Last Friday, a burst of amplified music caught the attention of my brother, sister-in-law, and I at their home in the South End. My brother and I rushed to the window and saw a gathering of dozens of people in Franklin Square, a park across the street from his home. My brother shouted, “it’s the bike group!” and we threw on our shoes to make for the park.
Unlike its twin–Blackstone Square–located across the expansive avenue that is Washington Street, Franklin has a reputation and arrest record for drug distribution and use. To their credit, the robust Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association has made a concerted effort to hold positive events and collaborate with local police to improve conditions in the park. My brother welcomed this bike event as just the type of activity that should be more common in the park.
When we made it to the fountain in the center of the square, we discovered that 50 or more people were gathering with a wide variety of bikes and tricycles. Many bikes had elaborate glow lights wrapped around and extending off of their frames. At least two bikes had rigs attached to them to tow speakers. Most people were also in costume: an elaborate mad hatter, vampire, and grim reaper to name a few.
As it turns out, my brother had encountered a similar group some time earlier while walking on an otherwise dark street in the South End. The sound of music alerted him to a stream of riders who rode past him, bringing life to an otherwise quiet city street. A good friend from High School I saw the next day described a similar experience at his apartment in Brighton.
I had to know who these people were, so I struck up a conversation with one of the riders. He had just arrived from Revere–biking the whole route–to attend the event and he quickly gave me the backstory. The gathering was for Boston Bike Party (also on Facebook and Twitter), a monthly bike ride of fun-loving people who set out on the second Friday of each month, typically with a theme (Halloween-related this time). The group has been doing so since 2013, having taken a cue from DC Bike Party (how did I not hear about it when living there?), which had followed San Jose, CA’s lead.
San Jose Bike Party claims to have 2-4,000 riders each month who bike 15-30 miles on each outing. For its part, the younger Boston Bike Ride had at least 100 riders by the time they had set out last Friday. Their rides are 8-10 miles during the “summer” riding season and 2-5 miles during the frigid “winter” season. Both groups are welcoming to riders of all abilities as the goal is have a casual ride, while enjoying music and checking out different parts of the city. Attendance is free and each group ends their rides with an after-party.
Ordinarily, Boston Bike Party sets out from Copley Square, but a construction project has seen the group start from several different places this year. Franklin Square just happened to get the nod this time around. Before 8pm, the group was departing the park in a slow line of riders with costumes, lights, and music blasting. Marshalls had already gone ahead to mark the route, with the group set on celebrating the ride at Carson Beach in South Boston some hours later.
Final Thoughts on Boston Bike Party
I love this concept. It mixes community-building with exercise and a party atmosphere. By getting more people on bikes and into the street it builds familiarity with biking in the city and can socialize drivers into the existence of people on two (or three) wheels. We need more people to travel by bikes, their feet, and public transit if we hope to cope with a growing city and avoid the worst effects of climate change. These enthusiastic riders are just the sort of people who can advocate for better bike infrastructure: simply lanes, racks, and bikeshare–the ingredients for more people on bikes.
Somewhat surprisingly, the group was not solely those much maligned millennials. Indeed, the rider from Revere was a middle-age empty nester. Several young children were also among the group. It was a mix of men and women, and seemingly people of many different ethnicities.
Next month the bike party will return to its home in Copley Square. That’s a shame. While it’s surely easier to gather at the same point each month, starting in different parts of the city will expose more people to the group, thereby allowing neighbors to ask questions that they might not if only seeing the group pass on by (like my brother and friend). Many others besides my brother and me came into the park that night just to marvel at the gathering.
I will be in DC during Boston Bike Party’s special event–the Annual Halloween ride on October 31–but I hope to join the group if I’m in Mass on November 10. I’ll either bring my bike along with me on the commuter rail or rent a Hubway bike for the day. Will you join me?
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