Notes from the Chair – August 2016

by Matt Birnbaum

I write this article in the dog days of summer with my eyes seeing the nearing of the end of my two-year tenure as chair of our club. The heart of my vision has been to make our club a more caring and an entertaining community. In this article, I would like to express some gratitude for some of my ride buddies who have helped push forward this vision, and in doing so, enriching my life in the process.

Rudi Riet is one of those dudes who reeks of Rocky Mountain hipster coolness. In a city with no shortage of competitive egos, he is the pied piper every Wednesday night in the spring and summer months on the Downtown Breakaway ride. He commands the respect of many strong lions and lionesses. Week after week, year after year, he is shepherding and bonding all of us together through the back roads connecting DuPont Circle to elsewhere in northwest DC and Montgomery County. While he is ferocious on two wheels, I am more admiring of his humility and graceful camaraderie.

I first met Erik Kugler several weeks ago. Like many other owners of local bike shops who I have met along the years, he’s got a lot going on in his cerebellum. He and his partner understand urban dynamics with Bicycle Space now operating in three vibrant DC neighborhoods. The stores have a cool vibe and blend seamlessly in these neighborhoods. More impressive, he is low ego with a gentle spirit who looks to shine the light on others. Thanks to him and his circle, we can now better use the bicycle to transcend historic racial and class barriers with ongoing social tours through various DC neighborhoods every weekend.

Jessie Webb reached out to our Club last fall in asking if we could help him start a youth bike club in DC. “Who is this guy?” I thought. There is only so much that I can say with words here as I have begun to better know him. He is a loyal husband, father and an after school counselor, mentoring many at-risk youth in one of DC’s economically depressed neighborhoods in the northeast. When he leads the kids on group bike rides throughout the year, he teaches them not only about effective cycling skills but also about life-affirming lessons, such as the benefits of active listening, persistence, compassion and cooperation.

Joan Sune is awesome in many ways but for now I focus on his bicycling prowess. Over the recent weeks, I have watched this 10-year old spin his Trek kids’ bike over some of the fiercest hills in DC without complaining and without yet getting off the bike to walk. As I watch him conquer these new challenges on two wheels, I also am feeling the fortune of observing growth spurts in his moxie and self-confidence to better overtake Hobbesian demons battling his early adolescent psyche. I feel blessed to watch this young person’s journey.

Finally, I’d like to add a few words about two of my favorite ride buddies in our club who continue to inspire me. Martine Palmiter and Linda Kolko have been side by side with me on the Executive Committee for the past two years. They have taught me much about courage and dignity. I have yet to actually do a bike ride with either one but I cannot think of our club without thinking of them given the number of hours we have spent together behind the scenes. Martine is our Club’s Mother Jones – she continues to articulate our strategic vision and the details for the teams to follow. Linda has a great sarcastic streak, which compliments her uncanny ability of reading people; she diffuses conflicts and helps us to work better together in teams. They are both very interesting with a fantastic mix of empathy, humor, verve and resilience.

So perhaps our bike club is not the primary vehicle for saving our world. It does however help make things a little better in this niche of the planet, particularly in enriching the lives of all of us who get to ride and celebrate together.

I end now by reminding all to please help the Club and register for the Back Roads Century. I look forward to seeing everyone in Shepherdstown for the #BackRoadsCent Weekend.

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