidelines in terms of how we conduct our club when we’re in counties that have adopted the State Plan. San Francisco County was one of the counties that wrote its own plan and it has never clearly categorized us. The only business category we seemed to fit in is Gyms and Fitness Clubs; I’ve confirmed this with the SF Department of Public Health. One of the compliance requirements to operate in SF is to create and make available to the public a health and safety plan, which we have done. This is no different than for any other business in this category operating in SF. When the December emergency stay-at-home order was announced, all gathering outside of your immediate household was supposed to cease. But ‘gatherings’ such as outdoor fitness classes were still allowed. Why? Because the rules for business ‘gatherings’ were not the same as for purely social gatherings.

So that puts non-profit organizations such as Different Spokes in an interesting situation: our club rides are, in everyday language, certainly social gatherings. But because we are a non-profit organization, San Francisco’s CoViD-19 health orders allowed us to continue offering our “outdoor fitness classes”. We continued to offer club rides legally. But should we have?

Not only does this seem contradictory (but then again many things in the law seem contradictory to us lay folk, who don’t understand how subtle differences are finessed!) but it seems to belie common sense: if you want to stop community spread and you think it’s due to people gathering, then you should stop all gatherings, period. But a critical difference is that the allowed business gatherings are supposedly under the supervision of the business: the fitness club staff (= ride leaders) makes sure that class participants follow appropriate social distancing, masking, etc. There may be no such mandated oversight at informal social gatherings. That seems to be one of the reasons that club rides were and are okay—they’re part of a business practice and supervised according to county or state rules—and not treated like informal social gatherings where anything goes. The concern seems to be that informal social gatherings are major transmission sites because people don’t actually follow best practices for preventing infection. So they have to be squelched. Does that mean that ‘gatherings’ as part of a business operation are therefore safe? No. I’m sure plenty of businesses with ‘no mask, no service’ signs continue to do business with people who don’t or won’t wear a mask. They may not care to enforce the rules for fear of alienating their patrons; have indifferent, ignorant, or fearful staff; or they just need the money. Not too long ago I was in a supermarket where a customer was “blow holing” (had a mask on his face that didn’t cover his nose) and the woman at the bakery counter went about her business to sell him his morning coffee and bagel without ever asking him to cover up properly. At another supermarket I saw a group of employees convening in an aisle and at least two them did not have any masks. (!)

So was our continuing to offer club rides merely self-serving? My normally cynical self leans towards “Of course!” But the leaders of our pandemic rides have been dutiful in enforcing compliance with the club HASP. I had a discussion with the leader of another local club that was grappling with the same issues and we had come to a similar conclusion: people are out riding in groups regardless of the pandemic and many of those groups don’t have masks or other protocols to protect their participants. When people come on our club rides, they’re told exactly what they need to do to ride with us or they have to exit the ride. In that way our club rides are safer than the ad hoc social gatherings we see on two wheels. Think of it as a kind of harm reduction: if you think solo cycling is safe and group cycling unsafe, consider properly supervised group cycling as a lesser evil. Some clubs might be very laissez-faire when it comes to enforcing safety. But if you offer the kind of pandemic rides we do, then it’s hardly evil at all and may in fact be a good as riders internalize safe pandemic riding habits and then consider them “normal”. If the pandemic worsens due to perhaps the new SARS-COV-2 variants, then a real lockdown is surely in our near future—not the ‘lockdown lite’ we keep getting told is a lockdown but something more like what was implemented in Wuhan, Italy, or Spain last spring—and if that is the case then our rides will be shut down for realz. But so will many other businesses that have also been given a pass since the State started reopening last May.

Bike Lane, Bike Route, Bike Path, Bikeway?

I learned something recently: cyclists are not required to use a ‘protected bike lane’. Maybe you already knew that–I certainly didn’t! But I suspect most of us have little or no understanding of the difference between a bike lane, a bike route, bike path, and a bikeway. To most people those terms are interchangeable but the reality is that they are used under the Vehicle Code and by traffic engineers technically to distinguish related but different entities.

A bikeway is a general term for any path of travel that is designated for bicycle use. So it can be, for example, a lane, a ‘route’, a multi-use path, etc. But sometimes it’s used interchangeably with the term ‘cycle track’, which is generally some kind of protected path of travel for bicycles.

