A Moment of Silence

Today my “To Do” List included this item: write post for Commute by Bike. So this morning, I was brainstorming all kinds of fun ideas for topics to write about. And then I got back from a meeting and learned this. So really, there’s nothing else I feel like writing about right now, but I do feel compelled to write about this.

In case you didn’t click on that link, a young American professional female cyclist was killed on a training ride in Belgium today. Amy Dombroski was a great advocate for the sport of cycling; one who is gone far too soon. She was a great person on and off the bike and will be deeply missed.

At this point, you might be wondering, why am I writing about a professional cyclist here on Commute by Bike? The spandex clad crowd doesn’t make an appearance here all too often, and I’m not trying to change that.

However, I raced professionally for many years on the road and mountain. I hung up my race bike about a year ago due to a serious injury. I hung up my race bike so I could continue being a bike rider; so that I could continue being a bike commuter. That’s partly why I feel compelled to write about this today. I hope you’ll bear with me as I elaborate.

I’ve never been one to police boundaries when it comes to cycling, though I’m certainly aware of the differences among groups. There are examples, both positive and negative, of various actions taken by those who tend to wear spandex and those who do not. The fact of the matter is that cyclists are humans. And humans do nice things and stupid things to each other all of the time. Sometimes even at the same time.

In all of my years of riding, from Xtracycles to road bikes to mountain bikes and beyond, I’ve found that one thing rings true for me no matter what I’m riding or who I’m riding with – we are all united by our love of two wheels, despite any real or perceived differences otherwise. Because honestly, riding a bike is fun.

So as I start writing here at Commute by Bike more often, it’s going to be impossible for me not to bring along my love of bike racing, though I no longer do it. It undoubtably shapes my perspectives on cycling related matters, though I’d like to hope in a helpful way, as I can generally appreciate different sides of any issue. I’ve been a bike commuter as long or longer than I’ve been a bike racer. The most important thing for me is the ability and opportunity to be able to ride a bike. Any bike.

My old campus commuter bike.

And I’ll generally stick to writing about bike commuting. Don’t worry.

All this is to say that the news this morning hit me hard. It does anytime I hear about any cyclist being injured or killed while riding. And this type of news has been coming in a lot lately, so sometimes it does help to talk about these things. Because let’s face it, cycling could be safer in many ways, and encouraging dialogue is one way to begin to improve bike safety. Despite all that, I’d still rather ride my bike than not.

But this news hurt a little more, in part because I’d raced against Amy for years, and she was truly one-of-a-kind, a great spirit. Maybe more importantly, the news hit hard because I know how difficult it is to pursue cycling as a sport, especially for women, and Amy was out there making sacrifices and living her dream.

Aren’t we all? One can only hope.

Anyhow, I hope you will all take a moment of silence now for Amy and all the other cyclists who deserve one. I offer my heartfelt condolences to their friends and family.

In their honor, let’s all try to share the love of two wheels wherever we go and whatever we ride.

Stay safe out there, but don’t forget to enjoy the ride and pursue those two-wheeled dreams, whatever they may be.


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9 thoughts on “A Moment of Silence”

  1. listenermark says:

    What a beautiful, thoughtful, and meaningful post. Thank you.

    On a minor note: Tribalism in cycling (and most of us are guilty to a degree) is silly, but it’s what our species does. We all long for a unique identity and, for me at least, being a full time commuter is a significant part of who I am.

    1. Good point. I completely agree. Identity is an important factor (and motivator), no doubt.

  2. Belgium in general and Brussels in particular are not know for being bike friendly. VERY strange to me, being that they are a continental European country…

