I deeply believe that bicycling should be safe and fun for everyone, whether you’re borrowing your teenager’s mountain bike or ride the highest-end road bike available. As a result, I’m a big fan of “social rides,” that allow both newbie cyclists and those ensconced in cycle culture to get in a big group and go for a ride. In fact, I led one myself this year.
This was precisely why I was so excited to participate in an I St. Social. This is a ride put on by local shop BicycleSpace every Thursday night. Despite their advertisements of questionable taste, BicycleSpace is truly committed to developing a vibrant city bike culture and I totally appreciate that effort.
Although I had been meaning to get to one of these rides for a while, I just hadn’t found a week where staying out another day in D.C. sounded appealing. But when they announced that the theme of last week’s ride was going to be Superheroes and Villains, my inner geek (who is very loud) said, “Awesome!” And as anyone who knows me is well aware, I rarely ignore my inner geek.
Of course, the first and most important question was, what to wear? The ride being only a few days off, this momentous decision had to be made quickly. After my husband – who is quite well-versed in the details of superheroes – rejecting a few other options, I settled on wearing my Wonder Woman shirt and green cape. Sure, the cape is from my Ren Faire costume and everyone knows that smart superheroes don’t wear capes anyway, but when else was I going to have a socially sanctioned reason to wear a cape?
The second question was, what was I going to ride? The sun comes up too late now for me to bike in and get to work on time, so I couldn’t take my own bike. Thankfully, Capital Bikeshare came to the rescue – there’s a stand only a block from the store.
So I heroically set off towards the parade of people ready to save the world. There were no convenient telephone booths, so I stopped at Starbucks to change into my t-shirt and jeans. As I didn’t want to look totally ridiculous until I needed to, the cape didn’t come out until I got to the ride.
That night’s ride actually attracted about 30 to 40 riders. While most of them were in their 20s and 30s, there were a number of middle-aged riders and even a little girl with her mother and grandmother. With the ride being at night, several cyclists had their rides blinged out. One even had multi-colored light strings on their wheels that formed patterns as they spun. The ride leader was on an Xtracycle with a trailer that played superheroic tunes, including the Batman theme.
And of course, there were the costumes. Unlike the Seersucker Ride, not everyone was themed and most had clearly put their costumes together last-minute. But there was still some good, hilarious efforts going on. One person had a cape made of a polka-dotted pillow case.
Another had an outfit that was impressively both recognizably superhero and sartorially acceptable. It was rather Hit-Girl, without the wig. I would wear that on the street, without the mask.
A few cyclists had very random elements – cat and bunny ears – that were not superhero related at all but still amusing.
The ride was understandably slow-paced, with a feeling of relaxed high spirits. We rambled around D.C., including stops in front of the White House and the Lincoln Memorial.
The pace allowed plenty of time and breath for talking. I overheard conversations ranging from intense anthropological discussion to exchanges about some of the sweet bikes being used on the ride. I myself got in a conversation with one man who informed me he loved Wonder Woman, and even dressed up as her two years ago for Halloween! I’m sure he was quite wondrous indeed.
There was also quite a bit of interaction with spectators. When people asked what we were riding “for” – there’s an idea that you must be riding “for” a charity if you’re in a group that’s not clearly training – I said, “For fun! It’s Superhero Night!” But most of the time when we passed groups, they cheered us on, clapping and smiling. In fact, one of the best things about these group rides is the sense of camaraderie both within the group and with onlookers. Although participating in a group ride can help people have fun and feel more comfortable on the street, they also have an important element non-cyclist outreach to them. If we can show that there’s plenty of people who enjoy cycling and aren’t Lance Armstrong-wannabes, people are more positive towards cycling in general.
About half-way through, we stopped in Georgetown, right near where we celebrated on the last leg of the Climate Ride. During the stop, the ride leader distributed popsicles, out of a cooler on the back of his bike! They weren’t even the crummy ones they always served at summer camp – they were the good kind with the cream in the center (very important). Like most everything on the rest of the ride, it made you smile.
The only two issues I had with the ride were the same ones I had with the Seersucker Social – that there were no cue sheets and because the group had to stay together, there were some dodgy traffic violations. If you’re in a small group, having no cue sheets isn’t a big deal, because the group can wait for the slowest person. But in a group that large, it’s extremely easy to get split up. As a result, participants run stop signs, go through lights, and block the road to stay together, habits that makes cyclists look irresponsible and reinforces bad social mores. As looking like jerks is the opposite of the point these rides are trying to make, I think we could send a much better message with a little more organization. Even if they didn’t give out cue sheets, splitting the group into a number of smaller groups with one or two leaders each would have been a big improvement.
Overall, I had a great time and look forward to participating in more I St. Socials in the future. Now the only question is, what will my next costume be?