Our little group gathered in a gravel parking lot near the entrance of the community sports complex in Crystal Lake Illinois. The two dozen or so of us went unnoticed by the pilots of SUVs and minivans dropping their precious cargo at targeted playing fields.
We gathered around our leader, Eberhard, listening carefully to our riding instructions. Being the first Ride of Silence organized in this community, few participants knew what to expect as he laid out our route and his expectations. We would ride two abreast unless there was a bike lane for us to ride in single-file. He would estimate the length of the traffic lights - stopping at green lights and waiting if it meant keeping the group together. Since we were remaining silent, hand signals would be critical. The goal was to stay together, riding safely and predictably.
I would estimate the median age of our members to be approaching 50 with a single twenty-something possibly bringing the average age down to 49½. A good portion of the riders seemed to know one another and were in some way associated with a local bike club. It would have been nice to see more thirty-somethings in the mix, but that demographic in suburbia seems to be preoccupied with other priorities.
As is the custom at the Ride of Silence, our leader asked if anyone in the group was riding for someone who had been killed on a bicycle. I held my breath, silently pleading that the answer would be no so I wouldn’t have to confront the range of emotions I continually suppress when I'm reminded of that horrific “what if.”
A man in our group was riding for his brother, Jerry, who was killed four years ago by a driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel. Jerry was an international attorney who traveled the world, riding his bike in exotic locations. He lived every touring cyclist’s dream only to be killed near his home in Indiana on a routine ride.
Tonight, we were all riding for Jerry.
We rolled out of the sports complex on a winding, wooded trail that had been freshly coated with a bed of crushed limestone. We exited the park onto a quiet street and proceeded to the traffic signal at Route 14 – a four-lane state highway that served as the area’s main east-west corridor. As the light changed and we turned into the right traffic lane riding two abreast, a voice called out from an impatient motorist “ride on the sidewalk!” I instantly threw up my arm in preparation for the single-finger salute. I caught myself in time to change it to a not-so-friendly wave.
I was pleasantly surprised that of the dozens of cars that passed by us in the left lane, only one expressed its driver’s disapproval with a honk. Our biggest challenge was creating enough of a presence to trip the photo sensor at a traffic light seldom used from our direction (we chose to turn right into a parking lot and approach an intersection head-on rather than cross over the left lane and into the left turn lane to make a left-hand turn).
Aside from a few impatient motorists who just had to pass our group of twenty six riding at half the posted speed limit on relatively short suburban streets, the cars on this night respected our group. There is no telling how many motorists were made aware of our right to share the road, but every single impression counts.
And at the end of the day, it is all about impressions.
When we ride – together or singly – we represent bicycling. We demonstrate that bicycles can be used as a viable form of transportation. We represent a bicycle’s right to be treated equally on the road. We show motorists that bicyclists are responsible and deserving of respect. We’re bicyclists and each of us represents all of us.
We need more rides like the Ride of Silence.
As I posted previously, the Ride of Silence currently serves as both our Memorial Day and our Independence Day. We need more rides to assert our independence and less rides to commemorate our fallen.
I don’t mean to imply that our fallen do not deserve more than one day of recognition each year. On the contrary, we need to keep each of them in our thoughts every time we throw a leg over our bikes. We need more rides where we bike together in groups, in traffic, to remind motorists of their obligation to share the road with us and their responsibility for our safety. We need to constantly – continually – make our rightful presence known.
If we can increase awareness, we can decrease fatalities. We can honor our fallen more by having fewer of them to honor each year.
Much thanks to the organizers of the Ride of Silence for bringing us all together.
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Keep riding and be safe!