Its Hard to Ride with a Tail

Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of the East Bay Bike Party and the end of Bike to Work Week. In true EBBP style, the theme for the night was ‘pajama party’, allowing for everything from lusty – which it was far too cold for, so lusty got put on over several less lusty flanel layers – to something closer to my outfit – an adult penguin footie pajama ensemble. Let me assure you, it is much harder to ride with a tail than you would think, but the flipper/mittens came in handy as the night got colder.

pre-departure. This is one corner of the large park where the party gathered.

The ride this time stayed pretty local to Oakland and was shorter than normal (an 11 mile, rather than the standard 15ish), which was fine as the night was much colder than expected.Unlike its trans-bay counterpart Critical Mass, the bike party is exactly what its name suggests. While its numbers are large – running anywhere from 200-600 riders – the ride is not meant to be an adversarial political statement. It is an expectation that riders will support one another in staying to the right and stopping at lighted intersections, and when cars are trying to pass, giving them room to do so. The East Bay Bike Party prides itself on being the sort of gathering that, when drivers honk at us or yell ‘what are all these bikes doing out?’, its supportive and excited, rather than pissed off. The routes take riders through both large city streets, and residential areas and we often see people coming out of their houses with cameras to cheer us on and ask us how to join in. Little kids, in particular, love us. But what’s not to love? Yes, we make a hell of a lot of noise between the ‘bike part-ay!” calls and the sound trailers (how could we not roll with music?), but its joyful noise. In my opinion, the world needs more joyful noise.

red light dance party. you cant see it, but another segment of the ride is on the other side of the intersection.

Bike Party is always exactly what I need. It has never failed to pick me up no matter how bad my day/week/month has been, no matter how tired or lazy I feel before heading out. Riding in, on bike or on BART, you inevitably run into at least one other person going to do exactly the same thing you are, and there is instant comrodery. If you’re really lucky you find one of the brave souls hauling a sound trailer heading to the ride, music already in full swing. There are usually two stops along the way, of varying duration, where everyone gathers in one large space to stretch, drink, dance, joust, talk, take photos, or sit and enjoy the surroundings (the main image for this post, of the Bay Bridge at twilight, was taken from the first party stop). The first time I went out on this ride, I was extremely new to riding a bike and was not very confident – which is a nightmare for someone trying to ride slowly in a dense crowd of people. But even then, as I tried not to weave or crash into anyone, I was delightfully overwhelmed by the feeling of riding with so many other cyclists. Once the crowd spaces itself out a little bit better, there is nothing that compares to cruising down a main street with a few hundred other people, just behind a speaker, singing along to good music. I think sometimes that if everyone could have this experience, at least once, it would make a cyclist of them for life.

first turns.

As the ride progressed, we made our way through mostly empty streets until getting back to the Lake Merritt area, densely populated with club and bar goers, people driving, other bikes, and folks leaving restaurants. It is always surprising to me that anyone can look at this never-ending line of cheering, yelling, whooping cyclists and not know about it. Bike Party is so much a part of my general experience as a cyclist that it seems impossible to me that there are people who don’t know what it is. Our second party stop at the Lake Merritt gazebo was brief. I come to this space quite often, actually, to spin fire and was sad not to have my LED poi with me, but I did have a nice sloping hill for sitting, a beer, all the music I could handle, and a good friend.

The ride ended at the former Parkway Theater. I shared a strangely delicious calzone with two drunk strangers, which was a welcome if strange treat. All food tastes amazing after bike party, and I’m not sure why. Yes, food is great after any bike ride, but my regular rides are much more strenuous than this, and food never tastes this good when I’m done with them. Maybe I need more drunk strangers?

last stop of the night.
the strangely delicious calzone

For me, as a person riding a bike in a city, Bike Party is a deal breaker – it has changed how I see myself in a larger community. Bike Party is not only for fixed gears, hipsters, or young people. Folks of all ages (from the very young to the older than you would expect), abilities (racers, commuters, weekend warriors), and bike types (extravagantly expensive to falling apart – road, hybrid, track, mountain, recumbent) come together, dressed like idiots, to share in this thing we love doing. That is the magic of it – take away the music and the cheering, and you still just have a wonderfully diverse community, with many regulars, myself included, who just like a good ride. Who like to look up or back over a sea of blinky lights and know that we probably pass these people on the streets all the time, like superheros in our day clothes. But one Friday a month, dressed in pajamas, like dinosaurs, or zombies, we get to play together in the middle of the street, all night long.

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