As with all great parties, I heard Friday night’s bike fiesta before I found it. Pedaling my old-school aluminum Trek road bike up one of Baltimore’s main drags -- in a black bow tie, ruffled shirt, and cummerbund, naturally -- I suddenly caught Whitney Houston’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” blasting from a nearby park. And then, up the hill a little further, I saw the 20-, 30-, and, yes, 40-something couples in retro tuxes, chiffon and satin gowns, with flowers in their lapels and corsages on their wrists, posing for pictures next to decorated bicycles.
There were even women with tiaras atop their helmets. One friend managed to dangle a sparkling disco ball off the front of her handlebars -- lit by her bicycle light once we started riding and the sun went down. Close to 1,000 people in all. Not everyone, but most, dressed to the nines for that once-in-a-lifetime occasion.
Welcome to Bike Party: Bike Prom edition, part of a burgeoning movement nationwide that is putting the fun into bicycling activism.
Last April, the traditional, anarchy-inspired Critical Mass rides here evolved (how long can something be both traditional and anarchist?) into the newer, safer, more traffic-friendly -- and happier -- last-Friday-of-every-month Baltimore Bike Party. Critical Mass rides, for the unfamiliar, date back two decades and have taken place in cities all over the world. They are historically political, punk, and confrontational in manner.
Bike Party, by contrast, is gentle, '60s-style protest/celebration. It’s theater, activism, bicycling, and social gathering all at once. Or, as I overheard one woman tell a girlfriend on a ride: “It’s like everything I love rolled into one ... and it’s going out on Friday night to a great party.”