Why we ride…in silence


Source: northwestcrossing.com

Source: northwestcrossing.com

On this particular race day, ten kids ranging in age from eight to 15 were lined up waiting for the start of our neighborhood bike race. Some were perched upon slick ten speeds, others like me, astride our three-speed, banana seat, Sting-ray, raring to go. When you grow up in Indianapolis, racing must be in your blood, because every May we would hold a bike race around our loop of a subdivision. Five laps to determine the supreme bicycling champion of Delaware Trails.

What we had not counted on was everyone’s desire to make that first turn within the same narrow space. Who cared if the pavement was nearly 30 feet wide, only about five feet of it was “the groove,” the place where you get the best position going into a ¼ mile long straight-away. Needless to say, if any of the ten of us had considered even a slightly more pragmatic (or smarter) approach to the start, we would have taken a wider angle around the first turn and would have had a huge early lead. As there was not enough time for the riders to separate between the starting line and the first turn, mayhem quickly ensued into a twisted tangle of metal, pissed-off kids, cursing, bloody scrapes, and a few tears. It was epic!

Forty-five plus years later, I still enjoy reminiscing about the great Delaware Trails Bike Race Crash of 1960 something or rather. Riding in the morning air, so crisp and fresh, can awaken even the sorriest soul from slumber.  I have learned this from many years of pedaling to and from work, sometimes a mere 15 minutes away from home, other times nearly 30 minutes. I don’t know why I do it, other than it does refresh the mind, recharge the batteries, add a bit a healthy vigor, and feels good in an environmentalism sort of way.  

I don’t generally care if it is cold, chilly, windy, hot, or wet. Ice, particularly black ice does put a chill in my bones, as does heavy snow. Those days, as well as during thunderstorms, I drive instead. But many others of my kind, the two-wheeled saddle jockeys, will still ride despite the fanciful whims of Mother Nature.

Ned, Tim, and Bill all are avid bike commuters like me. Each of them rides considerably further and faster – I’m a bit less daring compared to them, particularly when it comes to riding in the street with traffic. Far too many bicyclists have become hood ornaments trying to ride side-by-side with two-ton missiles that have no forgiveness and often few regrets. Despite my trepidation, and even though I ride on pathways, sidewalks, or trails, I still have been subject to razzing and ridicule from the occasional motoring moron. Certainly not as often as Tim, who seems to be the chief recipient of verbal abuse from the road-raging drivers of Mid-Michigan. Many times during the spring when most cyclists start riding the roads anew, he gets fired up, and rightfully so, over the nasty jabs, criticisms, and threats received from passing motorists.

Bill, on the other hand, has been more up close and personal with a motor vehicle than I would ever wish to be, when a car slid off the road on an icy cold February morning, taking him with it. Thank goodness he suffered only minor injuries, particularly compared to those poor souls who have lost everything in collisions. Still, I have had my close calls, including an instance when a car bumped into me as I was pedaling across a street intersection. This scared the total crap out of me, but thankfully I did not fall into oncoming traffic or onto her car hood. Afterwards, I just glared at the driver and despite her apologies could not find it in my heart to forgive her…at least until my heart rate slowed down several hours later.

It’s close calls like those that make you wary for a few days…perhaps even a bit gun-shy. Though that extra measure of caution starts to wear off with time. My other bicycle crashes have mostly been horrific mental images of anticipated near misses that fortunately never materialized or stupid self-induced pavement kisses that could have been avoided if I had only been smarter or more alert. 

We are a strange lot, we saddle jockeys. Spinning around on two wheels in all kinds of weather conditions, on all kinds of surfaces, and in the equivalent of enemy territory when we ride the roads. But, guess what? We have every right to be there. Despite the honks, jeers, foul-mouths, and threats from occasional motoring morons, we have just as much right to be there as they do.  That said, given our precarious position, we must be prepared, properly equipped, vigilant, and alert during every ride, especially when plying the streets.

Unfortunately, both physics and the system are not set up to protect cyclists properly…either on the road or often in the courts after a tragedy happens. That is one of several reasons why we join thousands of other riders across the planet as part of the Ride of Silence on the third Wednesday of May.  We ride to honor and remember those of us who loved the sheer joy of bicycling, but whose lives were tragically cut short due to an unfortunate encounter with a motor vehicle. We also ride as a visual reminder to all motorists that we are on the roads too, and as a way of reminding everyone, including other bicyclists, about the importance of employing safe driving and riding habits each and every day. Last but not least, we ride to help make the roads safer for our families, friends, and future cyclists as many neighborhoods, like mine growing up in Indianapolis, have no sidewalks, pathways, nor trails where children can ride their bikes.

Please consider participating in the 2015 Ride of Silence, taking place on Wednesday, May 20th across the country and around the globe. Locally, we will be riding from Wells Hall on the Michigan State University campus to the State Capitol in downtown Lansing. It is a free event. Registration begins at 5:30 p.m. and the ride starts at 6:30 p.m. sharp. Cheers!

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