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.
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.
“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.”
“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 email@example.com.