The speed connotes utter lack of urgency. Except for the occasional hill climb or descent, the average pace may approach 15 miles per hour at the front but settles between 10 and 12 toward the back. This leaves ample breath for easy conversation. Snippets of dialogue are punctuated by the sound of shifting gears. The declining sun's acute angle casts a rich amber glow on tree canopies, homes and a dozen cyclists.
The Mondays Around Monona bike ride is a low-key circumnavigation of the Lake Monona bike path by a bunch of bikers in no particular hurry to complete the loop. Starting from the path's crossing at Fair Oaks Avenue, the rides began as one woman's need to spend more time on two wheels.
"I decided that if I led a weekly ride, I'd probably have to show up," explains India Rose Viola, a principal - along with Ali Dwyer - in the We Are All Mechanics series of bike-maintenance and repair classes for women.
Open to anyone, male or female, Mondays Around Monona saw modest beginnings. Early attendance was pretty sparse, Viola says. "Generally I was there, sometimes Ali was there, a lot of times my boyfriend was there, and that was about it." Returning this year on Mondays in August and September, the rides now draw 10 to 20 cyclists ranging in age from six to north of 60, and have filled one of the few open spots on the ride calendar left vacant by the long-established Wednesday night leisure rides and the Bombay Bicycle Club's dominant ride schedule.
On this night, most riders appear to be in their 30s. Viola, 34, is one of only two or three riders who wear cycling jerseys and shorts. The rest are attired in casual clothes, though all wear helmets.
Viola says one of the ride's strongest lures is the familiarity of its short loop, which measures a bit more than 12 miles. Though predictable, the route nonetheless affords an experience that is "never the same ride twice," she observes. "Through August and September, you're always seeing the change in the seasons."
The loose organization allows cyclists to "go at whatever pace they want, ride together and talk or ride alone and meditate. We're just there facilitating it every week."
Many of the participants convene after the ride at an east-side tavern to extend the esprit de velo. Conversations after the ride are wide-ranging, with topics as disparate as cycling, the H1N1 virus, mixing drinks and how people spent their Mondays at work.
"So far the conversations have been great," affirms Reed Bonner, a long-term-care program analyst who is back for his second ride, in part because "I'm looking to meet more people who are interested in bike riding."
Catherine Willis, a graduate student in rural sociology at UW-Madison, is riding her fourth Mondays Around Monona loop. She cites "the really fun people who I wouldn't meet otherwise," among the reasons for her attendance streak. "It's also a good place to ask questions about biking or fixing bikes, and you don't feel dumb about it."
After Labor Day, the start time for the ride moves from 6:30 to 6 p.m. as a concession to dwindling daylight hours. Lights and reflectors are encouraged. Viola notes that ride veterans and newcomers alike can email email@example.com with questions about the rides, and to subscribe to updates via the Mondays Around Monona email list.
"I think a lot of people use this ride as a first venture back into biking," notes Viola, "because it's really the perfect platform. Anyone can ride around Lake Monona."
David Medaris blogs about local bicycling and bike culture at TheDailyPage.com.