Saddle Challenge and Project Inform

February 18th, 2019 by tony

If you pledge or collect money for Saddle Challenge, your funds go to Project Inform. Project Inform has been our sole beneficiary because in 2003, the second year of Saddle Challenge’s existence, the club decided to support the Ron Wilmot Ride For Project Inform. Although the RWRFPI was a separate event held later in the year, the board apparently felt strongly enough to raise money for it separately rather than just encourage members to participate in the RWRFPI. I’m guessing that since the RWRFPI involved doing laps in GG Park—not unlike AIDS Walk—it was going to be a lot more fun and interesting to ride elsewhere for a month!

Ron Wilmot was a member of Different Spokes in the early ‘80s and ‘90s and eventually died in 1997 but not before raising an insane amount of money for AIDS services through the AIDS Bike-A-Thon and then starting his own ride in 1995 after BAT vanished. Ron’s ride raised over $750,000 for Project Inform from 1995 to 2007. Although Ron was well-connected, he simply announced his event and convinced a lot of his friends and acquaintances to do it. His event—like Saddle Challenge, Bike-A-Thon, and Double Bay Double—was done with very little overhead. Thus the maximum or near-maximum amount of contributions could go directly to Project Inform. It was truly grassroots fundraising done by an one individual who was able to inspire many others.

Project Inform was one of the first AIDS service agencies that popped up in the San Francisco at the early stages of the epidemic, in 1985. Every year the club selected about a dozen beneficiaries out of the many AIDS services to whom riders could forward pledges. PI was at times one of the organizations that we selected. PI differed from other agencies such as the AIDS Foundation, AIDS Emergency Fund, the Stop AIDS Project, and Pets Are Wonderful Support. Instead of focusing primarily on direct care services and support, PI developed as essentially a research and information clearinghouse. Information about AIDS and HIV, medication and treatment, and clinical trials was difficult to access and ignorance and misconceptions were rife. PI formed not only to organize and disburse information to the community but also to medical professionals. Today PI also focuses on Hepatitis C information and treatment.

Note that PI was and is not simply a “neutral” information center providing education. PI has long had a history of advocacy by fighting for streamlined drug approval, representing the HIV/HepC community to the government, and making sure health care is available to all who need it. PI’s role is thus not only educational but in policy advocacy and improving public health. What made PI interesting is that it was truly community based rather than set up on high by a medical or scientific organization and thus under the control of those whom the epidemic hit the hardest.

For more information, please go to the Project Inform website.

If you’d like to support Project Inform, please participate in Saddle Challenge in March! You can sign up at our website.


Different Spokes and Charity Fundraising

February 8th, 2019 by tony

Double Bay Double


As you know Saddle Challenge is our sole club fundraising effort now that Double Bay Double is on hiatus. Every March we offer Saddle Challenge for two reasons: to encourage members to get out of the rainy wintry doldrums and start riding in earnest, and to raise a little money for Project Inform. The amount of money we raise for Project Inform is pocket change, just $300-500 each time. But SC is a low-key event and running a cycling fundraiser in March is “challenging”—witness last year when half a year’s worth of rain came just in the month of March and washed out most of our rides. It also pales before our club’s first fundraising project, the AIDS Bike-A-Thon, which over its eleven years raised about $2.3 million for various Bay Area AIDS/HIV agencies. Know that AIDS Lifecycle is the 800-pound gorilla that sucks up the majority of AIDS/HIV related fundraising around here and it’s important to help out other significant AIDS/HIV services.

It’s not uncommon for local cycling clubs to do fundraising if they offer a century ride. The monies they collect don’t simply line their coffers to fund extravagant parties for members. These clubs donate funds to local charities, oftentimes cycling related such as Bike East Bay or SF Bike. For example, Valley Spokesmen, to which I also belong, puts on the annual Cinderella Classic. VS has donated event “profits” to Stand Against Domestic Violence, A Safe Place Domestic Violence Shelter, Bay Area Women Against Rape, and the Rainbow Community Center along with 19 other organizations. In effect clubs such as Valley Spokesmen perform a function similar to Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, Optimists International, and Lions Clubs: they raise money and do service in their communities.

