Last Friday of pretty much every month I make the trek into Atlanta to participate in Critical Mass, which has been loads of fun. This time around though, I was heading to Baltimore on vacation, and made sure to schedule my time off to include the last Friday of the month, so I could do Baltimore Bike Party. This was my first time experiencing the end of month group ride anywhere else but Atlanta, so I was pretty excited to examine the differences.
The ride started at St Mary’s Park and ended just a a short way away at the Maryland Historical Society, so this particular ride formed almost a perfect loop. From what I have heard it does not always end so close to where it starts. I was on the scene by 6:30 and by 6:45 there was already a pretty serious size crowd.
One of the things I dug about the start gathering was that there was repair station set up by Twenty20 Cycling. There was definitely a lot of action at their table from people needing last minute adjustments and air. Very good idea to have this included and certainly some great promo for the shop. BONUS LEVEL: the organizers also posted info about bathrooms for use at the start point. I like it.
Each BBP has a theme. This month was Boasting Baltimore and Maryland Mania. In addition to seeing a zillion tons of Ravens and Orioles gear, there was at least one person with a giant 3d steamed crab attached to his helmet, and one pink flamingo as a nod to John Waters. Best dressed won some gear from Hill Killer Apparel Co.
Pretty much right at 7pm the ride started. How about this…the ride has a police escort as long as they do not get a call that supercedes leading the ride. Yeah, I can support that to the fullness. The ride rolled out to a bunch of “Bike Partaaaaay” whoops and hollers, which would continue throughout the evening, the northern cousin of the “Happy Friday” heard along the way at CM ATL.
Starting from such a dense traffic light area, the group got separated pretty quickly, and I tried to stay in the front group since I didn’t want to get lost. We had only gone about a mile when I noticed that there were a LOT more 20″ BMX bikes than I am used to seeing, and you know I love that.
Then the craziest thing started happening. There were these kids riding all sorts of different bikes, most of which seemed to be department store mountain bikes in various states of disrepair, careening THROUGH the crowd at crazy speed, doing wheelies. I mean, looooong coaster wheelies, and then just when you thought the front wheels was going to drop, they would hit the gas and speed up even more. I’ve done wheelies…long wheelies, but never with the reckless abandon that these kids were doing. But wreckless may not be the right word, because I never saw any of them wreck, never saw any of them have to hop off because they over pulled and came off the back of the bike. They were always teeter tottering on the brink of control, but never went over the line. It was pretty freakin sick.
One very large contrast to the ATL CM is that about 80% of the riders at BBP did NOT wear helmets. I don’t really have a point or agenda to state here, just observing the difference. Truthfully this ride was so much slower paced than our CM that I can see why people may leave the lid off. I didn’t. I really enjoyed how this ride was much more -party paced- and not the faster pace that ATL CM has sort of morphed into over time. I have no trouble staying in the front group at CM, but I think it may have gotten a little fast for the folks who come and bring kids in trailers, beach cruisers and such, wanting to support biking in Atlanta but getting dropped very early into the ride. I feel so bad when that happens.
The route was pretty cool and we definitely were well received by the folks hanging out outside, having card games, playing loud ass music, drinking booze and being hood. Fuck yeah man, I love my home city, and on this ride you saw things and heard things that you could never experience anywhere else.
Then all of a sudden, in the middle of a park along the way, the whole ride stopped to take a breather at the halfway point. Wait, what? What a great idea! There was shaved ice from Hula Honeys and people took the time to be social and conversate. I even caught up with an old friend who spotted me in the crowd which was super rad.
The rest stop was just long enough to not be -too long- and soon enough we were on the backside of the ride. Somewhere not too long after we got going again, we were all stopped at an intersection when about 30 kids on dirt bikes came jamming down the street at a zillion mph, popping wheelies and in general owning that intersection until they were passed. I am not sure, but it could have been the 12 O’ Clock Boys. The whole spectacle was pretty rad.
By this time it had started getting dark, and I noticed that what the Bmore crowd lacked in helmets they made up for in headlights. Everybody had one, and a lot of people had good ones, not some crappy toytown bizness. I’m gonna chalk this up to the high number of insane potholes in the streets up here. You wouldn’t want one of them to sneak up on you after dark for sure. It was a good choice to not bring my roadbike.
The last part of the route was a long trek down St. Paul street which was a total blast, since it was mostly down hill and the whole group got going pretty fast. Stop lights were obeyed. Fun was had.
Eventually we reached the end of the ride at the Maryland Historical Society. The entire ride was less than 9 miles. Here is where the biggest difference between CM ATL and BBP happened…this was a full on after party scene!
There was a parking lot with some security guards at the entrance. Once inside there was an area specifically designated for bike parking, but it was a little weird, there was almost nothing to lock your bike to. So, people made the best use they could of the poles and fence that was available, and there was definitely a lot of creative use of vertical space. I kept thinking how rad it would have been to have the Atlanta Bike Coalition Bike Valet here. Baltimore people, if someone isn’t doing a bike valet for big events around town, here is your opportunity to get in the game.
The rest of the lot was filled with food trucks, a dj, and they were selling beer! Really?! I love it. The afterparty scene was super cool. so much so that I would be willing to bet that about 80% of the people who started the ride, finished the ride. How awesome is that?
Yeah man, it was packed. Packed enough that the smart money said to buy more than one beer from the beer line, which was a good strategy, but even when I did have to get back in line, it ran pretty fast. I reaaaally should have tried some of the food from the food trucks. You Atlanta people know how the whole food truck thing has had it’s ups and downs, and they aren’t as ubiquitous in the A as they are in some cities which is too bad.
As I had said earlier I was pretty stoked to see a lot of BMX representation at the ride, but there was one group who really killed it by bringing out the proper vintage gear. They were running a Schwinn Apple Crate, two Hutch Trick Stars, a Skyway 26″ and a GT which I can’t recall as a 24″ or 26″ but it was definitely not 20″. All of these rides were super clean and well done. I talked with the guy in the pic for a while but by this point I had had a few beers so I don’t remember his name. Great crew of people though.
The whole after party scene was just so good. I was chit chatting bike talk with my buddy and his crew who I had met at the halfway point, and probably could have stayed til they kicked people out, but I had to bail to go meet some other friends. I am imagining that at some point maybe someone got on the mic and awarded the best dressed prizes or something, I dunno.
When I set out to document my experience at BBP, I wanted to make sure that it did not come off as “Here is what we’re doing wrong in Atlanta”, because we aren’t doing it wrong. We do it our way, and we love it. I love it. But I knew there would be a lot of exciting and fun differences I wanted to relay. I had a pretty good idea of how it would be from following the BBP facebook page, and it was definitely what I thought it would be and more. The ride here reminded me a bit more of The Mobile Social back home. I guess the reason that I used so much comparison to CM is that since BBP happens the last friday of the month, to me it came across as “Baltimore’s version of Critical Mass”.