Last winter some friends and I decided to start a new local ride here in the East Bay (Oakland area). After talking about all the great rides we'd done all over the US, we realized that San Jose Bike Party had it down and we'd try to model our ride after theirs. SJBP isn't just about the bikes and the route. Music and a theme are important too. But the real key is that the party is for everyone, and its easily accessible for novice riders to join. Bike Party brings together the community of riders and non-riders by riding fun and safe, with stops to dance and socialize.
We talked to the leaders of SJBP about how they did it. Their success in rapidly growing to 3000+ riders is the result of a couple key planning steps, both before and during the rides. We've now had our 6th East Bay Bike Party following a lot of their tips. I wouldn't say we're experts yet but that also means every detail is still fresh in our minds. Lets get to it!
This article first appeared in Momentum magazine issue 47
Step 1: How We Ride
- Stay in the right lane (avoid blocking traffic when possible)
- Leave nothing and nobody behind
- Stop at red lights
- Right predictably and in control
- Roll past conflict
- Tell people its a Bike Party
- Communicate the rules to other riders
- Building community through bicycling.
Step 2: Before the ride: Organizing
- Get 5 of your friends to help organize. This will be enough for a ride of up to 250 people or so.
- Set the ride for friday-night or saturday-night starting at 7 or 8pm.
- plan a 10 to 15 mile route around your town with 2 or 3 stops for partying (see next step)
- Pick a theme - something easy to pull off on a bike.
- Music! you really need some tunes to get that party started. it makes a big difference in the public reception you will get. strap a boom box to your rear rack, or check out my other articles on larger mobile party systems.
- Music selection: think about the people on the street around you. I recommend dance-able beats - you will see people moving with the tune so you know it is working! Angry yelling music will not get you many smiles.
- Set up a website (we used wordpress.com), email list (we use google groups), facebook group and maybe twitter. For a small ride just one of these will probably be fine.
- During a ride, we use group texting from textmarks.com and twitter. We text riders of any major snafu, and we get the word out when we arrive at party spots for late-comers.
- Print some ride flyers. you can download our template from eastbaybikeparty.com. post around town, and 'spoke card' all the bikes at public transit stops, college campuses, etc. We printed up 5,000 3x4 cards with uprinting.com for about $100.
- Post the route a few days before the ride. With a route in hand, riders won't need to run red lights to avoid getting lost, and people can easily join up for just the 1st half or 2nd half of the ride.
- you will want to make a 'turn by turn' sheet for the route. going from a map is tough without stopping your bike.
Step 3: Before the ride: setting a route
- ALWAYS test your route before hand. the leaders need to be 100% sure about turns, and we always find things like recent construction or problem intersections that make us change things around. We usually do 2 test rides with 5-10 people each.
- use different starting points, routes and party spots each time - learn about your area!
- reduce left turns, do them where you have a left-turn lane
- use roads with lights rather than stop signs where there is heavy cross traffic.
- plazas, large parking lots and city parks are all good party stops.
- pass by public transit a couple times during the ride in case someone has an unfixable mechanical problem.
Step 4: At the ride start
- Ride leaders show up 30 minutes early.
- Assign 4-6 "turn gurus". Give each one a copy of the turn-by-turn directions. You can assign them to specific turns if you want, or they can do the turns they can get to in time (see next step).
- Tell everyone on the ride the HOW WE RIDE rules before you start
- Make sure people know where the ride is ending, and anyplace in the middle where they could get to public transport
Step 5: During the ride
- Organizers take the following positions: 1 leader. 1-2 mechs at the rear with tool kits. 4-8 turn guides.
- Being a turn guide: start at the lead. at the first turn, stop and stand near the turn. point the turn to all the riders that pass you. wait until the last rider passes. then bust your ass up to the front and do it again! with 2-4 turn guides you'll be able to get someone marking every turn. while busting up to the front, help keep people in the right lane, watch for anyone having trouble, and say 'hi' to your new friends! at tough intersections the turn guide can periodically block opposing traffic, but we try to avoid this method when possible.
- The leader must keep a slow pace. experienced riders naturally go too fast for novices. i use a speedometer (or a 100 lb sound trailer) to keep myself at 10-12 mph.
- Plan 10-30 minute party stops. when people get to the stop let them know how long they have.