Half of the 1985 Bike-A-Thon riders…


Different Spokes also has a history of fundraising even though the club didn’t start with that intention at all. When the Founding Daddies & Mommies started Different Spokes it was to be able to cycle with other LGBT folks. Some cycling clubs form at least partly because they want to field a racing team. Not Different Spokes! We were the antithesis of an amateur racing club in that the original founders were not interested in racing in the very first Gay Games and wanted specifically to tour and do recreational rides with each other. Such is the origin of recreational cycling clubs: girls and boys just wanna have fun! But the fact that we were a queer club meant it couldn’t just be about getting that endorphin high from riding. The very fact we existed, loud and proud, was a direct challenge to stereotypic notions of queers as were all LGBT sports clubs in that era, and at the time the club officially formed AIDS was beginning to hit our community. I won’t recapitulate how the AIDS Bike-A-Thon came into being (you can instead read my account here) other than to say it was started by Different Spokes in 1985 and ran for eleven years. By the time the club handed BAT over to Project Open Hand we were ready to take a break, as organizing each BAT consumed a year’s worth of planning and work by about two dozen dedicated Spokers. In subsequent years Spokers participated in the California AIDS Ride and AIDS Lifecycle but there was no club-backed fundraising project until we inherited/adopted the Ron Wilmot Ride For Project Inform, which because it ceased as a separate event in 2007 exists now only as a reference point in Saddle Challenge.

…And the other half!


The most recent charity effort was Double Bay Double, which was the pet project of member Chris Thomas. If you’ve done ALC, you’ve probably either heard of or run into Chris. Chris not only rode ALC religiously, he became a TRL and annually led his own training series in the South Bay, which he supported with his blog until he moved out of the Bay Area a few years ago. As a side project he started Double Bay Double in 2011 and he ran it for four years almost singlehandedly. Double Bay Double was a much lower key local version of ALC to raise additional money for the SF AIDS Foundation. He designed DBD to be fleet: no bureaucracy, brutally efficient, get-in-and-get-the-job done. It was deliberately a small-scale effort in order to fly under the radar of local agencies, city halls, and the police by avoiding the need to acquire permits. It also required minimal support from SFAF thus turning DBD into essentially free money for them (i.e. SFAF was the dom, Chris was the sub). Although Different Spokes was the sponsoring club and a few members did participate and assist, it was really Chris’s show and the club rode on his coattails. The interesting thing about DBD was that it raised at least $52,400 for SFAF in four iterations with a total of only 70 riders! Those numbers are comparable to those of the very first BAT, which raised about $33,000 with 63 riders back in 1985.

Double Bay Double


When Chris moved out of the Bay Area, Project Inform adopted Double Bay Double. PI ran it in 2015 with Different Spokes providing almost no support. If I recall correctly, the results were dismal and the event was then put on hold. In 2018 PI and DSSF revived DBD and despite a significant amount of planning and support including some from our club, the interest in the event was virtually non-existent and it was cancelled less than two months before it was scheduled to take place.

So that is where we are today. The club has a storied history of charity fundraising even though it may have been accidental or half-hearted at times. I say half-hearted because the club has always been schizophrenic about fundraising; there have always been two tendencies within the membership—those who are enthusiastic about charity fundraising for AIDS efforts (note there hasn’t been any other focus) and those who just want to ride their bikes. For recreational clubs a fundraising event such as a century is invariably a major stressor. It takes a lot of work to put on a ride on public roads for hundreds (sometimes thousands) of cyclists. A club may have a lot of members but only a fraction eagerly volunteer and only a slightly larger fraction can be cajoled into helping out. Most members just want to ride their bikes. Different Spokes is, ironically, no “different” except that we are much smaller—less than 70 members currently whereas Grizzly Peak, Valley Spokesmen, and Western Wheelers each have several hundred members, which makes rounding up volunteers to staff rest stops, plan food, get up early to run registration, stay late to close down the course, etc. easier (but not easy).

Today much of the energy for service is sucked up by ALC. You only need to see the dedicated TRLs and roadies to know ALC has done a wonderful job of harnessing that enthusiasm and dedication. I wonder sometimes if there is really room in Different Spokes for more fundraising effort. The club is not large and a small but significant number of members put their energy into ALC (in fact some put their energy into ALC instead of Different Spokes). Perhaps that’s for the better and that the club return—full circle—back to its roots: a LGBT recreational cycling club that focuses on fun.


Ride Recap: Tour of Lamorinda to the Creekside Grill

January 31st, 2019 by tony

Boy, that was a hard ride!


Talk about being a lazy bastard, this ride started and ended near our house, went down a multi-use trail I use several times a week, and traveled streets I’ve done so frequently I could probably do them blindfolded. Ah, but there was one twist: despite having lived near Rossmoor for 16 years and having friends live there (including the Den Daddy) I have cycled on its roads exactly once before. Until this ride. So now it’s twice! Last year we did a Social A ride that ended up at an excellent restaurant in Lafayette. Unfortunately the rest of the world had also discovered this fact and not wanting to wait an hour for a table, at Derek’s suggestion we rolled over to nearby Rossmoor, where he lives, to have lunch at its Creekside Grill. That was a good move because it was not crowded at all, had delicious food and a fawning staff used to catering to an obviously entitled elderly crowd (a demographic that I have immediately adjusted to with glee now that I have a Senior Clippercard). We had a memorable al fresco lunch on their pleasant outdoor patio next to a stream, hence the eponym.

