This year’s Fall Social was back at Phil Bokovoy’s house in a slightly slimmed down version. Somehow the intoxicating allure of grilled turkey enticed just twelve Spokers over to the East Bay despite the weather being near-perfect for a jaunt around the Three Bears and an afternoon spent idly in Phil’s backyard noshing homemade goodies. Due to lack of interest the Rosie the Riveter ride was cancelled. Where were all you Short & Sassy followers? Ah, you were all riding your indoor trainers while watching the 49ers game! Nine of us led by Roger Sayre rode al fresco over the Berkeley hills and into Contra Costa. When you live in wall-to-wall asphalt cities like San Francisco or Berkeley there’s nothing better than to head over to Contra Costa for some inspiring open space. The route of the Three Bears is still protected—for now—from development by copious EBMUD watershed, East Bay Regional parks, and a few ranches and farms. Although it was chilly at the start, traipsing over hill after hill had everyone warmed up quickly. Slathered in sunlight we warmed up in a trice. Other than Roger suffering a flat the ride was uneventful.
Back at Phil’s we had a first: no one brought any chips! Some variety of chips is the common potluck fare at the Different Spokes events but not this year. Jeff brought a delicious homemade shrimp salad instead. Roger S. thought stuffing was the perfect accompaniment to turkey and Tony knew that carbs, fat, cheese, and lots of salt were in order so he made scalloped potatoes. We had a wide assortment of desserts including Roger H’s homemade apple pie with two kinds of apples, poppyseed cake, german chocolate cookies—yum!—and other cookies and sweets I didn’t partake of because I was stuffed. Although he didn’t ride, the Den Daddy made a surprise appearance and broke bread with us all.
I joined Different Spokes shortly after I moved to San Francisco. I don’t recall exactly when but it was around 1983 or so. Except for a few years in the mid-90s I’ve been a member almost the entire time the club has been around. Everyone else who was a member when I joined is now gone except for Derek although Karry, who joined just slightly before me, has recently rejoined after a thirty-year hiatus. Derek has me beat since he was one of the very first people to join the club—we have pictures of him on the earliest club rides in 1983—and he’s been a member the entire 40 years! I’ve seen the club wax and wane over the years. The club grew very quickly when it opened for business. Why is that? As was the case with the gay softball league, gay rodeos, the gay bowling league, Frontrunners, gay swim teams, Gay and Lesbian Sierrans, our club formed at a time when LGBT socializing had been a hidden undercurrent in American life but broke into the open after Stonewall. No longer willing to be limited by bars and bathhouses we were reclaiming all aspects of our lives including sports and recreation—bending [pun intended] the fag stereotype as it were. (Lesbian stereotypes to the contrary included the “gym teacher”.) Different Spokes came into being at a time when LGBT life in the west was coming out of the shadows gangbusters thanks to—among other things—Stonewall. Even though it took a lot of hard work to get the club up and running especially back in the day before the Internet and mobile phones became commonplace, Bob Krumm was exactly right: the time was ripe for a LGBT club and if it hadn’t been us, it would have been some other club because all the signs were there. He and the other founders just happened at the right time and place and also we were fortunate to have had such energetic and determined founding “parents”. The fact that a series of LGBT cycling clubs popped into being shortly after we did—Women on Wheels, Diff’rent Spokes in NYC, Rainbow Cyclists in SD, River City Cyclists in Sacramento, the LA Spokesmen in LA, Different Spokes in Seattle, and Sydney Spokes in Australia—demonstrated that the time for out LGBTQ cycling had arrived.
Then the 1985 AIDS Bike-A-Thon blew the doors open for us. The club got a lot of positive publicity, a ton of goodwill, and consequently our membership skyrocketed to well over 300. BAT got our name in the papers and was great PR, and we had a lot of people join just to support what we were doing even though they may have had little or no interest in recreational cycling. After the end of the BAT in 1995 our rolls slowly began to dwindle until by 2018 we had little more than 60 paid members. Today we have about 120 members, which coincidentally is the number of members we attained by the end of 1983, one year after forming.
Bike-A-Thon was important for giving the club a sense of mission and a community role instead of being “just” a cycling club. It created friendships forged through hard work and a lot of shared tears; those friendships continue today even with BAT long gone. Although BAT was a club success, it was also a huge burden. In those years the club at times felt like it was only Bike-A-Thon—the tail wagging the dog. Bike-A-Thon was a completely volunteer effort by the club and its allies, and after ten years the price was burn out even though it was rewarding to generate $2.3 million for AIDS beneficiaries. How many charity efforts give every cent gathered to its beneficiaries? Perhaps we wouldn’t need websites like Charity Navigator if that were the case generally. Bike-A-Thon and the spirit of volunteerism and giving were distinctly unique and that is likely the main reason it burned out: it wasn’t self-sustaining for the long run—who wants to work hundreds of hours unpaid in their spare time? It was part of that era: the imminent spectre of disease and death, the need to do something good NOW, and to vanquish the sense of helplessness we felt.
After BAT ended the club went back to its primary business: providing a fun haven for LGBT cyclists! Small social clubs constantly need an injection of energy, effort, and volunteers to stay alive and somehow that dwindled until in 2001 we faced a proposal to close the club as it is and become an interest group of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Sleeping dogs awoke and soundly defeated that proposal and out of that grew—very surprising to me—a resurgence of enthusiasm to rebuild the club. The new board created the Jersey Ride, which we still have today as well as the Saddle Challenge to raise money for Project Inform, which after many years we no longer hold. But during that time the ChainLetter, our club newsletter, dwindled nonetheless. The Internet was here and a print newsletter seemed vestigial when you could post rides online at any hour of the day. The ChainLetter went from a monthly publication to hiatus for a few years, to revival as a quarterly and running for four more years before the writing was on the wall: no one wanted to step up produce the ChainLetter. So it ended in 2012 apparently for good. On the plus side the rise of digital photography made it easier than ever to take pictures—lots of them—and put them up on the web. Our club photo albums were now online and they exploded. Here part of the club’s history is preserved. And those photos in our Photo Gallery—well over 40,000—are annotated.
During this time having our second women president, Chris Larussell, made a difference in the number of women in the club. The club has always had a minority of women. But while Chris was president our roster rose to 40% female, the most we ever had, a fantastic accomplishment. Of course after she stepped down and eventually stepped away from the club our female membership shrank again. I think that says something about birds of a feather flocking together, don’t you? It also holds a mirror up to the club around our lackluster diversity, I think, and the need for more female membership and leadership in the club. When will the club wake up that this is one of our significant failings?
