Kate Laudermilk, our Gal by Bike columnist, previously wrote about the Little 500 bike race.
It’s a slippery slope. One minute you’re teaching one of your best friends how to ride a bike and the next you’re gliding through Portland on your trusty steeds, surrounded by thousands of bikes and bodies with your breasts hangin’ out. This is the magic of the Portland bike community — a community that has made me feel more youthful and free spirited than I did when I was but a gal of nineteen.
“I was instantly welcomed into this big weird club…”
As a child, I was about as serious as they come. I never once had to be asked to do my homework, clean my room, or take the dog for a walk. I was on it. I started doing my own laundry, by choice, at the age of eight. I once called a meeting with my boss to negotiate higher pay at my teenage summer job so that I could start putting away more money for college. I could count the amount of alcoholic beverages I consumed prior to the age of 21 on one hand. I was a real goody-two-shoes.
I wish I could say that I relaxed and unwound in college, but I’d be, for the most part, lying. Despite what my sorority girl persona would suggest, I was early to bed and early to rise most days, staying up late and venturing off to parties mostly to drive drunk people home safely. I watched everything that I put into my body — worrying that it would affect my cycling. No 3am Pizza Express for me. Don’t get me wrong, my college experience was pretty dang stellar — I look back at it with great fondness, but from time to time I can just kick myself for not goin’ real crazy, ya know? Like lampshade-on-your-head, what-happened-last-night, head-in-the-toilet crazy!
Enter my introduction to the Portland biking scene in my 26th year. The year I learned to shed some of my seriousness — and, as I eluded to above, sometimes my clothes.
Portland is not unique for having a bike community. There are any number of cities in the US that have group rides, events akin to Sunday Parkways, and strong biking-related circles. They certainly existed in Bloomington and Indianapolis — where I lived previous to my move to Portland, but I never accessed them much. I struggle to put into words what makes Portland’s bike community so special and so approachable to me, but I think it might have to do with how much time is dedicated to riding bikes for pure enjoyment and fun — rides that end with a beer instead of a finish line.
I made a sharp shift from biking exclusively for competitive purposes to exploring biking as a form of transportation and fun beginning in the summer of 2012. Just one Midnight Mystery ride and a handful of Pedalpalooza rides in and I started to feel like I was living in an alternate universe. This was a universe where adults with millions of daily responsibilities could be sighted on a bike wearing magnificently puffy and intricate prom dresses and pastel leisure suits from eras past. One where you find yourself among a lawyer, a student, a scientist, a cashier, an illustrator, a journalist, and a teacher all surrounding the same river-side bonfire at two o’clock in the morning. One where your bike becomes an extension of your own body and gives you superpowers — like staying out past midnight.
So many of the folks that I met on group rides inspired me to live in the moment. I didn’t have to take life too seriously. I didn’t have to take myself too seriously.
After all, it’s pretty hard to take yourself too seriously when you and fifty others are wearing fake mustaches while cruising over the Burnside Bridge. Boundaries are beautifully blurred when you meet your new boyfriend’s professional pals for the first time while they’re atop their bikes dressed as characters from “Labyrinth”. The weight of the world is pulled off of your shoulders as several fellow teachers and friends celebrate with you on the last day of school — Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” blaring from a portable bike speaker.
I was instantly welcomed into this big weird club of folks that, without the buffer of their bikes, might not have talked to one another let alone found themselves jumping on a random trampoline next to the Willamette River while the one they call “Dirty Diablo” spins the endless tunes. None of my social anxieties, self-consciousness, or earnest ways stand a chance when I’m on a fun bike ride. Especially when I have a hand painted basketball made to look like E.T wrapped in a blanket placed in my front basket. That’s just the power of the bicycle, the folks who ride them, and adorable extraterrestrials.
So, as Pedalpalooza season approaches and the BTA’s Bike More Challenge and National Bike Month get underway, I invite you to set seriousness aside and fall in love with riding your bike all over again. Inspire and motivate your office mates, coworkers, and friends to ride to work — but don’t stop there! Show them that riding a bike isn’t just about getting to a destination — it’s an epic adventure in and of itself!
Try sending out a memo for everyone to pack their brightest, most gawky neon threads for a Friday fun ride after work. Pedal around basking in the greatness that is the coming weekend while listening to a finely curated soundtrack complete with gems like Donna Summers’ “She works hard for the money” or Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”. Plan a special lunchtime ride where you venture off to a park or public space to enjoy your lunches. Hell! Propose a Monday morning meeting by bike! Get bold and finally post that Pedalpalooza ride you’ve been too scared to put out there for the past three years. Give someone the opportunity to throw caution to the wind. Participate in the World Naked Bike Ride and throw your boxers and bras to the wind!
We all come here on a daily basis to learn, debate, and spread knowledge about really important and serious issues in our biking community. There are things we need to fix, improve, and change. We don’t always agree on every issue, but I hope we can all agree that we ride our bikes because it sparks joy in our days and we would all do anything to make sure that joy never fades.
— Kate Laudermilk
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