Pam DeLuco helps a rider at Party on Block 18.

Chest out and shoulders back, David Wisz paced between two rows of bicycles on 18th Street, keeping an eye on the crowd developing for Party on Block 18. During the week, Wisz, 41, is a web developer for Flip Video. On weekends, he and dozens of other San Francisco Bicycle Coalition members volunteer as bike valets.

Inside a barricade valets call a corral, Wisz presided over 21 bikes only an hour into the Saturday block party. By the time the event ended at 5 p.m., the valets had served more than 100 bicyclists by parking, watching and safely returning their bikes and bike gear.

The coalition’s valets park more than 10,000 bikes per year, and have increasingly become part of the urban landscape. Whether bike valet service started in San Francisco is debated, but it has spread throughout the Bay Area — to the East Bay, Marin County and Sonoma County — and to Sacramento, Los Angeles and other states.

David Wisz watching the hoard.

Nowadays, at any event — from the massive food fairs in the Mission District and Oakland to the weekly market at the Ferry Building and Giants games — some area is corralled off for bikes. The Bicycle Coalition works 70 to 80 events a year, according to Kash, who said he started the valet service in 1991 on a trade: He promised to stand outside and make sure bikes weren’t stolen if fellow cyclists participated in a City Hall meeting.

At the recent 18th Street block party, a woman on a yellow Giant road bike pedaled up and valet Pam DeLuco pointed her to a clipboard with a tag. Bike owners sign and keep part of the identifying tag, which goes on their bike’s handlebars.

Although Kash said the block party was routine, it was not without complications. A strong wind sent part of a barricade crashing down, and valets had to make sure that two women who were standing alongside, minding their loaded plates of food, were OK. Meanwhile, the coalition’s banner flew into the intersection of 18th and Guerrero.

Forgoing their signature orange tent, valets carefully situated bikes so they wouldn’t blow over, placing kickstand-less racing bikes on simple foot-long devices that looked more like shiny black twigs than bike stands.

They scooted a table under a bus shelter on 18th Street to protect the bike tags from the wind. Then the six block party valets stood in the corral, armed with sunglasses.

The valets range in age from 30 to 50. Some volunteer because they work for the Bicycle Coalition, others because, rain or shine, parking bikes at events is a way to network, people-watch and meet others.

Bike wheels lined up on 18th.

“I am probably your most unlikely bike valet,” said Pam DeLuco, 43, a book artist and craft enthusiast who has been a valet for five years. “I don’t like the cold. I am not a super outdoors person.”

But DeLuco works as a valet at least once a month.

“I do all the craft events because I’m an artist,” she said. “It’s a way to hear about things.”

And to see things she wouldn’t normally see. She recalled a woman who came to the Folsom Street Fair, a leather pride event, where many participants left their day clothes with their bikes. “I remember her because she stripped down to just two tassels. Now, every time I look at her, I see two tassels!”

Another veteran bike valet, Caesar Quitevis, 50, most enjoys admiring other people’s bikes. “You get to see a lot of different bikes, a lot of them better than the one I own.” He’s seen fine Trek, Specialized, Surly touring and Felt road bikes.

Wisz has gawked over the occasional Look bike, made in France, but admits to testing lesser bikes — with permission from their owners — in the corral. He laughed. “I tried a fixie,” a fixed-gear bike. “It’s a hipster bicycle.”

“We park everything from $3,000 bikes to Burning Man bikes with all the crap flying off,” he said.  “It kind of shows how extreme bike culture is in the city.”

Tips? Yes, but they are considered donations to the coalition, said staff member Nathan Frankel. At an event like the 18th Street block party, a valet estimated the coalition earns up to $40, but they might receive $100 at a larger venue like Tour de Fat in Golden Gate Park.

Valets said there have never been any crazy bike-swipe attempts. “Nothing malicious ever,” said Wisz. “Because we’re so scary. Just the fact that they’d have to contend with us is a huge obstacle.”

A full corral before closing.

“I love it,” said Mission resident Nate Dyke, 34, who let the valets park his bike at the block party after stumbling upon the service. “I saw the sign, saw all the bikes and thought, ‘Why not?’”

One valet, Tim Lindl, 30, was recently converted from bike parking patron into a coalition volunteer. “I’ve parked my bike [with the valets] so many times, I needed to give back,” he said. The block party was his first event.

For Wisz, being a valet and helping watch hundreds of bikes at some big events like the latest Outside Lands Festival is simply a labor of love.

“Participating in the community and providing a service to San Francisco is helping the city become more bike-friendly,” he said with a smile. “You can feel the good karma beaming at you.”

To arrange for bicycle parking at an event, contact Kash, Bike Parking Coordinator, at 415-431-BIKE x374 or bikevalets@sfbike.org.

Follow Us

J.J. Barrow began reporting for Mission Local in 2010. She once rode the 49 Van Ness-Mission for six hours straight while the rest of the city tuned in to the World Series — until revelry ended the route. She misses hiding in Guerrero's quiet Cafe Petra (now defunct) to write.

Join the Conversation

13 Comments

  1. I am a member of the Atlanta Bike Coalition and we do this as well, but not as many events as the SF Bike Coalition does. Many of the festivals in ATL do not even consider cyclist in their planning. But at events where we are there, the number of bikes we park is amazing. Thanks for the great article..

  2. I’ve been a volunteer valet for a couple years now, and it’s a blast. Everyone is super fun to work with (just starting with the people mentioned in this article..Hi Kash! Hi Nathan! Hi Pam! Hi Tim! it’s Alexis) and it’s awesome to participate in the community, check out and guard all the bikes, hear people’s tales of biking in the city, attend events, etc, etc. Such a great feature of the SFBC.

  3. I love the guys at the Giants game. It’s such an awesome free service to have, and makes it much easier to quickly, cheaply and cleanly get to and from Giants games.

  4. I wanted to congratulate for doing such a great job! We do bike valet here in LA, but nothing near the epic level (10,000 bikes+!!!) you all do. There was a lot of great information here that I will bring back to staff for improving our service!!! Thanks guys!!

  5. It’s good for everyone to get this kind of notice for a great service Kash figured out so long ago. Now if only people could learn the difference between “peddle” and “pedal”. It would make my reading of bike-related articles SO much more enjoyable.

  6. Thanks J.J. for capturing the essence of what being a bike valet is all about, the fun, the challenges, the bike-related cameraderie! Our SFBC bike valets (already over 150 members have volunteered this year at 70 events – and counting!) should be known for their friendly attitude, enthusiasm, and can-do helpfulness. It makes my job behind the scenes as the valet volunteer coordinator fun and easy to have a great crew year after year. (Love you all – thanks for the props Alexis, and Allison HI!, glad you can use the info down in LA)
    Thanks also for highlighting how easy it is to use this great service, also at our regular gigs at the Giants games and at the Ferry Building.
    But most of all, thanks to everyone who prioritizes bicycling in San Francisco and for whom we provide the service!

  7. Activities and locations in Corvallis, Oregon have had valet bike parking for years. It makes going to places like the DaVinci Days and other festivals so much more enjoyable if you are not spending time looking for an open public rack. While valet bike parking is great, we still need more public racks.

Leave a comment
Please keep your comments short and civil. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published.