I have covered, watched and enjoyed countless parades, but never attended. Unless, of course, if you count the time in college where my friend Shelly and I were given a shovel and wheelbarrow before a holiday parade in downtown Santa Rosa and instructed to walk behind the “reindeer,” for prevent any little helpers from walking in the mud.
With that in mind, Tuesday night was a first. As I cycled through the SRJC neighborhood, to downtown and west of Roseland, in the company of about 25 strangers, I had the distinct feeling of being in a parade. A parade of fun, loud and happy cyclists.
“Everyone has been locked up for so long,” said race co-organizer Juan Chavez. “People who wouldn’t normally be together get together. Everyone hangs out and have a good time.
That is true. It’s hard to be on a bike with funky ’80s dance tunes from boomboxes.
But these parade participants weren’t content to just ride with the intention of getting booed by passers-by, there was a targeted destination: tacos. And there was a stated goal: community building.
“Kids need a place to go,” said co-organizer Chad Hunt. “It’s a fun way to get people out. “
So, for the past nine weeks or so, Chavez and Hunt, and their collective welcoming attitude, have organized these hikes with little on the agenda other than fun, eating, and biking. They start in the SRJC neighborhood, walk the streets on a not-so-straight route, roll through downtown, and head west on the Prince Memorial Greenway. After stopping at the taco trucks on Sebastopol Avenue near West Avenue, cyclists return to downtown and Yogurt Farms for dessert. Then it’s back to Humboldt Park and call it a night.
“Nothing wrong with tacos on a Tuesday,” said Chavez, who runs North Bay Kruzer, a club for custom stretch bike enthusiasts, just before starting the ride.
On Tuesday our group of riders were aboard exotic stretch bikes, single mountain bikes and road bikes. A man rode his hand-made recumbent bicycle. A mom pulled two toddlers into a trailer. If you don’t have a bike but want to ride? Chavez and Hunt will rally to find the racers a set of wheels.
“It is such a beautiful event to be here with children, families,” said Sonia Chavez (not related to Juan) from Windsor. “I kind of took the plunge. I don’t even own a bicycle. Juan has been great lending me and my kids bikes – anyone who wants to join in will find a way to make it happen.
The bikes had bells. One had a flag. No less than four boom boxes and speakers brightened up the evening with competing tunes. At one point, Lady Gaga was playing from one speaker, Bruce Springsteen from another, and a constant stream of old-school R&B was pulsing from the biggest JBL speaker I’ve ever seen. It was loud and glorious.
The entire show, which kicked off at 6:15 p.m. from Humboldt Park, drew people to their porches. They greeted and applauded. When the rolling parade reached downtown, people walking along Fourth Street stopped, looked and smiled.
From 6:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. I rode with this festive group. We were honked only once and this was immediately followed by a pair on their porch hooting and screaming in what seemed like a pleasure to our sight.
But lest it sound like a free-for-all, know this: There are rules. Helmets and lights are encouraged. Where there are cycle paths, cyclists are requested to use them. The group is encouraged to ride together, with the younger and more inexperienced riders in the middle of the peloton. There is a no-fall rule: if a rider for some reason has to stop, everyone will stop.
When Erica Lipanovich’s daughter Alden dropped her fluffy pink blanket from her perch into her mother’s bike trailer as they strolled along Orchard Street, everyone waited.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “The fact that we can do it without feeling unsafe, being on the road, everyone is looking out for each other. It’s awesome.
“We moved to Santa Rosa, my husband and I, to be part of a community,” she said. “I love that Santa Rosa is doing things like that, going outside, doing something active, especially when it involves kids.”
For Hunt, who is a third-grade teacher at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School in Roseland, the goal is to get as many kids and families out and riding their bikes as possible, including his mother.
“Everyone is totally welcome on this ride,” he said. “Two weeks ago my mom was from out of town and she was riding a low rider bike with a raised handlebar and she is 69 years old.”