By KAREN SMOKE
Arcadian Cycling Editor
Slow Roll is bike riding that doesn’t require fancy gear or spandex clothing.
It’s a ride for everyone, and all you need to start your own Slow Roll is a bike in working order and a few friends to join you. Just set a time and place to start from—or agree to meet up somewhere. The whole idea is to get out and enjoy your community while getting to know your neighbors better, maybe meeting some new friends, and getting some exercise while you are at it.
There are many positive aspects to riding with friends. Setting a date for a regular ride helps keep you motivated to keep it up. Beginners may be more inclined to ride as part of a group than on their own. Start with a small group and invite others to join as you progress. Winding up at a destination with a tub of watermelons waiting in ice water provides easy refreshment. It’s a good idea, however, to stay away from alcohol when you ride.
Bike riding is about moving beyond your comfort zone and exploring beyond your immediate community. If you haven’t ridden in traffic, brush up on the rules of the road, and identify some experienced riders to help pick the route and provide safety tips. Those who don’t know how to fix flat tires might feel more comfortable among others who could lend a helping hand.
There’s actually a global network of Slow Roll community rides. Founded in Detroit in 2010, Slow Roll began as a social group bicycle ride that’s an inclusive way to bring people together from all walks of life. The slow pace keeps the group safe and gives riders a unique perspective. All ages, all skill levels, including those who never learned how to ride, and every type of bike, are welcome.
It’s not to be confused with critical mass rides, which were first held in San Francisco in the early ’90s and grew to become a major part of bike activism in more than 300 cities around the world. Where the critical mass was more about deliberately disrupting traffic as a group taking over entire lanes, reclaiming streets for cyclists, under that slogan, “we are traffic,” the Slow Roll is about providing a way to connect and as a means of introducing us to the benefits of cycling.
Some larger urban rides experienced growing pains when groups began to form that saw the ride as a forum for expression that had nothing to do with bicycling. Organizers have reacted by adopting a code of conduct for the rides, and requiring sign-in or membership and annual fees, which go toward insurance and various costs. Larger rides require trained leadership. Squad leaders receive training to become confident ride leaders and advocates. Some organizations support leaders with a new bike, gear, and a weekly stipend.
Slow Roll rides are a great avenue for bicycle education. Slow Roll leaders stress rules of the road. Minors under 18 must be accompanied by a parent/guardian, and in Florida must wear a helmet. Respect for the community and safety are paramount. All are welcome on the rides. This means each rider needs to be mindful of the space we take, the impact of our actions and words, and how we all play a part of making our community safer. Riders should come prepared; make sure your bike is in good working order before heading out for a ride. Bring plenty of water, a spare tube for flats, and helmets are encouraged. Always stay on the right side of the road and never cross the yellow line into oncoming traffic, even if there are no cars. Use hand and verbal signals to communicate with other riders and drivers. Remember, every bicyclist is responsible for their own safety, and when group riding be aware of others around you at all times.
Critics say Slow Roll, deliberately or not, does get in motorists’ way, and does little to help cyclists and drivers learn how to coexist safely. Others say that when drivers become more accustomed to seeing bike riders in the streets, they become more accommodating—or even give up their auto and get on a bike. Cyclists have the right to be present on the roads, but we definitely want to model what sharing the road looks like in terms of physical safety. When riding in traffic, break into smaller groups to help allow traffic to move around you. If traffic builds behind the group, find a safe place to pull off the road. Never ride more than two abreast. If you are not familiar with the technique of controlling the lane, ask an experienced rider, or watch some of the many instructive videos at such sites as www.cyclesavvy.org.
Larger events are typically operated by a nonprofit, usually a bicycle advocacy group, health and wellness agency, or transportation management. The principle is beautiful in its simplicity: a ride of a reasonable length, say an hour or two, at a leisurely social pace through neighborhoods, parks, community gardens, art districts. The best routes show the real community, get people interested in cycling as an alternative transportation and instill a sense of pride and community. Getting people out talking to each other is the object, big numbers attending the event isn’t the primary objective.
Participant Melissa Wenzel said: “Being on an organized ride is a completely different experience than biking for transit. I love it. It lets me relax and someone else gets to be in charge. I get to see the neighborhood and learn about the challenges that other people have when biking. I realize that I’m not alone and we are a community of people who want to bike for recreation, for transit, for work, for school. Every Slow Roll ride reminds of that.”
What are you waiting for? Dust off your bike, pump up the tires and invite your friends to Slow Roll.