Admittedly, this is something that I was quite intimidated by when I started cycling. For a while, I felt very much like someone riding a bike in a community of cyclists. I had fun, I enjoyed seeing other riders, I loved being on the bike path, but I also felt like I very much stuck out, especially when I went through that string o’ bikes – first the gold cruiser, then the purple mountain bike, then the hybrid better suited for commuting than distance riding, then the old-school road bike. And, of course, there are still cyclists who fit the stereotype of the grandiose racer who pass people unsafely, or judge people based on their gear, or pace, or calf muscles; I don’t feel particularly connected to them.
But still, there was and is a much more inviting community of cyclists than I thought there would be. At first, I felt a special sort of solidarity with the other people on non-road bikes. And there are also community members who are not on bikes at all – for example, there’s the bagpiper that often plays in Clinton-Como or Whetstone park on weekends; he definitely makes these Irish eyes smile! There’s the woman who, for no other reason than kindness and care for her community, picks up trash along the path. (She’s very, very kind; please thank her if you see her!) There were the cyclists with whom I was stuck under a bridge for 45 minutes last year during a downpour. At that point I was riding my hybrid, but there’s nothing like the uselessness of a road bike in the rain to break down the cycling hierarchy!
I feel more a member of the cycling community now than I have previously. Sometimes I’ll see someone that I know from cycling events – volunteer meetings or rides, for example. Sometimes we’ll ride together, sometimes we’ll pull over and chat and then each head our separate way. A lot of times, it’s that I see familiar faces on the bike path. There’s the middle-aged man that I was stuck under the bridge with last year who always gives me a smile and nod when we see each other. There’s the older couple on the tandem bike; the man in front always gives a nod and the woman in back has a very warm smile. There’s the man who seems to always ride in a coordinated jersey and shorts from Jeni’s ice cream. There’s the man who pulled over last year when the chain popped off my older (and first) road bike and I was having trouble figuring out how to get the rear derailleur to cooperate, and then there’s the woman that I pulled over this summer to help when she was in the same situation. There are, increasingly, more women cyclists on the bike path, and we almost always acknowledge each other.
On group rides – like the bike tour that I did last month – there is wonderful cooperation between cyclists. When riding in a pack, everyone is careful to warn each other of cars, or sudden stops, or gravel on the road way. I’ve also found other cyclists to be quite encouraging as I try to become more adept at the sport. I’m really still a newbie in a lot of ways, and I’ve had many cyclists share stories of their own falls or misadventures when I’m feeling a bit insecure, and I’ve had them give me tips on gear and milestones like the transition to clipless pedals (this is my fall project).
This is, in many ways, a nice medium for me. It is certainly more social and more of a community feel than I ever have on a cross-training or strengthening day in the gym. I have not yet, for example, had someone offer down-t0-earth help in figuring out a weight machine that’s new to me. I’m okay with this. When I’m at the gym – especially when I’m on cardio equipment – I prefer to have it be just me and a very loud workout mix blasting on my headphones. And, the cycling community is a nice change of pace. In many ways, it’s ideal for someone like me – a bit introverted, yet still wanting to feel like I “belong.” On the bike path, I have that sense of belonging. I can ride by myself, keeping my own pace, having some real “me” time to think and appreciate my body, while also having those moments of connection with other people that come and go, as our legs propel us on.