Monthly Archives: March 2018

Track Stands And Wheelies; Riding Bikes with Teenagers…

This morning did not start well.  First off, I was under two layers of blanket from last night’s influx of cold air.  I’m quite tired of cold weather, and I think with just a few days left until the Spring Equinox, it could go ahead and warm up already.  I hear the birds first thing in the morning begging spring to come.  We’re all ready.  So I woke up offended by the weather, knowing I needed a shower, and counting the seconds until I would absolutely have to get out of bed.  I showered, dressed and made it to the kitchen only to realize it was nearly time to go and I hadn’t made coffee.  There I stood, waiting for my coffee, eating a pre-boiled, cold egg over the kitchen sink.  Also I was to the point of inwardly flogging myself for not having time to do anything because I stayed in bed so long.  I rinsed my dirty travel cup (it had coffee from last Friday’s ride), poured my coffee and headed out to the bike.  Digging my winter over-clothes out of the closet (I’d put them away during the warm spell from a few weeks back), I threw on enough to stay warm in 36 degrees, let Luke out and started down the hill toward the park.

Here are all the reasons today wasn’t a good day.  First of all, just yesterday it rained for about twenty four hours.  After that it got cold.  Also, there’s the constant circuit of news (what they call in The Secret Benedict Society “The Daily Emergency”), and of course I always feel like I’m two steps behind what needs to happen for today.   Also I woke up with another bad tune in my head, which is kind of a common occurrence.  Something from Nickleback.  I can’t remember the details.

When I got to the park, Heather was talking to Luca’s Dad and Luca was riding around jumping his BMX bike off of anything that stood still.  Yesterday evening we’d had a bunch of kids who wanted to ride, but something had happened to all but two.  The middle school years tend to have that effect.  We were starting with one, and picking up one at our first “bike bus” stop.  But Heather talked a long time and then we were late leaving.  “Great,” was what I was thinking as we got started, going faster than I wanted to go I might add, because of being late.  I pedaled my heart out trying to keep up with Heather up front, and Luca in the middle, who’d throw on his brakes and do skid-outs willy-nilly.

By the time we got to our CPCC stop I was breathing hard.  Colsen had already arrived, and Heather started handing out donuts.  She’d made a HT stop before showing up to ride, and just got small bags, nothing fancy.  The boys talked about their bikes for a bit, Colsen asking about whether it was possible to put a derailleur on Luca’s bike, and me realizing finally that Colsen was on the third bike I’d seen him riding since we started doing this route.  So I asked him how many bikes he had.  He answered, “Quite a few.”

On fifth street we took the sidewalk up the hill to avoid the train tracks, and as we pushed our way up them, and Luca continued to wheelie ride,  something in my brain clicked over from Eyore to Piglet.  It was actually quite entertaining watching the boys interact, talk about bicycles, practice track stands, and swerve erratically into skids.  Heather rides the front now, because she’s the main ride leader, and I ride sweep, where I get to see the mayhem of the thing.  At the stadium light, Colsen practiced track standing while I took a picture and we waited for the light to change.  We rode the wide sidewalk around the stadium and hopped the rail trail towards Imaginon.  Heather stopped to wait for traffic and Luca snagged a few donuts out of her bike bag without her noticing.  At this my brain does another switch, and if we’re using the Pooh analogy still, my brain has moved towards Tigger.  I can feel myself come alive in the here and now.

Being a teenager is a difficult thing.  Especially middle school, but high school as well if you’re not cut from the cookie cutter assembly line of “how folks should behave and what they should do.”  By that I mean, we all need something in our lives that bring joy and a feeling of accomplishment.  Today we have two bike geeks riding (I mean that in the best way possible).  They’ll ride 14 crazy, track standing, wheelie-ing, jumping and hopping miles with an adult at the front and one in the back to make sure they’re okay.  During that time nobody takes out a cell phone or worries about the state of the world. We just are.