  3. SpandexRacerDude says:

    I’ve been a full time bike commuter since I was 5 years old. Started out on my 1973 Schwinn Sting Ray (still have it). Then graduated to my Schwinn Varsity in middle school. Bought a touring bike when I was 15, about 1982, thinking it would be a practical bike. Shortly after, I started making payments on a ‘racing’ bike. 20 dollars a week until it was paid off and I took it home. It was a Trek 560. Black with red bar tape and cable housing. Reynolds 501, Suntour Cyclone. It was awesome. I started riding it all the time and every where. The touring bike sat idle. I started riding with a local group, and trained for races. I took it to college and rode it around town. I took it to grad school, and rode it around there as well. Then I started commuting on it in the Chicago suburbs, and doing local races. Yeah…I wore spandex lycra *gasp*. I moved out to Portland, OR hearing about the biking mecca that it was in the 90’s. It wasn’t…yet. Now it’s what I was expecting back then based on the hype. I see a lot of folks getting into cycling now, and I think it’s great. I love those dorky looking commuters decked out in their gear from REI or the latest commuter oriented shop that just opened..as if they’re ready to board an Alaska fishing boat during a gale, even though it’s a pleasant 50 degrees and a risk of sprinkles. Maybe these folks will still be riding in a few years, maybe they won’t. This is the second cycling boom I’ve lived through. Maybe this one will stick. Whatever the case, I’m glad more people are riding. Fewer cars is always good. But for the love of Judas, we spandex roadies who commute with back packs and race blades instead of with panniers and permanent fenders were here before you, and very likely will be here after you. We’re on YOUR SIDE. We love you. Just get out and enjoy the ride. Who knows, maybe you’ll get fit enough from commuting that you will start riding farther on the weekends. Maybe you’ll get pretty fast and start eyeing one of those carbon fiber beauties. You just might become one of us. And if you do, we’ll be waiting with open arms.

  4. BluesCat says:

    Dear SpandexRacerDude –

    “But for the love of Judas, we spandex roadies who commute with back packs and race blades instead of with panniers and permanent fenders were here before you, and very likely will be here after you…”

    Uh … NO, actually, on ALL counts of that statement. LONG before there was Spandex, or carbon fiber frames, or even ALUMINUM frames, we “dorky looking commuters” were putting THOUSANDS of miles on our “touring bikes.” You know the ones I’m talking about: those with heavy steel frames, and fenders, and rear racks with spring book clips, and three-speed Sturmey-Archer hubs, and rim dynamo lighting systems.

    My only bicycle, as a kid, was a Pashley knockoff just like that, because my folks couldn’t afford to buy me a Schwinn Stingray. And I’d venture to guess that I was commuting on that bike long before you and your racing buddies were even gleams in your daddy’s eyes.

    And I’ve NEVER been interested in racing bicycles, because the way I got “pretty fast” was NOT by participating in the political dance that is so-called “pro cycling” (where they denigrate and outlaw new ideas — like recumbents — rather than “embracing” them), but by speeding down the street in a ground-pounding, hopped up ’55 Chevy that had more horsepower than the entire Tour de France peloton!

    I think you bike racers may well have done more to inhibit the adoption of bicycling as transportation in America rather than promote it, because when you’re racing you are riding your bikes for SPORT, for RECREATION, and that tends to put bicycles in the category of TOYS … which, in turn, allows politicians to discount the importance of bikes when it comes to funding for adequate transportation infrastructure which might have prevented the sort of tragedy which is the subject of Melanie’s article.

    The death of Amy Dombroski brought tears of sorrow to my eyes. The fact that she died while in training — riding the same streets the same way we bicycle commuters ride — brought tears of ANGER to my eyes.

    Remember this: the tribalism you displayed in your post does NOTHING to help stop the toll of commuting cyclists, and racing cyclists in-training, who die every year as a result of riding the American automobile-centric roadways.

  5. Wow. I suppose in some ways, I regret the way I framed this post. The point was to take a moment of silence for any fallen or injured cyclists. For me, that moment was especially in remembrance of Amy.

    In case anyone missed it, please, please take that moment.

    So tribalism in cycling exists. And honestly, it’s a discussion that I think is well worth having. But not here. And not now.

    Hence why I regret the way I set up my point. I can see now how it was taken in that direction, but that was definitely not my intention.

    For me personally, I have experienced many different sides of cycling. As I said, people suck and people are cool in all realms, as is clearly displayed in these comments.

    But my point, in addition to that moment of silence, was that we really are all more alike than we are dissimilar. We all understand the dangers of riding on the roads and the need to make them safer whether we ride for transportation, sport (maybe even as your job), or just for fun.

