By now you’ve most likely seen it. Or, if you’re reading this column because you love bikes, you have probably ridden in it. Heck, if you love bikes, there’s a good chance you look forward to 1st Thursdays each month. You eagerly await the announcement of the theme and anticipate the date when you will join hundreds of other Santa Barbara bicycle enthusiasts for a fun ride around town.
Still not sure what I’m talking about? Really? Why, Bike Moves, of course!
Bike Moves describes the ride on its website thusly: “Bike Moves is a fun, free, monthly social event that welcomes everyone and fosters good times with a jolly ride downtown. The Bike Moves mission is to get people on their bikes to have a good time while respecting our community. Bike Moves provides Santa Barbara with an all-encompassing social event for people who enjoy riding bikes of any kind. Bring a commuter bike, beater, racer, beach cruiser, roller blades, or anything that rolls … This is a planned coincidence, non-event. With 3 Rules: Have fun, respect our community, and obey all traffic laws (don’t forget a light!).”
For several years now, Bike Moves has been happening during the 1st Thursday art and cultural event in downtown Santa Barbara. Each month’s ride has a clever theme, such as “Bikemare Before Christmas,” “Running of the Bullcycle,” or “Lord of the Chain Rings.” Do check out the website to see some of the marvelous graphics the “nonorganizers” come up with each month.
The ride loops around the downtown core, where onlookers who are enjoying the open studios and galleries of 1st Thursday wave and cheer riders on. The group pauses at the pier for some bike sumo (as in wrestling), then ends at a different bar each month. A portion of the proceeds go to a different nonprofit each month. Check out a short segment that KEYT did to get the moving picture.
Bike Moves happenings are positive for bicycling in Santa Barbara for many reasons. In my “Got Bike Culture” column last year, I explored answers to the seemingly easy question “What builds bike culture?” Culture, at its most basic, is made up of the things that we do together. We share activities and practices that are important to us as a community, and we create a common language for talking about these values and goals. Because we actively create it, culture can generate pride, and pride becomes a part of our identity. Bike Moves provides Santa Barbara’s biking community with cultural building blocks for growing and celebrating bike culture.
Bike Moves is also simply fun and creates a recreational draw for people from a wide range of backgrounds. Everyone feels welcome and is included.
From Protest to Party: Bike Moves uses the long-followed strategy of other group rides, such as Critical Mass, in that it does not have a permit, claiming the right to assemble peaceably without one. In Critical Mass events, this is known as an “organized coincidence.” In Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, the concept is known as a “bike happening.“ However, Critical Mass and Bikes Moves are different in some important ways — the latter marking a transition from the protest message “We have a right to be on the road!” to “Of course we have a right to be on the road, and we do this because biking is fun!”
My introduction to large bike rides started in the Bay Area with Critical Mass when I was a young activist just discovering the wonders and complexities of people-powered transportation movements. I remember having mixed feelings about Critical Mass rides even back then. A fellow avid bike rider and advocate told me a story of an experience he had during a Critical Mass ride. He was driving his car with his young daughter in the back seat. It was Friday evening rush hour and he came across a Critical Mass ride in Santa Cruz. The group overtook him at a traffic light and a rider pulled up to his window and yelled, “Get out of your car and onto a bike you a-hole!” My friend was astonished, angry, and indignant. I remember him telling me afterward, “I ride my bike every day and probably do more to promote bicycling that that punk will ever do!”
The us-against-them mentality of Critical Mass has always bothered me. I also have long questioned the strategy of planning the ride during the heart of Friday afternoon traffic. “We are traffic!” is often a slogan of Critical Mass. True. But do we really need to deliberately incite road rage, especially road rage directed at bicyclists who are often breaking laws?
My first introduction to a different type of mass bike gathering was in 2007 when I visited a friend in Los Angeles and we participated in a Midnight Ridazz ride. The organizers deliberately chose a time when traffic was minimal (midnight!). I was immediately struck by the fun they were having, the calm vibe of the group, the boom boxes on trailers, and the bright lights and costumes. Car drivers honked and waved as they passed — in support! The atmosphere of this ride was something completely different from that of the Critical Mass rides I’d experienced previously.
There seems to be a similar evolution from protest to celebration in communities across the world. Wikipedia’s page on Critical Mass cites the now-famous “Critical Tits” ride of Burning Man. There is the Kidical Mass in Oregon, focusing in kids and families, and the Critical Sass in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an all-female ride. My friend Kent Epperson just participated in a “Pirates and Nymphs” ride in Denver, Colorado, last month. Check out the short video he made about it.
So next time you are looking for a unique way to notice bike culture in the making, head on down to Bike Moves. You won’t get left behind.
4-1-1: Bike Moves happens on the 1st Thursday of every month at 7:30 p.m. Meet November 1 at the Plaza de Vera Cruz, located off East Cota Street, between Anacapa Street and Santa Barbara Street.