After a nice bounce in membership the club then continued to shrink albeit more gradually. We had new leadership, a renewed ChainLetter, and lots of rides. There was speculation that we were now “post gay” and younger LGBTQ adults were happy to socialize in non-LGBTQ cycling clubs. At the same time newer LGBTQ cyclists were flocking to ALC instead of Different Spokes. ALC provides the same sense of purpose and mission that Bike-A-Thon did and although not exclusively LGBTQ it is heavily populated by us and has a serious queer vibe. Adding in the nearly year-round training rides around the Bay Area and what you have in everything except name is another queer cycling club. Instead of the tail wagging the dog, the tail IS the dog!
In the meantime member Chris Thomas decided that he would take club charity fundraising as a personal mission and started Double Bay Double, a two-day ride around the greater Bay Area to raise money for the SF AIDS Foundation. His concept was to host an event so diminutive that it would be swift(er) and easy(er) to organize and pull off, which is why it was limited to no more than 50 riders. Although he had help from the club with recruitment and training rides and got some assistance from SFAF, he really ran the show with a small coterie of enthusiastic volunteers. As with Bike-A-Thon the effort was primarily done by a small number of Spokers and it did not capture the imagination of most members of the club, and so it too came to an end after seven years, our most recent foray into “more than just a recreational cycling club” terrain. Perhaps if it had been an event with a higher profile, it would have helped energize the club. But keeping it small and simple was the goal rather than to put on and support a much bigger (and thus burdensome) event.
The club continued to shrink gradually until the 2019 board held an all-board weekend retreat to get to know each other, bond, and strategize a resurgence. I’m not in a position to give an unfettered and neutral account of where are today since I have been part of that board. But from the get-go that 2019 incoming board knew that we had our hands full with trying to lift the club out of the doldrums. The Saddle Challenge was getting less and less interest, so it was axed even though it was the last vestige of our charity fundraising; we (re)committed to hosting the Jersey Ride monthly because it’s consistently our most popular ride; we started a MeetUp group to test whether we could recruit through a different avenue; we got a new website in order to simplify website management and to integrate and improve communication with members; we consciously revived getaway weekends; and when the opportunity to expand our ride offerings into dirt territory and to shorter rides came up, we grabbed it.
What forty years of survival has taught me is that we should never take the club’s continuation for granted. The club only survives through the effort of its members. We can’t coast. No, really we can’t! When members cease to believe in the mission of the club, then it will fade away perhaps for good. Sure, it’s a place to have fun and meet new friends through one of your favorite activities, cycling. But what makes the club different and special is that it’s a haven where we can be ourselves and to make sure that future LGBTQ cyclists also can be themselves. We have to continually pass it on to the subsequent cohort of LGBTQ cyclists and keep it relevant. To do that we need members to give energy to the club by volunteering to keep it running, to make sure it is there for the next queer cyclist to stumble upon.
Although we’re no longer in the limelight, we have survived for a simple reason that the club provides a place for LGBTQ cyclists to relax safely, be themselves, and find friends. Who like to ride bikes, that is! Whether you’re a dirt biker, a pavement pounder, bike commuter, or Sunday cyclist, there is a place for you in Different Spokes.
An expansion of remarks made at Different Spokes’ Fortieth Anniversary Celebration, on September 18, 2022, by Bob Krumm
First, I’d like to thank the current leadership of the club for deciding to have this celebration. I know it was no small effort on their part to put this evening together. I suspect there are many groups of members and ex-members present tonight who appreciate, just as I do, this opportunity to reconnect with our friends.
I’d especially like to thank Tony Moy. Tony has done a relentless job finding early members, cataloguing photos, and countless other tasks associated with organizing this whole affair. We are all indebted to Tony for the work he has done and continues to do preserving the club’s history.
Tony asked me to say a few words about the starting of the club, and I’m glad to do it if for no other reason than to set the record straight. I’ve read some accounts that are not quite accurate, so here it is as best as I can remember.
The club started from a notice that appeared in one of the gay newspapers—either the Bay Area Reporter or The Sentinel around February 1982. It said that the Gay Olympics Committee was looking to form a bicycle racing team to represent San Francisco in the Gay Olympics to be held that summer.
The notice also said that if riders were interested, they might form a recreational bicycle group that could nurture riders for the racing team. Those interested in either group were asked to attend a meeting at the Gay Olympics headquarters at 19th and Castro.
Dave Freling, Brad Ennis, Lenny Thomasand I showed up. The four of us didn’t know each other before that night. We met Jerry Ford of the Olympics Committee. Jerry said that he was mainly interested in getting a racing team together and that he had to act quickly because the Olympics were scheduled to begin in about four months’ time and he needed to start training. The four of us said we were not interested in the racing team but we would like to start a recreational gay bicycling club. Jerry wished us luck and asked us to refer potential racers to him if any showed up in our group. We wished Jerry luck with the racing team. That one meeting was the extent of the Gay Olympics Committee’s involvement with Different Spokes. I don’t think I ever saw Jerry again, but I believe he later rode with Different Spokes.
The four of us walked down the hill to a restaurant, the Sausage Factory, where we got to know each other and talked about our enthusiasm for bicycling. I remember that the chemistry among us was electrifying because we all had a common drive to find other gay people to ride with.
A little bit about February 1982: It was not that long after the City Hall murders. And if you count from May 1979 when the verdict came out, it was less than three years. There was still a lot of outrage and defiance in the gay community at that time. There was a general feeling in the community that we had to become strong, individually and as a group, in order to prevent something like the murders from happening again.
I think that’s why several gay sports groups came into existence at that time. In addition to the Gay Olympics, there was the Front Runners, the gay running group. It was formed a bit earlier — in the late 1970’s. There was also W.O.W., Women on Wheels. They formed just after us. We rode with them once or twice. And there was Sundance Outdoor Adventure Society which formed in 1981 in New York City, although I didn’t know of it at the time.
About the four of us….
Brad Ennis was an artist and bicycling enthusiast who didn’t own a car. Later he chose to be known by his real name, Brady. Some of you may have known him by that name. He got around everywhere using Muni, BART and bicycle. He was the one who thought up the name, “Diff’rent Spokes” with the word “Different” spelled with an apostrophe as in a popular TV show of the time. He also came up with the name for the newsletter The Chain Letter. Brad died in a car accident in 2006 in Illinois, his home state.
By the way, I do remember some of the other names we considered for the club. “Cy-Clones,” was a nod to a look then popular among the denizens of Castro Street. Another candidate was “Outspoken,” which we liked because it had the syllables, “out” and “spoke.” But we thought it implied a strong advocacy for something. We didn’t feel like advocates or activists ourselves and we thought it would be hard to live up to that name day in and day out. And besides, it’s an adjective!
