Last month, I met up with a friend at a bar in Dupont for happy hour. When I got there, I saw that he had come with a few other people he had met while biking around DC, which explained the street pole with five bikes chained to it out front. I arrived, we went through introductions, and got to know each other over half-priced beer, margarita pitchers, and appetizers.
First off, the idea of meeting someone while you’re on a bike in a city is kind of strange to me. I sometimes feel that after a certain age (like after college), it becomes really difficult to meet interesting people you actually want to stay connected with– and much more so on a bike. But this was a cool group of people; they were down to earth, full of camaraderie, and just FUN. With all the stiff collars and politically charged professions, DC can get a little stuffy and, frankly, boring. This group was decidedly different. They were like a cool, underground class of renegade riders. I’m no biker (or is it cyclist?), but even before finishing my first drink, I wanted in.
I furtively turned to my friend, Kris, and asked him , “So, how exactly did you meet these people?” He casually answered that he had met them all at a bike party in DC the previous month and stayed in contact with them since then. I was confused, bike party? Is there really such a thing?
Turns out that every second Wednesday of the month, a hoard of bike riders meet in Dupont Circle and ride the city. Since October here in DC was unseasonably warm, that month’s ride brought over 100 bike riders. Kris told me that during that bike party, as he was blocking traffic to let the rest of the bike party turn onto Georgia Avenue, a man came up to him and exclaimed, “Who are you guys?! Are you some kind of crew??” Kris nonchalantly replied, “Nah, we’re just biking around DC.” Kris said the man looked at him and the bikers riding past, then held out his hands in disbelief and cried out, “You just shut down Georgia Ave!!!!”
And the second Wednesday of January, I got a text in the morning from Kris: bike party tonight. Yes! I was in! I met Kris that evening and I borrowed his sister’s gold-rimmed bike (which was a hit with the other riders- Kris called me Goldilocks & Goldmember, hah!). We rode to Dupont Circle. Riding into the Circle, all you could see were bikers. Some with bikes glammed up with Christmas lights, people checking out each others’ rides or gear, drinking beer or out of a flask, smoking, eating, waiting. And as much as I thought this DC bike party was some exclusive club, I soon realized that it’s actually an incredibly inclusive & motley group of people.
Lea, the girl who organizes the DC Bike Party every month, handed out a small itinerary of the route we were to ride that night and a plastic zip tie to attach it to our bikes. She got up onto the Dupont fountain and with her mega phone sadly announced that the two large speakers that were supposed to serenade our ride that night were not working. However, there were still a few guys with speakers strapped to their bikes that would help fill the night ride with beats. Riders with flags attached to their bikes would also help to guide the group throughout the route. We would ride around the circle twice before exiting onto a side street and into the city night.
I’m a total bike newbie and was really nervous I’d have trouble keeping up with these bike enthusiasts and navigating through car traffic, but it was a really chill and relaxed ride.With over 50 bikers riding, we took up an entire lane of traffic. Bikers would also take turns stopping traffic at cross streets or intersections so that the bike party could continue its route, disregarding traffic lights, police cars, and car traffic in general. Some drivers were ecstatic and honked showing their support, others honked and gave us the finger. But nothing could bring these riders off their high. As an angry motorist held his fist on his horn, another biker rode past me and yelled out to the group, “Remember, if you’re going to give someone the finger, give them two! Be nice!” Other times, someone would howl and the whole group of riders would join in like a group of wild things.
This old OJBG episode of the girls biking around DC before going to a rave, I think, captures that same essence of freedom and excitement.
Every route begins at Dupont Circle, takes you to a different rest spot, and leaves you at a bar where you can hang out and drink with other riders. This month took us to the fountain at Benjamin Banneker Park Circle, (a place I didn’t even know about). We clamored into the fountain and took group pictures, rested for 10 minutes and rode out again, down Independence Ave., along 14th St. and towards a bar in Adams Morgan.
And as much as I think it’s difficult to meet people (and people I actually like), this experience has completed shifted my view. Riding amidst people with one singular shared interest, I found the most exciting people in the city. It seems everyone is up for an adventure, a conversation, and a laugh. And I’m actually excited to go again next month and see some of these faces again. If you’re in DC and haven’t explored it enough or want to meet some cool people, you should ride with DC bike party. Although, don’t take it personally if no one remembers your name. As I passed a few riders, I caught a snippet of their conversation. One guy was saying to another, “Yeah, I was talking to that guy… man! I can’t remember his name but I remember his bike.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that you just don’t know what DC is like until you ride it. I’ve never experienced Chinatown, the tunnel under Thomas Circle, and Constitution Ave. the way I did in the middle of the road on a bike. I’ve also never experienced such awesome spontaneous camaraderie and thrilling company. Just as OJBG’s Secret Project shows you the hidden gems within the city, DC Bike Party opens up a familiar city in a way that you feel like you’re truly seeing it for the first time.
This picture of triumphant riders standing in the middle of the Benjamin Banneker Park fountain reminds me of a line from a spoken word poet I listened to a long time back. Listening to it again, I think back to my the wild DC bike party riders and smile.
“This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them,
for the bus drivers driving a million broken hymns,
for the men who have to hold down three jobs simply to hold up their children,
for the nighttime schoolers and the midnight bike riders who are trying to fly.
Shake the dust.”
Anis Mojgani, “Shake the Dust”