Hey, Just Ride

What is it about bikes that bonds people as tight as family ties? Cyclists come in all shapes, sizes and forms.

There are cyclists who ride for fitness.

Cyclists who ride for pure joy.

Cyclists who commute.

And, of course, cyclists who have no other wheel-powered choice in their lives for transportation than the bicycle.

RAZ NOTES: That’s a photo of Bill on his Firmstrong. Bill said he found it sitting next to a dumpster with two flat tires. That was the only problem. He filled up the tires with air, and has been riding it ever since.

We’re all bound by the spirit that overwhelms us when we climb aboard two wheels. But sometimes, we develop blindspots.

Have you ever noticed that most folks you pass who live on the streets don’t have a home, but they have a bike? Well, that’s the way it is in the Pacific Northwest.

When I see those souls I’m reminded of a time when I lived in SoCal. A good friend of mine was working on a project for a graduate class. I went out with him, video camera in hand, to interview some homeless individuals.

We realized in an instant that when it comes to homelessness, we didn’t know Jack.

You might imagine what some of their life stories sounded like. Real life tragedies. Caught in the death spiral: No home because you can’t get a job. Can’t get a job because you have no home.

Yet, almost to a person, we heard the same sentiment: We don’t want pity, they said, but we do appreciate acknowledgment.

I remember Jack better than anyone. When we approached Jack, and asked if he’d talk to us, he couldn’t stop staring in utter disbelief.

Then he wouldn’t stop talking.

The most painful thing, Jack said, is being ignored. Seeing people purposely look away, least they make eye contact. That hurts. We’re human, Jack said.

Simple recognition, Jack said, means everything.

I’ve tried to remember that lesson. Always.

One September not too long ago, as summer began to slip to memory, I got laid off. I seem to go through jobs like bike riders in Goathead Thorn habitat go through inner tubes.

It would be more than two years before I gained full-time employment again. We never were really hurting, but never truly comfortable, either. At one point my wife lost her job, too.

I became whole-heartedly proud of those days when I read an essay by my daughter Sierra. She reflected about that time and noted that her dad never got down. He never gave up. Never lost his optimism.

One morning during that stint of joblessness, after applying for a few jobs, I rode my bike past one of the homeless in Eugene, Oregon. He had his bicycle and bike trailer pulled beneath an underpass on the river trail, with the trailer up on a rock. He had pulled off the wheel. Needed to repair a flat. Then find a way to pump it up. It’s a long ride to the nearest gas station with free air, he said.

I didn’t have a 20-inch spare on me, nor could my presta connection help his Schraeder valve. But I was, I had to admit, on my way to a bike shop. If he promised to sit tight, I’d return and help out. He said he’d wait.

I couldn’t tell him I was headed to exchange a pair of cycling gloves that were birthday gifts from my daughters. They were nice. Really nice. They fit like a, well, you know. But new cycling gloves, given our employment status, became a luxury item, at least in my mind.

When I got to the shop, I exchanged the gloves. For a couple of spare 20-inch tubes. And a portable pump. I gladly paid the difference.

Upon my return, of course, he tried to make a big deal about it. He thanked me. He pointed out that at least 20 other cyclists had ridden right past, and just ignored him. I was the only one to even speak to him, much less look at him.

As he spoke I thought about the countless times I’ve pulled over to fix a flat and the endless parade of cyclists who paused to ask if I needed anything, as well as the many times I’ve returned that favor.

Somehow, he managed to become a blindspot.

He gushed on a bit, feeling guilty when I told him to keep the pump that I bought it for him.

Don’t worry about, I told him, I’d do the same for any cyclist.

Wouldn’t you?

Time to ride.

Learn more at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Join the conversation
  1. Barry Johnson says

    I learned quite a long time ago when I saw a cyclist on the side of the road to ask ‘You good?” Just another thing taught by your cycling mentors which is a rarer and rarer thing since now you are instantly on Team Rapha with a credit card and zero experience or skills, let alone a seasoned rider to guide you. I miss the camaraderie of the cycling community of yesteryear., If you still live amongst people like that consider yourself blessed. Thanks for sharing Johnnie

  2. johnnieraz says

    Well that’s all true and the world is a different place now. When I see someone stopped, especially out in the middle of nowhere, and ask if they need anything I do get a lot more looks like I’m a crazy person than I ever have before. I am crazy, but I also like to help. Maybe it takes a 2-3 hour hike pushing your bike back home to appreciate others checking on you

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