While biking is often fun and safe, as with everything that has risks (otherwise known as everything ever), there is a dark side. Bicycle accidents do happen, and can even kill the cyclist. The founders of the national Ride of Silence created it to remember and memorialize those who have been killed while cycling as a result of a bicyclist/motorist crash. Friends of a lost cyclist organized the original ride in 2003 at his funeral as they considered ways to honor him.
The Ride of Silence is somewhat opposite our usual community rides, in that it’s supposed to be entirely solemn, not fun and chatty. But it also has a number of similarities, as it’s supposed to allow non-cyclists to participate, such as friends and family of people being memorialized. The routes are 8-12 miles and flat and the speed just above 10 miles per hour. Many of the rides even have police escorts, allowing the group to legally pedal through stop signs and traffic lights. These elements turn an ordinary group of cyclists into a non-motorized funeral motorcade.
I participated in last year’s Ride of Silence, after I finished up my lobbying post-Climate Ride. I found the vow of silence forced me to take in my surroundings more than usual and reflect on those who had gone before me. This year, I looked forward to the contemplation inherent in the ride.
Unfortunately, a number of circumstances resulted in me running late. So by the time I actually arrived at the meeting place, it was nearly 10 minutes after the start time of 7 PM. To my relief, there were a few people standing outside of the library. To my confusion, it was a very small crowd – we had almost 30 people on last year’s ride.
After some discussion, we realized that the group probably left exactly on time and we totally missed them. This was understandable, considering that even in May, dusk comes on quickly after 7 PM. Thankfully, the ride leader had emailed out the directions the day before. With directions in hand, we headed off to see if we could catch up.
We quickly realized that there was no way we could catch up to a group 15 minutes ahead of us by using the same route as them. Instead, we decided to cut off large portions of the route in hopes of skipping ahead of them. Unfortunately, as figuring out the logistics required talking, our ride was anything but silent. But even without the vow, there was something encouraging about our conversation. We were working together towards a common goal, building off of each other’s knowledge of the city, none of us able to make it there on his or her own. This exercise in community-building offered an alternative method of honoring those lost.
Eventually, we ended up on a key corner – the one where Rockville’s bicycle beltway meets up with our major multi-lane road. We remembered from last year that the group bikes down this road with the police escort, something only the bravest cyclists attempt in normal circumstances.
Once the bigger group caught up to us, we joined together and rode down Rockville Pike. I’ve talked about this before, but the feeling of solidarity riding down a street that is normally inaccessible by bicycle is very powerful. It makes a space for bicycles that is not ordinarily there and stakes a claim that we have the right to be there despite the current circumstances. In the solemn trek down the street, communicating the message that bicycles have a place in our community no matter what has happened in the past is perhaps the greatest way we can honor those lost.
Have you participated in a Ride of Silence or similar event? What was your experience and what impact did it have on you?