This is the digital version of Ride Together, Win Together, the futuristic article in No Boundaries magazine, released fall 2021, depicting Buffalo in 2051. Our authors were given a 12 page report compiled by area professors, researchers and non profit leaders about the city we might have by then, if we get to work now. Those authors then let their imaginations run wild. The entire production was presented by West Side Promise Neighborhood. This article is presented by NeighborWorks Community Partners and Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. (All references to actual persons or actual stories are purely coincidental)
RIDE TOGETHER, WIN TOGETHER
Written by Kevin Heffernan
Illustrated by Renee Helda
“This should hold,” said Hla. “That’s what Donnie at the shop told me before that guy Baw stole his last donut.”
She pushed Mike’s bike toward him. “Try it out. Go as fast as you can down West and wait until the last second to hit your brakes before your right turn on York. If it can do that, it can handle the turn at the silos.”
Hla was sixteen years old, but spoke like she was 30. Cool and determined, she kept her dark hair tied up in a loose bun, save for a stubborn strand she’d always been blowing out of her face rather than touch it with her chain-greased hands. Her jeans were her primary rag for that grease, but her vintage green Phoebe Bridgers 2024 tour T-shirt was spotless.
At fifteen, Mike was navigating his way through a changing voice. He had outgrown his jeans in a matter of months, so he rolled them up, preferring to look like an avid urban biker rather than a kid with flood pants on. He climbed onto his bike,and clipped his shoe into his pedal. The chipped paint on its frame was green. The front wheel’s rim was silver, the back was black, and his handlebars were just installed by Hla—a set he had found at GObike’s scrap shop in Riverside.
“Feels good . . .fingers crossed! Meet at my house at 6 tomorrow morning?”
“Yep. Oh wait! Our team stickers finally arrived!” Hla knelt down and neatly placed a sticker across Mike’s crossbar. A three-finger salute.
“For my bike too? I know that symbol is important to your family…”
“You’re basically family, Mike.”
Mike blushed before he tore down the driveway and down the street.
30 years prior, in February, there was a military coup on the other side of the world in Myanmar. Immediately, civilians hit the streets in protest, wanting to preserve the very fragile democracy they had been building for only ten years. Hla’s grandparents, Ceta and Ohma, were in the streets that day with thousands of others. They stood silently arm-in-arm, with the three finger salute held high. After a coup in Thailand in 2014, protesting civilians had adopted the symbol from the Hunger Games franchise, and it quickly spread across the region to Myanmar and beyond and stood for solidarity and resistance.
“We stand up to bullies, no matter how strong,” they told Hla’s mother Maia before leaving the house that day. The military junta wanted to send a message to anyone who would stand against them, and opened fire on the crowd that February. Ceta and Ohma were killed. Her mother Maia, only 15 at the time, was smuggled out of the country by her remaining family to distant relatives in the US, part of a growing community in the west side of Buffalo.
As she wiped off her hands, Hla stared at a giant map of the city she had pinned to the plywood wall in the garage behind her house. Along the water and through the center of the city, there was a bold red line meandering along streets, rail lines, parks, and the FlyRide route that hovered over the Niagara River. There were meticulously placed post-its at nearly every turn. Some marked the speeds you could expect to hit, 28mph along Humboldt Parkway, 34mph on the FlyRide, 8mph up the hill on Ring Road. Others marked the terrain. “Sandy” for the turns through Tifft. “Lego” where new bike paths and roads had been constructed from recycled plastic; dozens of colors from shredded bottle caps, toothbrushes, and packaging blurred into hypnotizing patterns the faster you rode.
To the left of the map, written on the wall in Sharpie, was a countdown from 34 days. 33 days ago, the Speed Riders Classic that would be in Buffalo for the Pan-Am Exposition announced that they’d host an under 18 amateur race with a $5,000 prize. Hla called Mike immediately and they pooled what little money they had to register together. After all their preparations, they had the route memorized. The race was tomorrow.
To the right of the map was a white sheet of paper with two highlight streaks on it. Three darts were stuck through it.
