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The meteoric rise of an annual Vancouver event that celebrates bikes for everyone and has spawned international imitations.
Finding the appropriate words to describe your first Bike Rave experience can be a challenging endeavor. But one thing is for certain: once you spend that revelatory evening partying, pedaling, and dancing the night away; you’ll discover those difficult words, and share them with everyone you know; making the return pilgrimage year after year, and dragging as many as you can along for the ride.
This bizarre brand of bike evangelism has been the driving factor behind the event’s remarkable, exponential growth over a few short years. It has gone from a couple dozen hard-core ravers at its first iteration to over 7,000 Vancouverites (of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds) in 2014. On the surface, it’s a simple enough concept, a self-described “annual glowtastic mobile dance party on wheels”. But over and above that, the Bike Rave is much more: a cultural phenomenon that is slowly spreading around the world, altering how people think about the cities in which they live.
Rolling through the immense crowd, it is virtually impossible to keep your senses from overloading. The flashing LED lights, innovative homemade costumes, rolling sound systems, and unique two, three, and four-wheeled machines lend to the incomparable, celebratory vibe. Underlying that diversity is an unparalleled sense of unity: Yaletown kids reveling with Mount Pleasant hipsters, along with hundreds of suburbanites specifically hitting the city for a safe, fun, care-free night on their bikes.
Perhaps the most astounding characteristic of the Bike Rave has been its independent, organic evolution into the highlight of the summer event calendar. It is an affair promoted solely through word of mouth, blogs, and social media, with no paid advertising, corporate sponsorship, or central organization. This also means any group with the means and interest can start their own Bike Rave – as they have in Melbourne and Toronto – without worrying about syndication or start up costs.
The Bike Rave’s larger significance becomes all the more apparent after repeat visits. As with open streets events, the Bike Rave serves as an effective gateway to cycling for transport, giving folks the perfect excuse to get on a bicycle, often for the first time in many years. It also provides them with a rare opportunity to collectively celebrate their city within the shared realm of its public pathways, plazas, and parks.
Vancouver’s unfortunate reputation as “No Fun City” makes it an unlikely place to birth such a spectacle, but the Bike Rave has most certainly flourished in direct reaction to it. In a city that is too often known for social disconnection, burdensome regulations, uninspired culture, and lack of spontaneity, one night a year, all of that gets forgotten, a few laws are skirted, and our little city emerges all the better for it.
However, in the face of its runaway popularity, this improbable marvel could become a victim of its own success, reaching a point where some difficult decisions need to be made. With countless bottleneck points, an increasing number of (minor) collisions, and issues around public urination, it has clearly outgrown the narrow, isolated seawall route, and is begging to be let loose on the streets of Vancouver.
Taking those crucial steps towards the mainstream requires stepping away from this decentralized model, cooperating with authorities to provide adequate signage, supervision, barriers, and washroom facilities. If that is the direction ultimately chosen, there’s no reason the Bike Rave can’t join the ranks of Montreal’s Tour la Nuit and Los Angeles’ CycLAvia and become one of the biggest – and best – events in North America. I wait with bated breath to see what happens next.
[To view the full collection of photographs taken by the author, please click here.]
Chris Bruntlett is the co-founder of Modacity, a multi-service consultancy focused on inspiring healthier, happier, simpler forms of urban mobility through words, photography, and film. You can find Chris on Twitter @modacitylife.