Free Is Not Free

February 6th, 2017 by tony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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