Bike Party!

San Francisco's newest group ride marks a less confrontational, more booty-shaking phase in the city's bike movement

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Put your hands up San Francisco: SF Bike Partiers get down on a dance break at the Palace of Fine Arts.
PHOTO BY SAM DOSICK

caitlin@sfbg.com, steve@sfbg.com

On Friday night, May 6, hundreds of bikes lean against the massive pillars holding up the Palace of Fine Arts' rotunda, a colorful array of plastic flowers and stereo speakers affixed to their baskets and trailers.

Their riders, flushed with endorphins after a four-mile cruise across town, are ignoring the winds whipping off the bay and dancing their asses off to a pumping sound-system that switches from bubblegum pop to John Lennon's "Imagine" and on to an electronica instrumental as more bikes arrive under the dome and the circle of dancers grows.

As a conga line forms, the dancers intermittently cheer "Bike party!" just as the cyclists have been declaring at the mini-parties held at every red light throughout this and the other monthly San Francisco Bike Party rides that started in January.

It's a celebratory moment for San Francisco bike culture, and a sign that it's branching off into new directions. While the venerable Critical Mass ride — which marks its 20th anniversary next year — seizes space on the roads, ignores red lights, and often sparks confrontations with motorists, Bike Party is a celebration that seeks to share space, avoid conflict, and just have fun.

Bike Party follows a set route on the first Friday night of every month, stopping two to three times along the way for dance parties. The basic idea is that participants should obey most traffic laws, stop at red lights, and try to avoid taking up more than one lane. And while Critical Mass is a local invention that was exported to cities around the world, Bike Party was imported from San Jose, where it started with the efforts of three 20-something roommates.

They were Nick Laskowski, who had helped to organize the by-then defunct San Jose Critical Mass ride; Amber Lamason, another organizer of San Jose social bike rides; and Lauryn McCarthy, an East Coast native new to San Jose who "just wanted to build community and meet people who liked to bike."

In a town hardly known for its great biking environment (despite its relative-to-San-Francisco flatness, bike riding on San Jose's freeway-like thoroughfares "can be really daunting to new riders," as one SJBP organizer put it) the three publicized their new Bike Party on Facebook, and 25 people showed up to the first ride in October 2007.

"We were stoked," McCarthy, who has since moved to San Francisco, recalled during an interview at a cafe on lower Divisadero Street. By June 2008, the monthly ride hit 120 riders, and one day a biker she didn't recognize invited McCarthy to join the ride. "I knew it had arrived."

 

S–M TO ANIMALS

These days, San Jose Bike Parties have monthly costume themes from S–M to animals, and can attract up to 3,500 riders. The events have gotten so large that organizers now wait to publish routes until 24 hours before the ride to cut down the numbers. Other chapters have sprung up (with the organizational help of San Jose core volunteers) in the East Bay and San Francisco.

How to explain Bike Party's instant popularity among Bay Area riders? It might be that its ethos appeals to a different sentiment than Critical Mass. While most Mass riders see that monthly ride as an opportunity to disrupt the automobile status quo, Bike Party is built around sharing the road.

It's been a welcome new addition to the scene for many longtime urban cycling advocates like Justin Fraser, who has long held a Critical Mass pre-party but who switched the event to precede the San Francisco Bike Party after having a great time at the maiden ride in January.

"I've been doing Critical Mass since the late '90s, and I usually go about 10 times over the course of the year, so I'm a regular. What I loved about Critical Mass is it's a great group bike ride." Fraser said.

Comments

We here at the SF Weekly Chronicle are thrilled that the Guardian has joined us in taking gratuitous swipes at Critical Mass when writing about Bike Party, since the folks at Bike Party aren't doing it. And just in time for Bike To Work Day, too! Thanks for helping us prop up our narrative.

Posted by Matier & Smith on May. 11, 2011 @ 6:32 am

get outta here! no one at the Guardian is "taking gratuitous swipes at Critical Mass", and especially not in this article! This writer is simply speaking factually of CM, not negatively. I would be shocked if you really understood the underlying meaning/importance of critical mass and still had the audacity to knock it.

Posted by not quite, weekly on May. 11, 2011 @ 9:34 am

Happy to see this positive press on SF bike culture or whatever one calls it. Shout out to SFBC, CM, RTB, and other groups and rides doing great things for bicycling around the Bay Area.

For the record, in case there's any confusion, SFBP doesn't oppose SFCM.

