Fire Roads Also Hit Hard By Record Rainfall

May 18th, 2017 by tony

Nimitz Trail Damage

Since Different Spokes is de facto a road bike club, it’s understandable that members are concerned about road closures caused by our epic winter rains. Roads such as Old La Honda, Skyline, Palomares, Bolinas-Fairfax, Mt. Hamilton, etc. are the meat-and-potatoes rides of our club. When they’re closed or obstructed, we all take notice. However mountain bike trails and fire roads have also had a hard winter; we just didn’t pay much attention to it. By this time of the year I’ve usually ridden a slew of the fire roads over here in the East Bay. But the incessant rainfall has kept me off the trails. I don’t like to churn up the trail and leave tire trenches, widen the trails when I try to avoid the lakes in the middle, and in general despoil them when they’re boggy. Plus, I hate cleaning my bike. When I was young I loved to clean it up after every ride. But now I have better things to do than hose down, dry, and regrease everything. Consequently I’ve stayed away from the dirt all winter.

I did manage to get in a ride on the Nimitz Trail when we had a dry week in April. Most of you probably don’t know about the Nimitz. It’s the remnant jeep road from Inspiration Point in Tilden Park that went out to the old Nike missile silos. It’s asphalt partway and then turns into a fire road which eventually ends up in Richmond. It makes a great mixed surface route, or if you don’t like to ride on dirt it’s a quick getaway into the Berkeley hills. Once you’re on the ridge there are great vistas in every direction, and with our verdant spring you feel like you’re miles away from suburbs when you look over the green hills and fields. As you can see in the picture the Nimitz didn’t make it through this winter without serious erosion.

This past weekend we rode off to check out Old Finley Road, which is east of Danville. I’ve written about this old farm road before. It’s a holdover from the early 20th century and it’s now part of the East Bay Regional Park District and Mt. Diablo State Park. If you’re ridden on Camino Tassajara—perhaps you coming back from going over Morgan Territory and were heading to Danville—then you’ve seen Finley Road. The part of the road that is still public and paved is Finley Road and it starts at Camino Tassajara. Finley deadends at some private land but the parks have a right-of-way for trail users to traverse it into the parks. This section is what is now called Old Finley Road it and it’s now a fire road that parallels Tassajara Creek up to a ridge and then drops down to Morgan Territory Road. It’s an interesting cut-through and a different way to do the Morgan Territory loop because it avoids the car traffic on Marsh Creek Road, which can be quite dangerous, yet you still get to do the most interesting part of Morgan Territory, namely the climb in the woods up to Morgan Territory Preserve.

Old Finley Road Washed Away

Old Finley has been in excellent shape and is doable on a standard road bike, although having a fatter tire certainly makes it a less bumpy ride as well as giving you a little bit extra traction on the short sandy sections. In any case, I hadn’t been on it since last summer. It was a big surprise for us to discover that Old Finley Road has been severed in half by the destructive power of Tassajara Creek! We entered the park, where Old Finley is under a canopy of trees, and a short distance later we were confronting a ten-foot drop into the creek. The road had been completely destroyed, cut in half. You can see the culvert that was under the road allowing the creek to run through. What you can’t see clearly in the pic above is that both ends of the culvert have been compromised, the upper opening has been partially crushed by a fallen tree trunk and the lower is partially blocked by a pile of large boulders. It’s easy to see what happened: when the volume of water in the creek rose, the culvert wasn’t able to handle it and the water backed up, rose, and eroded away the roadway, which was nothing more than dirt. Even the current creek flow, which is quite low, is running around the culvert.

It’s still possible to get up Old Finley but you have to portage your bike across a fairly deep chasm. Hikers have made a path down to the creek and over but it’s not easy and if your bike is heavy—Roger’s e-bike is over 50 pounds!—it’s a loathsome task. I rather doubt that the EBRPD has Old Finley Road high on its repair list given how isolated the fire road is. However the road appears to be a bona fide fire road, so you would think it will have to be restored enough for a fire truck to traverse Tassajara Creek again. For the time being you’ll have to dismount and carry your bike across. But it’s worth it!

Work Arounds For East Bay Road Closures

May 3rd, 2017 by tony

The worst of this year’s record setting rainfall seems to be over and we can now all look forward to the day when the numerous road closures in the East Bay, Sonoma, Marin, and Santa Cruz Mountains will be reopened. As you know the East Bay has several critical road closure—Alhambra Valley Road, Redwood Road, Palomares, Calaveras, Canyon, Morgan Territory. Here is what I know about each and when they might be passable.

