Sunday, December 25, 2011

Flock of Cycles, June 18 2010 (June 18, 2010)

Current mood: jubilant

I almost missed this ride because of a problem at work. I hoped I would leave by 5, but it was fully 5:40 by the time I was headed out, and I was on the opposite side of town. I managed to pull up at the ride barely by the 6:30 scheduled departure time. Turns out I would have been OK almost 10 minutes later because someone else was running late, too, and managed to send a message ahead.

Before the ride, I talked with maybe 10 people I already knew, and another half dozen who were new to the ride and/or new to the Bike-Pgh message board. That board is awesome. We meet and get to know one another well even before we meet in person. Rides like this provide the opportunity to do the latter in a safe environment, doing what we all like to do: ride bikes!

Dan W (dwillen) had the Flock Of Cycles T-shirts with him, and dozens of us were thus colorfully and identically decked out. The shirts themselves were designed on the message board by board participants. It's cool to see the fruit of your own ideas being worn by dozens of people in your midst.

Nick (ndromb) was there with his tall bike, and Dan (reddan) with his recumbent. No tandems or unicycles, though. The array of more-or-less regular shaped bikes was itself a sight to behold, and the subject of much conversation. Some of the people's acquisitions of new bikes and equipment was already known to board readers, but here was a chance to see it first hand. We are always trying to make the riding experience better for ourselves and one another, and what better way to do that than share that knowledge at a group ride?

After a quick explanation by ndromb as to what the ride was about -- a group ride that tries to follow the law -- we soon got underway from Downtown Dippyville (where all group rides seem to start) with a ride into Schenley Park past Phipps Conservatory, briefly onto Blvd. of the Allies, and a right into a residential area. I would say there were 40 to 50 of us.

As I write this, it's only 12 hours since we were riding, but already I don't remember the route. I was focusing more on the conversations I was having with fellow travelers. The people I rode alongside changed every few hundred yards, so there wasn't the ability to get into any deep, thoughtful conversations, nor is that necessarily wise, anyway. As the sole pilot of your own vehicle, you have to take care not to collide with fellow travelers, be alert for road hazards, and relay information up and down the line of cyclists: watch the big hole, wait up in front, car behind, etc. Lane changes, for example, are best done from the rear first. A left lane change on a four-lane street like Fifth Avenue, in preparation for a left turn, requires a great deal of communication through the line, and everyone must be in sync for people not to get hurt. It's not that hard, but it does take education and practice. Hence these rides. Learn by doing, and learn by having fun doing.

We met up with the Major Taylor Cycling Club, another group of dedicated cyclists. This is also where I met someone who was looking to meet me. I had already shared several ideas about commuter cycling with this person before I knew she was a she. That's another cool thing about the message board: gender is irrelevant. We're cyclists, and our experience has little to do with gender. Theoretically it shouldn't ever be relevant, but in practice that's not usually how it goes.

The MTCC crew consists of serious cyclists. FOC, by contrast, is a mix of people of widely differing backgrounds and abilities. They shepherded us through a set of streets in the East End and into Wilkinsburg. We passed the Hay Street station on the East Busway, the farthest east we got on the trip.

Somewhere in there, several youngsters on bikes joined us. They were awestruck by ndromb's tall bike, and wanted to ride with us. Cool! That's part of why we were out there, to bring a smile to people's faces. We slowed the ride so they could keep up.  Maybe four of them? It was a joy to have them along. They started back when we got back into the city proper, and not long after that, the MTCC folks also split off.

By the time we got to Forbes and Braddock, it was starting to get dark. It was also getting harder to keep the group together, as we'd been riding for quite a while by that point, and some were getting tired. We had our only significant accident shortly thereafter, primarily a mechanical failure. One guy's handlebars decided no longer to control the direction of the bike, and he went down hard. For maybe 30 seconds, the group took control of traffic on Forbes in the center of the Squirrel Hill business district. The rider turned out to be shaken but whole, and the bike was repairable and ridable. No parts of body or bike were left in the street. I was very happy that I'd rigged up a very bright light on my helmet, in addition to the one on the bike. With that quick inspection, we reopened the street to traffic.

A trip to the Giant Eagle on Murray Avenue was next. We decided to have a late-evening picnic on the Schenley Park golf course, and needed supplies. I bought a gallon of cider and some cups. Other purchases were a spur-of-the-moment charcoal grill, various things to be grilled, other basic things for a picnic. We loaded up the 25 or so bikes we had left (thanks to Tabby for carrying a gallon of cider on her bike rack, as I had none) and headed to Schenley.

Our arrival in the park did not go unnoticed. We were a virtual swarm of blinking white and red lights, all coming down the park drive in darkness. Three people materialized out of nowhere and came over to find out what we were about. I had visions of the three vampires in the first Twilight book joining the Cullens for a baseball game, minus the thunderstorm.

Food! Several of us were amazed to find that saltm513 had made a chocolate cake and carried it with her for the entire ride. Even more amazing, it held together pretty well for traveling over 20 miles of city streets on the rattly rack to a bicycle.

We ate, we talked, we shared stories. One significant problem was that since nobody smoked, nobody had a lighter to start the charcoal. I don't know how we got it going.

It was past 11 by the time we cleaned up and went our separate ways. This in itself prompted some logistics to deal with. Traveling as a large group has an element of safety, but scattering, we were groups of only one or two going any one way. I was able to ride with two others for a bit, but I only had to get to the car, on the other side of the park. Others had several miles to go on two wheels. I know of no catastrophes so far, so I'm hoping everyone made it home OK.

So, to all my new friends and people I've known on the board a long time, a big hello, and I hope to ride again with you all soon!

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