Clipping into my pedals for Tuesday’s urban ride in downtown Orlando, I rounded the corner on to Orange Avenue, a one-way street lined with tattoo shops, bars and cafes, and immediately inhaled a fresh cologne. I saw a couple going out to dinner and others sitting quietly outside where they usually partied. Of course, there were preachers, bums and party boys out, too. I turned the corner on to Church Street, and there was not a bicycle in sight. Closing in, I barely glimpsed a handlebar and thought surely the ride was still on and had not left yet. I passed a car in the line for valet and saw the outline of a tire and exhaled finally. About ten feet away, I noticed the others noticing me. Then, I saw a friend riding up, and tonight was his first time on the Tuesday night downtown Orlando urban assault, and he was riding without clips on a 29-inch Specialized. As more men showed up, I caught up with friends I had not seen in years. ”
“So, where were you when you went away for those months or years or whatever?” they asked.
Others, “So, how you been?” And, “Is that the same bike you rode last time?”
After a while, someone said, “On, On,” and the leader took off while the people downtown stared or smiled at us, watching us closely as we powered down the street into the sunset. I noted the head count at 17, with one other chick who rides awesome. After a hot mile or so, the group tightening up behind the leader who called the turns, we passed a bum lying on a blanket under the overpass and up a grassy hill around the interchange. I was in my zone until someone shouted, “Mechanical!” and it passed along to the front. The pack stopped to retreat down the street, wondering who pinched a flat on the curbs before and after the last offroad section. Someone disappeared to check and then another; nobody liked to sit still for long. More left until one of the organizers said, “How many more people are going to go check and not come back?”
Finally, another organizer returned with an update and said we would be rolling in a few minutes. Sure enough, the flat was the newbie, my friend on the 29-er. He showed up after another bit, followed by a third organizer and a Mr. Fix-It. We joked that he probably carried an entire spare bike with him.
So, the group pinned it, riding the back streets northeast of downtown, where industry meets neighborhoods. We found our way down another grassy hill then a plank over water and across a concrete path perfect for a single bike tire. We popped out on a sidewalk around a lake and a park surrounded by trees. The pace picked up, we ripped over a wood bridge and followed the sidewalk gaining speed. In the dark, it was almost black, and we completed almost a lap around the lake when a woman walking her dogs met us at the adjoining sidewalk. “Walker up!” someone shouted, and we slowed a bit while we passed. She wanted our attention. She was furious. “What group are you with?” I almost answered her riding by but decided not to and kept pedaling. We took another half-a-lap around the lake before hitting the streets to the brick roads. I dropped a few spots in my rank out of 17. I tried bouncing off the potholes, one of few riding a hardtail, and avoiding any bumps so I could keep up, but not everyone passed me…yet.
Before crossing an intersection, the organizer riding in the back swept up to the leader and told him the 29-er needed another pump of air in his rear tire. So, the rest of the group took a lap around and met back at CVS in five minutes. We continued on, I found the front behind the leader this time, noting lightning in the sky but not any sign of a storm. He made two turns and we hit the main road; he started sprinting the drag. Slowly – I kept my place until they hit overdrive – I watched just about everyone flying by. “Get on my wheel,” said the awesome chick, but I could not keep her in front of me. Even the 29-er passed, and I motivated myself knowing he was not riding with clips.
The sky darkened, and the lightning soon followed by thunder, the leaders decided to call it an early night. But it was not over yet. We had to get back to the finish line at Graffiti Junction, which meant another sprint. This time, I was so behind I did not see the start, but I kept the 29-er behind me at the end, so that made my night. I arrived to the group crowding around the outside corner bar with their bikes propped up against the railing. They talking about the speed on the last sprint. One topped out at 34.5 according to his computer!
Riding to my car a few minutes later, the rain pouring by the time I reached the parking lot, I relished in refreshment. No matter how many urban assault rides I complete, none is like the other and I love finding new things to appreciate about Orlando AKA The City Beautiful. It’s the little things…
Here is a map of the ride: garmin.com/activity/92510317