Morgan Territory Road Collapse

Morgan Territory. After several months being closed this road is now technically open with control lights over the single lane. You can read about it here. With the likelihood of significant rain very low now, slippage of the hill is likely to slow to a complete stop and then reconstruction can begin. This is a huge project that, when it does begin, is not going to be completed in a short period of time. Even during road reconstruction it will be made temporarily impassable. That said, the upper sections of Morgan Territory reportedly also sustained storm damage although not enough to shut the road down. But you should be aware that the road is in even worse condition than usual (which is to say, it’s bumpier than usual).

Canyon Bridge Closure

Canyon Bridge. This is the most recent closure and in some ways the most critical. Canyon bridge is the only way to get between Moraga and Pinehurst and Redwood. It’s a bottleneck on the most popular East Bay climbing training route. It’s also used by the Grizzly Peak Century every year except this year the closure has forced GPC to cancel the century and offer only the metric, which is really a 75-mile ride, because it can be rerouted to avoid Canyon altogether. The bridge is quite old and has been known to be in need of repair for some time. But it has been subject to earth movement, probably related to the landslide on the adjacent Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail. A recent survey report revealed the bridge supports have been compromised and that the bridge is moving slightly sideways. Thus it had to be shut immediately to traffic. All traffic. Currently the bridge has chainlink fencing across the entire width on each side. If you want to read the full report, go here. Just by chance I happened to be at the bridge the other day when a hapless cyclist tried and succeeded in crossing the bridge! In his case he had no idea the bridge was shut and he needed to get through since it was late in the afternoon and he lived in Danville; the “only” choice would have been to go back up Pinehurst and go to Fish Ranch and descend on Highway 24 to Orinda. His solution was to climb partly up the chainlink fence and lift his bike over it and let it down. This is not so hard because there is a huge gap in the fencing that allows you to bring your arm down. He did the same thing at the second fence and then walked to the edge of the bridge and got under the fencing at the huge gap as the ground dropped to the creek below. Now, if the police (or Public Works) had been there, I’m sure he would have been severely chastised if not cited. In fact, on Strava one cyclist has an image of the citation he got by crossing the bridge despite the closure. The Moraga PD can’t monitor the bridge all the time but if you are caught, you may be cited. So going over the bridge is probably not a good idea (at least during daylight).

There is a second solution. Adjacent to Canyon is the Lafayette-Moraga Regional Trail. It has technically been shut for well over a year because of a landslide that has not been remediated due to a complex dispute between East Bay Regional Parks District, homeowners along the trail, and the City of Moraga. In fact there is fencing closing the trail. Yet in the past year I have repeatedly seen walkers on the “closed” section of trail. So I went to investigate and found out that it is possible to use the “closed” trail to avoid the bridge. If you take the trail from Moraga until the fence, just go around it on the street to the right until it dead-ends and then take a short dirt section back to the trail, which continues to Valle Vista. From there you can get to Pinehurst. This is obviously the route that walkers have been using. That said, as more cyclists discover this cut-through you can bet that it will be shut down pronto. Bottom line: you can get through but you’ll need to deviate onto the trail. Going over the bridge itself is a lot faster but also in plain view and likely to get you in trouble (yet it is possible).

Calaveras Road Closure

Calaveras. This is the most serious closure. By “serious” I mean that the road closure at the Sunol end has even been staffed at the fencing to make sure there are no transgressors. The County seems dead-serious on stopping cyclists from crossing over and riding this road. Reportedly the earth along Calaveras is sufficiently unstable that the County absolutely wants to avoid having anyone out there. I also haven’t heard of anyone poaching this road since the closure (although at night anything is possible!) You can read the County notice here. Unfortunately there isn’t an easy cut-around even on dirt.

Palomares Before Closure Recently

Palomares. Closed-open-closed-open—which is it with Palomares?? That’s been the story all winter. There was a report after the previous closure that Palomares might be open again by May 5. Apparently that is no longer the case [although curiously, shows Palomares as currently being open]. The hillside is continuing to move and it is shut again according to Alameda County Public Works (see it here). As with Calaveras there is no cut-around.