I’ve always wanted to go back and thus this ride. Although I still occasionally like to turn a pedal ‘in anger’ as Phil Liggett says, I saw the light many years ago in Italy where every cyclist stops for a REAL lunch—I mean like a three or four course lunch that lasts at least an hour and a half—and I always look forward to a delicious repast mid-ride these days. (And no, I’m not talking about going to Subway!) Clif bars will do in a pinch but a good ride has an excellent food stop where one can enjoy a proper meal. So it is with the Creekside Grill.

Roger Sayre and Bill Knudsen joined Roger and me although they had no inkling that the central highlight of the day was going to be lunch. Nonetheless we sauntered out to Moraga to catch the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail, an excellent rails-to-trails path. Everybody had the right frame of mind and we headed out at a B pace chatting away. Down the path we went and because it was a Saturday morning there were plenty of peds, doggers, and kiddies along the way, all the more reason to keep the pace al piano all the way to Walnut Creek and thence to Rossmoor.

You are probably thinking, “Isn’t Rossmoor a gated community?” Why, yes it is! If you approach in a car, you will be accosted at the security gate and asked whom you are visiting. But if you arrive á bicyclette you do not need to be subjected to such indignities. So we rolled right through with nary a glance from the guards and made our way to the Creekside Grill. You may be wondering what Rossmoor is like. Well, let’s just say the association fees are well spent: it’s manicured to the nth degree with a lovely greenway heading up to the nearby hills. The Den Daddy and I had agreed he would meet us for lunch. But when I phoned, he was in Santa Barbara enjoying a warm, sunny day in his hometown! So Bill and Roger would not get the spiel from him on how delightful it is at Rossmoor, how there’s a fabulous LGBT group, a cycling group as well, how politically left the Democratic club is, etc.

This time the Grill was hopping but fortunately we scored a table in the bar and did not have to wait. We were quite hungry despite having done an easy jaunt. I hadn’t had breakfast and apparently neither had Bill who while riding prated on and on about donuts and where the nearest confectionary might be. Despite the chasms in our stomachs we were quite demure in ordering: both Bill and Roger S had the Creekside Sirloin Burger while Roger H had the Rossmoor Reuben and got my fave, the Riviera Charbroiled Chicken Breast Sandwich. It was all delish and even their French fries were not at all run-of-the-mill and were pleasantly crisp and crunchy. Lunch was of course occupied with idle, pointless conversation. But most of it revolved upon Bill’s imminent departure to explore the country by—gasp!—RV. Ever the trendsetter Bill has gone “tiny house” on us and deserting Wanderson to follow his Wanderlust. But he’s taking his bikes with him so he can ride with LGBT cycling clubs all around the US!

After a long lunch Bill popped a front spoke in the parking lot and after much consternation and discussion we headed off back to Orinda anyway. Bill made it fine even with a slightly bum front wheel.


Showers Pass Body-Mapped Baselayer

January 30th, 2019 by tony

Your next top?


That name sounds like text from a porn story, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s subtle marketing from the evil minds at Showers Pass in Oregon. This is just a long-sleeved undershirt that’s very good at wicking moisture away from your skin and it is just as worthy as the Assos Body Insulator I swooned over a few years ago. The Assos baselayer is my go-to shirt for the cool winter weather we are having. It’s warm, supremely comfortable, and made from some hi-tech synthetic that promised just about everything under the sun. On top of that it fits very well and has a short neck zipper and collar for adjusting the right amount of cooling or warmth that. The strange thing was that the Assos marketing speak turned out to be mostly true. Even more awesome is that I can wear it for about four or five rides and it doesn’t smell rank and repulsive. (I remember the first Helly Hansen polypro t-shirt I bought in the mid-70s when synthetic athletic wear was nascent: it reeked after one wearing and had to be washed.) Well guess what? This Showers Pass shirt is every bit as good as the Assos. I just got through wearing it for six consecutive rides and it barely has any odor—unbelievable!

It comes in only two sizes for men but is very stretchy; women get four sizes and in an even nicer plum color versus the drab grey for men. The shirt is made of a bamboo-merino wool blend that is adept at wicking sweat, staying warm, feeling plush, and doing what a baselayer is supposed to do: be invisible and unnoticed. It also has thumb holes so that the arms stay in place; I find them very helpful when putting on a cycling jacket with form-fitting arms so that the sleeves don’t get bunched or pulled back on my arms. This shirt is so comfortable in cool and cold weather that I like to wear it just lounging around the house or backyard. I can’t say much about durability since I’ve been using it for only a short time. But it’s not fraying and the seams show no signs of stress or failure. My only wish is that SP would make a version with a higher neck and a zipper like Assos used to. On the other hand, this shirt is about two-thirds the cost of the Assos. Oh, and Assos stopped making base shirts with a high collar and zipper so these two are directly comparable.

