When I started our town’s series of Kidical Mass bike rides for families, I was afraid no one would show up. Now that the summer has wound down and I’ve led four different rides, those fears have mostly been alleviated. But while I’ve had some success, the last two rides have shown that like many activist projects, it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get a big impact. Fortunately, I’ve also had some little wins that give me hope.
Going into this project, I knew that my town’s bicycle culture lagged behind that of D.C. and Arlington. While we struggled to get 10 people for our community rides, they would get hundreds. Rockville has substantially improved its bike infrastructure and policies, but we just haven’t attracted the sheer numbers of cyclists yet. On top of that, getting families to cycle is the toughest nut to crack and suburban parents are notoriously paranoid about safety. This was illustrated quite clearly when the East Falls Church Kidical Mass launch ride (a specific neighborhood in Arlington) had 32 people, while ours had 17, including me, my husband, and the organizers of an existing ride.
On top of not having as much of a cycling culture, my town poses other logistical issues for Kidical Mass rides. Being in the suburbs, businesses are more spread out, making it difficult to find destinations within a few miles of a starting point that are also on quiet streets. From my experience so far, parents expect to drive rather than bike or take transit to the ride, so you need to start and end in the same place, preferably somewhere with good parking. As Rockville has a number of rolling hills that challenge adult cyclists, I usually abandoned the “flat” part of the “short, un-trafficked, flat” routes recommended for Kidical Mass rides.
Knowing all of this, it wasn’t too surprising that we only had one family each for our last two rides. We had some adult helpers on both, so neither group was ridiculously small, but we aren’t attracting the numbers that a ride that has “mass” in its name implies.
Despite the low turnout, certain aspects of each ride were encouraging. On the August ride, I had planned to ride from a local nature center to Rock Creek Park, a lush gem that runs from the heart of D.C. into Montgomery County. But the ride has some serious hills, so my heart sunk when I saw a little girl show up with training wheels. I especially felt bad when I realized she and her mom had showed up for the July ride but she was too scared to even leave the sidewalk. Trying to hide my nervousness, I encouraged her to try the ride and let her know that it was okay to walk the hills. Much to my relief, she defied everyone’s expectations. She made it up many of the hills and wasn’t ashamed of walking up others. The route offered exactly the right blend of achievable and just-out-of-reach challenge. We turned around before we reached the park, but I was so proud that she made it as far as she did. It was such a huge leap up from just a month before. Even though her mom kept saying, “If I had known the route, I would have never brought her!” it was clear that she was glad she did. Even though she was the only kid there, her accomplishment alone made the ride worthwhile.
On the ride this past weekend, I was quite surprised that anyone showed up, considering it was a 50% chance of rain. In fact, I actually left Chris and Sprout at home. But one family with two kids in a trailer and an older lady interested in volunteering both made an appearance. While the dad of the family was an avid cyclist, his wife was much less experienced. She had just gotten a new bike and self-identified as a rather slow cyclist. They had been doing rides around their neighborhood, but this was the first community ride they had done. And despite the rain, she loved it! Afterwards, she promised to sign up for another community ride this weekend as well as future Kidical Mass rides. On top of making it good experience for her, they’re also interested in purchasing a Yuba cargo bike to replace their trailer, which would be an awesome addition to our Kidical Mass rides.
Our next two rides are going to be with our sister ride in nearby Gaithersburg, which has been around for at least a year. I hope that some of their experience rubs off on us!