Then because it’s alliterative, but quite facetiously, we toyed with the name Flying Faggots. That name was rejected immediately, mercifully! (I don’t think we would be here tonight if we had chosen that name!) We were never serious about that name but we did like the word “Flying.” We talked about the exhilaration we feel when coasting down a hill at great speed—like flying—with the pavement zooming by. We thought it would be wise to try to express that feeling in our name. It was Brad again who came up with Flexible Flyers. But we quickly realized it was probably already copyrighted as the name of steerable toy sleds and wagons. (I think Flexible Flyers would be a great name for a club of bisexual airline pilots.)
Back to the four of us…
Lenny Thomas was one of the most interesting people I ever met. He was a professional gunsmith who worked in South San Francisco and commuted there by bicycle from his home on Market Street. Not only was he a firearm mechanic but also an expert bicycle mechanic. Later he gave several repair workshops to club members. Later when he and I were on a bicycle trip together in Montana, his home state, I watched him true a badly mangled wheel in just a matter of minutes by using only his spoke wrench and the brake calipers.
He was also a very talented camera mechanic and photographer. On rides he always brought panniers full of cameras and lenses, which used to amaze me because back then cameras were big and heavy as you may remember. Lenny was the one who took many of the striking photos of early club rides. Lenny died in 1988 in Mexico in a truck accident.
Dave Freling was perhaps the most sophisticated bicyclist among us. He rode a Miyata bicycle, which sounded cool to me; he wore a cycling jersey; and had proper bicycling shoes and toe clips. I remember I was impressed. Dave had a talent for financial matters. So when dues money started flowing in and we began to have expenses, Dave stepped up. We knew we were in good hands with Dave. When I learned Dave was from New Jersey, as I am, I knew he was a great guy!
I was a long-time bicycle tourist. I had ridden from Sunnyvale to San Diego in 1974 and across the country in 1976. Both times I tried to find a gay rider to come along but I had no luck.
That’s why I was so excited when I saw the announcement by the Gay Olympics Committee. It meant that at last I would be able to find other gay bicyclists for touring.
Almost immediately the four of us got to work and the club started to grow. We held monthly meetings at a public library on Page Street. I’m afraid some of those meetings were mis-guided and boring and for that I take full responsibility.
We quickly realized that we needed to divvy up duties so that any one of us would not become overwhelmed. When we were ready to have officers, Brad decided to step away. Fortunately for us Melanie Scott appeared just then and agreed to become the first secretary. We were thrilled to have her. I’m very proud that Different Spokes had a woman of color in our leadership ranks practically from the start. I’m sorry we were not able to locate Melanie for tonight.
Dave became the first treasurer and held that position for many years, Lenny was the first VP and I was the first President.
Other early core members were:
Hal Baughman who kept a collection of maps and bicycle literature, which became the Club Library. He brought it to meetings where members could borrow items.
Bob Bolan was and is a medical doctor and a strong rider. We always felt safe when Bob was along on our rides.
Luis Dufau brought his charm to the club, his Argentine charm. He was the “Prince Charming of Different Spokes.” I still miss him very much. [Luis died of cancer around 1991.]
Dave Gilchrist was a strong rider who could be counted on to come on almost every ride. He was very supportive of our ride calendar, as was…
Shay Huston, the first woman in the club who was there from the earliest days.
Mark Jolles was the “club comedian.” He can be seen in a photo of the club’s garage sale demonstrating the merchandise.
Derek Liecty Derek showed up at an early club meeting and handed me a business card with a bicycle on it. I remember thinking, “Boy, are we attracting the right people!” We always appreciated Derek’s very professional contributions to the club.
Jim Lindauer was another medical doctor.He and I did the Davis Double Century in 1984 and he did it alone another four or five times!
Dale Miller & Curtis Ogden. These two friends can be seen in a photograph of an early Halloween ride costumed as a witch and pumpkin. They were always fun to have along on rides.
Jeff Mendelsohn was another strong rider. I went looking for his address to invite him tonight, and instead, I found his obituary. It said that he died in a “tragic bicycle accident.” I was very sorry to hear that.
Howard Neckel was one of the few members who owned a personal computer in 1982. He graciously produced the first club contact list. I have a copy of it here, in all its dot matrix glory!
Mark Paez was a strong rider and city planner, by profession. He used to keep us apprised of proposed bike lanes in the city.
Dick Palmer was the owner and driver of a pick-up truck that served as our “float” in the 1983 Gay Parade.
Peter Renteria. Even if Peter could not come on a particular ride, he could be counted on to be at the start to send us off. Pete designed the club’s first logo, the one with the connecting bicycles. It was in use for many years.
Frank Sclafani was a strong rider. Once on a Russian River trip, he pedaled ahead to make sure things were set up before the pack of riders arrived.
Tim Shea, last alphabetically, but an important member in many ways. Tim was the “cop” of Different Spokes, or should I say “the attack dog.” If drivers got too close to us or tried to cut us off, they would hear from Tim! Tim was our “ride protector.”
Sadly many of these people are no longer with us. But at the time, all of these core members could be depended upon to support the growing club in their own unique way. Each one of them brought to the club certain skills and talents that helped us attract new members.
I once read an account of the early days of the club that described us as “ragtag.” At first I was slightly offended but then I realized, well yes, we would appear to be ragtag. But back then everyone was ragtag! 1982 was at the tail end of the hippie period; San Francisco was still an inexpensive place to live and many of us lived very frugal lives. On rides we wore jeans, cut-offs, shorts, bathing suits, sneakers and even street shoes. Several early members rode three-speed bicycles and they managed to keep up. When we decided to do our first club garment, it was a tee shirt, not a jersey.
1982 was way before email or the Internet so all club communications had to be done by US Mail or telephone and this was at a time when many people didn’t even have answering machines. Once to drum up membership Brad and I walked around the Castro and Polk Street districts looking for bicycles chained to signposts or poles. When we found one, we would tuck one of our mimeographed notices under the brake cable on the top tube.
One very successful ride concept we came up with early on was the “Decide and Ride,” which the current club leadership may want consider reviving. It was a term we coined by adapting a slogan then popular in the motorcycle community regarding proposed legislation on the wearing of helmets: “Let the rider decide!”
We needed a way to let members know even if they had not yet received their monthly newsletter that there would always be a ride every Sunday leaving from McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park at 11:00 a.m. At first we called these rides “Free Rides”. But we realized that would imply our other rides had a participation fee although they did not. If there was a major overnight ride on a weekend, the Decide-and-Ride would give those not participating an alternative opportunity to ride with the club. Decide-and-Rides also became a good way for members to hone their ride-leading skills. I remember we felt very influential in the Bay Area bicycling community when we saw “Decide and Rides” listed in the calendar of another bicycling club.