And Showers Pass is having a sale right now where you can get this shirt fo $55, down from $69.


Different Spokes Kit for 2019

January 28th, 2019 by tony

Loud ‘n Proud


Am I Dark Enough?

It’s not often our club gets a new jersey. Over the 37 years of existence we’ve had only four jerseys. Either you don’t give it a second thought—probably because you’ve got a closet full of cycling jerseys already, or because you’re happy wearing the same three jerseys over and over—or you wonder, “Why the hell don’t those lazy board members get off their sorry bike saddles and design some fab new clothing? After all, I can’t wear the same clothing year after year without getting called out. So when cycling Fashion Week comes around, WHERE THE HELL IS OUR NEW FASHION STATEMENT!?”

I mean, our last kit was in 2017 to celebrate our (gulp) 35th anniversary—that was literally so two-years-ago. Well boysettes and grrlenes, your wait is over. Our fab Apparel coordinator Brian got on the stick and has not one but TWO different kits for you to ooh and aah over. If you missed the first ordering period, which closed last Friday, no worries: he has reopened the Jakroo store so you won’t have to gaze with green envy at your fellow Spokers who jumped at the chance to be Abso Fab.

We are offering two kits for 2019, one mad splatter design and another more contemporary blackish-is-the-new-black, with matching bib shorts and even a cycling cap. The jerseys are $64, the bibshorts $104, and the caps are $18 each.

To view the full kit and to order, go to the Different Spokes Jakroo store:

Lucky boys and girls who got in on the first order will have their goods by February 4. If you order now, your goodies will be here after February 26.


Ride Leader Appreciation Dinner on January 27

January 15th, 2019 by tony


We’re two weeks away from the club Ride Leader Appreciation Dinner on Sunday, January 27 at 6:30 pm. This is our annual dinner to thank ride leaders for hosting rides for the club. Last year we had about 60 rides. Of course there were quite a few other rides that were cancelled especially last March, which was quite wet, and in November when the Camp Fire literally rained ashen havoc on our air quality. Believe it or not, 60 rides is less than half of what we used to offer. So the rides we do have are even more precious!

This year we’re going to the Firewood Café in the Castro, just across the street from the Castro Post Office and easy to get to by BART and Muni (or bike if you prefer). The Firewood is known for its wood-fired pizzas, salads, and pasta dishes. The cost is only $25—such a deal! Go to the club ride calendar to get the full details. We hope all club members can make it. Just be sure to RSVP to the club ride coordinator (me) no later than January 23.


Ride Recap: New Year’s Diablo

January 5th, 2019 by tony

Just Chillin’


In the early days of Different Spokes there was no New Year’s Day ride. Akos Szoboslay did lead a New Years overnight mountain bike camping ride in Henry Coe State Park in 1984; needless to say he didn’t get a good turnout. Sharon Lum led New Year’s rides in the South Bay in 2000 and 2001. They were easy 30ish mile rides meant to open up the new year gently. It wasn’t until 2012 when I posted the Resolution Ride for New Years—go all the way to the top of Diablo and back—that we seem to have found an annual New Year’s ride. Since then either I or David Sexton and Gordon Dinsdale have led this ride. We’ve had an incredible string of good luck because it hasn’t rained on New Year’s day yet. A few years ago we were greeted by snow on the side of the road near the top; I have another recollection that one year there was black ice near the top—talk about a scary descent!

Going up Diablo on New Years is hardly a novel idea. As I’ve mentioned in the past Grizzly Peak Cyclists, Valley Spokesmen, and Diablo Cyclists all do it too. A couple of years ago we ran into Bill Bushnell, who used to be our Ride Coordinator in the late 90s, leading his recumbent club up Diablo. Various local racing clubs also do it as an informal clobberfest to open up the new year. I understand that in the South Bay Mt. Hamilton acts as a similar monument to climbing gluttony on NYD.

There is a sense of accomplishment and of having performed a “feat” by going up Diablo. It’s probably due partly to the significant elevation gain (about 4,000 ft. or over 1,000 meters), partly due to the at-times punishing grade, and partly due to the fact that Diablo stands alone in the East Bay and so affords expansive and majestic views in all directions from the top. Mt. Tam is similar but it’s a much smaller mountain, more than 1,000 feet lower in height; Mt. Hamilton is taller than Diablo but is hemmed in by surrounding hills as well as its slightly taller twin Copernicus Peak, which is just up the road and thus the views are more mundane. On a crisp, clear day with good air quality you can see the Sierras from the top of Diablo and I’ve been fortunate to experience that. The Sierras are much, much higher and when covered in snow they form an incredible backdrop above the San Joaquin Valley.

