The Thursday NOLA Social Ride
brings out your inner moth. The heat’s lifted, the night-blooming jasmine is in full swing and you’re surrounded by a sea of bikers, but the lights are the most notable part of the weekly ride: a dozen regulars have fixed multi-colored, battery-powered lights to their tires and handlebars, so when the group turns a rainbow of neon spins before you, leading the way. Then there are the lights of the city, which at the pace of a nightly bike ride don’t exist to reveal anything, but to light up the night as you ride through it.
More under the cut, including a bikecam video ...
The trip is supposed to last about three hours, and though that seemed to me like a long ride before we mounted our bikes, there’s enough city to see to keep you from feeling tired, or even like you’re exercising at all. The Uptown ride met at Dat Dog
on Freret Street, where we loaded up on sausages and beer before things got underway. A few volunteers were poised to lead the predetermined route through Uptown. NOLA Social Ride takes a few different meandering paths through the city, and the route changes week to week, as does the theme (this Thursday’s was the Who Dat ride, in anticipation of the New Orleans Saints season opener against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday). The ride is always announced ahead of time on its Facebook
page and latecomers can catch up via live tracking.
By 8 p.m., we were off. Riders shouted “Happy Thursday!” to the people we passed, even those cocooned in cars, who had no way of hearing us. Multiple bike stereos provided a beat by which to pedal, though I wish the tunes could have been more organized, since it threw a wrench in my pedal rotation to pass by an Outkast fan and then, seconds later, a Neil Young devotee. I expected traffic to be an issue, but any potential jams were skirted thanks to such a huge group of bikers. Once, a car did try to pass us on a narrow street, and a rider shouted, “It’s Thursday! Don’t you know by now not to drive on a Thursday?”
Potholes at night were a nuisance, though they could be narrowly avoided if the person before you screamed out “Hole!” in time. Even with the cue, most people fell in them, laughed and kept on biking.
We stopped three times, and more experienced social riders cracked open cans of beer they’d brought along in backpacks, or poured Jim Beam into half-drunk Coke cans. First time rider Emily Williams wished she’d known to bring along her own libations, since the promise of drinking was one reason she and her husband had shown up for the ride. “I thought we’d be at a bar!” she lamented. “I watch what I eat and drink, so I was excited to work it off on the bike ride and get to drink a little too.”
But Williams didn’t regret joining the group (not least because the ride did, finally, end at a bar). She liked the way the city looked from a bike at night, and she got to see parts of New Orleans she didn’t know existed before. “I’ve lived here three years and I’ve never been on Tulane’s campus,” she said.
The ride is meant to be fun, but longtime Social Rider Ronald Ferrucci says it’s also a way to promote greater bicycle use in the city. He’s been riding with the group for two out of the three years it’s existed, and he’s seen it grow from 30 riders to more than 100. None of the founding members of the ride were out on Thursday, but Ferrucci was more than happy to tout the positive aspects of social cycling. “It’s a party on bikes,” he says. “You can ride a bike anywhere, but this way you can do it with all your friends. We wake people up. We’re showing people that you don’t need money to have fun.”
Ferrucci also points out that the NOLA Social Ride is not Critical Mass – the bike protest against cars that exists in most major U.S. cities.
“We’re not protesting car culture, we’re celebrating bike culture,” he says.
With more than 100 lights spinning through the streets of the Black Pearl, a radio dial’s slew of tunes, the occasional “Who Dat!” and the gas-lit lamps from front porches leading the way, the three-hour ride felt like a celebration indeed.
NOLA Social Ride leads free group rides nearly every night of the week. Check out their website
page for a detailed schedule and route maps.