cycling · fitness · Sat with Nat

My first (and last?) time at the Glow Ride

Lots of folks enjoying the evening ride! Photo by Paul Seale
Lots of folks enjoying the evening ride! Photo by Paul Seale

I had decided to try riding at the Glow Ride in London, Ontario last weekend. The ride is organised by local cycling enthusiasts the night of Nuit Blanche, a night time festival of art and performance in the downtown core. It is one of my favourite festivals that marks the end of Fringe Festival and it always makes London feel a bit more cosmopolitan to me.

My partner Michel and I set off from the house at 8:30 pm to get to the meeting site by 9 pm, the start time on the poster. Michel had put these fun glow lights on our tires and as we set out we realized we both thought the other really wanted to go. Michel offered we not go if I wasn’t enthusiastic but I thought I should give it a try and see what happened.

The ride down was lovely as the sky was clear and warm. We flew down the bike paths and got to the Covent Garden Market with plenty of time to spare. There was a small gathering of cyclists with various set ups of glow sticks and lights.

More folks trickled in as the time crept to 9:30. Sunset was around 9:45 and a few folks assured us we would be starting out soon. It wasn’t clear, who, if anyone was taking the lead and unlike a more formally organised event there wasn’t a safety briefing or route promulgated. I was trying to go with the flow. Michel wondered aloud how long the ride would be and where we would be going but no one seemed to know.

We set out with the gang on a loop through the core taking up the whole lane which at first felt like a really good idea. There were quite a few bike and the inevitable stop and go of any large group moving. Thing is I’m not terribly steady on my bike and as I got more nervous the wobblier I got. I stopped having fun when the group rolled though an intersection against the lights and cars started honking and edging into the group.

We turned into the street festival and met a wall of pedestrian traffic and as that got sorted out i got cut off from the rest of the riders as I hesitated getting back on my bike. We looped through the market area, sometimes obeying the lights, other times not when I looked at Michel and said “This isn’t working for me, lets go home.”

It was too many bikes in a tight space with no plan on when we were changing lanes, which way we were turning and I was starting to have a panic attack. The group got separated and a guy told us we needed to catch up. The rear group connected with the rest in a parking lot to regroup and continue on. I caught up with Michel and burst into tears, I was officially having no fun. Children were doing this and here I was, a 40 year old somewhat capable cyclist and I could not keep going.

We rode home along a familiar route but night riding,even with street lights and glowing stuff is a very different experience.

I learned a lot about what I need to feel safe in a large group ride:

-a start and estimated end time, I want to know what I’m in for

-a pre-determined route

-a review of expected conduct (obey traffic lights/not, stay in bike lane or occupy the whole lane, those kinds of things)

-identified nerd herders/safety marshals like the Safety Sisters at Take Back the Night

-an exit strategy in case I change my mind

The ride was clearly fun for lots of folks but it wasn’t for me and that’s ok too. Unless a lot changes for me and what I need I don’t see me going for it again or even any large group ad hoc type rides, there’s just too much for me to learn before that feels somewhat safe.

The big bummer is I had wanted to stay to explore Nuit Blanche but ended up crying at home and that totally sucked.

I often get complimented on the things I try and blog about and, honestly, most times new things are a bit of a mixed bag for me. I don’t let the less fun things prevent me from trying new tings or trying again but I’m putting Glow Ride pretty far down the list of things I want to do again. Maybe just above rock climbing. GAH.

13 thoughts on “My first (and last?) time at the Glow Ride

  1. Thanks for elaborating on what went wrong for you. The post sort of reminded me of that amazing David Foster Wallace essay, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” about when he went on a cruise. FWIW, the glow ride sounds like a nightmare to me too. I’ve realized that, at the best of times, group riding creates all sorts of anxieties for me anyway and I basically don’t have fun. Adding darkness, no ground rules, and no plan to the mix would send me home in tears as well. But yeah, I like that you try these things and blog about them (is that wrong of me?). Maybe Sam will be able to successfully coax you to the Velodrome next winter so you can blog about it!

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  2. I’ve never gone a group night ride for the reason that I tend to ride slower and don’t like dealing with dark shadows of big bushes/tress that may have surprises ahead even on a path. A person’s judgement of another cyclist very close by is different in night time vs. day time.

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  3. It sounds like that ride was awful– awfully planned and awfully executed. I’ve been on several night rides that were super-well organized, and they were fun. The Boston Halloween ride has its own facebook page, with route, unofficial marshals, and a leader who does the very-important safety and rules talk before. Also, they have sweeps (absolutely crucial!) to make sure no one gets lost. This ride was zero for all of these. I would have bailed too.

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  4. The Tweed ride has some of those features but it’s daytime and much more sedate. I love the tweed ride but the glow ride sounds a bit much for me. I like group rides on road bikes best. Riding in close with lots of structure and rules.

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  5. Night group rides are popular here in Calgary. They have at least 1-2 per month in Calgary in spring-fall. They use a blend of bike paths and streets. Frankly, I’m not enamoured by the thought of being on bike path with a lot of other cyclists in a group ride, on a dedicated bike path at night when I know there will be joggers and pedestrians with children/dogs when it’s wonderful evening weather.

    For instance bike rides begin around 9:00 pm here in Calgary and may end at midnight. Given the bylaws in some municipal parks, some of the rides end with a barbecue in the park during the night. Kinda tradition in our area of Canada.

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  6. I’m so sorry you had this experience. My own experience of the Glow Ride was quite different – I had a blast! I loved all the people waving and cheering us on, I loved being in a group of cyclists in downtown London, and it seemed like the cars were honking in support. I know the organizers (I was not an organizer myself) and there were people leading the ride and sweeping, although it’s true they weren’t wearing vests and might not have been obvious enough. I know they wanted to keep it informal because they think that biking should be something you can do any time, anywhere; something that is part of the community. Anyway, I hope that they read your post (I’ll send it to them to make sure), and listen to your concerns, but I also hope that there’s another Glow Ride next year and that it’s even bigger and brighter. And I hope you might, after all, give it a second chance?

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    1. It was pretty awesome that so many folks had a great time. I didn’t but that’s ok too. Not everything works for everyone and it’s up to me to figure out my particular needs. I wrote the post, in part, to model that i have the responsibility to know my unique boundaries & challenges.

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  7. It sounds like a super cool idea but I completely agree with you on needing to have a set path and idea of what the rules are. I get super nervous if I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing. Still good for you for getting out there!

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  8. Aside from the issues with the organization, it also sounds like you’re not feeling confident on your bike – you mentioned wobbling and feeling nervous. A lot of cities will have orgs or bike shops that teach skills classes about riding in traffic. Maybe that might be a good thing to check out?

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    1. There are definitely groups and workshops available here. Growing up in the woods I never acquired the natural ease in traffic city riders have. There’s a lot for me to learn about riding and riding in traffic more often is one of those things.

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      1. Time to get you off the path!I’ve got a really nice 60 km loop I do from my place that has us coming home on the path. Let’s do it some evening!

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