Today seven of us opened up the New Year by heading up Diablo. As usual it was frigid cold. It was in the high 30s when I got up and by the time we left Pleasant Hill BART it was roughly in the mid-40s. A high wind advisory was set to expire at 10 am. Winds had been gusting on Diablo at up to 65 mph. Unfortunately it was only the advisory that expired this morning and not the wind as we discovered. This year David Goldsmith teamed with Gordon to lead it as least until David came down with a cold and convinced Roger Sayre to take his place. Roger and I went along as well as Ron Lezell, Donald Cremers, and David Sexton.

In keeping with tradition we didn’t leave on time. Roger S, who hitherto had always driven to ride starts outside the City, ventured to use BART. Unfortunately he got on the wrong train and ended up heading to Pleasanton rather than Pleasant Hill. But arrive he did and that’s a good thing since he was one of the two hosts.

Everyone was dressed to the nines even though this was far from the coldest New Year’s Day. Dressing to go up Diablo in the winter is a conundrum: if you dress to start warm, you’ll inevitably sweat like a pig going up. But if you dress for climbing, you will freeze at the top only to freeze even more fiercely on the descent. On days like today where we discovered a chilling gale on the way up it was even more imperative to have some additional clothing. I was wearing a long-sleeve base layer under a neoprene winter jacket; over that I had a fleece vest. I had on shorts and thick tights. Under my helmet I had skull cap; I wore glove liners inside my winter gloves; I had thick wool socks and full shoe covers. I also brought along a neck gaiter and a helmet cover for the descent and some heater packs for my gloves. I had a daypack for the donuts (more on that later) and because it covered my back it would provide more insulation. And this is less clothing than I’ve worn in the past!

Sure enough as we climbed up North Gate one by one we each pulled over and took off layers. And it wasn’t as if we were racing up the hill either. I got hot enough that I even took off my gloves and rode with bare hands. Going up each time we hit a curve exposed to the wind roiling around the mountain we caught a sideways gust that did not bode well for the summit. We were all spread out over the mountain but eventually Roger and I caught the wheel of a big guy with Livermore Cyclery kit and three guys from the Hercules Cycling Club (nice kit!). It was nice to have some other bodies to cut the wind and we all rolled up to the Junction together.

At the Junction it was the usual mosh pit with crowds converging up both North and South Gate Roads. I overheard one woman saying it was 27 degrees at the top but I’m not sure I believed her. What I did believe is the wind—it was bone chilling and cut right through my jacket! There really wasn’t a good place to escape the wind. I tried huddling next to the ranger station but the wind was changing direction. Roger and I had hauled up thermoses of coffee and hot water to make hot chocolate as well as donuts. The inspiration was a comment a few weeks ago by David Goldsmith that he’ll always remember the New Year’s Day ride up Diablo when Roger met us at the Junction with a trunk full of homemade maple scones and coffee. Well, donuts from Safeway aren’t of the same caliber but after climbing a couple thousand feet in the cold just about anything with sugar, fat, salt, and chocolate—not to mention some caffeine—is going to be treated like manna from heaven. We got them out and they were consumed eagerly. Coincidentally the Mt. Diablo State Park rangers also decided to treat cyclists this morning by setting up a table with…coffee and donuts! The non-Spokers were scarfing them up like..well, like cyclists. If we had known, we could have spared ourselves trouble of hauling up all that weight. But it was nice to see the good will gesture from the Park. There was a time not too long ago when the rangers didn’t seem sympathetic to cyclists and were more content to dole out tickets to us rather than going after cars that were speeding.

Roger and I decided to head down rather than tackle the last 1,700 feet. If the wind was up, I was going to get pretty chilled. We saw one smart cyclist descending with both a windbreaker and wind pants over her garb. I just didn’t feel like pushing my luck today so half a mountain was just right. Donald decided he’d had enough too but the other four wanted to get to the top. So we split up. The three of us did a leisurely descent and surprisingly it seemed that almost all of the other cyclists were taking it slow as well. I’m usually passed by quite a few on the descent, being a conservative descender (I’ve crashed enough, thank you very much) but that was not the case today. Car traffic was respectful too. I don’t like to hold up traffic and will pull off the road if need be. But cars didn’t seem to be impatient. Perhaps all the PR work on Mt. Diablo about not passing cyclists on blind curves is finally paying dividends.

It was pretty obvious that today the better choice was to go up North Gate and down South Gate: cyclists coming up South Gate were struggling with the north headwind while we were gliding along at 20 mph in seemingly still air. Despite having put the heater packs in my gloves my fingers were still frigid and my toes weren’t doing that great either. The tailwind reduced the chill factor or it would have been worse. Despite the chill we pass an amazing sight: a man in cut-off jeans and no shirt climbing up. What was he on?? At least he hadn’t turned pink yet. Maybe he was planning to warm up at the top with a few bong hits.

