This post was going to be about an open house held by the City of Austin Transportation Department which I attended. It was about the redesign of a nearby street to have bike lanes, sidewalks, trees and parking. Not terribly exciting, yet pretty interesting at the same time. But then this happened. So I’ll save that for another day (or not), and tell you about this crazy, wild-ass, scary, dangerous, and fun ride.
Not Your Average Group Ride
I happened upon The Peddler, the first bike shop I got connected with in Austin (well, maybe after the dearly departed Ozone.) Although it was after closing time, the lights were on and people were home. So I rolled up to the back door and asked what was up. Turns out, a party.
Now, A Dude is no party animal, but occasionally he’s been known to congregate with the humans and have a good time. I was going to miss the other ride, so I took the opportunity to be spontaneous. Turns out that stalwart employee and nice guy Ethan was heading out to Santa Cruz, California to work for the Specialized Bikes headquarters. That’s a big step since they’re a big company that makes really good bikes. Let’s put it this way: the World Champion road bike racer, Peter Sagan from Slovakia, rides them. Is that good enough for ya’?
By the way, Ethan said he was Texas state junior champion in a bike race, and won other times. Sandy, who’s Scottish (and to quote Mike Myers in a skit from Saturday Night Live: “If it’s nae Scottish, it’s crap!”) was a well-known BMX racer, is a photographer and other things I didn’t hear about. But I got to meet some other interesting folks. Sandy’s wife is a filmmaker who knew a guy who just made a big donation to my Mamma Jamma Ride. Matt from San Diego knew AJ, the shop owner, since high school. Brian and Mino used to work in the shop and came by because they’re still part of the family. And many others, all surely with interesting bike and life stories.
The group was a bunch of regular Wednesday night riders plus additional friends. There were adult beverages being consumed, and even a homemade brew in a 2-liter plastic jug that looked like orange juice. When I told a friend of the owner that I wasn’t much of a drinker, he said I should definitely stay away from the home brew. Apparently, it was pretty strong stuff. I prefer my carbs in solid form with chocolate covering them, so I was going to be one if not the only designated biker. Good thing, because I was about to need all of my faculties to not die.
After first, second and final call on the cooler of beer, someone rang a bell, and the room got quiet. A heartfelt speech was made, and a sizeable Southwest Airlines gift card proffered for return visits home, and a short and slightly bleary-eyed Ethan made his acceptance statement. I’ve disparaged the words “bike community” before as having a racial component, and this was a largely white room. But in this moment I felt a distinct sense of just that. I’d stepped into a brotherhood of men (and a few women) drawn together by their love of bicycling. It was palpable and the affinity people had for each other was recognizable, even if I didn’t know who know whom and how well. It was an extended family, for sure, and that was pretty cool.
Alleys Are Not for Biking… Until They Are
Emotion set aside, it was finally time to ride. And ride we did. Like hell. Up and down alleys made of dirt, flat and sometimes broken asphalt, with hazards everywhere. Cement curbs that you had to slow down for or bunny hop over. Overgrown bushes, some of which may have been poison ivy. Gravel, lots and lots of gravel. Huge potholes. I regretted not fixing a flat on Sophie, because the Fairdale is a sturdier bike with wider tires. Then again, the Fuji is lighter, quicker and nimbler, and I sure needed that.
And then there were the twists and turns, exiting the alleys onto roads with cars coming, although people were good about calling them out. Many stop signs and street lights were run through, as is often the case on group rides. Once a bus appeared out of nowhere and luckily stopped. There was a stop for a nature break (people had been drinking beer, after all). I did my best to keep up but generally stayed at the back out of necessity and at times, choice. The choice to not wreck.
The pace picked up and slowed down. My adrenalin flowed. There were regrouping points. Long stretches on roads, then sandy paths, some familiar, many not. People surged and dropped behind, but always riding in a pack. That made me nervous, because I haven’t done much of it lately so was a bit out of practice. There was a kind of renegade feeling about the ride. We rode through one place I never had because I assumed it was off limits; but someone knew a way through.
There was one point where we were zooing down the levels of a parking garage, taking winding sidewalks and roads at the university at a very fast past. We just flew through them. I simply followed wheels in front of me and kept my head on a swivel. Cars, scooters, bikes, pedestrians all stopped and stared at the 40 or so riders. People talked and then stopped when the riding interrupted it. There were a few stops to regroup after a street light, but not many. I kept saying to myself and out loud to anyone who would listen that I hadn’t crashed or wrecked my wheels or died yet.
The End of the Ride; Life Lessons
In the end, nobody crashed, and we arrived safely at, of course, a bar. I wasn’t staying but chatted a bit and shared my good wishes. It was another guy’s birthday. One guy gave me his card to follow up on something. I was invited on the next ride, but I don’t know if I’ll go. That’s because this was considered a slow ride, and also since they might do even crazier routes like through parks. Soon they’ll be ending for the fall and winter.
If there’s any morals to this story it’s these:
- Keep your eyes open and be willing to try something new.
- The only way to expand your comfort level is to do something uncomfortable.
- Know your limitations but have confidence in your skills and ability to adapt.
- Life is short, so have fun, but don’t do anything so stupid that you make it shorter.
- Biking can be enjoyed as a solo sport but sometimes it’s just more fun with others.
By the way, I passed 500 miles biking for the month with this ride. Pretty good stuff.
Come back Friday for more A Dude Abikes!
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