On Friday night I rode in the monthly Baltimore Bike Party. The Bike Party, formerly Critical Mass goes on a group ride the last Friday of every month. I went along this month because it was a good friend's birthday and it was what she wanted to do. I will admit, I was a little skeptical. When I lived in New York, I respected the Critical Mass rides, although never participated in them. I was never confident enough to ride my bike much in NYC, but I supported the idea of a traffic slowing group of bicyclists riding through the city to celebrate biking and assert cyclists' right to the road. On the occasion I was passed by one of the critical mass NYC rides, I was always impressed by the size of the group and the fact that they always seemed to be having a good time. 

What I found at the Baltimore Bike Party matched my impression of the critical mass rides. We gathered at the Washington Monument, the organizers announced the beginning of the route, reiterated some ground rules, got their wagon stereo system started and we were off. At first I was uncomfortable in this large a group of cyclists, I had the initial panic that this ride would not make me like biking more, but increase my annoyance with cyclists. And in the first 10 minutes of the ride I did hear someone yell something obnoxious at a passing car that honked at us. I commented to a friend that this is what I would not like about the ride. To my pleasant surprise that was the only negative comment I heard all night. As I got more comfortable riding in the group, figuring out where my niche was and how to avoid those who were not conscious of the others around them, I started to really enjoy myself.

One of the most enjoyable things about the ride, was the route. We rode from Mt. Vernon to Druid Hill Park, up through Park Heights to Mt. Washington and then ended in Hampden. Riding through all of these different neighborhoods was amazing. I love Druid Hill Park and Park Heights and it was delightful to be in a group of bicycles riding through all of these places. I am not sure how many people were actually on the ride, the Facebook event had 30 people attending, it must have been at least this many. Being in this large of a group of bicycles, we were quite a spectacle and every neighborhood we rode through, people cheered, asked us what we were doing, honked and waved, it was amazing! The organizers of the group have ground rules laid out about sharing the road, obeying traffic laws, staying together and because of this the ride overall had a safe, supportive, community feel. There was always someone that would stop at each intersection and make sure the entire group got through, directions were clearly communicated to make sure everyone knew where we were going and it did feel like a celebration.

I have questions about events like this, especially in regard to expanding biking to a larger audience and being truly inclusive. The demographics of those participating in the group were for the most part white and seemed young, my guess would be mostly people in their 20's and 30's. Several times I heard people say they did not know where we were as we rode through Park Heights, which was interesting. I have heard some of the conversation surrounding the group's name change being about making the ride more inclusive. And the organizers did write a beautiful statement on their blog about it:

"Gone are the days of the leaderless band of misfits roaming the streets, flipping drivers the bird, disregarding all manner of traffic laws and fighting off the police.  Baltimore has changed, the number of cyclists has changed, the manner of cycling has changed.  It is time to move away from the confrontational notion of fighting tooth and nail against the city, it’s residents, it’s government, and it’s streets.  It is time to build on the forward momentum that has been brewing in our city for several years now.  Instead of a constant negative battle, it is time for an influx of positive enthusiasm!  Sure, we aren’t Portland, or Austin, or San Francisco, and we probably never will be.  But that doesn’t mean we have to be pissed off about it.  We are Baltimore, we are cyclists, and we are here to grow, to bond, and to celebrate."

The full post can be read here: http://baltimorebikeparty.com/

I still don't know how inclusive a party can be though. People go to parties because they are friends with people hosting the party or people going to the party. It is why I rode in this month's ride. I see an active push in Baltimore to break these social boundaries and being a spectacle is a start, but in order to reach more people, include populations that are not currently participating, there needs to be more than just yelling answers to people's questions as we ride past. Seeing young people run along with us saying, "I want to ride a bike too!" tells me this event is approaching being an all inclusive event, but needs some additional, strategic structure, outreach and opportunity to become accessible to all people.

I think that what the organizers wrote above is true. Baltimore has changed. I have only been here 5 years, but in these 5 years I can feel the momentum that is happening here. People are open, ready and willing to disregard social, political and institutional constructs that divide and alienate them from each other. The energy and enthusiasm is there. Often all that is needed is the structure and dialogue to make it happen.

I will ride in another Baltimore Bike Party. I am interested to see how this group and other Baltimore-based bike advocacy groups will structure community involvement and outreach. It seems an exciting time to be riding a bike in Baltimore.