One thing Lenny, Brad, Dave and I were always sure of—right from the start in the restaurant—was that the time was right for a gay bicycle club and if we could get this one off the ground, we knew it would be successful, because—simply—it’s fun to ride bicycles in groups. We knew that the club would survive even if we burned out, which we did, because new people would come along and feel the same joy that we did in riding together. And just look at us now: Forty years on and still a force in the LGBTQ community!
Old friends Old friends Sat on their park bench Like bookends —
Can you imagine us Years from today Sharing a park bench quietly? How terribly strange To be seventy
— And what a time it was It was . . . A time of innocence A time of confidences
I see the boys of summer in their ruin Lay the gold tithings barren —Dylan Thomas
You’re likely aware that for the 40th anniversary of the founding of the club, we set aside the weekend of September 17 and 18 for a special ride and an anniversary bash at il Casaro restaurant in the Castro.
The 40th anniversary bash on Sunday September 18 was special and memorable for so many reasons. First, we had several “old farts” from the very earliest days of the club grace us with their attendance, in particular the two surviving founders Bob Krumm and Dave Freling. Although Dave continues to live in the Bay Area, Bob along with his husband came all the way from New Jersey to honor us with his presence and to recount in detail how the club formed. Only three years after helping found the club he relocated to New York and has remained on the East Coast ever since. Of course there were many old farts who couldn’t make it because of scheduling conflicts or just living too far away (Germany!), and some we couldn’t find despite the Internet’s sleuthing tools. And there were a few who just weren’t interested. Second, courtesy of Supervisor Rafael Mandelman the City of San Francisco issued a Certificate of Honor and he came to present it to us despite his busy schedule. In addition the San Francisco AIDS Foundation also took the opportunity to send two representatives to present a congratulatory letter for assisting it in raising funds against AIDS over the entire history of the club. Third, the gathered crowd was able to enjoy a recently uncovered long lost video of the 1988 AIDS Bike-A-Thon featuring a throng of Spokers some of whom were present at the anniversary dinner!
The evening was overshadowed by the prospect of the first serious rain of the season, something nearly inconceivable. A warning was sent out to all registered participants that we may have to move the event indoors and that may have accounted for a number of no-shows. We waited until 3:30 PM to make the final call and decided that holding the dinner outside and then being rained on was worse than just dining indoors, perhaps unnecessarily. Although it wasn’t the end of days, moving the dinner meant we also had to rearrange our plans for the program as well as shoehorn a movie screen and projector into the tightly packed restaurant. By 4 PM there was still no rain, so celebrants were able to enjoy the back patio for some heavy-duty catching up, which for some meant decades! Unfortunately the rain did come and we scurried inside.
Il Casaro was very accommodating and offered us the entire restaurant, allowing us to decorate the inside with club jerseys and t-shirts from the beginning of the club to today. The fare they prepared for us was delicious and copious—various pizzas, pasta, antipasti, salads, and desserts. In fact there was so much leftover when the event was over that the staff kindly prepared doggie bags for everyone.
After dining the program began, the highlight being Bob Krumm’s detailed recollection of how the club came to be in 1982 as an indirect consequence of the Gay Olympics, how the four principal founders met, and how they planned and organized throughout the year before formally opening in November 1982. Bob acknowledged the contribution of many “old farts” throughout his presentation several of whom attended that evening. Although Bob had been interviewed about the founding before he moved to the East Coast in 1985, it was published in the old ChainLetter in an abbreviated form and included some errors. During the program he gave us the “unexpurgated” version! If you weren’t able to attend the event and hear Bob’s presentation, you will be able to read it here on the ChainLetter blog shortly. Stay tuned!
A few tears were shed at the recollections that evening as well as during the Bike-A-Thon video. Nonetheless the overall mood was festive and animated. Although riding together generates its own kind of camaraderie, spending time together off the bike sharing tales, tribulations, and perhaps tawdry gossip creates another. Thanking the gathered “old farts” for a job well done in creating our favorite cycling club and thanking all the leadership over the years for a job well done was the least we could do. Onward to the next forty years!
You’re likely aware that for the 40th anniversary of the founding of the club, we set aside the weekend of September 17 and 18 for a special ride and an anniversary bash at il Casaro restaurant in the Castro.
Although this year we are hosting a Forty & Fab ride every month, September’s was memorable because it was a resurrection of a long-vanished ride, the 25-Mile AIDS Bike-A-Thon route. The first AIDS Bike-A-Thon in 1985 consisted of just one route: San Francisco to Guerneville in one long shot, over 100 miles. When the club decided to do a second Bike-A-Thon for 1986, the organizers knew that the event had to be expanded in order to raise more money since a one-hundred mile route was appealing only to the hardcore. So a second route of 25 miles was added and the hundred mile route became a loop from SF and back. In later iterations a 60-mile route was added to generate even more riders. Of course the 25-mile route was the most popular because even a casual cyclist could survive that if it were flat enough. And it was, being a loop up to the Presidio from the Castro, and then down around Lake Merced and back to the Castro, about as flat a ride in SF as possible while avoiding the car-crowded main streets. The only significant hills were the short, two-block grunt up Arguello to the Presidio and the short hill up to the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
All the Bike-A-Thon routes were marked with spray painted BAT icons. They lasted for many a year but eventually they all faded away or vanished under new asphalt. Did anyone keep a map of that route? Apparently not, so I had to recall as best I could where the route went. That became the route for the day, a “faux” Bike-A-Thon.
I thought that maybe ten, at most fifteen people would show up. Instead there were over 30, which is highly unusual for a club ride. Donald C. and David Gaus volunteered to help with guiding the cyclists along the route and thank god they did because it was a ride dwarfed only by our annual Pride Ride.
We met at the old Bike-A-Thon “recruitment center”, Hibernia Beach a.k.a. the Bank of America in the Castro. Almost no one knew why I referred to it as “Hibernia Beach”. I feel so old. Sigh. We were a large crowd in brightly colored spandex and polyester. No passersby even deigned a glance at us this being the Castro. After the obligatory ride orientation I gave a little history lesson and off we went. Even though it was windy the sun was bright and thus we had the weather on our side. Of course within seconds we scattered into a long line, with folks at the back getting delayed by one traffic signal after another. We had several regrouping points including the old standard start of many DSSF rides, McLaren Lodge, before Peet’s in the Castro became our regular JR start.
Although these days we get to Golden Gate Park via the Panhandle bike lane, back in the day that didn’t exist. So after the Wiggle we always went up to Page Street before turning west. Page is quiet and furthermore the Freewheel Bicycle Shop, which was owned by Jerry Walker, a club member and former president (or was it vice president? I can’t recall), is on the route. Jerry eventually died of AIDS in the early 90s like so many other members. Up at the Palace we regathered for a group shot and twittered together like the little birds-of-a-feather that we were.
