In pro cycling, the “breakaway,” or “break” is about a small group of riders seeking to separate themselves from the crowd to gain a competitive edge. One of Richmond’s newest events, Breakaway RVA is about something very different. Organizers have created an afternoon break for a large group of cyclists seeking togetherness and (mostly) low-key fun. Launched in May, Breakaway RVA is a monthly group bike ride drawing upwards of 100 cyclists for a casual loop of the city. Riders select from five or six departure points, then ride en masse on four- to eight-mile routes to one collective mid-point and one final destination. Along the way, riders meet new people, see the city in a new way, get some exercise, promote urban biking, and ready themselves for a surprise.
The idea for Breakaway broke after Andrew and Sydney Lester joined the Denver Cruiser Ride last summer. Its first ride attracted just 13 riders but now jams Denver streets with thousands of enthusiastic cyclists every week of the summer. There are also similar social rides in Los Angeles, Portland, San Jose, Seattle, Detroit, and many other cities around the globe.
According to Sydney Lester: “Breakaway formed from just a few friends who brought in their friends, and, before you knew it, we were all friends.”
In August, anticipation peaked as the peloton neared the gates of the Governor’s Mansion. Other rides have arrived at scenic parks, aired short history lessons, and seen cyclists don costumes. And don’t worry, after all that exercise, Breakaway knows riders are thirsty. Final destinations have included Union Market, Ardent Craft Ales, Legend Brewery, and Stone Brewery.
At each event though, it’s about the destination and the journey. Team member Tangee Moore says, “Our routes create an opportunity for riders to explore Richmond’s neighborhoods, history, architecture, and people. Our destinations are atmospheres that create the perfect space to eat, drink, and socialize.” Breakaway thus captures what is best about Richmond: our beautiful city and our sense of community.
On a recent ride, I loved the surprise of seeing friends at my chosen start point (VMFA), the joy of a long conversation with someone I just met while we wheeled the city, the looks on faces in restaurants and stores as all 40 of us rode by, and the total rush at seeing numerous old and new friends pouring into Jefferson Park from all directions. It was like any other great party, except everyone rode their bike there.
As with the hordes of folks who ride every month, the awesome people who organize the event are a motley crew. An urban planner, personal stylist, psychotherapist, food tour guide, mental health facility manager, grocery purveyor, and creative marketer, the team represents the type of people who bike in Richmond – all types.
The group’s overall mission is to “build community through biking and build biking through community.” Team member Josh Son captures this mission well: “Ultimately, we hope riders will find how fun and easy biking in Richmond can and should be.”
The pre-planned routes, amazing energy, and emphasis on fun and safety inspire and enable participants to branch out on their own. On the wheels of the electric UCI World Championships in 2015, Breakaway – and the sheer visibility of the crowd on ride days – also educates the community that cycling is fast becoming a stalwart of our city.