Lately I’ve noticed that my ride to and from work is becoming very much a group ride. We’re not a real stick-together group. There’s no sign-in sheet, we don’t start or finish our rides at the same place, we don’t ride at the same pace, and we don’t even ride the same direction—but we see each other often enough for recognition, and for some of us, for anticipation. The participants in this ride are probably a pretty good cross-section of people on bikes in Austin, including—
Many of us wave, smile, or nod in recognition of the passing of others going the opposite direction. Often when we pass going the same direction, there are longer exchanges, sharing the experience. Occasionally, there is someone I can ride along with for a little while: the man from Minnesota who is learning to love the hills; the UT employee I met on Bike-To-Work Day who slows to talk a minute or two before he speeds off into the sunset; the woman who told me it isn’t often she gets to ride behind another woman (actually, I was trying to keep up with her a lot longer than she rode behind me).
The group ride broadens in community with the neighborhoods I ride through as I greet noncyclists representing a broad range of the aerobic spectrum: runners, baby joggers, dog walkers, gardeners. They are all part of the kaleidoscope, and they, too, have become an integral part of my ride. The responses of the elderly man who walks his German shepherd every morning have evolved from looking the other way, to looking apprehensive, to smiling and saying good morning when our paths cross. I always look for the jogger who runs in place waiting for the light to change (a running trackstand?). I recently learned (because I slowed down enough to ask) that the woman who is usually walking with her golden retriever was walking alone one morning because the dog had to have surgery on his leg. I’ve even developed a rapport with the UPS driver as my ride continually catches and criss-crosses his delivery stops.
My ride community even sweetens the nuisance of having a flat tire. I’ve been offered help and sympathy by runners as well as by other cyclists—“Do you have everything you need?” “Are you doing okay?” “Bummer!” “Do you need any help?” they ask as they go by. One morning a cyclist actually turned around and came back to be sure I didn’t need any help!
Of course it’s not all Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood—or even Sesame Street, for that matter. There are people on bikes and off who neither wave nor smile, and there are motorists who brush by a little closer than they need to. But overall, this bike ride has taken me beyond the environmental advantage of traveling to work on a bicycle. That’s advantage enough, as is the fact that I simply just feel good after riding my bicycle for an hour. However, a major and unexpected reward of this ride for me has come to be the community of it, the connection with people moving close to the earth at a slow enough pace to be here now.
©1994 Nancy Grona Meredith