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Ride of Silence – A Minority Opinion (Maybe)

I’ve debated for a couple of weeks whether or not to make this post, because it’s likely to be about as popular as kicking a puppy.

I’ve ridden my third – and last – Ride of Silence.

When I realized that it was getting to be that time of year, I turned to the Ride of Silence web page to find a local ride, which turned out to be an eight-mile loop in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. That seemed a little short, but it was convenient for my son, who could ride from home, and for my daughter-in-law, who was on the way. I added two coworkers to our band.

Palm Beach Gardens Ride of Silence start

It was a much smaller group than I found in Boca Raton, FL, in 2006 and 2007, but, a ride is a ride. Riders ranged from young to old and were astride everything from beater bikes with rusty chains to light-weight carbon babies that cost more than three times my first car.

We started off with police motorcycle escorts fore and aft, despite that we were doing a loop in a mostly gated residential community.

PBG Ride of Silence early section

After the roll-out, the group was cruising at 10 to 12 miles per hour for the first 10 or 15 minutes while everyone got sorted out.

At the 20-minute mark, though, the pack started tightening up when the speed dropped to 6 MPH. Riders started weaving into each other.

Shortly after making a turn, my cyclometer showed that my speed had dropped to 4.6 mph (confirmed later by looking at my GPS track) and I unclipped several times thinking I was going to havePBG Ride of Silence pack tightens up to come to a complete stop.

I had riders on all four sides and we were were coming close to touching wheels as we tried to maintain our balance. I don’t like riding close to folks I KNOW and I didn’t know these folks. I pulled up next to one of my coworkers and said, quietly, “This is too dangerous for me. I’m abandoning the ride.” [If the picture doesn’t look like we’re too close, you’re right. It was the last time we were still riding fast enough to safely hold a camera.]

I sprinted away from the group (if you would qualify 14-18 mph as a “sprint.”

When I passed the lead motorcycle cop, I said, “This is too slow. It’s dangerous back there.

“I know,” he said.

Sheldon Brown that they may ultimately be bad for cycling.

The R.O.S web page says that “The Ride Of Silence is a free ride that asks its cyclists to ride no faster than 12 mph and remain silent during the ride. There is no brochure, no sponsors, no registration fees and no t-shirt. The ride, which is held during Bike Safety month, aims to raise the awareness of motorists, police and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to the public roadways. The ride is also a chance to show respect for those who have been killed or injured.”

I applaud the idea, but doesn’t it make it look like the only way cyclists can be safe on the road is to ride in a huge group with police escorts riding in front and back and blocking off intersections all along the way. It would be a lot more effective to have a single file row of cyclists riding appropriately along the road, signaling turns and stopping for traffic control devices. THAT’s the way you show that you belong on the road.

The first year I did the Boca Raton Ride of Silence, my partner and I were in the middle of the pack. There were so many riders stretched out over such a long distance that there weren’t enough police units to block every intersection. We came up to an unprotected crossroad with traffic backed up waiting for the light to change. When we got close, it turned yellow. We signaled that we were stopping and stopped just as it turned red. A bunch of club riders started hollering at us for having the audacity to ride like vehicles and promptly blew the light.

Great message to send.Matt & Malcolm at 2007 Boca Raton Ride of Silence

In fairness, my son and grandson in his bike trailer joined me for the 2007 Boca ride and we had a great time.

OK, I’m ready to duck and cover.

4 comments to Ride of Silence – A Minority Opinion (Maybe)

  • I agree. The entire ride concept is flawed and probably flawed beyond repair.

    Their stated goal is to raise awareness of bikes amongst folks in cars. Yet, our ride was done in a gated community whose car traffic volume is minimal.
    If they really wanted motorists to see cyclists, they would have done the ride up PGA Blvd or Military.

    They also pick the worst time of day for the ride. Dusk, at the tail end of rush hour, has to be one of the most dangerous times of the day to ride and yet that is when they pick for the ride. Dumb.
    I really think the time of day helps to keep down participation. More people would bike to the event if they didn’t have to worry about getting killed on the way home in the dark.
    People on beaters don’t have good lights and, if they generally just cruise their neighborhood, may not have a bike rack to get to the ride.
    Roadies aren’t interested in an eight-mile loop if they have to rack their bikes to get there. Since they don’t have lights (way too heavy), they aren’t able to ride to the event and back in the dark. If the ride were at 10am on Saturday, I can easily see roadies riding 20 miles to the site of the event and then riding home. They might even do it in mass.