Aerial of Redwood Road Failure

Redwood Road. Just looking at the road failure on Redwood you know it’s not going to be an easy repair; half the road is down a steep slope, which means the shoring is not going to be an easy job. In any case the rumor mill has it that if it stays dry for a week or so, then the County will open the remaining lane. Right now the concern seems to be continued unexpected slippage leading to an unexpected, abrupt slippage of the remaining roadway. If that is allayed, then the remaining lane may be used. Of course having two lanes would be best but I suspect we’re in for a very long wait until that occurs. Rumor has it that cyclists have been lifting their bikes over the K barriers and continuing on their merry way. I haven’t been up there since the day it closed, so this information suggests that there is no chainlink fencing and it would be easy to use the road as long as you don’t run into any road crew. Keep in mind that in a previous post I mentioned an easy alternate: if heading south, above the closure go into Chabot Park at Marciel Road and take it down to the day use area and cut off onto the Brandon trail, which is a fire road, and it will take you to the Redwood Canyon Golf Course building. From there just roll out to Redwood and you’re on your way.

Alhambra Valley Road Closure

Alhambra Valley Road. This one is a bugabear (pun intended). The complete destruction of the roadway and culvert means that a repair is not going to be cheap. The County has already allocated $4 million with the hope that it will be reimbursed with state funding under the declared state of emergency. The Board of Supervisors approved an expedited timeline with a start date of May 1 for repairs. Whether or not the County is on schedule is unclear. In any case do not expect it to open any time soon. If we’re lucky, Alhambra Valley might reopen at some point during this summer. Note that the closure is a hard one: there is chainlink fencing completely across the road at both ends but private land on either side means that getting around it is just not possible unless you want to ride on open fields and risk trespassing.

Keep in mind that these are just the major closures in the East Bay. There are still closures in the Santa Cruz Mountains (including Skyline Blvd.!) as well as in Sonoma County.

Bay Bridge Bike Path To Open Weekdays On May 5

April 14th, 2017 by tony

Finally a bridge to somewhere

Although the Alex Zuckerman Path on the eastern span of the Bay Bridge has been partially open for over three years—making it literally a bridge to nowhere—the final short segment to Treasure Island was opened only this past fall and then only on weekends. The reason for the weekday closure was Caltrans’s concern that the ongoing demolition of the old Bay Bridge span posed a potential danger to any users on the new path. Whether that is in fact true or not, Caltrans has finally relented and agreed to open the path to weekday traffic starting next Friday, May 5. This is according to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition. You can read about at the site here.

If you haven’t ridden on the Bay Bridge path yet, it’s worth a visit especially now that it’s open all the way to Yerba Buena and Treasure Islands. Although you can drive and park near the beginning of the Alex Zuckerman path, it’s very easy to access by BART. From the Macarthur station you can take the 40th Street bikeway down to the Emeryville IKEA store to catch the beginning of the path. During the early stage of the demolition of the old bridge, it was startling to see that structure literally being taken down piece by piece; now there is but a remnant left. The bonus is that the old bridge no longer obscures the view of the Peninsula!

Yerba Buena Island has no businesses to speak of; Treasure Island has some food stands on the western waterfront as well as a couple of small restaurants now. The view of SF as well as of Berkeley from TI is not transcendent but it is unique and worth the visit. Just be sure to go on a clear, sunny day. It’s a short bike trip out and back but you can easily extend it by taking the San Francisco Bay Trail north as far as Richmond.

An Island In The Sun: Apple Blossom Recap

April 10th, 2017 by tony

Apple Blossoms!

Luck was with us this past Sunday for the Sebastopol Apple Blossom ride. Only the previous day we got an unexpected drenching, casting a pall over the prospect the Apple Blossom and making me wonder if I would have to post another last-minute cancelation. Unlike Saturday’s Cinderella participants, who got bombed for most of the morning with rain, we had a crystal clear sunny day with nary a cloud in sight! The six of us—John, Randy, Darrell, David Go., Carl, and I—had a gruntin’ good time surmounting the many small hillocks that pepper Sonoma county between Sebastopol and Occidental. Of particular note is Barnett Valley Road at 14%+; it seemed like all the other cyclists, of which there were many out on such a beautiful day, were smartly heading down rather than up it as we did. About midway to Occidental David remarked to me that we must have finished most of the climbing as we had already had 900 feet of elevation gain, which was the total for the route. No, I said, the RideWithGPS data said 900 meters, not feet! Oh. Bummer. Yep, more to come!                                 

