Posts tagged ‘Bike Party’

September 13, 2013

Bike Party: A Pop-up Community

Four miles in and my calves burn like salt in an open wound.  The helmet strap chafes my left cheek, while around me others let out agitated grunts and moans.  From memory, I know the peak is near – but people are staggering, falling behind, as the San Francisco hills stack like dominoes.  A metallic clank slips my bike into its lowest gear, and I keep pedaling.  By the hundreds we funnel into a narrow, unpaved path, toward Sutro Heights Park.  With Richmond District behind us, our energy is buoyed by the cacophony of mobile stereos and the flashing lights coloring the trees enclosing everyone. Suddenly the branches flush back like the opening of a curtain, and the city lays lit like a torch below us. I lock my bike to a tree, crack open a Pabst Blue Ribbon, and head for the dancing crowd amassing around the stereos before me.

Bike Party is everything your Friday night needs. Its purpose, according to its website, is to “Build community through bicycling.”   Dance and drink, embrace the enduring ride and introduce yourself to every single person that strikes you as either attractive or interesting.  San Francisco celebrates the first Friday of every month, East Bay the second, and San Jose the third. For me, this means I already have my Friday night plans covered two weeks out of every month; I’m a San Francisco inhabitant and frequent visitor to the Easy Bay.  My first Bike Party was back in February in San Francisco, and it was also my first date with Spree.
SF Bike Party
Before it all began, I was skittish. Not just because of the date, but because I expected the usual rag-tag of stop-sign-skipping, grungy, hardcore bike enthusiasts that have come to embody much of the ever-controversial Critical Mass, and the reason I stopped going. But I wanted to do something memorable – I wanted Spree to remember it, remember me.  People told me Bike party was different.  They used words like “civilized”, “cooperative”, and “dance”.  And anyway, Spree said she had been before, so I figured she knew what I was getting us into.  After a quick slice of pizza at Blondie’s over a pint in North Beach, we picked up a flask of Jack Daniels and ran into three of my friends in the liquor aisle of Safeway.  Five of us now, we thought it best to divide a 12-pack of Tecate among our bags and make way toward Fort Mason’s Great Meadow for the 7:30 p.m. rendezvous time.

The Nitty-Gritty

Bike Part is a co-op run by different volunteers in each city.  The formula is simple: all parties meet at 7:30, ride out at 8(ish), and celebrate at each of three pre-determined party stops spread out over the evening, or until you are one of too tired or inebriated to carry on any longer (making sure to bus your bike home if you are above the 0.08% ABV limit, of course, as organizers will be keen to remind you). The routes, printed on half-sheets of paper and handed out minutes before rides, change each month, averaging about 13 miles during 4 hours. Designated volunteers direct the mass through intersections throughout the night, making way for passing traffic and keeping cyclists in the correct lanes per the civilized rules of the celebration.  Bike Party even features a different theme each month: last month was Robot Revolution, while the February ride featured all things red in honor of National Wear Red Day.

Celebrate Charismatically (and Responsibly)

You’re close to the initial meet-up point when you hear music spilling out into the air. As we rode in, Tecates clanking, flashing neon lights illuminated cyclists converging on the meadow from every direction around us.  Flushed with endorphins, people are already dancing to the pumping sound system that switches from Beastie Boys to bass-heavy electronica. Other riders mingle over the eclectic array of speakers, decorations and alterations that characterize the bikes scattered around us.  One participant asks me how I heard about Bike Party (friends), while the rest gawk at the BMXer doing a wheelie – his spokes are lit on fire.

At 8 p.m., an organizer brings the crowd together over a megaphone and the music is silenced.  “What do we do at red lights?” he yells.  “Stop!” the crowd cries back.  “How many lanes do we use!?”  “One!” Minutes later, we hear “Bike Party, Move Out!” The mob cheers and we’re off to destination #1: The Embarcadero Pier.

I am San Francisco Bike Party Pabstelated, and a little drunk.  Riding down Battery Street toward The Embarcadero, Spree is telling me about her Halloween-zombie-midnight ride with Bike Party last October, and then we’re bonding over our tendencies toward whiskey and a strong IPA when seeking inebriation.  By my account, the night is passing splendidly, and I’m hardly cognizant of the hundreds of other riders around me as we reach our first stop.  Bikes are haphazardly strewn next to every inch of available railing on Pier 14 – Spree locks her bike to mine, and we each take a swig of whiskey. Mobile stereos are amassing at the end of the peer facing the Bay Bridge, radiating with neon glare, and the dance party is underway.  Around us, flasks are passed among new and old friends alike.  Stories are told, and wide-eyed Instagrammers snap every photo worth taking. All around us, people are smiling.

A New Take

By utilizing the urban landscape of San Francisco against the grain of day-to-day practice, together we own it.  I am suddenly exposed to chance experiences and relationships in places where tourists snap photos of motionless boats and salary workers eat their lunches by midday’s sun.  In West Oakland, dilapidated parks are transformed into brimming festivals of celebration and light; Lake Merrit becomes one of the most happening spots in all of Oakland at 1 a.m.  Reclaiming the streets through civic participation does more than engage the community – it creates involved citizens.

After Pier 14, we doubled back North to Portsmouth Square in Chinatown.  Then we followed the coast along the Marina, past Crissy field and into the Presidio to end at Fort Point, just below Golden Gate. By then it’s 1 a.m., and our empty stomachs spelled the end of the night for Spree and me.  We’d cycled approximately 15 miles, emptied our backpacks of whiskey and Tecates, and befriended a small living room worth of people.  The night celebrated essential values: cooperation, a little manual labor, and socializing, all performed with a smile and killer views of the city.  Bike Party is an unforgettable experience – despite the booze, my memories of Bike Party remain strong, if not exact.

Do it Yourself

Bike Party is a powerful reminder of what is lost in everyday use of a city: an honest sense of wonder and a true openness to impulse. Nobody checks their phones every seven minutes, or asks about plans for the night.  Participants are busy riding, smiling, and engaging one another.  So grab your bike and head out to your local Bike Party next Friday.  If you don’t have a bike, find one on Craigslist, or borrow your friend’s (bring your friend’s lock, too).  Visit a Bike Party website, like Familiarize yourself with the rules, bring some warm clothes and a libation or three, and there’s a good chance I will see you there.Bike Party East Bay Lake Meritt