As part of Vancouver’s third annual Velopalooza “Festival of Bike Fun” I co-hosted the DIY Bike PA Soundclash Ride. We invited people to bring out their bike sound systems or just come along for the ride. We also asked Adrian (Professor Prawns) and Karlis (Count Snacky) from Freestyle Focus Group (FFG) to MC the event with their signature freestyle and interactive rapping. Around 50 people showed up for the ride including visiting riders from Los Angeles, Davis, CA, Portland, OR, and Germany. We heard show-and-tell-style descriptions of six homemade bike sound systems. At each stop we entertained each other with our attempts at freestyling, plus we had a surprise gamelan performance on re-used bike tubes and a ukelele and harmonica rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.”
Whether you like hip-hop or Hildegard von Bingen, having a sound system on your bike adds a whole new dimension to your bike fun, and it’s much safer than riding with headphones. Adding music to your ride is just one way to put a creative spin on biking – and creativity is integral to the new bike culture. The new bike culture is made up of equal parts transportation and celebration. Sure, traveling in a sustainable way feels good, but unless we have adventure and excitement, unless we can express ourselves and break boundaries, we are not living fully. For today’s urban dwellers this means redefining our built environment and creatively occupying public spaces.
The first form of bike party many people – including myself – ever experienced was Critical Mass. The rides in the late 1990s connected me with other cyclists and filled me with inspiration and optimism for a pedal-powered future. But I stopped loving Critical Mass when it got so large that it actually was “blocking traffic” and attracting people who used the ride as an excuse to act like jerks. Though Critical Mass is founded on admirable principles – using safety in numbers to reclaim road space for cycling, Anarchism (free people governing themselves) and Xerocracy (a zinester version of social media) – it has become a controversial and polarizing event.
Thankfully, the evolution of bike parties is exploding in diverse ways all over the world. In Portland, there are arguably more group bike rides and bike parties than in any other North American city. Inspired by hosting Bike Summer in 2002, Portlanders championed the concept of “Bike Fun” with an organizing group called Shift, an ongoing schedule of free, community-created bike events, and an annual cycling celebration called Pedalpalooza. Ten years later the Pedalpalooza model has spread to other cities including Vancouver, BC. Check it out – and then try bringing some bike fun to your own streets!
Amy Walker is a cofounder of Momentum Magazine and the editor of On Bicycles – 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life.