Also, SFBP isn't a "chapter" of SJ. They're separate groups, organized by different people. There's no SJ hub members on the SF hub or centralized planning between the BPs. There is a great deal of camaraderie and cross pollination of riders and ideas. However, primarily SFBP is by design and necessity as unique in how it rides and the routes it takes as SF's unique culture, infrastructure, and topography.

SFBP does have volunteers, stop at lights, and have planned routes, which shapes the overall ride experience. Those are the main distinctions with CM, and similarities with other BP. However, music, art and partying on bikes and using public spaces goes back to the 90's and earlier, so this is a new variation on an old theme.

Comparing different rides is a bit like comparing different types of bikes by different makers. It's "Different Spokes for Different Folks." The ideal number of bikes is "current number + 1" and maybe the same can be said about bikers and rides.

Posted by Guest on May. 11, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

Read the article, willya? It was written to celebrate the fact that SF is at a moment when we can have two mass rides that mean different things (sometimes), but are both serving the same end: bike visibility, bike fun, bike community. At its most simple level, it means there's more bikers out there. Fractious insults (though I do have to give you props for creativity) = unnecessary.

And dang, if you think "causing confrontations" is an insult at the Guardian, you probably haven't been reading our paper very long.

Posted by caitlin on May. 11, 2011 @ 7:56 am

would be nice if you'd linked to this discussion of the relationship between the two rides and the larger political issues... http://www.sfcriticalmass.org/2011/01/29/protest-or-celebration-or-somet...
thanks!
--cc

Posted by Guest on May. 11, 2011 @ 8:32 am

This is the web version of a print article (a media that links don't work that well with). But thanks for contributing it -- its notes on the significance of CM are really pertinent to its role in the SF bike movement.

Posted by caitlin on May. 11, 2011 @ 9:15 am
Posted by A on May. 11, 2011 @ 10:30 am

AVANTE ALCALDE AVALOS !!!

Posted by Pat Monk.RN. on May. 11, 2011 @ 9:57 am

Evidently Hugh D'Andrade is a pre-Mass cyclist as am I. However, I must challenge his statement "To ride through San Francisco in the early '90s was to take your life into your hands and be subject to harassment. Bicycling was not a mainstream transportation option."

I think Mass and the SFBC politicized cycling that induced harassment because I don't recall confrontations or reports thereof with vehicles during the pre-Mass era in San Francisco. If Mass never materialized, I think the SFBC would have been a better-respected organization and would have been much more progressive to accommodate the increasing number of cyclists.

Mass was/is a parasite to the SFBC as it seems the SFBC cannot and does not disassociate itself with Mass. Bicycle critics often equate riders with Mass and that's real tough for bicyclists and the SFBC to make strides in the community. And that's not even including Rob Anderson in the equation who single-handedly robbed the SFBC of three years of progress.

Overall, the pre-politics days of cycling were more enjoyable, irrespective of the lack of bicycle lanes and shallows. Cyclists and autos truly shared the road because we were forced to and the California Vehicle Code mandated that we legally do that. Mass ruined cycling and we'll never know how much more effective the SFBC would be sans Mass.

Posted by eezz-rider on May. 11, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

Bzzzt to "mass mess". Check in with this article and get back to us.

http://www.sfcriticalmass.org/2010/05/25/is-critical-mass-bad-or-good/

Posted by TVK on May. 11, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

Happy to see this positive press on SF bike culture or whatever one calls it. Shout out to SFBC, CM, RTB, and other groups and rides doing great things for bicycling around the Bay Area.

For the record, in case there's any confusion, SFBP doesn't oppose SFCM.

Also, SFBP isn't a "chapter" of SJBP. They're separate groups, run by different people. There's no SJ hub members on the SF hub or centralized planning between the BPs. There is a great deal of camaraderie and cross pollination of riders and ideas. SFBP is by design and necessity as unique in how it rides and the routes it takes as SF's unique culture, infrastructure, and topography.

SFBP does have volunteers, stop at lights, and have planned routes, which shapes the overall ride experience. Those are the main distinctions with CM, and similarities with other BP. However, music, art and partying on bikes and using public spaces goes back to the 90's and earlier, so this is a new variation on an old theme.

Comparing different rides is a bit like comparing different types of bikes by different makers. It's "Different Spokes for Different Folks." The ideal number of bikes is "current number + 1" and maybe the same can be said about bikers and rides.

Posted by ~NA on May. 11, 2011 @ 1:21 pm
Posted by Guest Carina on Jul. 23, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

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