The Online Voice of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Should the Ride of Silence be silent?

It began in 2003 as a bike ride in Dallas to remember a cyclist who was hit by a mirror on a passing school bus and killed.  Today it has evolved into an international event, with 250 rides scheduled in nearly 20 countries.

The Ride of Silence was created to remember cyclists who have been killed or injured on our roadways, to raise public awareness that bikes belong on our roads, and to encourage everyone to share the road.  This year's ride occurs on May 18 and five Washington communities are hosting Rides of Silence:  Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver and Wenatchee.  Ride details can be found on the ROS website.

Thousands of bicyclists are drawn to this somber ride because they know someone who has been killed or injured on our public roads, or they themselves have been injured by a vehicle collision.  I have ridden several Rides of of Silence--to remember friends who were killed and to remember my own collision with a vehicle.  It can be an emotional experience. You can view a video of a past Ride of Silence in Seattle.

In spite of its popularity, not all cyclists are comfortable with the Ride of Silence.  Some believe that it places too much emphasis on the dangers of riding a bike.  Others don't like the fact that participants are supposed to ride in silence--how can you educate curious onlookers and passing motorists why you're doing the ride if you must be silent?  (If you watch the video of the Seattle ride, you'll see one of the riders speak to a pedestrian--no doubt explaining what the Ride of Silence is.)

Some Ride of Silence organizers have chosen trails and residential streets as their ride routes.  Again, this seems to undermine the visibility and public awareness potential of the ride.  It also doesn't speak to the bicyclists' right to use public roads.

Have you ridden in a Ride of Silence?  How do you feel about this event?


  1. I ride nearly every year here in Wenatchee. We don't have the bigger city 'numbers' but there is a powerful energy in the air when you have someone like Ed Farrar speaking about the dangers we all face every time we go out there.

  2. Thanks for offering up the many facets and complications of this event in a balanced format. Seattle's 2011 route didn't focus on residential streets, but I know other locations might, a few even keep to bike off road paths. That's fine. Organizers create very grassroots, and so very local experiences, suited for their location.

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