In Danville we stopped at Homegrown, one of the few restaurants open on New Year’s, for some soup before rolling up Danville Blvd. and the Iron Horse back to BART. Nice way to begin the year and we weren’t even tired!


Ride Recap: Talk Dirty To Me, or I Am Curious (Dirty)

January 1st, 2019 by tony

“I like them thick and knobby!”


Just three days before Christmas Different Spokes had its first dirt ride in ages. I really wanted to get one in before the end of the year because this is the very first year the club has had insurance that covers mountain bike rides. Although we’ve had liability insurance for decades, I suspect no one realized it was only for road rides despite the fact that mountain biking was done regularly from the late 1980s up to the mid-Oughts. The last dirt ride on the club calendar I recall was two years ago, a ride in Tilden Park on which David Sexton’s pedal came off and I got bitten by a dog and we both had to abort. I was planning to lead one earlier this year but a nasty crash in May meant I couldn’t pull on the handlebars for months. Plans for a dirt ride for November literally blew up in smoke when the Camp Fire turned our air quality into a health crisis.

Here’s a confession: I don’t like to ride trails in muddy conditions—I absolutely hate getting dirty. And cleaning my bike afterwards? It’s another chore. That’s terrible when you love dirt riding because you know the hype on mountain biking often emphasizes getting muddy and filthy, a regression of sorts to the fun of childhood. We had rain a couple of days before the ride, which really wasn’t enough time for trails to dry out completely. I went ahead with the ride anyway because, well, the year was almost over! The Different Spokes dirt crowd has dwindled but we’re not completely gone. I sent out a distress signal to the long lost Dirties and Roger Sayre was the only mountain biker who could join Roger and me. But at the last minute Nancy asked if she could tag along for the paved portion into the Headlands because she doesn’t have a mountain bike (yet).

The route was nothing unusual—it’s a standard loop for mountain bikers who live in SF: climb up Conzelman and jump onto the Coastal Trail to Rodeo Beach before picking up the Bobcat Trail and Marincello over to Tennessee Valley. Usually you turn around there and take Old Springs Trail back, which is one of the very few singletrack trails in the Headlands still open for biking. But I added an interlude out to Tennessee Beach and back before heading back to SF. Once up Old Springs you take Bobcat, another wide fire road, down and then climb back up Coastal and across the bridge to SF. The route has a sawtooth profile but all the climbs are short and nothing is too technical. It’s less than 30 miles altogether, which if it were a road ride would be on the short side. But being a dirt ride it took us over four hours to finish. Of course, all of us were rusty and the views were fantastic on such a clear day so we made sure we stopped often to take it all in.

We started and ended the ride at Velo Rouge Cafe on Arguello, which is quickly becoming my favorite hangout when I’m in the City. Besides having the right cycling vibe, for a coffee shop it is remarkably devoid of folks on their i-devices. Plus, their huevos rancheros rule. Besides the bright sunny day the other auspicious omen was that the ride actually started on time—when has that happened on a Different Spokes ride?!

Roger S quickly got us into trouble when he suggested a dirt diversion in the Presidio with which I was not familiar. Nancy was game until it turned out to be a mini-quagmire complete with narrow singletrack requiring deft manuevering in order not to fall over. She turned back and took the paved section along with Roger H to meet us at the bridge.

At Conzelman we discovered that the Park Service had turned it into a one-way road down for the winter holiday in order to ease traffic congestion. Bikes and pedestrians can still go up in the dedicated bike lane. At Coastal we bid adieu to Nancy and headed into the Headlands.

I had not ridden on the Headlands trails for about 20 years. I used to ride here a lot when I lived in SF mainly because it’s the closest real dirt to SF. There are bits of dirt trails here and there in the City but nothing of significant length. Also those trails may be dirt but there is no doubt you are in the midst of urbanity. In the Headlands you can really get away to the point that you hear no car noise at all. Here was my chance to see how the Headlands had weathered the last two decades. The trails look pretty much the same just as you would expect since there is no development going on. But trail maintenance has definitely improved. Back in the day the Headlands wasn’t part of the GGNRA—it was military, and the military was pretty much leaving everything to slowly rot in place except for the paved roads. Near the bottom of Coastal there used to be erosion gulleys that had you avoiding the center of the trail and clinging somewhat precariously on the uncertain edges. The gulleys are still there but a grader had gone over them. Old Springs was similarly eroded but the GGNRA has put in place a series of wooden erosion barriers that have kept it in great shape and prevented flowing water from turning the trail into a creek bed; at the top where it’s level they have also put in more wooden walkways over the boggy areas (it’s called Old Springs for a reason). Bobcat used to be a very bumpy ride with lots of chatter bumps. But the GGNRA must be grading that road too because it was a smooth flowing ride down.