Sonoma roads have not improved since we were last there four years ago. But what had changed is that even more apple orchards were left to wither and be replaced by ever more wine grapes. I can’t say I blame those farmers because it takes a number of years before a sapling is productive whereas grape plantings apparently can be productive in their second year. And when your orchard is old and needs to be replanted anyway, are you going to install more apple trees or put in grapes? Nonetheless we passed at least two orchards what were not only in bloom but were clearly being maintained, which is great because the Gravenstein is a delicious variety. It was still sad to see a number of abandoned orchards, covered in weeds and absolutely no pruning having been done. Those hoary old apple trees were literally put out to pasture.

By the time we arrived at the Union Hotel in Occidental we were ready for lunch. Seated in their outside patio courtyard on a bright day under the blooming redbud tree was delightful. Some had heaping servings of pasta or polenta and others of us, ever mindful of Kate Moss’s ‘nothing tastes as good as the way thin feels’ were more circumspect of the homemade Italian-American temptations. Yes, life is tough for supermodels!

The way back was considerably easier than the leg out. The lumps were smaller, less steep, and we had a rippin’ good downhill just out of Occidental. The views from the hilltops were superb, the crisp country air was rejuvenating, and the relative lack of cars was a welcome change from typical Bay Area conditions.

You may not have made the Apple Blossom ride this year but the trees are just starting to bloom, so go up there on your own in the next couple of weeks to enjoy the bloom and the pastoral setting after such a water-logged winter.

Gravensteins Still Live!

Will It Never End? Skyline Blvd. Closed [addendum]

April 10th, 2017 by tony

Ray Hosler reports that over on the Midpeninsula, Skyline Boulevard at Castle Rock State Park is closed due to an immense slip that wiped out the entire road. You can see the incredible pic here. For most Spokers this section of Skyline is way out of their regular riding territory. But if you’re planning to head south on Skyline towards Hwy 17, you are going to have to find another route. Ray mentions the Skyline Trail adjacent to the road but this is a dirt track, so it’s only for those of you who don’t mind riding your road bikes on non-asphalt. From the size of the slip it is going to be a very long time before this section is repaired–the road is completely gone.

Yesterday we had the fortune of riding near Sebastopol on the Apple Blossom ride (more on that on the next post). Although everything we rode was open, there are numerous closures and partial closures of our favorite cycling roads. You can see the complete list here. Note that Old Caz, Austin Creek, Old Duncans Grade, and Geysers Road are completely closed. There are sections of the Bohemian Hwy., Hwy 116, and Hwy 1 at Bodega Bay, and Mill Creek Road that are down to one lane. If you’re heading up to the Sonoma or Guerneville area to ride, check to make sure you don’t unexpectedly confront a road block.

Addendum: In yesterday’s East Bay Times there was an article about the road closure on Morgan Territory Road. Although the road is closed to car traffic, pedestrian and bicycle traffic are crossing the slide area. The road is listed as closed on the county public works site, but that doesn’t seem to prevent cyclists from using it. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should bike there. But it is possible for cyclists to cross the slide area.

Palomares Update

April 5th, 2017 by tony

Palomares Road was closed today—the fourth time this season—in order to clear it of debris, stabilize the hillside, and presumably to restore the road to its pre-mudslide condition. Palomares is not expected to reopen before May 5. More info is here.

As you already know, Redwood Road near Castro Valley is also closed. If you would like to see what it looks like, go here.

Finally, this one escaped my notice and probably doesn’t matter to most of you: Collier Canyon Road near Livermore suffered some winter damage and is currently down to one lane. The county is asking people to avoid using it. This is unfortunate because Collier Canyon Road is BEAUTIFUL at this time of year because it is verdant green ranch land. This road is just outside the county green line and has managed to avoid annexation to Livermore at least twice, which if it had succeeded would have surely meant massive residential development.

What Is A Social “A” Ride?

March 31st, 2017 by tony

Roger and I have been leading so-called Social “A” rides for almost two years. We felt the club was running on a steady diet of B+ rides, which often were quite a bit faster than B pace, and really didn’t have much to offer cyclists who would like to go perhaps a bit slower. Since the club is for all LGBT cyclists (and our fellow travelers and co-conspirators), we were hoping to break the cycle of B/C/D rides attracting faster cyclists who then joined and led more B/C/D rides by offering something different and seeing if we could get some momentum going and rebalance the club at least in this respect (there are other imbalances such as race, age, gender, and road vs. dirt).

