Group Ride

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.

Ride of Silence, 2017

Ghostbike, New Berlin Trail, May 2017

Ghostbike, New Berlin Trail, May 2017

One of the local rail trails has an occasional visitor that seems to come and go.  I was doing an extended Midnight burner ride when I saw it was back, and got a photo of it which you can see above.  It's the Ghost Bike of the New Berlin Trail.

For people unfamiliar, a "Ghost Bike" is a memorial of a fallen rider.  It's usually placed by friends or family of the deceased on the place where a rider died.  In this case, her name was Brittany Barnstable.  She was 15.  According to the news reports she had entered the crossing without stopping, and was struck by a vehicle.  That was in 2013.

The ghost bike appears and disappears through the season.  I used to think it was the city taking it down but I found older pics of it and it's the same bike.  So without knowing the real case, I'm guessing it's family that puts it in place as a memorial.  But most people who drive past it never really see it.

So sometimes, we have to do something a little more visible.

Ride of Silence 2017, Brookfield, WI

Every year the "Ride of Silence" is that something.  For the last 14 years riders assemble on the same day to ride, silently, in memory of fallen cyclists, and to show drivers we're on the roads too.

Wheel and Sprocket hosted several events, and I went to my closest store in Brookfield, WI.  There were about 20 of us there, give or take.  After signing in, we had a reading of "the poem" and we went.  I hung nearer to the back, mostly because I've done hte most to make myself as visible as possible with reflectors, lights and a DOT orange / day-glo reflective yellow triangle on the back of my bike.

Our route wasn't that long, about 6 miles.  I think it was cut short of the original because of tornado watches and the "sheets of rain" we had suddenly drop on us.  The last half mile wasn't a slow procession as much as a "quick, get back to the store before we get hit by lightning".  The group hung out at the shop for a while before we all packed up and went for home.

For me, the ride was a little more personal.  In this upcoming summer I'll be doing a lot of highway miles out of necessity.  Someone asked me what I'm most afraid of on my summer trip, and it's Montana.  For a long time they had no speed limit, but now I see it's down to 80 MPH on some highways.  That's assuming they're doing the legal limit.

Even at 55 on a rural road, I'm a very tiny thing to see when a driver has the horse blinders on.  And I can do everything right, and still get hit by a distracted driver as they grab their phone, coffee, or even just look down for the thing on the floor.  Hell, most drivers don't even think a cyclist should be on the road with them in the first place.  Even if, according to the DOT, a bicycle is a vehicle and belongs on the roadway.

And that's a problem, because cyclists need to be on the roads as much as anyone else does.  Not everything is connected by trails and sidewalks.  (And, fun fact, many cities have laws on the books making riding a bike on the sidewalk illegal.)  Cyclists really don't ask much, just that drivers give us a little more space, and let us go about our business.

Wow, this got really soap-boxy really fast, didn't it?

I don't know the final numbers, but the Ride of Silence went off all around the world.  And I think we'll keep doing them until we no longer see ghost bikes on the side of the road.