The dirt roads in the Headlands are more intensively used than before Y2K. Back in the day I could ride all day and see maybe one or two other mountain bikers. Today there were, dare I say it, crowds! It wasn’t a mosh pit but we were frequently running into or being passed by other cyclists. And not just solo cyclists: the road affliction has hit dirt riding these days and you see ‘training rides’ on the dirt with Rapha freds doing their thing.

The day was beautiful and I was appreciating the quiet of the Headlands. When you’re road biking in the Bay Area you probably don’t realize how noisy and chaotic the environment is because you are subjected to it all the time. But when you away from traffic, houses, businesses, and almost all people as you are in the Headlands you suddently realize how ‘busy’ road riding actually is. Not that you don’t need to exercise some vigilance; it’s just vigilance of another sort. Being so vulnerable in traffic we are prey. Well, when mountain biking you are still vulnerable but it’s to falling from the constantly changing engagement of your tires with the trail surface. When road biking you don’t often think about what your tires are going to do unless the road is wet or muddy (or you’re crossing Muni tracks). But on the dirt the dialog between your tires and the path is ongoing and you need to attend to it to stay upright. For the most part though riding in the Headlands is a pretty relaxed affair because there isn’t much there that’s demanding technically and you’re not going to get broadsided by an Escalade at an intersection.

The biggest surprise brought a smile to my face: most of the cyclists we saw were on drop bar bikes. There were plenty of cyclists but only about a third of them were on mountain bikes as we were. The majority of the bikes we saw were drop-bar bikes with bigger tires, i.e. “all road” bikes and cross bikes. If you have any doubts about the efficacy of the hype about gravel bikes and bikepacking, you should take a look at the trails near SF. The latest bike fad is in full-bloom here. In this case I’m not casting a jaded eye at so-called “all road” bikes—I’m all for them. Before I got a mountain bike I was riding on dirt. But a mountain bike made it a lot easier to stay upright and walk a lot less. And a mountain bike made it possible to ride trails I never would have taken my road bike except to go for an unpleasant walk. But the Headlands and many places we now mountain bike are quite doable and enjoyable on a road bike. I doubt any of you knew that one of the earliest club rides was a full moon ride up the Railroad Grade on Mt. Tam on road bikes! Although the Specialized Stumpjumper was born a year before Different Spokes was formed, mountain bikes really did not penetrate the club until after the mid-1980s. We were used to riding our road bikes on everything. Part of the attraction of all-road bikes is that getting to the trailhead on a road bike is much less laborious than on a mountain bike, which is probably why you see tons of MTBs on car racks heading somewhere.

Near the top of Bobcat we saw a three-masted schooner outside the Golden Gate; at the top of Marincello we stopped to take in the expansive view of Mt. Tam and Tiburon below us. Roger S of course ripped the descent to Tennessee Valley. There we were greeted by a full parking lot and a large crowd of dayhikers on their way to the beach. We joined them and headed to the Pacific. At Tennessee Beach it was a dead calm day with just a tiny surf. Even so the rip current is terrible there and no one was in the water swimming or surfing. We ate our Clif bars and enjoyed the scene before heading back to Old Springs. The climb up Old Springs begins at the Tennessee Valley stables. Going up we were passed by cyclists bombing down the trail. At times it was a bit sketchy trying to get over the erosion bars while avoiding the downhill riders but eventually we got to the top. Again Roger S ripped the descent down Miwok. We made our way up the last climb, Coastal, and at the pavement were greeted by a mass of cars turning around to descend. Everyone was out to get to the Vista Point for the view. We carefully descended Conzelman in traffic and went back over the bridge.

Back at Velo Rouge Roger S ran off to meet his sister while Roger and I went in and gorged on huevos. A perfect way to end the first and last Different Spokes mountain bike ride of 2018!


Looking for a Great Cycling Vacation? Sierra To the Sea or Cycle Oregon

December 25th, 2018 by tony


Here are a couple of supported bicycle tours that Spokers have enjoyed in the past, Sierra-to-the-Sea and Cycle Oregon. They are both a week long and make great cycling vacations.