I had routed us down the Great Highway even though I knew this wasn’t the original route. Nowadays the Great Highway is closed to cars and makes a safe cycling route to Lake Merced. But back in the day it was used heavily by cars to head south since it had no stops signs and only one light. We did a clockwise loop around Lake Merced, which is what I recollect, but in fact we may have done it counterclockwise originally. While designing the route I couldn’t recall exactly how we returned. But on the ride when I got to Sloat/Ocean it suddenly came back to me: we crossed Lake Merced Blvd. and headed directly north on Lakeshore. Too late now!
We were all scattered like leaves in the wind and since I was patroling the back end of the group I had no idea where everyone else was but assumed that they were fine and having a grand time. This was after all a social ride rather than a hammerfest.
I rushed back through Golden Gate Park and the Wiggle to Hibernia Beach; there were still a few participants hanging out and chatting. I hadn’t had a chance to talk to many riders being preoccupied by “leading” the ride. My old riding buddy and “old fart” Spoker Dr. Bob Bolan was still there as well as old fart Don Lapin, so I was able to catch up a bit with them before everyone drifted away. I waited for the rest of the group to arrive and they never did, having slipped off before the end to head back to their homes or their cars. So the ride just fizzled out kind of like the way Bike-A-Thon did! Despite the nondescript end I sensed that people had a palpably fun time even if they didn’t know the full history of the AIDS Bike-A-Thon. It’s good to keep the memory of that club accomplishment alive. It was an incredible ten-year effort by so many members and in the end generated $2.3 million dollars of funds for various Bay Area AIDS organizations. Some traditions are worth preserving.
Roger and I did a two-fer this past weekend: we attended both Saturday’s Alpine Dam Loop ride and Sunday’s Bovine Bakery Loop ride. That’s unusual for us mainly because getting the bikes and ourselves into the van and trucking over to Marin—well, really anywhere—is just a PITA. It’s simpler and less time consuming to ride from the manse. And with gas over $6 per gallon again, it’s also costly. Originally we thought we’d just go on Stephanie’s Sunday ride since it’s easier, plus a pleasant Sunday jaunt at a noodling pace into west Marin just sounded enticing, which is an unreal feeling for me because after many years of being a SF denizen I had become burned out on riding in Marin. I finally must have recovered! But even more appealing was the prospect of gorging on Bovine Bakery’s lovely pizza slices, at least two of them. Despite the Saturday ride fitting our schedule better, that involved going over the Golden Gate Bridge, which we just won’t do anymore on a weekend afternoon. In the end we took David Goldsmith’s suggestion to forego the bridge and just start and end the ride in Sausalito. That not only omits the moshpit on the bridge but also leaves just the best part of the route: around and up Mt. Tam!
On Saturday it was super easy to get to Sausalito by the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. We met the others and promptly found out they had changed plans and were now going to do the loop in the opposite direction, counterclockwise instead of clockwise. That was fine with me because despite the hurt having to climb the Seven Sisters I much prefer that than hurtling down the backside with my brakes melting and my life flashing before my eyes. Saturday’s ride, which was originally going to be a cool ride in Pescadero along the Stage Road, was a replacement due to San Mateo county’s aggressive chipsealing of coastside roads rendering them dangerous for cyclists. Apparently the prospect of thousands of vertical feet up steep climbs daunted many Spokers as it was just six of us—Mark and Jeff, the leaders; along with Eric; newish member Jacob; Roger and me.
After a flat dash through the Marin suburbs up to Fairfax, we stopped for a snack/early brunch at Perry’s before remounting and heading uphill. By now the day was warming up and intent on adding to the challenge of climbing Tam. Fairfax-Bolinas Road is a 7-8% grade and goes in and out of tree cover but mostly out so we were already sweating profusely by the time we reached the golf course. Each regrouping had us huddled under trees pining for any breeze. The entire time Eric raved on and on about how beautiful the scenery was and how lucky we were to live where we can ride in places like this. Hearing his enthusiasm I realized how inured and jaded I had become to the roads I had ridden a billion times. Ah, “beginner’s mind”. He went on to point out the trailheads of dirt rides he had done with Joan and Brian out here and how fantastic the trails were.
My memory was playing tricks on me. From the golf course it’s a net drop to the dam. But it had been many a year since I had ridden to Alpine Dam this direction, probably more than fifteen, and the “descent” to Alpine Dam had a couple of ascents before the pleasure of the final drop; each unexpected ascent was disheartening. At the dam it was cooking. Although Roger and I quickly went to the shade, everyone else was cavorting on the bridge taking selfies like Aussies on a beach. After another languid break we remounted for our encounter with the Seven Sisters. Until now Eric had been blazing each uphill but now Roger decided he wanted to get over it ASAP. So off we went and in trying to follow him I saw heart rates I haven’t seen in years! No pain, no gain. But usually it’s “more pain, no gain” anyway. The road is completely exposed and that probably was the whip that got us to Rock Springs quickly as our legs would allow.
At the Rock Springs parking lot was a food truck. Now that’s a new (but smart) one! I was out of water and longingly eyed it with the thought of a Coke. But the crowd of hikers had the same idea and I decided that being a cheap bastard was okay and I’d wait for Bootjack to refill with…plain water. At Bootjack we had another lengthy break even though just the fast downhill remained. I went last because I’ve become cowardly. Even though this is a descent that I’ve literally down hundreds of times and could play a video in my mind of the entire thing, I’ve just decided that it’s not worth it for me to risk skin and bones anymore. So I descend like the old man that I am.
Of course we got caught behind cars, no surprise. That allowed me to catch up. Well, that and the short but punchy uphill by the Mountain Home Inn. We ended up behind a long train of cars on Highway One and before we knew it, we were done. The others headed off to the Junction for pizza and adult refreshment while Roger and I went back to the car at Mike’s Bikes. They were doing a 60-mile day but we were doing only 35. Nice ride and surprisingly chill for a C-pace. But that made for an especially friendly ride. Maybe we should call these ‘Social C’ rides?
The next day was Stephanie’s ride to the Bovine Bakery. Perhaps the Siren call of west Marin has lost its allure for Spokers, as it was just five of us: Stephanie, Nancy, Roger S, and Roger and me. This morning was cooler—what a relief!—so climbing up Lucas Valley was the perfect warm-up. Being Sunday the ongoing road repair of the upper reaches of Lucas Valley was quiet. The new pavement and improvement of the turns is going to make it a really fast descent on the way back. Stephanie decided that instead of doing the usual counterclockwise loop from Pt. Reyes Station, we would instead do it clockwise. That’s actually a wise move because the climb out of Olema to the top is harder and longer than up Sir Francis Drake and down to Olema. Oh well, another day for the Garmin to get completely confused!
