Ride Night -- Simply Street Bikes, Eden Prairie, MN
A night of community sponsored by a local motorcycle shop
Warmer weather here in the Midwest is more than just a green light for riders to get out and put in some miles. Bright and sunny days mean evenings warm enough to go for long rides after work. This is prime time for local organizations and dealerships to organize group rides.
Motorcycling, by definition, is a mostly solitary pursuit. What makes group rides so attractive is the ability to share an experience with others in a basic and visceral way. Riders can't really talk about the ride as it happens, but they CAN feel it together as a group. The legendary camaraderie of motorcyclists is built on this share experience. In this way, motorcycle retailers can become hubs of instant communities, with riders swapping stories, giving advice, and introducing themselves to newcomers in a manner you rarely see outside a church or a convention center.
As tired as I was after another long day midweek, the idea of finding a new group where I could experience more of that camaraderie was the thing that brought me out to the Simply Street Bikes Ride Night on May 16th. A friend of mine works out that way, and we had yet to ride together this season, so I thought I would join up with him to go and check things out. I had only ever been along on one other group ride with a rather small and unfriendly group of guys, so my expectations were a bit lower than I realized. This made pulling into the the back lot at Simply Street Bikes that much more surprising. We were there about 45 minutes before the event was set to begin, and there were already dozens of bikes there, a number that soon grew to nearly a hundred. This wasn't just a few enthusiasts getting together for a ride; this was a full-blown event. Employees were grilling and serving up free food, and there was even an enclosed truck with a dyno (a machine that measures horsepower, torque and fuel mixture to help in optimizing the engine setup of a motorcycle) parked near the entrance.
And the bikes! You name it: from tricked-out Honda Groms, Victory cruisers with ape-hangers, a BMW S 1000 RR and a few other liter bikes, and (of course) a legion of middleweight Kawasaki Ninja, Suzuki GSX and Honda CBR sport bikes, all in every shape and color you can imagine, and a few you probably couldn't. The crowd was nearly as diverse, something that was a bit of a surprise to me, given my experience here in Minneapolis. Rather than tokens, there were quite a few ethnic minorities, women, and even some older folks. After signing our eWaivers for the ride (to protect SSB from liability, something that would factor in later that evening), we grabbed some chow and spent some time oooh-ing and ahhhh-ing over quite a few of the bikes, asking questions, and discussing the ride route.
After a ride meeting so large that the employee in charge had to use a megaphone to make sure he could be heard, everyone wandered back to their bikes, geared up (or not; as some people apparently believe themselves to be 10 feet tall and bulletproof), and prepared to ride out.
No one wanted to mount their bikes first, no one wanted to start their engine first, and no one wanted to queue up at the entrance first, but there's an energy, an anticipation when that many riders are set to ride out. The road calls to you, and a parking lot begins to feel claustrophobic very quickly. You HAVE to get out of there. You HAVE to ride.
And we did, peeling away in twos and fours, pausing at the mouth of the parking lot, then heading south on the side street, swinging around the turnaround over Interstate 494, and cruising out onto the freeway.
We instantly caught the remnants of Rush Hour and ended up jockeying quite a bit to get around and past cars and trucks without being too obnoxious. This broke the group up for the beginning of the ride, but before long we were out of Eden Prairie proper, past Shakopee, and cruising down Country Road 40 on a beautiful spring evening in a long double line of bikes. Seriously, you couldn't ask for better weather, cool but not cold, with crystal clear skies.
With such perfect conditions, it was a major surprise to see a rider go down.
We were passing the Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area near Jordan when the guy right in front of me forgot to check his speed going into a moderate curve. Sure enough, he drifted off into the shoulder, tried to wrestle it back, hit soft ground and flopped down into the dirt and loose gravel shoulder first. As it happened, he was one of the guys wearing proper gear. But while it bore the brunt of his fall, he still tore up his mesh jacket, lost some skin on his elbow, and likely separated his shoulder. About 30 of us stopped to make sure he was alright, with a road boss and the buddy if mine staying with the downed rider to keep and eye on him and help him out with getting his bike towed.
By the time I got started again, I was at a loss as to where the hell everyone had gone (maybe I should have downloaded the trip map. Lesson learned :/ ). I did a lap around Belle Plaine, saw no one, then decided to just take the quickest route home. I rode the half mile up toward Highway 169 and...surprise! Although there were no scheduled stops, a number of riders were holding up at a gas station right near the freeway entrance (likely to grab gas for the Grom contingent). I swung in to see what the plan was, but a group with a road boss was already heading back out so I looped around and hooked up with them.
This decision turned out to be quite the adventure. Construction between Belle Plaine and Jordan restricted speeds, but once things opened up, the riders I was with really let loose. While I stuck with the road boss, and never pushed my Speed Triple above [REDACTED], some of the guys in our group hit speeds that would have absolutely terrified me. I'm pretty sure the guy on the BMW S 1000 RR who kept dropping back and roaring ahead routinely hit speeds in excess of [REDACTED].
Needless to say, our group was among the first to make it back to Simply Street Bikes. Pulling up and shutting down, the atmosphere among the riders was full of positive energy. Everyone cheered the Groms; taking those things out on the highway and keeping up with the group of bigger bikes for that distance was impressive to me, at least, and most of us were full of questions (and envious stares) for the liter bike crowd. I got an update on the guy who dumped his bike, and we all talked about that for a bit. I could have stayed there another hour or two, but it had been a long day and a thrilling ride. I said my goodbyes, waved and pointed, and headed back into town.
I can't remember everyone's names, but I'll remember their faces and their bikes. Even if we never ride together again, for then night, we were a tribe.