Building a community on wheels, one party at a time
With biking there is safety in numbers by making other road users aware of bikers and their right to the road. There is also safety in bikers feeling confident and comfortable with a city’s bike infrastructure. And what better way to increase visibility and inspire confidence than by throwing a bike party? Now in its 10th year, DC Bike Party is one of numerous social rides in the city and across the country that is building a community on wheels.
Social rides are gatherings of people on bikes (or other non-motorized wheels) that travel as a group together to socialize, learn skills, and increase awareness. One of the most notable social rides is Critical Mass founded in 1992 in San Francisco, CA, as a leaderless ride down Market Street. As a form of radical bike activism, the idea has since spread to other cities and countries. The Critical Mass ride continues to this day in San Francisco on the last Friday of every month.
DC Bike Party was founded 10 years ago by Lia Seremetis who brought the concept to Washington, DC from San Jose, CA. DC Bike Party’s popularity quickly exploded as the group grew from a few dozen people at the first ride to several hundred riders within a few months.
“Part of the magic is the simplicity. People can just show up and ride their bicycle,” says volunteer Danny Lesh who has been involved with the Party since the second ever ride. Another key factor is that it is a legitimate party, with several riders now pulling purpose-built sound system trailers to amplify the positive atmosphere throughout the ride.
Riders gather monthly to take new routes exploring a different part of the city and the pace is slow and family-friendly. There is a midway point for people to hop off their bikes and socialize and each ride ends at a different DC area business. The event even has a theme such as the Cherry Blossom Chase during the spring, Masquerade Ball for October, or the Holiday Hussle in December. DC Bike Party volunteers also hang back from the mid-points to help ensure the group “leaves no trace.” And each month the organizers choose a different non-profit or mutual aid group for party-goers to support.
“If you’re not comfortable riding in the city, this is a great time to do it. If you’re not comfortable riding at night or with a group of people this is the best way to do it. I think Bike Party is a great way to ride around the city and learn about the bikescape that DC has to offer,” says longtime volunteer Sage Raindancer.
“The joy of being in a group of 400-1800 cyclists is that we can visit roads that you can’t bike on by yourself if you’re an inexperienced cyclist,” says Monica Morin who joined her first party last year and has been volunteering for a few months. “We create the space where they can really see the sites, where they can really enjoy the beautiful view of the monuments. DC is a living city…and we provide a really nice monthly time to join in community and visit these neighborhoods as a group.”
By visiting neighborhoods throughout the city, the disparity in infrastructure and development is also on display. The historic disinvestment in Wards 7 and 8, which are majority-Black and largely east of the Anacostia River, has led to these communities bearing the brunt of traffic fatalities and are home to the city’s deadliest traffic corridor. DC Bike Party planners have to work extra hard to move party-goers safely through these Wards as they can be difficult to access by bike both individually and as a group and finding bike parking for all participants at the end of the ride can be an additional challenge.
But it is a challenge that DC Bike Party is willing to take on because cycling has often been treated like an add-on rather than a core mode of transportation for folks everywhere. “People from every DC ward come to the party, and our route-making volunteers try to make sure we visit each ward too,” says Danny Lesh. DC Bike Party is a space for these conversations to happen and for participants to connect with each other and connect the dots when it comes to bike infrastructure and equity. “We’re not trying to be a coherent political force but we’re kidding ourselves if we ignore the fact that we’ve created a political space.”
New Urbanism is all about creating the places where people feel comfortable and enjoy being outside of their cars. As New Urbanists, joining a bike party is a way to walk the walk (or ride the bike) when it comes to advocating for the policy and design that makes places walkable and bikeable. It is important to have fun and experience the joy of making places people love. Events like DC Bike Party can help riders experienced and new create genuine, sustainable relationships with their city while connecting to the broader cycling community.
The thing that creates safety in cycling is more cyclists and DC Bike Party does that to the Nth degree.