Yesterday was a good Saturday for a ride. It was going to get hot, so I got up early and I met friends for a ride out in the Agricultural Reserve west of Washington DC. The place we started from is called Riley’s Lock, which is a good location to access the back roads in the reserve and the C&O canal towpath by the Potomac river. It’s a place to see people paddling, fishing, running, trail biking and road biking.
We started early – but we were far from the first people there. It’s a popular spot, and on a good day Riley’s Lock can be a very busy place. I’m a road cyclist. I love the roads and what you can see from them. Yesterday was a banner day for wildlife. I saw an owl for the first time from a bicycle. I also saw a bald eagle, various other birds, and a red fox. Having said that, these kinds of sights are available to anyone doing just about any kind of exercise out in the countryside, and when you make the effort to go to beautiful places to get a workout in, these things are a reward.
When out on the roads we saw lots of other riders. I’ve seen a lot more riders who look like they’re just beginning, particularly closer to towns on the route. I’ve made a habit of waving to all the riders I see, no matter what they look like. I think of it as a kind of respect and encouragement that helps in small ways. Because of the pandemic panic, people have started looking for ways to escape their isolation. The bicycle business has exploded. That means more people are getting out on bikes for the first time. I want them to know that THERE IS NO WRONG WAY TO DO THAT. What you’re wearing or riding isn’t important. Riding is. I know that a lot of riders are inspired by the racing culture, and the difference between starting out and being experienced can be fairly large, but you can’t let snobbery decide what a cyclist is. I’m not built like a cyclist. But I am one, and nobody would dare say I’m not. It isn’t just the experience I have, or the speed I’m riding at, or the kit I wear, or the stories I can tell. It’s that I choose to get out there and turn the cranks, and nothing else is nearly so important. Therefore I want to be friendly and set a good example.
After the ride, we sat together in camp chairs by our cars in the shade with a cooler nearby and talked. We weren’t the only ones doing that. I saw a little family drive in with their bikes for riding the trail. I thought it was wonderful. The two little girls riding with mom and dad may be forming lifelong exercise habits. I saw the smiles on everyone’s faces as they came through. It didn’t matter if they were riding old mountain bikes, road bikes, hybrids or whatever they were rolling on. They were rolling. They were out enjoying the outdoors. No matter how they choose to experience it, they should be encouraged. Maybe in years to come those will be the people riding in the events that I love that have been cancelled this year due to the pandemic. Maybe this explosion of bike purchasing is a temporary thing, but how many people buying bikes could be catching on to a lifetime of enjoyment of the outdoors?
It helps to give the beginners some encouragement. Cheer them on. Let them know that there are no limits. With every pedal stroke those limits are pushed outward and every memorable bit of scenery, every wildlife experience, every new milestone can make that bike more special to them. I’m reminded of the finish to one of my favorite events. Riders who have finished are relaxing in the beer garden waiting for friends to join them, and riders keep coming past to the finish with huge smiles of triumph and joy. I have stood by the fence cheering and high-fiving these happy riders. The ones who have finished their first century are almost floating. You don’t need to be fast or look like a racer to feel that way. You have to get out and do it. Everyone has to start somewhere. Many who have started cycling this year as a way to get away from the boredom of home isolation will stay with it. They’ll be happier and healthier, and many will have inspiring stories. Encourage them. Cheer them on. Give them a smile and a wave. They’ve earned it by being out there on a bike. The encouragement you give may be the difference between a bike that is well loved and used, and one that serves as a garage ornament.