Last fall, Hla pulled her bike into the 8th lane of racks outside of Lafayette International High School because she was so late. Buses took everyone to school in January and February, and those able to walk or bike or skateboard did so for the rest of the year. A few yards to her left, Mike slammed his brakes before one of the last spots. He liked to arrive late and leave early so no one would see his bike which clearly belonged to his sister prior. He was too tall for it and hunched over his knees that bent out sideways to avoid the handlebar. The brakes were loose and he couldn’t fully stop before colliding with his classmate Erin’s bike as she stood beside it.
“What the hell, Mike!?” Erin shrieked. “Do you know how much this bike cost? You should have to park your sister’s clunker across the street in that guy’s garden where no one has to look at it.”
She swung her backpack full of books onto her back and smashed Mike’s front reflector right off his handlebars.
She, along with the two other members of her trio, Idris and his twin Isaac, laughed and left their bikes behind, each with two neon yellow pieces of tape on their frame. Hla watched Mike take a deep breath with his head hung low. He looked more tired than upset.
“Screw those guys, Mike. I’m glad you bumped that precious ride her dad bought her. It’s like her third brand new bike since we started high school.”
Mike looked up and cracked a smile.
“Listen,” said Hla. “I’ve been looking for a new seat. Thing’s just not right. You wanna head over to the scrap shop with me after school? They have enough pieces there you could build an entirely new bike for yourself—make it your own, ya know?”
“YES. Oh my god. I hate this thing. Makes me crave snowy days so I don’t have to ride it.”
“Haha nooo it’s still September! I’ll see you here at 2:15.”
Mike and Hla piled up hundreds of miles in the coming months. They’d ride to the top of abandoned parking ramps just for the view, ride along the frozen water ‘til midnight with two pairs of gloves and winter coats on, or race each other on the Delaware Park elevated track, trying to match the speeds they saw the pro’s on TV hitting. Every few weeks, they’d cross paths with Erin, Idris, and Isaac—“The Blades” as they called themselves. Their insignia on all their bikes was supposed to be some nod to being lightning fast riders, but really just flaunted how they had more money than God and always had the newest, fastest bikes.
In May, along the Lake Erie trail in Lackawanna, Mike and Hla were approaching The Blades crew from behind and tried to pass on the left. Seeing them coming, The Blades split to three wide to block the entire path.
“Can we get by, guys?”
“Oh sorry, sure.”
They all slowed down and opened a couple tiny gaps between them. Mike and Hla tried to squeeze between and then the gaps closed again. The three sped up, and then slowed down. Hla got furious and tried to speed up just as Erin slowed down again. Hla had to swerve and went off the trail and toward the ledge. She lost control and flew right into the water, bike and all. The water was still only 50 degrees and the shock to her system quelled her rage long enough to grab her bike before it sank. Mike pulled it out before Hla swam to a nearby ladder. The Blades were long gone.
Later that summer, at registration for the Speed Riders Classic, Mike and Hla looked around at everyone else registering, seeing some friends from school and from the shop.
“Look who got the algae off her bike,” quipped Erin from behind them.
“Oh our odds of winning just went way up,” Isaac chimed in.
“Yeah if you win, will your parents accept the award, like they do everything else for you, too?”
“Shut up Mike. Don’t let your bike fall apart on the first mile.”
Smiling as they had walked away, Hla elbowed Mike, “Nice one.”
The morning of the race had arrived and Hla was up at 5AM, eating steamed pork buns and chugging water. She added a three-finger salute sticker to the back of her helmet and hit the road.
Mike was pacing his front porch when she arrived and he immediately clipped into his bike and they tore down to Canalside for the 7AM start.
About 300 riders were participating and there were only a few stretches where the path opened wide and there was ample room to pass. Mike and Hla were there early to be able to start at the front of the pack.
Crowded into the opening shoot, they never saw The Blades before the shot went off, which gave them a little anxiety, knowing they could come up behind them at any moment.
“We ride together, we win together,” Hla said as she and Mike bumped fists.
