Have you ever wanted to get out and meet new people, but you’re tired of the bar scene? Do you own a bike and want to make some new friends? Then NOLA Social Ride is for you! Since August 2010, this bike-based social group has grown into one of the city’s favorite new trends. On Thursdays, riders roll through a different neighborhood each week with music, costumes and cheers; Wednesdays Rabid Rides take place in City Park, and are focused on pushing yourself and getting in shape; finally, the “It’s All About the Music Bike Ride” on Tuesdays is all about making planned and spontaneous stops to soak up live local music.
Get your butt on a bike and party because, this is New Orleans and why the hell not? Where Y'at sat down with group organizer Bill Katzenbeyer to discuss the latest craze.
Where Y'at: What sparked the creation of NOLA Social Ride?
Bill Katzenmeyer: NOLA Social Ride was created in August 2010 by a small group of cycling advocates. It was originally a monthly group ride based on the idea that drivers immersed in a car-centric culture would not be won over by a confrontational group of cyclists rudely taking over the streets en masse. Here in New Orleans, where almost anything is a cause for celebration, a home-grown social bike ride with music, costumes, decorated bicycles and a kind, happy mindset was the most likely way to get people out of their houses, off the sidewalks, out of their cars and onto a bike to join the fun. It was a form of implicit advocacy that would appeal to hardcore cyclists, commuters, recreational riders, drivers and pedestrians with the power to challenge the "us vs. them" meme at the center of much of the public debate over cycling. The idea proved to be successful and the monthly ride turned into a weekly ride, then quickly turned into the multiple weekly rides we have today.
WYAT: About how many riders show up for various events? Do you have to be a serious, intense cyclist in order to keep up?
BK: The turnout varies from night to night and from season to season. Our largest rides are the Happy Thursday rides in the summer, where we have been getting over 150 riders showing up each week! The Tuesday It's All About the Music Ride pulls in a steady 15-30+ riders each week year-round, and the Wednesday Rabid Ride (our exercise-oriented ride) sees anywhere from 5 to 15 people coming out to get in some distance and push themselves. We also have special events that are all over the place in terms of attendance. Each ride has its regulars and has something unique to offer, and the number of people that show up doesn't necessarily dictate how much fun you can have! The winter is when there is the biggest lull in attendance, although those can be some of the most fun and adventurous rides of all! Most of the rides are a slow to medium pace (7-10mph) with periodic stops, and even the Wednesday Rabid Ride isn't so intense that an amateur can't keep up - in fact, many have done the Rabid Ride on cruiser bikes!
WYAT: What’s the general vibe between riders and drivers? Have there been any incidents regarding safety?
BK: We do our best to be kind to all road users, including driver and pedestrians. We stay to the right on multi-lane roadways with lane widths adequate for safe passing, and also try to avoid major thoroughfares and stick to side streets where we have a chance to interact with people on their porches and sidewalks. There is a careful balance between safety and courtesy, and the mantra is to let the cars through wherever it is safe and prudent to do so. We don't want to be a hindrance to traffic, and we do our best to minimize our impact. Unfortunately though, you can't get on any roadway without eventually coming across a road-raging and unhappy driver, no matter what mode of transportation you are using. We occasionally encounter issues with angry drivers, and we have found that it is much better to let those drivers move on and carry that unhappiness somewhere else. Luckily the vast majority of drivers we encounter are happy to see us and don't mind stopping and letting the group pass as a whole while they admire the fun, decorated bikes. Happiness is contagious!
WYAT: Could you describe a typical Happy Thursday ride, for those of us who have not yet participated, but are thinking about doing it in the future?
BK: It's a big ol' bike party! We usually start with a meet and greet at a local food and drink establishment around 7 p.m., and then take it to the streets around 7:45 p.m. We try to greet everyone we pass with a hearty greeting of Happy Thursday and make joyful noises with our bike bells, horns and stereos. It is at its core a bicycle-based social gathering, and if you come out a few times you will definitely make a lot of new friends. There's always the usual rotating cast of crazy local characters as well as lots of interesting people from all over that hear about us and come out for a ride while they are in town. It makes for some really interesting interactions that you may never experience anywhere else! We usually make one or two stops in parks or whatever green space we can fit into before riding to another establishment around 10 p.m. for an after party, with a total distance of around 8-12 miles. And the best thing about it - it's always free!