We’ve had some success with a small but steady number of participants. Some riders have told us they welcome the slower paced rides because other club rides are just too fast for them, and for that reason they rarely go on club rides anymore. Some are new to the club and want to test the waters before they go on faster or longer rides. That’s actually a good thing: we hope that people continue to attend our rides OR “graduate” to harder ones as they get stronger and more confident. Some attendees are B/C/D riders who are “slumming”, taking a recovery day, or getting over a bug; a few are lapsed Spokers who are reinvestigating the club.

Although we started these Social A rides, we certainly do not claim ownership of the category. We want others will jump in and lead this type of ride and offer it to the club. That hasn’t happened yet but we are hopeful.

We also try to offer our rides around the Bay Area instead of nesting them in just one location such as SF. We’ve offered rides mostly in the East Bay since we live here but we’ve deliberately spread them around to the Peninsula, South Bay, and Napa. We have plans to lead rides in San Jose, SF, and Sacramento too.

The core of a Social ride is hanging out and gabbing not just riding. All club rides regardless of pace have that, but for the slower cyclist there’s not a lot of it if you’re left in the dust and riding by yourself or are panting too hard from the effort to keep up! So that’s what we mean by “social”: it should be possible for the less speedy cyclist to have a good time too. Another aspect of our Social A rides is we always stop for a good lunch. We’re not into Clif bars, sorry! And lunch is a fabulous way to practice all those skills you learned at finishing school.

This past winter has been unkind to all club rides with cancelation after cancelation due to rain. But we seem to be past the worst of the inclement weather and looking forward to an incredible spring and summer. The first Social A ride of the year—a ride through the Midpeninsula with lunch at the Prolific Oven in Palo Alto—finally took place a couple of weeks ago after being postponed three times due to rain! It was a small group: Roger, me, and two newcomers Brian and Michael. Strangely enough both Brian and Michael, who didn’t know each other, were from San Diego but now live in the Bay Area. Both are also very strong cyclists and were checking out the club. In fact Brian had completed the Furnace Creek 508, which is an ultramarathon ride in Death Valley!

So what happened on our Social “A” ride is what happens at a lot of our club rides: the pace got a lot faster. Social rides may be slower but they are not necessarily flat. Going up Sand Hill Road, then Olive Hill, and then into Portola Valley there wasn’t any panting even though we were going well past 17 mph at times. It’s not that we usually go this fast, but with unfamiliar newcomers I was just checking to see if the pace might be too slow. And it was, it seems. No one protested and when asked later on they said they were comfortable with it. So there! Social A rides are supposed to have a moving average 8 to 10 mph (that sometimes get pushed to almost 11); this time it was 13.5, which under normal circumstances would have me profusely apologizing.

The day was one of the first dry days in a while and it showed: the Midpeninsula, which is a hotbed of cycling anyway, was crawling with bicyclists starving for a ride. No matter which way we looked or rode we kept running into mobs. We stopped at the Arastradero Preserve to freshen up and encountered a recumbent cycling club. Much chatting ensued, most of it about the e-bike Roger was riding and comparing notes with the e-recumbents. One of our former Ride Coordinators, Bill Bushnell, has and is a big e-recumbent rider and they all knew Bill. After our close encounter with the ‘Bent kind we rolled into Los Altos Hills and took on Purissima and Elena, short but gritty hills, admiring all the homes we cannot afford, before cruising up Foothill to our lunch stop.

We love eating at the Prolific Oven. It’s old enough—35 years—to have become a Palo Alto mainstay; let’s hope their rent doesn’t go through the roof and drive them out of tony Palo Alto. Sandwiches there go beyond the mundane and always include a small slice of their chocolate cake with your order. Well, there goes the Paleo diet! The only oddity about this visit was the place was full of students, all on Apple laptops doing their homework and research. I felt so old and dated.

Our next social ride is on Sunday April 30 where we will finally get the answer to Paul Simon’s question, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” Stay tuned!

And Another One Bites The Dust!

March 29th, 2017 by tony

Redwood Road over near Castro Valley from the Marciel gate to the EBMUD Chabot staging area is now closed to all traffic. Winter storms had led to erosion of the edge of the roadway, which falls precipitously into San Leandro reservoir, but the area was only coned off and the roadway was narrowed to one lane. However last night the road partially collapsed and apparently the undercutting of the roadway is endangering the entire path of travel. You can read about it here.