You’ve likely seen the near-ubiquitous signs announcing ‘bike route’. This simply announces that this path of travel—likely a street or highway—is a ‘recommended’ route for cyclists. Who recommended it? You don’t know. What makes a way recommended is totally unclear since bike route signs can be found on streets with cars and trucks travelling at high speed. Also because a street is designated a ‘bike route’ does not require any municipal entity to maintain it such as by obstacle removal or street cleaning (although they might if you complain).

A bike lane is more specific than a bike route in that it is a lane marked by signage or striping set aside for use by bicycles. Sometimes some motor vehicles are allowed to ‘use’ a bike lane such as when making a turn, and even park in it (e.g. police, ambulances, mail trucks, garbage trucks). Usually a bike lane is explicitly indicated with a sign or pavement marking, ‘bike lane’.

A protected bike lane is one that is separated from regular vehicle lanes. The separation can be as simple as an extra-wide, chevroned strip or true physical separation such as bollards, K-barriers, or even parked cars as is the case in Golden Gate Park.

In 2012 the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition convinced the City to install protected bike lanes in Golden Gate Park as a ‘trial’. (It must have been successful because they were never removed!) There were repeated incidents of drivers parking in the bike lane, which was adjacent to the curb, and not parking in the parking spots that were set away from the curb to protect the bike lane. There were the other adjustment snafus such as passenger doors being blithely kicked open forcing cyclists to move to the right as much as possible, people crossing the bike lane suddenly, and slow users in the bike lane (eg. the rental pedicars from Stow Lake) that obstructed the lane. Most of these issues have probably diminished over the years. But there are still structural issues such as the difficulty/impossibility of passing another slower cyclist when there are cars parked to your left. At the time I asked SF Bike what faster cyclists should do since my reading of the California Vehicle Code was that when a bike lane protected or otherwise was adjacent to the roadway, cyclists who were going slower than the rest of traffic were required to use the bike lane. Of course SF Bike responded that one should just use the regular lane that cars use. Say what? In any case I did try that and on the very first ride I did after that email exchange with SF Bike I was honked and yelled at by a driver ‘get out of the road!’ (By the way, another irritating structural issue is avoiding broken glass strewn in the lane—you can’t swerve right (curb) or left (parked cars) easily, if at all, to avoid it.)

It turns out my reading of the CVC was either incorrect or the law has been amended since then. Cyclists are NOT required to use a protected bike lane. Why? Because, in a bit of oxymoronic nomenclatural confusion a bike lane that is separated by a physical barrier such as parked cars, bollards, etc. is not considered a ‘bike lane’ anymore but a ‘separated bikeway’ and it turns out we may either use the ‘separated bikeway’ or not—it’s our choice.

The section of the CVC that mandates bike lane usage is here. The section of the California Streets and Highways Code that allows us not to use the protected bike lane is here.

If you read the latter, you may be wondering, “how does this paragraph allow us to skip the separated bikeway?” It’s because although we are required to use an adjacent bike lane per the CVC, a separated bikeway is not a bike lane in the eyes of the law, and the CVC paragraph above does not mention ‘separated bikeway’, ‘cycle track’ or ‘Class IV bikeway’, which are the correct terms for a protected bike lane. Interestingly there is a note that SHC 890.4 was amended in 2015, which was well after the GG Park lanes were installed. Whether the 2015 amendment was about differentiating bike lanes from protected bike lanes is unclear. But this semantic sleight-of-hand is our get-out-of-jail card.

However just because the law is technically on our side does not mean that there are no social consequences. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of drivers don’t know this legal esoterica and when they encounter a slower cyclist (well, actually ANY cyclist) in their lane, they wouldn’t give a shit what the law says anyway, they just want you out of the way! Having a patently obvious alternative lane—the protected bike lane—and seeing cyclists not using it are likely to induce apoplectic rage and lead to diatribes about the massive ‘entitlement’ of cyclists. So it’s not enough just to let us use the regular vehicle lanes; we need driver education concerning cycling law and why some cyclists choose not to use the protected bike lane.