Saturday, December 10, 2011

My First Group Ride

Yesterday night I participated in my first ever group bike ride, the yearly Holiday Lights Ride in Baltimore City. I've been wanting to participate in group rides ever since starting to ride a bike again a year ago, but getting from Towson to the city is already a mighty journey by itself. And once I moved to the city, I kept finding excuses: my brakes were shot (although they are fixed now, yay!), I probably couldn't keep up, and especially, "I'm not cool/not political enough for this." (That last reason is why I have yet to ride in a Critical Mass.) But eventually, I had to just psych myself up for it, and what with this ride starting less than a mile from my new-as-of-two-days-ago workplace, I had no excuse for not doing it. I'm so glad I did.

Gearing up for the ride. Not intended to be a pun. Also, my camera phone sucks, sorry about that.

I had no problems keeping up. In fact, I was near to the front several times, and often found myself deliberately slowing down. I rode the hybrid, due to the fact that the 3-speed is pretty terrible at climbing hills, plus I had to change a flat on it a few days ago and want to do some neighborhood riding with it first before using it to commute. The route was fairly similar to my route home from the Inner Harbor, except that it detoured from Charles to Howard (I think? Hard to tell where I was sometimes because it was dark and I was focused on staying with the group). After hitting the Miracle on 34th Street, the group went back downtown to a bar somewhere, but I decided to go back home instead. I would estimate around 30 people were there, pretty good for a fairly cold evening in December.

We ran a lot of red lights and there was a fair amount of corking going on, which sort of makes me nervous. I am definitely in the "cyclists should obey all traffic laws at all times" camp and when I'm riding alone, I stop for all lights and generally try to act like a little car. I do this not necessarily because it's the "right thing to do" or "the law" but because if there is an incident or an accident I want to be damn sure I'm in the right of things. (Also, it freaks drivers out when you obey the law, and pisses them off too! It's so much fun to stop at a late-stage yellow and hear a car squealing behind you, the driver cussing you out because they just naturally assumed that a cyclist would run that yellow. My non-cyclist husband gets flummoxed when he sees law-abiding cyclists.) But there were no honked horns or revved motors in our direction that I could tell, so I think drivers were tolerant of the group. The fact that many of us wore lights and the leader dressed like Santa Claus probably helped with the goodwill.

Yeah, this picture came out a little better but still pretty much sucks. But look at all the cyclists!

The best thing about riding in a group is how safe it felt. We took up an entire lane of traffic, and even when I was on the outside of the pack, I felt completely protected. It wasn't a physical protection, but more of a psychological one, the feeling that for the first time in my cycling life, I was part of the transportation majority. (There was very little traffic on the road at 7-8 pm that day.) And it struck me that if people wanted it to, every day could feel like this. Every day could end with a healthy dose of physical activity, pleasant conversation among strangers, really seeing the city you live in. When I take public transportation, I'm never aware of my surroundings, I always have my head in a book or my phone. I honestly don't know why anyone who can physically ride a bike and lives within a bikeable distance of their workplace would not ride to work at least some of the time. But that is smugness for another day!

34th Street light show! Pretty, but I don't envy their electric bills.

Now that I've done one group ride, I want more, more, more! My cycling has fallen into a bit of a rut, as commuting tends to do, and I rarely go out just to explore anymore. I think participating in more group rides would make cycling more of an adventure again, as well as help me meet more people who share my interest. I can't do the next Critical Mass (I'll be in Pittsburgh for the New Year's Weekend Gift-O-Rama), but the one after that I'll definitely do, plus any other rides I might hear about.

1 comment:

  1. Although I never stopped riding, I did my first group ride only 3 years ago. I had that exact same feeling of bliss and safety that you described and it was then that I saw for the first time what our future could look like.