Sierra to the Sea (SttS) has been offered for many years by Almaden Cycle Touring Club in San Jose (ACTC). They’re the same folks who put on the Tierra Bella Century every spring down in Gilroy. ACTC is a pretty big recreational club and they know how to put on a tour. This year SttS starts at Lake Tahoe and wends down the Sierras and through the Valley to the North Bay and ends at Golden Gate Park. It’s 420 miles averaging 60 miles per day over the seven days. The tour takes place June 15 to 22, 2019. The cost is $975 but you get a $50 discount if you register before Feb. 1. It’s fully sagged but you do have to camp. If you absolutely eschew sleeping tents and sleeping bags, there are motels near all the layovers but they’re not included in the price. All breakfasts and dinner are included except for one night in Calistoga where there are plenty of restaurants. Registration opens on January 15 and no more than 130 riders can participate. And they do sell out, so don’t delay if you are interested. ACTC offers an optional bus ride up to Lake Tahoe for $50 but you have to get to San Jose to join it; similarly there is a $35 optional bus ride from Golden Gate Park to San Jose at the end. Go to their website to get the details. What do previous participants have to say? David Goldsmith: “I would definitely recommend it to other Spokers. The pace is reasonable, the ride is not too difficult but challenging in spots, the campsites are OK (even though I’m more of a hotel guy), the crowd is friendly, and the route is interesting. At the time, the price was reasonable. (I don’t know what they’re charging nowadays.) I’ve ridden multiple Tierra Bellas and SttS (once) and for my money, ACTC always puts on a good show.” Nancy Levin: “I enjoyed it. I camped. It was cold/snowy up at Big Bear, but got less cold once out of mountain and then super hot going through the valley. Some of routes may have changed. [Tony: The 2019 route is new.] Generally good but one very bumpy one on the first or second day. Only issue is getting up to Big Bear – I went to San Jose or wherever and got the bus they went on. It was terrific to ride home.”

Most of you are probably not familiar with the other ride, Cycle Oregon, even though it’s super popular in the Northwest. Put on by the non-profit Cycle Oregon, the route changes every year and takes in different towns and areas of Oregon especially on the eastern side. Cycle Oregon seeks to showcase the small towns and pours money from the tour back to the communities. Next year’s tour will be announced on January 15 with registration opening up on January 31 and limited to about 2,200. They always sell out quickly. In 2018 Cycle Oregon cost $999. Cycle Oregon like SttS is a camping trip with full sag. The fee includes seven days of riding and all three meals per day are included. You can expect the tour to cover anywhere from 380 to 450 miles. Stephanie Clarke has done it and here is what she has to say: “I have done both Sierra to the Sea and Cycle Oregon.  [I did the] Cycle Oregon, 10th year anniversary edition from Sisters to Bend to Crater Lake, and back up.  Awesome.  Would highly recommend any edition of C.O. — great routes, good food, nightly entertainment, pizza oven, beer garden, wine bar for those nights when you just don’t want to deal with the food tent.  Big-time value for the money (~$1,000), and they still donate about 30% to the local towns that host the ride.”

If you are interested in doing either of these tours, maybe we can organize a Different Spokes contingent to go up and ride together. Let your ride coordinator know.


Ottolock: A Fool and His/Her Money Are Soon Parted

December 14th, 2018 by tony


Unfortunately I am one of those fools: I put down $65 at REI for one of these locks, the 30-inch model a month ago. It’s really light, lighter than one of those inexpensive cable locks you see at Ace Hardware (don’t you just love that name?) for about $15 and which I have been using for years. But it turns out it’s no more effective at thwarting bike theft than the $15 type—just a lot more expensive. So much for disruptive technology; about the only things that will be disrupted are your wallet and your ride when you find your bike has vanished from outside Starbucks. It has steel and Kevlar but so what if it doesn’t stop a thief. The Bike Picking Lawyer posted a video showing that you can cut one of these idiotic locks in much less than a New York minute with a pair of $10 tin snips from Home Depot—see the video. Years ago when videos showed up on the Internet showing you could open a Kryptonite U-lock with a Bic pen, Kryptonite revamped their locks and to their credit undertook a massive years-long recall. I’m not sure Ottolock is going to be able to pull off a similar apologia because the raison d’être of their locks is ultra-light weight. Plus, Ottolock is a child of Kickstarter, i.e. it’s young and not well capitalized. However when a complaint was raised to Ottolock about how you could actually palpate the tumbler to detect the numbers used in the combination lock, apparently they did improve them so that you can’t do that anymore. So maybe there’s hope.

That said if you are in the habit of using a cheap cable lock for your coffee stops [for the record I never let my bike out of sight when I’m on a ride] the Ottolock will be lighter. It just won’t be safer. If you do use an Ottolock, like a cable lock it will only delay a thief momentarily. So you should use the usual tricks in combination with the lock (wrap helmet straps around wheel/frame, use more locks, put bike in high gear, pile bikes together, etc.) And by no means think that an Ottolock (or cable lock) allows you to dawdle inside a store for a few minutes. That’s plenty of time for your bike to be whisked away. Just hope the bike thief goes after easier prey, i.e. a nearby unlocked bike.