The shot rang out to cheers from the crowd of thousands that had gathered, teams began backtracking up Franklin Street in order to turn and begin the massive opening climb up the Skyway. The 190 had been torn out in 2040, but the Skyway remained because the train bringing everyone into the city from Lackawanna and Hamburg raced back and forth on the elevated platform seven days a week.
Thinking of saving energy, but maintaining a lead, Mike and Hla coached each other up the hill. The wind picked up as they got closer to the top and they began the drafting exercise they had trained for, alternating who would break the wind and allow the other to conserve energy.
Finally they turned left and began the steep descent to the Outer Harbor. Surrounding the route, tents and stages and temporary buildings were wrapping their construction in anticipation of the world’s arrival for the Pan American Exposition the following week.
Halfway down the slope, there they were, The Blades, with those speed helmets on that make you look like an alien, cutting wind resistance in half and speeding them right down the hill.
Idris flashed a middle finger at Hla while passing and laughing. Hla shot a I don’t even care look at Mike as they stuck to their plan.
At the bottom of the hill, all the teams made a hard left to pass right back over the Ship Canal to Ganson Street where another hard climb began. In the 2020’s, Silo City was reinvented once again as a living space, with bike and walking paths through its gardens, but also along its rooftops, connecting each behemoth structure.
Thew-Thew-Thew-Thew was the sound of flying by the front gardens of the penthouse apartments perched atop the silos at their high speed. The turn they had trained for was coming; as the silos bent, so did the path. It widened to accommodate a casual ride, but these racers would have to slow down. Not Mike and Hla. They hugged the interior, trusted the modifications to their bikes and waited until the last second to brake and then accelerated into their right turn, passing about 30 riders, including The Blades as they began their descent.
Back over the Buffalo River and through Tifft Nature Preserve, they were ready for the sand on the path and knew just where to slow down and speed up. Their first hard speed test was coming at South Park. Riders had to complete a full loop of the flat path, and while their bikes were light, Mike and Hla were a technical team and didn’t have an advantage in an open speedway. They conserved energy and waited for the turns they knew coming up. As they hit the halfway point on South Park, The Blades and a few other teams got out ahead once again. This time, there were no middle fingers, only focused determination. They either didn’t see Mike and Hla, or they were starting to take them seriously.
Riders sped out of the park at the Botanical Gardens and raced up McKinley Parkway. The spectators lining the street gave everyone a huge boost of energy. Mike and Hla held their pace, alternating leads, and hydrating as they came up to Bailey Ave.
The city’s officials wasted no opportunity to flex Buffalo’s muscles for the world’s eyes, and in preparation for the route, they built a special track that ran right through the Central Terminal—the one marked LEGO on Hla’s map. Over its tracks and through its grand hallway, a band played as bikers raced right through the building and down Padarewski to Fillmore.
There were crowds outside of the subway stations along Humboldt at MLK Jr. Park, at Ferry, and at Main Street. There was a two-lane path for buses on the west side of the tree-lined parkway, and the east side was a 20-foot-wide track for bikes.
As Mike and Hla crossed Main, they were entering their home turf. They’d hit the elevated track at Delaware Park a hundred times, and that’s where they tallied their top speeds the year before. Riders needed to complete a full lap and two thirds before shooting out of the park onto the Scajaquada Creek Nature Path.
Mike took the lead as they flew down the initial hill off Parkside. Hla was close behind as they got into their rhythm. As some bikers fatigued and fell into the spell that is letting the downhill do the work for you, Mike and Hla got into their top gear and flew ahead. Hearts pounding, their legs felt just right, riding in perfect unison.
With each rider they passed, they felt a burst of energy to go get the next one. The Blades were coming back into sight, but as they hit the hill they entered on, they slipped out of grasp once again. The Blades’ superior bikes were paying off and they exerted less energy than Mike and Hla to get up that damn hill.
Spent after the climb, Mike and Hla used their second downhill as a quick chance to suck down some energy gels and tuck their wrappers into their pouch. The Buffalo Zoo quadrupled in size in 2035 and turned into a sanctuary only for endangered species. Bikers on the path could ride right over it. Hla looked down and locked eyes with a bear that had been poking at a stream with its cubs. She thought of her family and their journey, her grandparents’ words to her mother.
