This photo is from today, but the following story was published five years ago, after I rode my bike on “Belty” for the very first time. A lot has happened since then (see my book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike). But the allure of being able to simply ride my bike endures.
“So let’s meet at 9:30, okay?” I wrote to my friend, John Brown, about our planned bike ride on the Atlanta Beltline (after I’d already taken a three-hour bus tour of the entire 22-mile proposed project). “But remember, I have a bike, not a cycle. You know, complete with a basket.” He got my point, and brought his mountain bike rather than his usual touring cycle. He wore shorts. I wore my flip flops.
I’m just a bike rider. I never gave this much thought before I moved to Atlanta. I just rode my bike. I rode it the store, I rode it to school, I rode it home from work as a teenager at midnight in the snow, and I rode it all over Manhattan. I rode it my whole life. I was never considered to be an “inexperienced” rider until I moved here. Cycling is definitely a “sport” here, and what gets lost in the translation is that riding a bike is also just a simple means of transportation for people of all ages and sizes all over the world, and many people (like me) enjoy it for that purpose. It doesn’t require fancy equipment or special clothes or the ability to travel in packs. It’s not so hard, or at least it shouldn’t be.
Today I saw what a difference things like a dedicated trail can make, because today for the first time in the 23 years since I moved here I rode side by side and chatted with a friend on a flat, safe path that was fun and relaxing. No constant hills. No constant traffic. No constant worry about getting killed out there. We had so much fun and felt so free that when the path ended, we didn’t.
We rode through a downtown neighborhood the extra six minutes or so to my friend Rashid’s urban farm, where, in addition to the four acres under cultivation, he has added 49 new 25-foot raised beds in a lot across the street.
We rode past tour groups getting in and out of buses at the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ebenezer Church (where he preached) and the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. We turned down a street to see the new light rail tracks being laid. And then we made our way back to the two and a half mile 14-foot-wide Beltline path and joined the moms with jogging strollers, the walkers with dogs, and the other cyclists — and plain ole’ bike riders like me.
We stopped to check out the graffiti. We noted all the businesses along the way, increasingly oriented to be accessible to those on the path, including several restaurants that had veggies growing (one in a garden and one in planters). We saw the famous cat named Piper who even has a Twitter account. And we may have even stopped a few times and planted sunflowers.
All I know is it was fun. And riding my bike easily like this felt like the most natural thing in the world. Because, you know what? It is.
See here for links to buy my book, Traveling at the Speed of Bike, on Amazon in all global markets. I’m an indie author and your support is greatly appreciated. A portion of proceeds from the sale of all books is donated to help more women and girls ride bikes. Currently, that means funding my ability to do “Pedal Power with Pattie” Basic Bike Skills Classes for Women for free.