Tour Rides

The epiphany : "Ride of Silence" AAR

Yesterday was the "Ride of Silence". It's an international ride in memory of fallen cyclists and as a statement to motorists to share the road with cyclists. But for me, the event has the opposite effect.

I get it.

Last night I rode my tour bike. Practically, it's more comfortable on a slow roll but also it's set up to be seen. I have a reflective flag and some VERY bright lights on the back. I also wore the most bright and obnoxious jersey / shorts combo I own with the knowledge that he upright position of my tour bike makes my silhouette more visible. Also the stickers on the back of my helmet glow in the dark AND reflect "cat eye" style along with the other hyper-reflective stickers on there. In twilight conditions I'm a freaking laser light show to a headlight. I stayed in the back knowing that I was probably the most visible rider in the pack and drivers would see me.

My position allowed me see the whole group. Something about my background is I spent 20+ years part-timing where my job was to keep irresponsible people safe in spite of their best efforts to not be, so I notice things. And a few things I noticed can be seen in the pic I've attached to this post. In our group of about 15-20, several people were riding damn near the center line most of the ride. Many were riding 2-3 across, holding hands (romantic, ok...) or otherwise taking up the whole road.

What the picture DOESN'T show is behind us, where there were 3-4 vehicles backed up terrified to pass the group. This isn't the first year I've seen this happen, last year I routinely broke the "ride of silence" rule by screaming "CAR BACK" so we didn't cause a major incident.


Let me address one other concern. "This is on a suburban street." This is where I felt safest to get the gopro out to get a pic or two. One segment had us on a pothole infested 45 MPH main road. We caused a traffic jam behind us, and several cars roared past us by going over the double yellow line. Frankly, circumstance and luck prevented major injury last night.

And I get it. I get why motorists hate cyclists. We're a slow moving object on the roads, and a lot of cyclists do just this. They don't leave room for the vehicles to pass, and if they choose to they break the law by jumping double lines or having to pass too close. And a lot of these people are ignorant, or they know better and just flaunt it.

I'm debating what, if anything, I can do. Last night I was too busy trying to keep the group safe by keeping my head on a swivel, signaling to drivers, and doing a LOT of catchup when my being in the back of the pack meant I missed a green light the leader made. I also know from experience that pointing out these problems when they happen never end well, because the reaction is defensive not progressive. (The "I do what I want" defense is common, as is the "Ok MOM." reaction) Group rides like last night are the exception, not the rule, but I can see why the friction exists because of these anomaly rides.

The best solution I can think of is making videos about road safety, because that's what I do. the hope being that they get spotted, and shared in the void of youtube. I find that people are more receptive to ideas when they're not in the moment, and they don't feel threatened that their fun is at stake. It's also possible to be a LOT more diplomatic outside of the moment and you're not trying to save them from being run over by a truck.

But I get it, I get the hate. But I also get that it can be changed. Drivers could learn that cyclists are just "slow cars", cyclists could learn now to share the road. I also get that the point of the event is to make a statement to drivers that we belong on roads too, but there's a difference between making a statement and making an unnecessary disruption.

"SO! Where ya goin'?" You can't be an introvert on a tour bike.

If you're an introvert that doesn't like to talk to people, don't get a touring bike.

Next weekend I'm going to be riding in the Chicago "Tour De Cure", and only doing the 30 mile distance 'cuz I wanna have fun. But to make it a little more challenging, I'm going to be riding it under "Tour load". the pic I put with this is me last summer riding said Marrakesh from Seattle to Milwaukee. (that's another story tho...) so you can get an idea of what a "fully loaded" tour bike looks like.

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"The Tank" (as I call it) slimmed down a little, but it still has a trail weight around 90 or so pounds. 30 of them is the bike alone, and the rest is "everything I need to live on ad infinitum". Shelter, bedding, food, water (And Nuun, gotta mention that...) cookware, clothing, camp stuff, wet weather gear, comfy sandals... I even got a kitchen sink in there. Hence why I call it "The Tank", with the bags on she looks armoured.

One of the things I learned is that you can't just jump into hard mode, you need to practice and train. And I've gotten used to my Warbird (a much lighter, more nimble beast), so I need to ride the Tank again, and load it down to tour weight. Today was the day to do it.

Plotted a local route that was vertically enhanced (side note, ow...) loaded up my bike, and went. And a 37 mile route took me almost 6 hours. Why? The Tank is a conversation starter.

The usual opener is "Where ya going?" And fair enough, you have this much luggage on a bike you're probably going SOMEWHERE. And it also leads to the "So what do you have going on in here?" (IE : What's in the bags, and why is there a USB port on the stem?) And then logistics. "How much chamois cream do you use?" "Where do you sleep?" "Where do you eat?" "You're seriously carrying full camping supplies in there?" "How do you change a flat?"

The winner of today's "Out of nowhere question" award went to an older gent who asked me how liked riding an electric bike. I told him it wasn't electric. "So what's the solar panel for?" So I had to explain that it was charging a battery for my electronics when I got to camp, and that I was doing a lot of remote camping so I couldn't always get to a power source. And he seemed satisfied with that, in the context of the rest of the bags and the 2L of water I had on me too I obviously was ready to go "off grid".

What I'm saying is you get a LOT of questions. And I don't mind answering them. Cycling around here, and I'd venture almost everywhere in the US, is focused on races, speed and aero. Those who aren't are mostly family people, riding bikes with the kids as a weekend activity. Anyone who has a bag on the bike is usually commuting to work or school. So you get someone with the full "armour plating" and it stands out. And it makes people wonder "What's that about?"

But I think there's another factor too. As I said, the focus at most bike shops to higher-end consumers is speed. Get the aero helmet, the carbon bike and wheels, go tubeless to save watts, get the skin-tight-skivvies to cut the air resistance... Then I roll up. It's like driving a Hummer into a Ferarri parking lot, and none of the other people in the lot have ever SEEN a Humvee only heard legends of one.

That in mind, I think that when people ask questions, it's not just idle curiosity. A few weeks ago at a shop event I rode the tour bike with the bags only (no weight), and a couple were asking me some VERY specific questions. Logistics, where to get gear, how I planned routes, where I slept... And I could see the gears turning.

Once they see a tour bike "in the flesh" (so to speak), it's almost like a door to a new challenge opens. "Could I ride EVERY DAY?" "Could I pedal myself over the Rocky Mountains?" "Could I live off of a bicycle?" And it's always fun when you see the dawning realization they have of "I could do that."

In a way, I get why EVERYONE wants to talk to me when I'm riding the Marrakesh fully loaded down. But, in another way, I'd love to see so many tour cyclists out there that it's commonplace enough that they really don't have to. But for now, I don't mind fielding the questions. If I can inspire one person to try it? Mission accomplished.