- This Week
San Francisco's newest group ride marks a less confrontational, more booty-shaking phase in the city's bike movement
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
But he and other regular riders often grew tired of the regular confrontations with angry motorists, the police presence, and the often circular routes through car-clogged downtown during rush hour that the leaderless Critical Mass ride would take.
"I love how it's a planned ride and you get out to other parts of the city, like the recent ride out to Candlestick Point," Fraser said. "Bike Party avoids lots of Critical Mass' conflicts by stopping at lights, getting out of downtown, and starting later."
Amandeep "Deep" Jawa, another longtime bike culture leader whose "Trikeasaurus," a three-wheeler tricked out with a booming sound system, is a familiar sight to many SF riders, has also warmly embraced Bike Party and volunteered his time to helping establish it here.
"I'm not sure whether it's an evolution or just something different," Jawa said, comparing Bike Party to Critical Mass. "I love both of them for different reasons. I don't think Bike Party is ever going to have that agit-prop element to it."
Indeed, Critical Mass was founded as an agitation-propaganda event to directly challenge the dominance of car culture, something Jawa says is still relevant and attractive to him. But Bike Party is a deliberate effort to broaden the appeal of group bike rides to larger audiences, which organizers say still has a political impact.
"Anytime you put bicycles on the road en masse, it's an inherently political act," says McCarthy. In an e-mail to the Guardian, the San Francisco Bike Party collective backed up her sentiment. "While SFBP doesn't specifically advocate for any politics or policies, by simply showing how many regular folks want to party on their bikes each month, we're showing that there is a need for a public space for people who ride bikes."
FIXIES AND FAMILIES
Contrary to much of the Bike Party's recent coverage by anti-Critical Mass media sources, which tend to represent it as the antithesis to the decades-old ride, the two events started with similar traffic policies and work to many of the same ends.
Like Mass, Bike Party practiced "corking" in its early stages in San Jose, assigning volunteers (or "birds," in the group's parlance) to post up in intersections to block cars for other riders as a safety precaution.
In 1997, Critical Mass experimented with stopping at red lights but soon eschewed the practice — it was considered too dangerous with the 5,000 to 8,000 people who were then riders. "It just meant a very long, slow-moving traffic jam," said Hugh D'Andrade, who has been involved with Critical Mass almost since shortly after its first ride in 1992 and created a website devoted to the San Francisco ride.
It wasn't until 2008 that Bike Party organizers decided to switch to the ride's current system of stopping at lights and sharing the road. "We thought it would be safer for our riders," said McCarthy. D'Andrade and friends rode in the San Jose Bike Party in early 2010, a ride he recalls was "so thoughtfully laid out, super celebratory, ethnically diverse."
That ethos seems to appeal to bikers at all levels of commitment and many walks of life. The San Jose rides now attract "mountain bikes, fixies, roadies — we have a cruiser bike gang that comes, even families," said McCarthy. San Francisco's ride, which officially kicked off Jan. 7 with a "happy birthday" theme, has yet to draw the thousands of people that Critical Mass or its San Jose counterpart do. But some bike activists we interviewed for this article felt like it was only a matter of time before it does.
D'Andrade now rides both events every month. He designed SF Bike Party's logo and now is a member of the group's planning collective, or "hub" as Bike Partiers refer to themselves. He said he feels the same vibe riding in both events.