Although Stephanie never seems to be anything but totally amped when she’s on her bike, today we actually did have a relaxing ride in West Marin. We took plenty of rest breaks and no one seemed to have had too much adrenaline. Stephanie blazed the descent off of Lucas Valley and kept hammering all the way to Nicasio where there is a very convenient set of porta-potties.
As much as Lucas Valley Road is a great ride, it seems more cyclists are deciding that they prefer to get to west Marin by car so they can start enjoying the open space immediately: the parking lot in Nicasio was full of cars with bike racks. I confess that this development strikes me as antithetical even if I understand why it is happening. When I lived in SF I never drove to Nicasio. In fact even driving to Lucas Valley, which I do now because I live in the East Bay, was 50-50 back then. We would just ride from SF to Pt. Reyes Station and back. Joseph Collins was perhaps the last Spoker to uphold that practice. Perhaps it’s lack of time or the influence of mountain bikes: most mountain bikes today are so ungainly on the road that dirt bikers avoid pavement when possible. Instead of cycling to the trailhead on your mountain bike, one just drives there. To this day I still find it odd to see so many cars parked on Skyline by Redwood and Chabot parks. It’s so close to the ‘burbs you can just ride up the roads to the trailheads. But that’s not the practice anymore.
Cycling past Nicasio reservoir it looked low even though it’s actually at 75% capacity despite the drought. Marin residents must be doing a fantastic job of conserving water. Nonetheless everything in west Marin seemed dry and sere.
After the steep and fast descent to Olema, which Stephanie of course led, she took us the “back way” on Bear Valley Road to Pt. Reyes Station in order to avoid the at-times thick tourist traffic on Highway One. In town we made a beeline for Bovine Bakery only to be greeted by…nothing. Usually it’s a clusterfuck of cyclists and day tourists lined up at the front jittering like junkies waiting for their next fix. But today it was unexpectedly closed. There was the sign: “Today we are closing at 10 AM.” Perhaps it’s hard for them to find employees to work a Sunday. A disgruntled day tourist walked up to the front and started cursing, ranting about how he’d had it with Bovine and their untrustworthy hours. Wow, there’s nothing as uncomfortable as going ‘cold turkey’, is there?
I confess the wind more than went out of my sails: I felt suddenly adrift as if the world made no sense anymore. What was I to do except collapse to the ground in a fetal position and cry? Then Stephanie said, “Oh, let’s just go across the street to the Palace Market and get sandwiches.” Well, you get your fix wherever you can find it! I had never eaten anywhere else in Pt. Reyes Station except Bovine and back in the day, at Ed’s Superette #2, which is now Whale of a Deli at the other end of town. It turns out the sandwiches at the Palace are pretty decent and satisfying, so that was an ugly lemon turned into sweet lemonade! We lingered over lunch sitting at a picnic table next to Bovine. A man sat of the grass playing his acoustic guitar. Shortly another man approached him and engaged him in conversation talking a blue streak. We looked at each other and suddenly our conversation turned to schizophrenia and our experience with those who have it. Are we in Dolores Park? Time to move on!
Back on the road Roger S. proceeded to blitz the downhill to Platform Bridge while the rest of us tried to stay alive. I can’t say I was feeling especially eager and really felt more like taking a nap by the side of the road. At the top of Lucas Valley Stephanie again took off and despite the much improved pavement I was very cautious. In what seemed like just minutes we were back at the start. After the post-ride banter we bade each other farewell. Two days, two great rides. Thanks, ride leaders!
Most of the current members of the club are likely not aware that we almost closed the club down in 2001. The membership was waning down from the 300’s to about 150 paid members; the rides had decreased to perhaps two or three per month; the treasury was hovering around $676. The leadership of the club at that time was shouldering a heavy burden: the board was shrinking due mainly to natural attrition but there was also little interest by members in assuming a leadership role, be it as a ride leader or a member of the board. Keep in mind that our monthly print newsletter, The ChainLetter, was still being produced. That alone was a substantial amount of work as well as a money hole due to printing and mailing costs. A proposal was put forth to dissolve the club and become an special interest section of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. A meeting was held on October 14—almost twenty-one years ago—to discuss the proposal and vote. About twenty members attended and voted against dissolving the existing club. I’ve resurrected an old article I submitted to the September 2001 ChainLetter that I felt summarized the thoughts and feelings of a lot of members. Some of the language is dated and certain specific conditions such as the publication of the now-defunct ChainLetter are quaint. In fact most of the “What Needs To Be Done” section is horribly dated. [Aside: I toyed with the idea of calling that section “What Is To Be Done” to amuse the Leninists among the Spokerati.] But I think the article’s main point is still relevant today: if you want a LGBTQ cycling club, you have to help it continue to exist. Obviously the majority of members would do no such thing other than put a check in the mail. For them joining the club is hardly different than throwing money at another amusement or to make a problem go away, and if work is involved, they’d likely move on to another amusement. A proposal to close the club and just 20 of 150 members show up?? How telling. But I get it: you can’t be emotionally invested in everything (and, hey, the club will take your money anyway because we need it; our membership fee still doesn’t cover the cost of running the club.) However there was a minority of members for whom the club was worth sweat equity but they just thought somebody else was taking care of the “problem” so that they didn’t need to do much. Interestingly after the announcement went out in June about the proposal to close the club, the ride listings shot skyward. And after the October meeting some members were jolted awake by the clarion call and stepped forward to contribute to the work of running our club. Lesson: don’t let sleeping dogs lie! Here we are at age 40: our membership number has risen from a nadir of 62 in 2018 to 122 today; our treasury is currently enough to keep the lights on thanks to many generous donations (but our costs still exceed membership fees!); we have a website that makes some aspects of running the club easier; we’ve got loads of rides including more dirt rides and easy rides. So what’s to worry? Getting to where we are today has been a lot of hard work by the board and the ride leaders. We still need more members to join the board: at the minimum we need a website manager as Nick is ready to retire from that position. We could stand to have a men’s and a women’s outreach chairs to help us recruit more members especially women. And current board members are all waiting for their parole board hearings! The usual exhortations to join the board involve playful and coy banter about how much fun it will be and that it’s not a lot of work. Well, part of it is true: it can be fun to create something with your BFFs. But the board is a working board with “all hands on deck”. It may look like it all happens by magic. But behind the grand curtain the wizards are working very hard, not just doing the scut work but also thinking about what the club needs and where it needs to go and making that vision come true. Many hands may make light work but few hands make heavy work. What happens when those hands get tired? The club is the product of the collective vision of its members. But that’s only true if you take ownership of your club. Without you the club is just an empty shell of a machine. If there is anything we can learn from forty years of survival, it’s that the club can’t coast and it needs constant injections of energy, ideas, and the hands willing to make something of them–don’t fucking soft pedal if you want to keep moving forward. You like making things, don’t you? Why not the future club? What would it have been like if we had folded? With whom would you be riding your bike?
