Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I'm not a bike junkie. Don't get me wrong. I love riding bikes, but I don't get into the weight savings, or geek out about some magical component. I don't even really know as much as I should about the maintenance and care of my bikes. I appreciate those things, mind you, but I don't obsess about them. Because that's not why I ride. 

And to my thinking, why you ride is more important than what. What only comes up when it gets in the way of riding or not riding.

Riding = good. Not riding = bad.

The Thursday before last was one of those days that reminded me why I ride, because sometimes in the chaos of everyday life, when you're overburdened with responsibilities and stress ... you need a reminder.

I walked into the shop after work, tired and beaten down. I didn't want to ride, hadn't ridden in almost a week. It was dark. It was cool. Did I mention I was tired? Fred was on his way out while I was coming in. 

"Hey, are you riding with us tonight?"

"Yes."

"Great!" And it was the tone in that "great" that got me. He was happy I was going to ride, the same as he was happy everyone else was going to ride, too. My mood started to lift. 

Meanwhile, up near the workbenches, there was a crowd of people talking, smiling, laughing, drinking beers. Most of them weren't dressed to ride, mind you. They were just there to see each other. To hang out. It was tempting to just hang out and not ride. They're my people, after all, but we'll get back to that. 

I changed, gathered my gear, trod outside and hopped on the bike. At a couple of minutes after six, four of us rolled out and headed for the trailhead at the Jenks bridge. We picked up another handful of riders at the parking lot, crossed the bridge, then single-filed up on the trail and headed for downtown. 

We settled into a fast, but easy pace, one bike after another, headlights cutting through the pools of dark. No one talked much. Well, Ryan and I talked about our Mini Coopers, but after that, everyone seemed to relax and pedal. It was almost peaceful. The air had just enough bite to keep you cool, but not enough to chill. It smelled clean and fresh. It was difficult, in that moment, to think about anything else, which is as it ought to be. 

We re-crossed the river at 71st, climbed to Turkey, then barreled down the hill, outracing the view distance of our headlights, which was both exhilarating and terrifying. After that, the train of bikes reformed and headed toward downtown, then across the new pedestrian bridge at Southwest Boulevard, then back on the trail to return to Jenks. 

Everything continued smoothly until Lance missed a turn. We didn't, but Lance did. We yelled, told him to turn around. He didn't hear us, though we thought he did. When we finally got through the neighborhood detour and to the park at 41st & Riverside, someone said, "Where's Lance?" which then turned into a should we or should we not go look for him. Finally, Ryan did, which was when Lance showed back up. So we waited for Ryan. ... Who cares. Bike riding.

The guys tried to hammer it a little on the way back. Tricia and I fell off for a bit, Lance, being the nice guy he is, slowed up to pull us back to the group. I didn't care. I was just happy to be there. 

Something about riding at night changes things. Maybe because you have to be a little more careful, you can't be as focused on what your speed average is or how many watts you're cranking. Maybe you don't worry that you're not hitting your mileage goal for the week, or whether or not you're drinking enough water. Somehow, the dark distills it down to its essence. It's the closest feeling I get these days to feeling like a kid again, back before I had stress and responsibility, before I worried about the future of my country, my species. In this form, it is a pure therapy. It heals.

Back at the shop, beers were had. We ogled Kari's new titanium gravel bike. We talked about work and world events. We talked religion and politics like we'd been friends for years and that was the thing that mattered. No one got mad. We toasted and celebrated just being alive. 

And the thing about all of this is: this happens more than it doesn't at the shop. Sure, you can buy things. Sure, Jake will take make sure your bike is in perfect working condition, or help you build the custom bike of your dreams. All the things you'd find in any bike shop anywhere in town are there.

But I wonder about the community. I hope the other places are like this, too, because everyone should get to have it, this sense of community. And if you don't, and it sounds good to you, we're there all the time. We ride, still, most Tuesday and Thursday nights, and we're cooking up a regular shop ride for the weekends. We have a gravel group, if you're into that thing (and if you're not, you should be because it's the next best thing to night riding). 

I'll be back next week with a gravel report. Jake, Stephen, Bobby and I went out a couple weekends back and took a lot of cool pics. It's worth writing about ... unless I have a better ride come up between now and then. I also had the opportunity to ride a couple of really sweet bikes: A Kona Wheelhouse and a Kona Sutra, and I'll write up that experience first chance I get. The short version the Wheelhouse is that it is the single most comfortable bike I've ever ridden. I might get a second job to buy one of those. 

Anyway, high five. Hope to see you for the next night ride.