Roger and I went riding to Castro Valley on Redwood today and noticed the crew erecting K barriers around the collapsed section, which is quite startling. The collapse is at mile marker 7.38, which is about a kilometer after you start the southbound descent. Apparently Alameda County had just begun closing the road as there was no indication when we entered Redwood off of Pinehurst. Only when we arrived at the bottom did we see that there was a closure erected at the EBMUD Chabot staging area. We stopped to talk to the guard and he said they had literally just closed it. Not wanting to be stuck in Castro Valley we immediately turned around and headed back to Orinda. When we got back to the collapsed section we were told that the road would be closed for two months and that it would be a “hard closure.” (My guess is that “two months” is bureaucratese for an indefinite period of time probably a lot longer than two months.) When we arrived at Marciel gate a tractor was now parked across the road blocking all traffic and turning them back. We spoke with the operator and he confirmed that K barriers will be put up across the roadway.

Road closures are a mixed blessing for cyclists. The positive is that cars can’t go there; the negative is that cyclists aren’t supposed to go there either. But unless there is rabid enforcement there is nothing to prevent you from lifting your bike over the barrier and continuing on your merry way. Just know that the roadway could collapse more at any moment and you might die. Apparently Contra Costa Public Works is wise to cyclist shenanigans because the Alhambra closure, which blocks the traditional Three Bears route and also has an indefinite closure period (i.e. “we need to find money before we can do any repair”), is not only blocked by K barriers but has chainlink fence completely across the roadway, from edge to edge, to prevent cyclists or pedestrians from entering. Lord knows if Alameda County will follow suit.

If you’re dead set on getting through Redwood—and I don’t blame you because it’s a major recreational cyclist thoroughfare without an easy alternate—there is a way: if heading southbound, cut through Anthony Chabot Park by means of Marciel Road; Marciel is paved. Take it most of the way down to the day use parking area and then cut off onto the Brandon trail, which is a fire road, and you’ll drop down just behind the Redwood Canyon golf course where you can catch Redwood Road again. Brandon is doable on a road bike and hopefully if the rain has stopped it should be pretty dry soon and less mucky.

Road Closure Tidbits

March 19th, 2017 by tony

Palomares Road has finally been reopened by Alameda County. The slides have been mostly cleared but there is one section that has only one lane open. Details about Palomares as well as other East Bay roads can be found here.

Morgan Territory Road is open today but it is only temporary. You can read the details here. The county seems to be planning to open the road on a very limited basis until the slide stops moving and it can effect permanent repairs.

Mt. Hamilton Road has been closed since Feb. 20 due to a washout, however repairs are underway. If you want to go up Hamilton from the Bay side, you will have to take Quimby to bypass the closure. Quimby is very steep. Ray Hosler has some details on his blog.

And yes, Alhambra Valley Road–part of the Three Bears loop–is still closed with no repair in the near future. Get used to riding up Pig Farm if you do the Bears counterclockwise.

Ron Wilmot and the Saddle Challenge

March 13th, 2017 by tony


Every March Different Spokes puts on an internal club fundraiser, the Saddle Challenge, to generate some money for Project Inform. Riders pledge to donate a certain amount of money, either a fixed or per mile amount, for the miles they ride during the month. The current Saddle Challenge is actually a mash-up of the Ron Wilmot Ride for Project Inform and the original Saddle Challenge, which started in 2002 and was not a fundraiser at all. It was intended merely to kickstart the riding season by having members log their miles. Trinkets like club caps were awarded to those with the most mileage. The following year the Saddle Challenge morphed into a fundraiser for the Ron Wilmot Bike Ride, which was a completely separate event. The Ron Wilmot Bike Ride was similar to the AIDS Walk: riders did 7.5 mile circuits in Golden Gate Park and pledged money depending on the number of miles they logged.

Who was Ron Wilmot? Currently in Different Spokes I think there are just two of us who had some contact with Ron, Derek Liecty and I, and unfortunately neither of us had more than a passing acquaintance with him. I don’t recall exactly when Ron joined Different Spokes but almost certainly he wasn’t riding regularly with us until the very late Eighties or the early Nineties. This was during “President for Life” Dennis Westler’s reign. I do recall he was a very friendly and warm person and an enthusiastic road cyclist. What also struck me about him was that he was the only person in the club who rode a Merlin titanium bike, an expensive rarity even during Merlin’s heyday. (I suppose that says more about me than him!) In those days although I was still road biking occasionally, I was deep into mountain biking and that may account for why I don’t remember seeing him on many club rides.

