Got a Bike? Like to Dance? Try SF Bike Party
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By T. Booth Haley
Large social bike gatherings have a long history in San Francisco.
This month, Critical Mass, which was started in San Francisco, turns 21 years old. (Does this mean we may now drink during a Critical Mass ride?) In those days, there was little acceptance of bicycles on the roadways — cars dominated, and biking was dangerous and weird.
Critical Mass was essentially a protest: riders were demanding roads that provided a safe space for bikes and challenging the status quo of thoroughfares that prioritized cars not only over bikes, but pedestrians and public transit as well.
Attitudes have changed. Now bikes are begrudgingly accepted and are even trendy. Business people in suits ride them down Market Street, parents put kids in bike trailers and travel safely around town, and bike lanes can be found in every neighborhood.
Perhaps the aggressive edge to the Critical Mass protest is not as relevant as it once was. A new style of social bike gathering has emerged: the Bike Party.
Bike Party started in San Jose six years ago, making it perhaps that city’s greatest contribution to human culture.
Its website (www.sfbikeparty.org) describes it thus: “We’re one-half political party, one-half street party — made up of all types of bicyclists and human-powered transportation advocates who celebrate and build community in a monthly ride that must be experienced to be understood.”
Soon, San Francisco and the East Bay had started Bike Party groups of their own, and the party continues to spread to cities further afield.
The crucial difference between Bike Party and Critical Mass is that Bike Party follows all traffic laws. This shifts it from the realm of civil disobedience to that of civic celebration. The group tries to cultivate positive relations with cars, making sure to let the death machines through intersections and make turns as needed.
Also, it has lots of LED light-art, huge sound-systems pulled on bike trailers and riders stop at two or three parks every ride for temporary dance parties. For all these reasons, Bike Party has assumed the throne as the pre-eminent social bike gathering in San Francisco.
San Francisco Bike Party meets every first Friday at 7:30 p.m. at a location that is announced on its Facebook page or on its website, sfbikeparty.org. The route changes every month.
Everyone with any interest is encouraged to join and is made to feel quite welcome. Bike Party is one of the friendliest, merriest gatherings one can find in this town. (For true believers, East Bay Bike Party, which is perhaps four times bigger than San Francisco Bike Party, occurs on the second Friday of every month and always starts and ends conveniently near BART stations).
Bicycle ridership in general is rapidly increasing in San Francisco. A 2011 survey by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) found a 71% rise in bicycle use in the previous five years.
Bikes are a healthy and clean transport option, which makes public spaces much more inviting than those dangerous, loud and dirty automobiles. More bike lanes are being added to our roads every year. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a well-organized political voice for bikers — more civil and more effective than Critical Mass — has led the way in advocating for these improvements.
Even the SFMTA proclaims its support for the two-wheel revolution on its webpage: “One thing is certain, more and more San Franciscans are riding bicycles every year. The increased bicycle ridership indicates a healthier city, a reduction in auto dependency, and a much-needed movement towards sustainable transportation.”
What an amazing change from 21 years ago, when bikes were marginalized. Now instead of protesting cars, we can simply celebrate bikes.
T. Booth Haley is a fourth-year dental student.