At the VGBG stop, the boys trade bikes so Luca can climb the big hill behind the parking lot and fly down it.  Colsen hops Luca’s bmx bike, jumping and bumping his way around the parking lot, and also admiring Luca’s riding skill.  When Heather passes the donut bag around again, I mention that watching these guys makes me wish I could ride on a wheelie and jump off things, but I’m 48, and it’s harder to learn these skills.  We all laugh.

We head out for the last leg of the journey to Williams, in high spirits, not really feeling the cold except for in our feet.  I watch the two boys ride side by side between our buffer, chatting.  Every once in a while one of them does a jump or a wheelie, or suddenly skids to a stop for no reason that I can see.  At a new apartment complex that’s just been built, Luca rides up a big, grass hill, turns around, and does a jump onto the sidewalk about fifteen feet in front of me, right in the place he’s supposed to be in front of Colsen and behind Heather.  We take the last uphill towards the school and make it to Williams Montessori as the buses are arriving.  Heather and I say our goodbyes to the boys and she gives them directions for the afternoon ride and offers them the bags of donuts from her bags to take with them.  At this their faces light up like that’s the best thing they’ve ever heard of.

Heather and I mount our bikes, ride up the hill towards the buses and begin our long ride back to the school, chatting happily, solving the problems of the world, and talking about how a little movement and freedom changes us all.

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She Bikes Charlottel

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About sixteen years ago I packed up all my belongings, as well as my daughter, and made a cross country, summer long move to Charlotte.  I made a month-long stop in Ripley Mississippi and worked briefly as a waitress there (not quite my skill set) before moving us out here to be close to my brother, as well as my X’s family.   My last few months in Seattle, during my free time, which was quite limited, I’d gotten back on the bike for the first time in six years. I’d been off a bike since we left Monterey, where I was a full time commuter.  I’d also been a full time commuter in San Francisco, which, despite being hilly, has been one of my favorite cities for cycling.

I drug my pawn shop bike that I’d purchased in Renton, Washington for $40 dollars, out to Charlotte thinking maybe I could pick up bike commuting where I’d left off.  I’d gotten a cheap car from my parents on my way to Charlotte and I wouldn’t be car free again (I never owned a car until I got married) for a lot of years. However, the job I found out in Ballentine was not convenient to my home in a tiny Elizabeth Quad apartment.  So I drove my entire first year. My second year in Charlotte I got a job at Park Road Montessori and sometimes I would commute to school down QRW to Freedom Park and across from there. At that time I was riding a Roadmaster mountain bike and trying my best not to get killed in this town that was all about cars.

At that time I hardly ever saw other bike commuters, and it was extremely rare (like unicorn rare) to see a woman riding a bike.  Needless to say, I did not commit fully to bike commuting at that time, though as soon as I could, I got my daughter on a bike. We’d practice in the big parking lot on a hill behind our quad which was not a great place to learn how to ride a bike, since once you got started on the downhill, it was hard to stop until you eventually ran into the peach and fig trees in the wild backyard of the house behind the lot (or learned to use the brakes).  Lots of skinned knees and tears later, Madison finally learned, and we started riding around the neighborhood together.

That was it for a long time, riding with Madison and doing the occasional, white knuckled ride out to school and back (which is a terribly long uphill on your way back to Elizabeth if you are riding a bad mountain bike).  Eventually we were living out in Plaza Midwood, where Madison was older, and I tended to commute more often, but still, it was all lone wolf style bike riding. Most people just didn’t ride in Charlotte, and that was that.  When people say now that riding in Charlotte is scary, I think back to those days, of seeing no bikes ever, and of not ever seeing any women riding bikes. That was mostly true even in San Francisco (most of my fellow commuters both there and in Monterey were men).

It was not until several years later that I met Pam, a tiny firestorm of a woman, who was and still is leading a ride out of Plaza Midwood, called the Tuesday Night Ride (shortened to PMTNR).  She was in the business of getting people on bikes, and she was serious about it. By then I’d begun working as a raft guide as well and riding out to USNWC on a bike to work sometimes. I still had a car, but found I was using it less.   I met a lot of people on those Tuesday Night rides that I’m still friends with today, but Pam was the first woman cyclist I met who did my style of cycling, which was commuting. Not only that but she lead a ride and also taught (and teaches) a cycling commuter class called Cycling Savvy.