Ron was one of the owners/founders of Hartford Properties, which no longer exists. Hartford Properties was a real estate company located where the Chicago Title Co. currently exists on Market Street, not too far from the LGBT Center.

For those too young to remember, the early Nineties was the dark period of AIDS and the epidemic hit our club hard. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the club was decimated but it is true that we lost a large number of longtime members, and of course the AIDS Bike-A-Thon brought us a bigger profile and thus the club roster exploded to almost 400, many of whom were infected. I believe Ron was one of those folks, probably brought into the club because of the AIDS Bike-A-Thon. I’m not sure if Ron was an avid cyclist before the Bike-A-Thon or whether he was converted by us! I recall that Ron was regularly one of the most prolific fundraisers for BAT if not the most prolific. But I’d have to research the old BAT files (and Bay Area Reporters) to verify that. He rode in seven BATs.

It was probably no coincidence that Ron started his ride in 1995: the last AIDS BAT under Different Spokes was in 1994 (the 1995 and final BAT was run by Project Open Hand). The Ron Wilmot Ride for Project Inform shared one particular trait with the Bike-A-Thon: extremely low overhead. BAT prided itself on being able to give 100% of donations to beneficiary organizations (that wasn’t technically true in the last two years of BAT when in order to survive BAT named itself as one of the beneficiaries but even then the amount of money set aside for BAT was a pittance). The RWRFPI was able to hand over about 95% of donations to PI, meaning that overhead was just 5%, which is ridiculously low. In contrast I’ve read that the AIDS Lifecycle has an overhead somewhere between 30-40% (of course ALC also generates much more money overall). Ron was a big supporter of PI, personally raising more than $130,000 for the organization.

The first RWRFPI raised about $17,500 and garnered around 20 riders. So it wasn’t a big, flashy event. But the event lasted 13 years, the last one taking place in 2007. That little event managed to raise over $750,000 for Project Inform! Project Inform awarded him the Champion of Hope award in 1993 for his tireless support of the organization.

Ron died on February 5, 1997 at age 46 but not before he challenged the community to continue the RWRFPI and especially encouraging people with HIV to ride. He personally raised over $104,000 for AIDS causes. Incidentally Ron’s name is in the Circle of Friends in the SF AIDS Memorial Grove—see if you can find it the next time you walk through it.

Both BAT and the RWRFPI are no more. But the spirit of the event continues in the current Saddle Challenge as well as in the Double Bay Double. Perhaps the current lack of interest in the Saddle Challenge is partly due to fading memory. The deadly early days of the epidemic are ancient history for LGBT youth, the epidemic no longer garners headlines, and club members aren’t disappearing suddenly with their obituaries published in the BAR a few weeks later. It’s a different era.

The May/June 1998 ACLU of Northern California newsletter had a nice article about Ron, from which this is quoted: “Ron was HIV-positive for 18 years and devoted much of his energy raising money for AIDS organizations and educating himself and others about AIDS and AIDS treatments. He served on the advisory board of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services AIDS Project and was the first speaker in their ‘Putting a Face to AIDS’ speakers bureau. An avid cyclist who credited bicycling with keeping him asymptomatic for most of the years he was HIV-positive, Ron created a bike-a-thon to benefit Project Inform, an organization that provided him and others with accurate and up-to-date information on AIDS treatments. This lasting legacy that bears his name is held each May[sic]. The afternoon before his first bike-a-thon in 1995, Ron was taken to the emergency room after suffering a severe reaction to an experimental drug. Although he was hospitalized overnight, he nonetheless insisted on being at the bike-a-thon when it began at 10 a.m. Television crews had gathered awaiting the fundraiser’s creator. Ron’s friends got him out of the hospital 20 minutes before the event was to begin, and he appeared at the starting line, dressed in a biking outfit, perched on his bicycle to talk with reporters. [He did the ride too!] Ron’s partner, Jim O’Donnell, explained that Ron believed “Each life is meant to have a purpose, and it’s our responsibility to determine what our purpose is. For Ron, that meant giving back to the community he was part of and making it a better place.””