Why Different Spokes should remain Different Spokes(June 2001 ChainLetter)
As Doug O’Neill [ChainLetter Editor at the time] and our President [at the time] Phil Bokovoy pointed out in the last two issues of The ChainLetter, Different Spokes is at a turning point. Ride listings have dwindled, paid memberships have declined, and the treasury has shrunk. Now, publishing The ChainLetter is a burden, indeed threatened. In last month’s issue, Rob Bregoff suggested that Different Spokes merge with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to prevent the total collapse of the club. Can or should the club continue to exist in its present form? The answer is yes, it should. Identity & Community An independent Different Spokes is terribly important not only for those of us who cherish the club, its history and tradition, and all it’s done for us, but also for all future gay & lesbian riders who have yet to join. Over the years I have ridden with other bicycle clubs in the Bay Area. They’re all nice organizations dedicated to meeting the needs of their members. I have enjoyed the company—to a point. Usually, I became tired of the “straight boy” banter and the clueless sexism and heterosexism that unconsciously permeates most of the rides and events. When I want to feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging, a sense of “us-ness,” I come to Different Spokes. Though it is often easy to be openly g/l in San Francisco, this is not always the case elsewhere in the Bay Area. As gay men and lesbians, we are almost always in the minority. Different Spokes exists so that we can escape the at-times claustrophobic heterosexuality in other areas of our lives. This is also why Different Spokes is a regional club; we are a center for g/l bicyclists throughout the region, not just San Francisco. Our membership reflects that. Different Spokes is not just a haven for g/l bicyclists, where homosexuality and its culture and values—our culture and values— are presumed; Different Spokes is also a community. Whether by sharing the latest new piece of bikie equipment we just got, ogling the hunky cyclist who just passed by, or chatting about last night’s date, we Spokers have created our own distinctive community of two-wheeled, lavender (well, actually more often pink!) hedonists. Community is built through a common history and through shared experience. For us that has mainly been through rides and The ChainLetter [ed note: the now defunct ChainLetter newsletter]. In the “old days,” that social glue was built not just on rides but through the monthly club meetings, the regular annual events such as the Tahoe and Guerneville weekends, and the work on Bike-A-Thon. Both monthly club meetings and Bike-A-Thon have fallen by the wayside. Rides are the heart of the club, and The ChainLetter exists not just to circulate ride listings but to inform all of us about what happened on those rides we missed—to tell us about the latest gossip of our fellow Spokers. The ChainLetter is a nexus for nourishing bonds between members who are separated by geography and, all too often, do not have enough time to ride together. I may not have gone on a ride but I want to read about who was there, what happened, and who’s dating whom. Bob Krumm’s recounting of the early days of DS shows us that long before DS was formed there was a need for a g/l bike club. That need will not disappear if DS folds or merges with the SFBC. If DS vanishes as a separate entity, another g/l cycling group almost certainly will coalesce in its place. Although the SFBC is a worthy organization, its goals and orientation are different. SFBC exists primarily as a bicycling advocacy group whereas DS is a gay/lesbian social group. Having gay members is not the same as being a gay organization. Furthermore the SFBC is not a regional organization serving a diverse membership throughout Northern California. What Needs to be Done How can the club survive in its present form? First we must address finances. I believe the club made a mistake in publishing The ChainLetter online for all to receive without paying for a membership. We should continue to post the ride calendar online, but not the newsletter, at least not until the month is over. For those who prefer not to receive a paper copy, we should e-mail the newsletter rather than posting it on the DS web site. Receiving a current newsletter is a benefit for paid members. Otherwise what is the point of paying at all except out of good will? There is no compelling reason to join. Eliminating the paper version is not a good idea. Not everyone prefers a PDF file. Despite being electronically networked to the max, I prefer to receive my ChainLetter in print. And not everyone has easy access to the Web. A print copy can be posted at participating bike shops or left sitting on a coffee table. Asking folks to print their electronic copy and post it or leave it someplace is an unneeded burden. Furthermore perhaps membership fees need to be increased to pay for The ChainLetter. The cost of membership needs to reflect the cost of running the club, and that includes publishing and mailing the newsletter that is the communication link between members. The newsletter is undergoing a significant change and has more content. Ride leaders need to submit a ride review or get an eager participant to do so. The Ride Coordinator can follow up and make sure a review is submitted. And if you’ve never been involved in newsletter production, believe me, it is a lot of work. The Editor alone cannot be responsible for writing, editing, producing, laying out and printing the newsletter, at least if we want him or her to be around for a while. Now’s the time for you budding writers to exercise your fingers and whip up some frothy, dishy articles. Traditionally the Ride Coordinator has been just one person. With the fragmentation of our membership by geography, gender, and ride preference, we must share the responsibility of gathering and supporting rides. A ride coordinator cannot participate in every ride nor can he or she know the entire membership. Ride leaders can help, too. Leaders can announce other upcoming club rides and encourage participation. Leaders can query participants about the kinds of rides they like to do and inform the Ride Coordinator. And leaders can ask participants if they’d like to lead a ride (and pass their phone numbers to the Ride Coordinator!) Now is the time for you to speak up… and act. If you feel there is still a need for an independent gay-identified bicycle club in the San Francisco Bay Area, if you care about Different Spokes, then you need to let the leadership know. Please come to the General Meeting on Sunday, October 14 and speak up. Or, send in your comments to The ChainLetter. If you’ve been waiting for others to solve the club’s problems, you may have waited too long unless you act and participate now. If you’re a DS old-timer whose participation has receded through time but you still love the club, we need you now to make sure it survives!
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.
I’ve been hugely enjoying a new toy that arrived a few months ago – a custom-fitted cycling helmet. I’ve talked about it on rides, shown it to club members, and blogged about the experience of getting fitted for it. It’s an extremely comfortable helmet that has some great features, a unique piece of gear.
A few club members have expressed to me their interest in the idea of custom helmets that are 3D printed, wondered about the fitting process, about safety certifications, and about color choices (my helmet is a dark gray). It spurred me to answer an email from KAV Sports founder Whitman Kwok, asking me if I thought Different Spokes might enjoy a factory tour. I imagined that maybe one or two Spokers would come along, and we could have a nice ride along the bay, a nice lunch, and see KAV’s shiny new factory. (I had seen the old facility when I got fitted last winter.)
So I posted a ride last month and, to my surprise, 12 club members registered for it.
There were a few unusual things about this event. First, we were on a tight schedule, which is something that almost is never a part of a Different Spokes ride. Whitman was leading the factory tour on his day off, so I felt obliged to get the group down there at the agreed-upon time of 11:15 AM. Second, everyone who attended was treated to lunch. Finally, there was a sales-y aspect to the event – KAV Sports is not in business just for fun. I want to state unequivocally (as I did in my earlier blog post) that my only interest in this event was introducing the club to an interesting new technology.
