When Dylan DiBona moved to San Francisco in 2003, he was disappointed to discover that the city’s famed cycling scene wasn’t all that awesome. “It was just like record-store culture, where everybody had their niche but at the same time it was super-cool,” says DiBona. “I just thought that seemed wrong.”
A few years later, DiBona was on a ride with his friend Kevin LaKritz in their neighborhood, the Mission District. The two started talking about how they wanted to push back against SF being consumed with nothing but “tech and money-based goals,” and how that was spoiling what should by all accounts have been an inclusive cycling environment. The whole attitude, DiBona recalls, was “strange and cliquey, and I didn’t understand why it should be like that.”
This series, sponsored by Wild Turkey, will profile the #Nevertamed people of the world: artists, adventurers, and entrepreneurs with an unrelenting passion for and commitment to what they do who never cut corners or sacrifice quality or vision. It’s this #Nevertamed spirit — fueled by tradition — that goes into every barrel of Wild Turkey.
“The neighborhood was becoming an area with great people, culture, and restaurants, and we wanted to do something that would represent where we live and tie that community together.” That’s when the idea of Mission Cycling — a laid-back, community-oriented bike club that refuses to give in to the impulse toward exclusivity that turned DiBona off when he moved to SF — was formed.
DiBona’s interest in cycling started when he was a kid, living in New Mexico. After his family moved from “the middle of nowhere” to Albuquerque, his dad got really into European-style bike racing. “It was cool for me to see some culture that was different from what I was around,” he says. “It just showed me that the world was a bigger place.”
Later DiBona spent some time living in London and got a feel for daily life in Europe. “My programming as a kid was that cycling is a cool European sport. They have a slower pace of life there, so you appreciate the people and places around you. Riding is a slower pace than driving, so you can’t help but see the scene around you — and through that you will meet someone on the bike and have a beer afterwards.” That’s the kind of vibe DiBona wanted to foster back home with Mission Cycling.
His idea seemed like a perfect fit for San Francisco, which already has a Euro feel to it: It’s very progressive and you can walk from one end of the city to the other. “I didn’t understand why cycling culture that was more European in style didn’t exist in that way in SF,” says DiBona. “Why did it have to take itself so seriously? Cycling is a way to talk to people without it just being, ‘Oh, where are you from and what do you do?’ You can go ride your bike for four hours in the mountains and you’re going to immediately experience something different with someone else — and a much deeper experience than casual conversation.”
Once they got going, other people seemed to agree — a lot of them. In 2008, its first year of existence, Mission Cycling’s Saturday rides drew 60 riders a week. The following year, the Saturday crew had swelled to 200-plus — a few too many people, logistically, so they split it up into multiple rides per week. Anyone can join the club, so long as “you’re into the vibe.” Even as the group has become more popular, DiBona has maintained this super-casual policy as a firewall against the exclusivity that he initially encountered in San Francisco.
“Cycling is a great connecting sport,” says DiBona. “We’re out here on these roads that pros and beginners alike ride, so there’s no reason for it to be this cliquey thing. We wanted to combat that record-store atmosphere and that’s what we did.”
Fun as it is, the group isn’t just for kicks. Mission Cycling also puts on events that benefit the local high school and after-school sports organizations that serve Mission kids. “We wanted to bring awareness to the neighborhood, but not do it in a flag-waving way,” DiBona says. “Given the opportunity, I think people always prefer to do the right thing.”
Mission Cycling hasn’t stayed put in its namesake neighborhood, either. From the start, DiBona wanted the club to be a European-style experience — and so, four years ago, the group took its first trip abroad, to the French Alps. They’ve gone back every year since, and this year even hit up Tuscany. And who knows? Maybe one day some kid in France will encounter this crew of friendly, inclusive American riders from San Francisco and want to recreate “that Mission vibe” in his or her own city.
Luke McCormick is a writer living in Brooklyn. He has written for SPIN, rollingstone.com, and other publications.