Simply stated, the point of Bike Happening is to have fun. This is achieved most readily when everyone grabs a bike, dresses up, makes a bunch of noise, and no one gets hassled by the cops, because no one is doing anything dangerous or blatantly illegal. When all that happens, the result is a glorious community event that is truly by the people—officially, no one is even in charge, it just happens.
So if you’ve never been, or you have, and you’re still confused about why a group of 400 or more people spontaneously meet on the first Thursday of every month at the Mission Plaza just to ride their bikes around in circles, well listen-up, because it’s a unique and fragile event.
It begins at 9:30 p.m. sharp, when the last scraps of the farmers’ market have been trucked off. Unicyclists, tallbike riders, and beater bikes come out to celebrate with the track bikes, road bikes, and full suspension machines. Riders are dressed to impress with adult diapers, space boots, or tinfoil hats, according to theme. This mix makes for spectacularly entertaining crashes.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF SHERRIF BILL MULDER
The whole mob oozes out of the Mission and heads for Marsh Street, where they will stop at all stop lights, and then scramble to close the gaps between riders who made the light. According to tradition, the mass circles around Marsh and Higuera Streets, stopping periodically to posse-up and show off. After two laps, the group calls it quits. Cyclists peel off to find an after party, others keep riding, and some just go home to get ready for next month.
Bike happening was created with Critical Mass in mind, but it’s not political. Where Critical Mass is a sort of protest against car traffic in which cyclists take over the roads during rush hour traffic, disrupting commutes, and generally pissing everyone off, Bike Happening is supposed to be the peaceful answer to Critical Mass—Critical Courtesy, according to Bike Happening’s architect, Mark Grayson a former board member for the Bike Advisory Committee.
The happening, which began as an informal ride among friends, has ballooned in recent years to include as many as 600 riders.
“A few of us have been getting together since June 2000, for a fun bike ride through downtown,” Grayson said. Now “Our little bike ride with a few dozen friends has turned into a ride with a few hundred friends.”
Grayson said the greatest success of Bike happening has been bringing out the cyclist in people who normally never ride bikes, especially not for fun. But, there have been bumps along the road. Remember Bike Sumo? It used to be a post-happening ritual, which involved two bikes battling for dominance inside a ring of spectators. Now, it has basically been shut down, because of the general disrespect amongst riders, and an unfortunate incident involving fried chicken. The police also appear regularly at happenings, handing out tickets to law-breaking riders.
In some ways, that very success threatens the longevity of the event. Without a clear leader or an event permit, the group relies on their right to peaceably assemble, peaceful being the operative word.
INFOBOX: MAKE IT HAPPEN
Grab your bike and head to the Mission Plaza in SLO, on the first Thursday of every month. The ride begins at 9:30. For more info, go to www.bikehappening.org
INFOBOX: THE DO’S AND DON’T’S OF BIKE HAPPENNING
Do have fun.
Do dress up. Find the theme at Bikehappening.org, or create your own.
Do follow all traffic laws that you would if you were in a car. (Do you drive on the sidewalk?)
Do be courteous to cars and avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers.
Do pick up your trash—your mom is not on this ride to pick-up after you.
Do bring your mom.
Do bring a friend.
Do make new friends.
Do make noise. Ring your bell, honk your horn, bang a drum, and sing loudly.
Do pimp your ride. Dress it up with lights, ribbons, speakers, sparkles, or whatever.
Do watch out for inexperienced riders. Give them space.
Do have a pre-party with your friends.
Do plan a bike ride after the happening is over.
Do wear a headlight and red taillight—it’s the law.
Do respect the cops!
Don’t be a jerk.
Don’t yell at cars, or cut them off.
Don’t come so drunk that you can’t control your bike. You could be arrested for Biking Under the Influence—an embarrassing BUI.
Don’t start fights with cars or other cyclists.
Don’t ride on the sidewalks or the wrong side of the road.
Don’t run red lights, unless you can afford the ticket—$380.
Don’t hang around and block traffic when the ride is over—this is where the after-ride/party comes in.
Kylie Mendonca rides a bike everyday and thinks helmets are sexy. Talk to her about bike safety at email@example.com