Because we had agreed to do our best to arrive in Redwood City at 11:15, we left Peet’s at 8:30 sharp, and after a quick pee stop at the Mission Playground on Valencia (because the bathroom at Peet’s was out of order), we did not dawdle. Despite the complicated “Bayway” route we took, including all its twists and turns through parking lots, dirt patches, and SFO, plus a new detour in San Mateo due to levee reconstruction, the riders did a great job of staying together. After a second brief stop at Seal Point Park in San Mateo, we finished the route through mid-San Mateo County and found our way through an industrialized part of Redwood City to our destination.
It was a warm day, not brutal, but the air-conditioning felt great as we entered at 11:20, five minutes after the arrival time we were shooting for. Two Spokers – Darrell and Will – did not have time to do the ride, but wanted to attend the event, so they drove down to meet us and were there when we arrived.
Lunch had been brought in, and we sat down for yummy sandwiches that we had pre-ordered.
During lunch, Whitman introduced us to KAV Sports, and answered question after question from our group.
While we were eating and Whitman was presenting, Louie, who’s an engineer for KAV, was taking club members aside and fitting them.
After lunch, Whitman brought us up to the front entrance of their facility, and the tour began in earnest. This is getting kind of long, so I’ll stop here and write a second post later.
This past Saturday Roger and I unveiled a version of East Bay Tiburon Loop that we think Spokers will enjoy in the future as long as they ride it only during the dry season, which these days is almost all the time unfortunately. Thanks to Jeff Mishler for a recommendation to include a section of the Bay Trail in San Rafael, which is partly packed dirt and at bay level. During rain or King tides this section of the Bay Trail is wet but it’s fine the rest of the time. It’s less than 39 miles long starting from Little Louie’s Deli in Point Richmond, which by the way is a great place to get a meal or a cup of coffee with a sweet, and after crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge (RSR) goes around Paradise Drive to downtown Tiburon before returning over Camino Alto and back over the RSR.
This version of the Tiburon loop completely bypasses the Golden Gate Bridge, which on weekends is very congested. For East Bay denizens it’s the perfect way to get to Marin to cycle Paradise Drive. You no longer have to schlep to SF to do this scenic road nor abide traffic into and out of the City.
There are several ways to get to and back from Tiburon from the RSR; Roger and I have been trying them out to find a route that wasn’t dangerous or problematic as well as being scenic.
Today’s ride brought out an interesting mixture of folks. David was the only SF person to attend; everyone else was from the East Bay. David and Stephanie are DS stalwarts; Karry Kelley, who was president of Different Spokes in 1986, is back cycling after a long hiatus and graced us with his presence along with his friend Jordan. Finally we had a relative newcomer to the Bay Area, Angela, come along because she wanted to learn about riding in Marin after crossing the RSR. Karry and I go way back to the early days of the club. I believe that he was also the AIDS Bike-A-Thon coordinator in 1989. It’s nice to have another old fart return to the disco dance floor!
The weather today was brisk with a steady wind out of the west the entire day. But the sun came out and we had perfect weather for storming Paradise Drive. The path up and onto the RSR from Point Richmond is literally writ in asphalt—it’s a marked bike path. As you climb up to bridge level there is a series of annoying yet apparently necessary “speed bumps”—18 to be exact. The RSR itself has one former car lane dedicated to peds, cyclists, and other forms of micromobility. Keep in mind the RSR is long, much longer than the Golden Gate at about 5.5 versus 1.7 miles, so you get to enjoy it for an extended period. This time we got to ‘enjoy’ the strong headwind from the coast. The RSR has two humps and once you’re over the second hump it’s a long, steady descent to water level. Despite the headwind it was easy to hit over 20 mph, which in general is not a good thing on a multi-use path. But there were few users on this day–which by the way is also not a good thing as the bike lane is in a trial period only–so zipping along was pretty safe.
For the uninitiated once in Marin it’s a bit confusing where to head. But head west on the frontage road for a short distance and you’ll then see the crosswalk over to the flyover for the I-580 exit to San Quentin on which a multi-use path has been added. After the top you pass the prison entrance and head by the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. You’ll have to take the pedestrian crosswalk to the south side of Sir Francis Drake at the light and ride on the sidewalk until you see on the left a multi-use path heading south along I-101. Don’t take the first one you see as it’s the ramp over Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to the Cal Park Hill tunnel! You will take that on the way back. Take the second left, which comes immediately after the first one. Until recently this path was extremely narrow, so much so that it was impossible for a cyclist to pass if anyone else was on it. It’s now rebuilt and comfortably wide. You’ll then join the Redwood Highway that takes you over to the Corte Madera shopping center. Just before that you pass the Larkspur-Corte Madera path, which is what the Jersey Riders take. So if you time it right you can meet up with them on the second Saturday of the month. We didn’t have any issues navigating from the bridge to Corte Madera. This time we took the bike path adjacent to the Redwood Highway instead of riding on the street although either is fine. The bike path used to be broken down asphalt and quite bumpy but it is now repaired and very smooth.
At this point the route will be familiar to you if you’ve ever done the Tib loop.
When we got to Paradise Drive everybody rode at their own pace. However although we spread out to the point of not being able to see each other at times, at Woodlands Market everybody arrived within about two or three minutes, so it was actuallly a very evenly paced group. We ended up at Woodlands for lunch if only because it was convenient and old habits die hard. Karry used to live in SF decades ago but like me had moved to the East Bay. He remarked that he hadn’t cycled to Tiburon in probably 30 years! Despite having moved to the Bay Area a year ago Angela still hadn’t explored much beyond the East Bay, so getting familiar with Marin was a relief for her. Stephanie doesn’t usually ride into southern Marin preferring to hit to open roads in western Marin. But a two-week layoff from cycling meant she was building back up again, this time to get ready for Foxy Fall in October.
After lunch we headed out of Tiburon and took Camino Alto back to the RSR. Although the shortest way back is just to get back on I-580—yes, bikes are now allowed to ride on the section of 580 from San Quentin to the very next exit, which drops you off at the western foot of the RSR—we did the long but more scenic route through the Cal Park Hill tunnel to get over to the Bay Trail. It’s a diversion that adds about three miles but also adds the enjoyment of the view at water level of San Rafael Bay and the RSR.
Once back at the RSR it was just six miles back to Little Louie’s. Oh, and this time we got a slight tailwind from the westerly rather than the oft sidewind from the wind blowing through the Golden Gate. Good thing too because the climb up the RSR may seem easy slight but it can be taxing with a gnarly headwind.