Sunday, December 19, 2010

Flock of Cycles, December 17, 2010

An introduction may be in order for readers not already familiar with Flock of Cycles. Pittsburgh bicyclists, who for years had participated in a form of protest cycling known world-wide as Critical Mass, decided last April to form an alternative group ride which obeys traffic laws instead of flaunting them. In typical CM rides, if the leading part of a group got a traffic light green and the light changed, a couple of cyclists would "cork" cross traffic until the rest of the group got through. Instead, on FOC rides, if the group gets split, the rear group waits out the light, while the front group holds. When the light changes back and the rest of the group catches up, the ride continues.

FOC usually meets the second-last Friday of the month at Dippy, the Carnegie Museum's life-size dinosaur in the Oakland part of the city (where many group rides meet), but since that would be Christmas Eve, we moved the date up a week. We knew from advance discussion on the Bike-PGH message board and Facebook that we would probably have a decent turnout, and we were not disappointed. Even with temperatures in the low 20s, over a dozen riders showed. In the few such rides I've been on, this was the most even gender split I've seen, seven men and six women the one time I counted. This is good, as it has been noted that the more women ride, the healthier the cycling environment.

One really good reason to go on group rides like this is to compare notes with other riders on preparation and equipment. This was winter. There was standing snow on the ground, it was cold and windy, and it was nighttime. To be here at all, you had better be prepared with lights fore and aft, and able to handle riding in a cold wind. Never mind the weatherman's wind chill, just pedaling along increases that factor significantly.

As if to punctuate that, the moment we pulled out onto Forbes Avenue around 6:30, the wind kicked up and it began snowing. It let up after only a couple of minutes, but several of us wondered aloud if the weather changed for the worse just for our ride. Undeterred, we continued up Craig, then Bayard, Amberson, and Ellsworth, all the way to Shady. Since we planned on going ice skating afterward, we chose not to saunter all over the city as we sometimes do, returning via Walnut, Aiken, Fifth and Bigelow. We continued past Phipps Conservatory, finishing the ride at the Schenley Park ice rink around 7:15.

The ride, as ever, was slow paced. It's a social event, not a race. We're friends. We hang together. We talk as we ride. We don't have an agenda, other than to have some pleasant fun and help any new riders become more comfortable riding on city streets. If someone wants to join us en route, fine, though I don't think that happened this time. Traffic was fairly light. This would have been a good first ride had anyone else cared to join us. (For future reference, everyone is welcome!)

Myself, I wanted to save my money for an event on Monday, so opted out of skating. Two others left with me. I think one other parted ways earlier on, I forget who or where. That would still have left over a half dozen to skate. Anyone who did, feel free to add a comment.

All in all, it was a pleasant little ride. We had one newcomer to group rides, several familiar faces, and of course Nick D brought a sound system, this time with upgraded speakers. It sounded great! We serenaded everyone within a hundred yards with continuous pleasant holiday music. Let's just hope January and February's rides go as smoothly as this one did!

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