Redemption! Back in April I heard that San Jose Bike Party was rolling down El Camino Real through Mountain View and Sunnyvale so I jumped in my car to check it out and failed! Thousands of bicyclists, hooting and hollering, cruising down a five mile stretch of the most important road ever (IMHO), and I missed it. I read the route map carelessly so they looped right around me. Sad. But Friday night July 16, 2010 I had a second chance. Bike Party chose The Alameda for its monthly appearance and this time I…was…there!
My wife alerted me about it a couple days ago. She follows Treatbot, the Karaoke Ice Cream Truck (more on that later), on Facebook and they announced they would be at Bike Party. I looked up the route Friday morning and was happy to learn they were starting at Santa Clara University and riding down El Camino Real and The Alameda to Naglee Avenue, from there going to the city of Saratoga and looping back around to Santa Clara. After work I ran home, grabbed my camera, and drove down to The Alameda. I strategized on-the-way. I knew if I took the The Alameda exit off I-880 I would risk getting caught up among the bikes and that’s a bad place to be. Instead I got off one exit earlier at Coleman and took surface streets to The Alameda and Taylor so I would never have to cross the stream in my car. I needn’t have worried; I got there before the bikes.
I only had a few minutes to wait before they started showing up. It began with a few riders arriving from all directions to meet up with the main pack. Then it came. I can’t think of a metaphor which will do it justice without being trite so I’ll use the shotgun method. A river. A flood. A chain-driven stampede, a teeming mass, a peloton of everymen. Over three thousand bicycles pouring down the Alameda, turning right on Naglee. Short bikes, tall bikes, custom bikes, normal bikes. Bikes with bells, horns, and stereos blasting tunes. One rider had a vuvuzela. Those without noisemakers gleefully shouted, “Bike party!” Woo! There were bikers in street clothes, casual clothes, um…bicycle clothes, and costumes. The theme was “Deity Ride” since the ride started at a Jesuit university and passed many churches and spiritual institutions along the way so several riders dressed as Roman gods in togas, Viking gods in horned helmets, and Earth goddesses with garlands. Special mention of the night goes to the guy riding his bicycle while playing bagpipes. I saw bikes. I saw a party.
I took a bunch of photos. If you want to see them, take a look here.
I’ll be the first to admit they aren’t very good. The light was fading and the subjects were moving so I cranked the ISO and hoped for the best. I got a bunch of what I call “I was there” shots. Hardly art, but they tell the story. If you want to see some really outstanding photos, photographer Richard Masoner shared some great ones at www.cyclelicio.us. Find them here or see the whole set at Flickr. He snapped a pretty good one of bagpipe guy!
After about half an hour on The Alameda, I crossed the street on foot with some difficulty and hopped in my car and drove up to El Camino upstream as the bikes were still flowing down. In Santa Clara some spectators (not riders) shot off some fancy illegal low-flying rockets left over from the Fourth of July right in front of me; surreal. I got all the way up to Santa Clara University where the ride started. By then all the bikes had passed me by, so I can say I saw the whole thing in about 45 minutes.
I enjoyed watching the riders, soaking in the festive atmosphere, waving back as they passed me by. Reading the comments on their blog though there were a couple edgy incidents. First, some riders in spots were guilty of taking up all lanes of the road, not sharing with cars. I saw this myself. I also saw some riding against traffic and red light running. This kind of riding is against Bike Party’s policy, and it was heartening to see them policing themselves to maintain good will with the community.
The other incident was a case of unfortunate timing. Father Paul Locatelli, former chancellor and president of Santa Clara University, died on Monday, July 12, from pancreatic cancer. The university held an outdoor funeral Mass for him Friday on campus, at the same time the Bike Party commenced. I gather the festive and boisterous atmosphere of Bike Party regrettably interfered with the more solemn event. Mortifyingly, some truckers honked their airhorns in support of Bike Party as it rode past, probably unaware of the funeral nearby which was disrupted by the noise. I don’t know Fr. Locatelli but I’d like to think any university president would smile at the youthful exuberance of the riders; still that’s little comfort to the mourners who came to pay their respects to him that evening and had their ceremony disrupted.
All-in-all Bike Party is an undeniably happy thing. It’s wonderful to see San Joseans come together in good humor and solidarity and explore our magical valley and get a little exercise to boot. As subcultures go this one is accessible and enticing. Maybe one night I’ll join them. That’s if I don’t read the map wrong.