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California Streetsies: Bike Party for Best Antidote to Commute Road Rage

3:19 PM PST on January 7, 2016


Yes, Bike Party has been happening for years, but that doesn't make it any less useful as a reminder of why we ride. This California Streetsie goes to the all-inclusive rolling party on wheels because it is inspiring, fun, and a serious balm for bike commute road rage. Bike Party is full of people focused on having fun together, on being polite, and on following traffic rules--mostly. That includes using bike lights, since it is a night-time ride, which leads to some crazy colorful lit-up bikes that make Bike Party part parade, part celebration, and all fun.

Reactions from drivers and porch-dwellers and random witnesses are usually positive, excited, and a touch envious. “What is this?” they cry out. “Bike Party!” comes the answer, accompanied by bike bells and music from the sound system someone is sure to be hauling. “Can anyone join?” I've heard them ask.

Yes, of course anyone can join. A recent Bike Party-inspired ride on the night of the winter solstice, organized in Richmond by Rich City Rides, included people of all ages (the youngest was about six, and the oldest somewhere around 70 or maybe beyond), sizes, genders, abilities, and colors. The bikes were almost as varied, in type as well as condition. There were lowrider bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, trick bikes, and bikes that had recently been liberated from dusty garages and drastically needed attention from a bike pump.

East Bay Bike Party rides through Oakland Chinatown. Photo courtesy Rich City Rides
East Bay Bike Party rides through Oakland Chinatown. Image by Josue Hernandez, courtesy Rich City Rides

Riding along with a huge group of happy strangers who are glad to be out on bikes, it is impossible to experience bicycling as a battle for safety on the streets. And that feeling stays around. On my daily rides, when car drivers buzz past too close and too fast, or when they cut in front to make a turn as if I'm completely invisible, I think to myself: Bike Party.

When a car rushes past because it must get in front of my bike although there's a stop sign fifty feet away; when my lungs are filled with the gift of their tailpipe emissions; instead of cursing or signaling with a one-finger salute, I remind myself: Bike Party.

Bike Party is not perfect. East Bay Bike Party took a hiatus for a few months last year to defuse the energy of some participants who preferred taking over streets and confronting bad drivers. That kind of angry riding was understandably a part of the aesthetic of Bike Party's precursor, Critical Mass, which served an important attention-getting function for bike riders in earlier years.

But Bike Party was conceived as an antidote to that anger. And it works. As you roll along with a lot of people who don't get upset when a driver makes an error, but instead smile and wave when they are honked at, a kind of strange, peaceful, giddy feeling takes over. Riding a bike is just fun. Remember?

Bike Party is a huge reminder that we are all better off on bikes, and maybe we ought to treat the folks stuck in cars with pity, because we're clearly having a lot more fun than they are.

Bike Party exists in a lot of different cities. If you don't have one near you, start one! Here are a few. Do you know of others?

Update: Reader Kaveh Astaneh responded on our Facebook post with this list of other Bike Parties around the world: DC, Boston, Fresno, Changwon, Philly, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Seoul, Buffalo, Portland, Seattle,  Tucson, New Haven, San Diego, Nola, Boulder, Iowa, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, San Jose, San Francisco Peninsula, ... And the best one, East Bay!

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