She looked at Mike who was tucking his water bottle away and said, “Let’s get ‘em.”
Without another word, they were locked in, focused and gaining speed. Statues of David and Abraham Lincoln looked on as they slipped right through the middle of Hoyt Lake. Buffalo State College students who had just arrived for the semester lined the promenade outside their dorms to cheer on the bikers right across the creek.
Erin, Idris and Isaac were thrilled to have the attention of some college kids. They sat up on their bikes and started waving and pumping their fists, pointing to yellow streaks insignia on their shoulders. It was when a few different heads across the creek turned and started cheering louder for those behind them did Erin see Mike and Hla approaching.
She signaled her team to pull their favorite move, blocking the path entirely and controlling the pace, getting Mike and Hla to waste their energy swerving.
Hla tried to remain cool, riding with water on her left once again, she didn’t want to go for another swim, but she didn’t want to lose all this incredible momentum either. She made her move, faking right and veering left, hoping to break up the pack for Mike to pass too.
Idris knew the move was coming and mirrored it. It forced Hla off the path again. This time, she was able to skid to halt before hitting the water’s edge, but heard the worst sound imaginable, a fast PISHEW from her front tire, letting her know it had flatted out.
“Later Loser!” yelled Erin as they approached the hill to enter the FlyRide into the home stretch.
Hla was devastated as she hopped off her bike to look at her wheel. Almost immediately, Mike was beside her, holding his front wheel in his hand.
“Swap these out and GO! Now!”
“What? We have to ride together!”
“This is riding together. You’re using my wheel! We’re so close and you can still get them. Go down Niagara to cut them off.” He pushed a stunned Hla out of the way, turned her bike over, and had his wheel locked into hers in about 12 seconds. “Now go!! I’ll fix the flat and see you at the finish.”
With a last look into his eyes, she agreed, clipped in and pedaled with a surge of adrenaline unlike anything she had had all day. If she took the same route as The Blades, she’d only get blocked again and never get past them. Making a hard left onto Niagara Street, she wasn’t in violation, but did have to deal with the city’s riders who weren’t racing that day.
DING. DING. “Sorry! Sorry!” she warned the unsuspecting Saturday morning cyclists as she flew by each one. Through the trees and between buildings, she could not yet see the other team on the FlyRide over the river. She crouched lower, pedaled harder and faster in high gear.
Delavan. Lafayette. Auburn. No site of them in the gaps. She knew she was riding faster than she had all day, and kept at it. Just as Niagara became Busti, she spotted them, shooting right under the Peace Bridge, chatting with each other and smiling widely.
She veered right and took the old path near West Side Rowing Club and put herself just behind them, about 30 yards to the left.
The FlyRide dropped off at Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park. Hla had to beat them to Porter before they all grabbed the tunnel to the Erie Basin Marina’s observation deck.
She turned onto Porter with about two seconds separating her and The Blades, and as she made a left onto the bike path that hugged the shoreline, she heard Erin say “How the hell?”.
Smiling ear-to-ear, Hla plunged into the tunnel. Made of glass, it allowed its riders to look up at the passing boats through 30 feet of water. She heard Erin screaming at Idris and Isaac to “MOVE IT!” and as she emerged along Erie Street, she realized there was no one ahead of her because of the cheers of the crowd. Two seconds later, it roared louder as The Blades emerged in hot pursuit.
Her lungs were on fire, vision blurry, her heart was pounding in her throat, and her legs right on the verge of cramping in full. As she approached the USS Little Rock, there was her mother, standing out in the street aside from the crowd. Not cheering with the others, she simply raised her right hand high in the air, and gave Hla a three-finger salute.
With the last bit of energy she could muster, Hla leaned down, switched to high gear, and never looked back as she crossed the finish line to the roar of the crowd.
Moments later, Mike crossed the finish line himself and found Hla. He gave her a frantic look wondering how she had done. Hla dropped her bike, threw both arms in the air and screamed and she ran for him. They both jumped up and down in a circle as the crowd converged around them.