    I understand the importance of identity. I also understand the importance of trying to relate to all types of cyclists and cycling to make it better for everyone.

    So let’s take a moment of silence, once again, for those that deserve it, and most especially for Amy. And let’s save the tribalism discussion for another time.

    My apologies and regrets…

  6. BluesCat says:

    Don’t you DARE apologize, Melanie! Your post made me pause and, in silence, reflect on some things. And then it inspired me to get back to work on an article I’m writing about a “near miss” I experienced a few months ago. So, see? Your original mission was instantly accomplished. You shouldn’t have ANY regrets about that.

    Then, a couple of days later, SpandexRacerDude launched his condescending rant: “Welcome to the Real World of Bikes to ALL of You Lesser, Johnny-Come-Lately Newbies Who Haven’t Yet Seen the True Path of Bicycling as THE TOUR DE FRANCE.” Rife as it was with the Lycra Bound Divine Right of Cycling Kings attitude … the back of my head almost fell off. (You might have intuited that from the tone of my response. You would have definitely known it had happened if you had seen my first draft! Whew!)

    I think that bike racing is important, for the same reason I think automobile racing is important: the lessons learned in making the vehicles faster, more efficient, and safer almost always are eventually applied to commercial products. That DOESN’T mean the people who build and/or operate racing vehicles belong to some higher caste than the folks who use the vehicles for strictly utilitarian purposes.

    SpandexRacerDude blew into this site with a distinct lack of humility, and a lack of respect for bicyclists who “merely” ride their bikes to work and will probably never race a bicycle; people like Shanna Ladd, who commutes by bike in the sub-zero winter environs of Wasilla, Alaska; and people like Vineyard Dave, who uses a velomobile as a transportation tool as he supports two physically challenged daughters. Those two folks, and others, are personal cycling heroes to me, and their importance to cycling far outranks ANYBODY who has ever put on a yellow jersey.

    Yes, we need to pause, and reflect, when we lose somebody like Amy. But after that we need to use her death as a catalyst to get angry, get up, and do something about preventing it from happening again and again and again.

    That won’t happen if we have some self-important bicyclists deigning to bless us with a “wisdom” which places bicycles in the world of sport, but NOT in the realm of ANSWERS.

  7. Joel says:

    Dear Melanie,

    I also do not like the “Mightier than thou” attitude (I almost spelled it “altidude”) of this hit and run poster.

    I was riding a bike in 1965 when I could not walk or run do to asthma. It was so wonderful to keep up with my friends on a twenty inch wheel, single speed, standard frame bicycle. I called her “Blue Beauty” in lieu of “Black Beauty,” a very popular movie and television show at the time.

    In 1973, I wished and received a Columbia 10 speed racing bicycle WITH FENDERS. It was a beauty from Discount Harry’s in Pennsauken, NJ, which was THE place to get a bicycle in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It came in a box and I assembled everything when I was in 8th grade.

    To me, this was freedom, it was not a mere object. I traveled (commuted) as far as any bus could take me to my friends (as far as twelve miles away without needing my parents’ approval). I used that bicycle to commute to my part time job three miles away from age 16 to 19. Even back then, the money I saved using a bicycle outweighed the snide comments of people who thought I could not “afford” a car.

    It is the “Spirit” of bicycles that I enjoy here. I prove myself to no person. I ride because I enjoy riding. It feels good. The feeling of wind in my face and moving under my own power is visceral.

    I raced in triathlons and I finished well in my 20s. I now ride for my health and internal spiritual well being. Be it sunshine, rain, sleet, or snow, I look forward to getting on the seat for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon.

    Did I tell you that I like to ride my bicycle?

  8. Malaika says:

    Thank you for your thoughtfulness. I commute and tour/vacation by bicycle. I carry my load for massage events on my xtracycle. Bicycling is a lifestyle, my lifestyle.

    Your post touched my heart, caught my attention in a way that only moment of silence could acknowledge. Thank you. For those who took it to a different level, well, that is on them, and not you.

    Many wishes for continued cycling for all of us regardless of our choices and preferences. Bicycling is the choice that counts.

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