If you’ve ever been on Quincy Street in Ballston between 6:30 and 6:35 p.m. on a warm weather Tuesday, you’ve seen them.
Anywhere from dozens to hundreds of cyclists on their way to put in some miles on the hills of North Arlington. It’s the Freshbikes Tuesday Night ride, and it’s a fantastic way to spend an hour on a week night.
Group rides like this one attract riders for lots of reasons. Some find that riding with others motivates them more than riding alone. Others appreciate the safety-in-numbers quality of the rides. And most of the riders enjoy the social aspect of group rides.
Arlington’s geography provides both blessings and burdens to group rides. On the plus side, routes like Military Road and Williamsburg Boulevard provide the sort of short punchy hills that sport cyclists enjoy riding. On the down side, the more urban sections of Arlington necessarily involve lots of intersections, traffic lights, and plenty of other road users.
It’s usually in the busier sections of the ride – along Quincy Street or around Williamsburg Circle – where the downsides of a large group ride manifest. On a two-lane road like Quincy, the Share the Road ethic is often challenged. Sometimes the cyclists go five wide (though usually at the speed of other traffic). And sometimes a driver simply cannot accept taking 10 seconds longer than usual between Fairfax Drive and Lee Highway.
The conflicts are always minor, but they’re a reminder that everyone involved could do a bit more to avoid them. Freshbikes' staff deserves a lot of credit for doing all they can to encourage those participating in the ride to do so safely and with respect for other road users.
Beyond reminding participants at the beginning of every ride about the rules of the road, they’ve also taken active steps to lessen the impact of the ride on other road users. The ride now goes out in waves, and most participants stick to the bike lanes. There are also a lot of riders who now recognize that it’s often easier for the ride as a whole if a few riders take the initiative to, say, create and enforce gaps for turning cars. It’s not the ideal situation we get when Arlington County police are available to help with the ride, but it does cut down on the potential for conflict with other traffic.
There will always be some conflicts – no amount of cooperative riding in the world is going to make the angry guy in the black truck less angry, and there’s always going to be at least one guy on a bike who never learned to play well with others. But I’m seeing a lot of progress made on this ride, where lots of riders are pitching in to set good standards of safe riding in place.
Arlington’s a great place for riding, and I hope to see rides like the Freshbikes Tuesday Night ride not only stick around, but grow. Riding smartly, safely, and cooperatively is an important part of helping that happen.
Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.