Decked out in dresses and tuxedos, sporting corsages on their wrists and bowties around their necks, more than 100 cyclists – yes, people on bicycles– gathered in Copley Square on Friday before embarking on a 12-mile ride through the city. The combination of chiffon and lace with aluminum and rubber seemed to confuse some passersby, but this was all par for the course for the members of Boston Bike Party, who were gathered for the group’s first ever Bike Prom.
You’ve probably seen Boston Bike Partiers happily cycling through the Hub at least once since the group was founded in April of 2013. The very first Bike Party was a product of San Jose, California, but the group came to Boston by way of D.C., after Boston Bike Party co-founder Elodie Garcia participated in their monthly rides during a brief stay in the city. When she relocated to Boston, she reached out to local bike shops and cycling organizations to start a new chapter.
“The idea was just to get a lot of people together on bikes every month for fun, and to encourage biking as a fun way to get around the city with friends,” says Greg Hum, Boston Bike Party co-founder and one of nine current Boston Bike Party Organizers.
Hum, who also founded the Midnight Marathon Bike Ride, met with Garcia and other cyclists over tacos early in 2013 to discuss bringing Bike Party to the northeast. The group they founded has since become hugely popular among velocipedists looking to throw on a costume, take a spin around the city, and make some new friends.
Those who are familiar with Boston’s cycling communities may notice similarities between Boston Bike Party and Boston Critical Mass, another monthly group ride that departs from Copley Square. But while Critical Mass – which also got its start on the left coast – makes a slightly more aggressive political statement, Boston Bike Party organizers insist that their group is focused on having fun and sharing the road with drivers and pedestrians.
“They have a more protest-y undertone, a sort of, ‘We’re on bicycles and we’re here to take back the streets,’ kind of mentality,” Hum says of Critical Mass. “But biking has picked up in the past few years, and cities are getting on board with building bike lanes and things. Why not take advantage of that, and make it a monthly party on bikes?”
That positive attitude is shared by the other bike party organizers, including Josh Zisson, who adds, “We have nothing to prove but how much fun we’re having.”
Still, Boston Bike Partiers did raise some eyebrows during their first few rides, and some of those eyebrows belonged to members of the Boston Police Department. Zisson recalls receiving a lecture from the BPD after the organization’s first test ride, and while the department has since warmed to the idea of Bike Party, they did insist on a full police escort at the outset.
Asked if what the group is doing is technically legal, Zisson smiles.
“It’s a bit of a murky gray area,” he admits. “But there’s nothing illegal about riding your bike and sharing the road with other people.”
To their credit, Boston Bike Party organizers are extremely focused on the safety of participants. Riders are encouraged to bring lights and wear a helmet, and the group stops at every stop sign and traffic light. Hum notes that a great deal of time is spent planning each ride, and figuring out a safe route for cyclists is a huge part of that.
But this is, after all, a party, and a lot of planning is required in addition to finding a safe course through the city.
“The first thing we do for every Bike Party now is to figure out a concept or a theme,” Hum notes. “And then when we go to plan our route, when we go to crowdsource our playlist, when we go to choose an after party spot, everything goes back to that theme.”
Friday’s prom-themed ride featured the musical stylings of high school dance favorites like The Black Eyed Peas and Whitney Houston, and the after party found participants dancing the night away at Allston’s Wonder Bar. Past themes have including a riot grrrl ride, for which Bike Party Boston collaborated with the women’s cycling group RAWRbikes, and a red socks – not Red Sox – ride, where riders wore red stockings on their feet.
The care that goes into organizing each outing helps keep riders coming back month after month. In summer’s prime biking season, the group swells to nearly 400 bikers. But even Boston’s harsh winters aren’t enough to quell the Bike Party spirit – Hum estimates that 60 bikers came out for the group’s January ride, when the temperature hovered at around 10 degrees.
“We just focused on a very short bike ride and a very large after party,” he says with a laugh.
That, along with the organization’s fun-first mentality, is also a huge part of what entices new riders to attend Bike Party rides. Zisson says that when he asked to hear a shout from new riders at Boston Bike Party’s 1-year anniversary ride in May, at least 50 cyclists called out in response.
Hum says that the reason for Boston Bike Party’s continued success is simple: it’s just a really good time.
“It’s literally a party on wheels, with music, costumes and a bajillion people,” Hum says. “Plus, it’s completely free.”
Zisson agrees, citing Bike Party as a much-needed outlet for Boston’s vast but fragmented cycling community.
“There’s a lot of pent-up biking energy in this town,” he says, “and it needs a release.”
[Photo Credit: Scott Ayotte]