SF Then and Now: Rich Kesler

It was 1981 when Rich Kesler moved to San Francisco from Michigan at the age of 18 in search of new adventures. Having lived in the city for over 30 years now, run his own bike courier company for about half that time and co-founded the San Francisco Bike Messengers Association, Rich was kind enough to share some of his seemingly infinite knowledge of biking in our city on a ride after he worked a recent SF Giants game, as a Valet Bicycle Parking Supervisor.

“I like working with Valet Bike Parking because sometimes I’ll see people I used to ride or work with,” said Rich. “It’s great to see that people are still riding years later.”

While riding through 4th and King Streets amidst rush-hour traffic, Rich commented on how this intersection has transformed, with more businesses, offices and high-rise developments popping up. We made a right down 5th Street, slow-rolling past cars headed to the freeway towards the East Bay. Despite a striped bike lane, there was little space between traffic on the left and parked car doors on the right — a reminder of the work that remains for delivering safer streets.

Continuing up 5th Street, we waited to make a left turn onto Natoma, signaling left. After a few moments, a few cars kindly stopped to let us turn.

“See how they let us pass? That probably would have never happened in the ‘80s,” Rich said as we locked up our bikes at Tempest, a long-standing favorite watering hole amongst bike messengers.

Walking in, an old steel road bike hung from the ceiling. “That’s Young Chris’ bike. He used to be one of my riders in my courier service, and one of the fastest,” Rich recounted from his store of seemingly countless fond memories from his messenger years.

Reflecting on how biking in SF has changed over the years, Rich explained that driver awareness has improved due to just the sheer number of people that are riding now.

“Drivers are more aware now. They’re looking before opening their doors and letting riders pass,” he said.

Thankfully, some aspects about biking in SF haven’t changed all that much. Although there are many more people on bikes now, the sense of community, in some ways, remains the same.

“Back then,” Rich recalled,“if someone’s bike got stolen, it would take one call from dispatch and every messenger in the city would be on the lookout for that person’s frame. If someone got injured on the job, there’d be fundraisers to help pay for their medical expenses.” For many riders and messengers today, this still holds true.

“People from all walks of life, with just as many reasons, find themselves on a bike,” Rich said. And Rich gets to see many of them in his role as a Valet Bicycle Parking Supervisor.

Want to help the community of people who bike by keeping their rides safe and secure during big events? We’re hiring Valet Bicycle Parking Supervisors. Apply today to join Rich and the team in making some of San Francisco’s most popular and fun events easier to enjoy by bike.

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