At that time my daughter was in her “room” phase.  By that I mean it was difficult to get her out of her room.   She was in high school by then, and every Tuesday evening, I’d open her door and ask if she’d come go ride with me.  And every Tuesday she’d say no. But then one Tuesday she said yes, and to be honest, it kind of changed our lives little by little finding times to ride bikes together again–we hadn’t ridden bikes together since the time I’d driven out to McAlpine Greenway to ride bikes in the hot summer sun and found, only after I’d made her ride a mile or two and she was crying, that her tires were actually flat.   

That was one of the years that CMS cut the budget for assistants and I took a pretty big pay cut, which was coupled with my car needing a 700 dollar repair in order to get registered.  We talked about me changing jobs, but Madison reminded me that I really loved my job. She was working by then so she said, “I can buy my own clothes this year.” I parked the car in the driveway and didn’t look back.  It took me another full year and a half to get rid of that giant piece of metal taking up space in the driveway, but eventually I did that as well.

It was then that I started meeting a lot of Charlotte’s women’s cycling community, I met CeCe who’s no longer in town, who was car free here in Charlotte.  I met a bunch of cool mountain biking women, I met and briefly worked for Dianna Ward and through her met some other awesome cycling women like Nadine and Kenya. Kenya is now a bike mechanic.  I met Charlotte around that time as well–Pam eventually brought us together so we could create CLT Bike Camp. I’d already started co-leading Bicycle Friday with my friend Heather and Ms. Christy (Heidi Kelly eventually joined us in leading our ride)l.  I met Christine who supports cycle commuting and people who want to get started, at her job at BOA–she’s a tremendous cycling advocate. There was Debra, who attends the annual bike summit, drives a bus, teaches a League of American Cycling class and works to get older folks on bikes.   Sarah leads the JoyRide out of Amelie’s.  Ang works out of the Trek store in South Charlotte, and is amazing getting at getting people on bikes and teaching people how to be more visible. Stephanie Bush (I met her pretty early on actually at the white water center) is a mechanic. Phyllis works to get people in Grier Heights healthier, more connected, and riding bikes.  Noelle is a good friend, awesome generator of terrific ideas, and a just in general fantastic woman. Ann Groninger helped me through my accident, and is now on the board of CLT Bike Camp. Linda does bike tours all over the world.  Kate’s the Cycling Coordinator for Sustain Charlotte. I’ve met women who race pretty seriously (April and Merryl and Sarah Griffith) and those who have been or are, car free like me (Charlotte and Jessica and CeCe and Anna Benton and Kenya and Rachel).

I’m mentioning these ladies right now because it seems pretty terrific to me that while women are in the minority of people riding bicycles (one out of every three cyclists in the US is a woman), it feels like in Charlotte, we’ve hit the perfect storm of women coming together in a climate of mutual support, who are not just riding, but changing the landscape of cycling not just in terms of gender, but also in terms of moving cycling and connection forward in this city.  I’ve so enjoyed the relationships I’ve formed with these women, and the cooperation and creativity that happens when we get together in community and talk about, and listen, to ideas. My friend Heather has always said that we are creating the world we’d like to live in with Bicycle Friday. We’ve created a space where change can happen. I think that’s what women in the cycling community of Charlotte are doing every day.

All that said, I’ve always felt that cyclists make for a uniquely opinionated and occasionally cantankerous bunch and that means it’s not all cake and roses.  I’ve gotten in big disagreements with women who cycle in Charlotte. And it’s just possible that some of those disagreements have been at least partially due to my own stubborn ideas about how things should go.  But in the end I look around at what is happening here in this town and I remember what it was like to take those first terrifying commuter rides to school in this car centric city all the way back in 2003, and I know we’re creating the space where I want to ride my bike.  I know we’re creating a city where I feel comfortable moving into the left hand turn lane and riding on Queens Road West (even though that guy wanted to get out of his car and beat me up that time). It’s taking time and effort and to be honest, it’s been some of the best work of my life.  So when I look around, I’m excited and inspired every day to see so many awesome women riding with me.