    If I wanted to create a ride to support fallen cyclists and raise bike awareness, I’d design an easily recognizable t-shirt (for normal people) and jersey (for cyclists) with a totally rocking logo. Then I’d sell those to bike clubs, individuals and, in bulk, to those who are current sponsors of the silent ride.
    Finally I’d pick a weekend day to ride. On that one day a year, every person with a bike would wear that shirt/jersey on a ride of any length, the longer the better.
    I’m sure some people would organize rides just for the event but I’m also confident that some people would just do their normal ride. That’s fine.
    The point would be that for one day every year, every cyclist would look the same. People in cars would do double-takes when dozens of random riders all across town were wearing the same jersey. Every rider on the road for one day would stand out simply because the rider looked like every other rider.

    As it stands, however, the ride is lame. I’ll probably do it again next year.

  • kls

    Matt,

    You’ve got some good ideas.

    I’m confused, though.

    You say that it’s “flawed” and “lame,” but then you say that you’ll do it again next year.

    Was that a typo or do you just believe that ANY ride is better than NO ride?

  • Miles is miles.

    These sorts of events draw out new people and allow people from different cycling areas to mix and mingle (which would be easier if the ride wasn’t silent – stupid, stupid, stupid). If I meet just one person at this lame event that I like and want to ride with again, the ride was worth my time.

    This year’s Ride of Silence, I booked 19.21 miles at 13.3 miles an hour (details: Matt’s 2008 Bike Log). Slow to be sure, but that was the ride’s fault and not mine. Last year’s ride was 13.01 miles at 11.1 miles an hour. It was in Boca Raton so I had to rack my bike to get down there. This year, I rode from my house to the event and back.

    Heck, even if I don’t meet anyone, I put in some miles on a day and at a time I otherwise wouldn’t. That’s a win in my book.

  • Mark

    I had been riding around in Forrest Park for about two hours when I pulled up in front of the Missouri History Museum where the riders were suppose to meet for the 7pm start. I looked around and there was only a smattering of people with bikes waiting. In case you don’t have the same measuring unit that I use, a “smattering” is the amount of people that show up at your party and you realize at that moment you aren’t going to be hauling away a lot of gifts.

    I told myself the ride was a good cause for bike awareness so I should hang around until more people showed up. I did keep one foot clipped in, just in case I didn’t count enough heads and I could ride away. Riders began to trickle over to where the organizers where also looking around with some disappointment and I saw a clipboard being passed around. The clipboard was of course a waiver (somewhat ironic at the event, I thought) and maps were handed out showing the route out and back. I signed the waiver and declined the map. I told the squeaky voiced woman who was desperately trying to make the event seem important (although it was apparent she had never organized anything before in her life) that I would just follow the rest of the riders and if I got lost (an 8 mile ride for goodness sake) I could find my way back home. She looked at me like I was crazy and then traced the route with her finger and told me out loud the name of the streets we would be riding on.

    Someone from the Post Dispatch showed up and talked to another organizer of the ride while the rest of us stood around and surveyed each other all the while hoping there would be more riders showing up. Thank goodness the interview took a while and the squeaky voiced woman kept taking the clipboard and her maps around to stragglers as they appeared or I would have clipped in my other shoe and rode off. I was disappointed at the showing of riders. I know there are several bike clubs in St. Louis and I didn’t see anyone who was wearing a jersey that indicated that any of those folks were present. None of the snobby bike racers that I see while I’m out riding were there. None of the folks that I even see on the organized Trailnet rides on the weekends were there. I would bet that the riders who did show up NEVER get off the bike paths, that they NEVER ride on the streets. Yet, here they were.

    We were told to let the folks who had been hit by cars ride in the front and that the rest of us should stay together as much as possible. They were going to try and keep the speed at 12 mph. We were asked to wait for all the riders to catch up if we did get separated by a stoplight changing. Some of the towns that we would be crossing through had alerted their police departments that we would be coming through as a group, but they would not be controlling intersections for us or giving us any kind of escort.

    We took off at 7pm. I think there might have been 50 of us in all. The riders did keep silent. They did obey all the traffic rules. We did arrive back at exactly one hour later. We did get some cars at the stoplights ask what we were doing and the squeaky voiced woman handed them a piece of paper explaining the ride. I can only hope that next year they have a better turnout.

    If you go to this link, you can see the video that the Post Dispatch reporter turned in. The buffering will drive you crazy. If you look closely, you can see a tiny “me” in the still frame of the video. I had a Bad Dog jersey on, and I am just in front of the leg of the person on the right of the screen. The Post has a terrible webpage. You will have to scroll down to see the video selections, they are on the right of the page and it was listed this morning at the first one.

    http://www.stltoday.com