Learning about San Diego’s love affair with the bicycle

A few months ago I met Andy Hanshaw to learn more about him and his goals for the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition. During the course of our conversation he mentioned the original Bike the Bay Ride, a ride called the Five Cities Ride that at its height drew 10,000 cyclists before the ride got shut down due to complaints that the cyclists were noisy.

The Five Cities Ride was a ride organized by the American Youth Hostel (now Hostelling International-San Diego), an event that was part fundraising and part bicycle advocacy. When I contacted Andrea Carter, Event Coordinator at Hostelling International-San Diego, I learned that bicycling and bicycle advocacy has been an integral part of HI-San Diego’s history from the very beginning. The upcoming Christmas Bike Ride is peanuts in comparison with the work that the hostel has done to promote bicycling in San Diego.

Before the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, the San Diego region did not have a bicycle advocacy group. But San Diego did have a hostel and an incredibly enthusiastic bike advocate who was also the president of the San Diego branch of the American Youth Hostel. This bike advocate was Clifford Graves, a physician who lived in La Jolla for most of his life.

HI-San Diego has been very gracious to lend me three gigantic scrapbooks documenting both Graves’ efforts to promote bicycle touring and bicycling as a mode of transportation. Going through these scrapbooks, I’ve been delighted to learn how old San Diego’s love affair with the bicycle has been. It seems a shame that such a history has not been documented on the web, and with HI-San Diego’s permission I will be doing so here.

American Youth Hostel members in San Diego training for their 1960 2,000 mile tour of Europe. Photo from HI-San Diego archives.

Going through the scrapbooks, I’m learning that as recently as 1972 San Diegan politicians rode bicycles both for pleasure and to promote various issues including conservation, good health and frugality. Bicycling for transportation was not a novel idea in San Diego even when the American love affair with the automobile was growing rapidly.

American Youth Hostel members posing before their 1960 flight to Europe to embark on a 2,000 mile bike tour. Photo from HI-San Diego archives.

I will also document Clifford Graves’ tremendous efforts that contributed to promoting bicycling as a mode of transportation as well as his efforts to promote bicycle touring. He was a tireless bike advocate and learning about his efforts is bound to fill any San Diegan with pride. As an example, in 1972, Graves led a bike ride to

give the City an indication of the number of people who already have bikes and who want to bicycle as a means of transportation. The day [was also] used to encourage others to use bicycles and motivate the City Council to implement bicycle lanes around the City.

Held on October 25th, the San Diego City Council had declared the day “Bike Day”.

As we move forward to making San Diego a city that all her cyclists can be proud to live in, it definitely is worth learning more about San Diego’s love affair and rich history revolving around the bicycle.