The first rule of Bike Night is … there are no excuses for not showing up to Bike Night.
As for the other rules, well, you can’t expect a ragtag group of marauding hooligans on two wheels to waste time coming up with constraints on their late-night recreation.
If you have ever found yourself downtown after 9 p.m. on the first Thursday night of the month, you likely have experienced Bike Night, which also goes by the more “official” name “The Bike Happening,” though there is very little organization involved.
Each Bike Night, anywhere between 50-250 cyclists meet in the Mission Plaza before gleefully spinning laps up Marsh Street and down Higuera Street. They gather after every lap in the Bank of America parking lot at the corner of Higuera and Santa Rosa streets to collect stragglers and revel in the incredibly joyous sensation of riding bikes with other people who like to ride bikes.
Yet, Bike Night is so much more than just riding bikes. It’s like temporarily joining a cult whose only doctrine preaches the simplest forms of happiness. It’s no surprise; cruising down the street with the pedaling congregation puts cool wind in your hair and whooping howls at your lips without any conscious input from your reasoning faculties. Perhaps there’s a bit of herd mentality involved, and a few unsuspecting drivers are inevitably spooked, but it hardly seems to matter when the banana-costumed individual beside you screams “Green light Bike Night!” as everyone rolls through an intersection.
Costumes, while not mandatory, are highly encouraged. They supposedly follow a theme each week (viewable here), but the only real goal is looking wacky, and the crowd rarely disappoints. Tandem and double-decker bikers share the road with people decked out in crazy hats or completely covered in strings of Christmas lights. The costumes become even more entertaining and significantly more risqué in the warmer months, when warm clothing — or any clothing at all — is less necessary.
Bike Night is thriving, and its popularity is a result of its accessibility. All you need is a bike and a willingness to shut off your mind for a little while. There are no waivers to sign, no inhibitions to maintain. It’s an unadulterated glimpse into a whimsical expression of pleasure. The only negative side effect is a sore face from smiling so much.
Dan Rivoire, executive director at Bike SLO County (a local cycling advocacy organization), is well aware of how exciting and enjoyable Bike Night is for everyone who participates, but he also pointed out its positive influence on the entire community.
“It gets more people to remember how fun it is to be together with the community and riding a bike,” he said.
This leads to more widespread acceptance of cyclists on the streets of San Luis Obispo.
“(Bike Night) is an opportunity for people on bikes not only to have fun, but also demonstrate that they can be respectful and obey traffic signals and that sort of thing,” Rivoire said.
Respect for the community is surely a substantial theme, but it does not cut into the event in any negative fashion.
Computer engineering sophomore and Bike Night veteran Ryan Weideman was at Thursday’s Bike Night with a couple of friends. His view of the happening reflected attitudes of many participants.
“You can completely cut loose, and no one really cares,” Weideman said. “It’s great, especially at the end of a quarter. You can just come and scream.”
Weideman’s friend, materials engineering sophomore Stanley Goto, took a simplistic approach.
“I love Bike Night because I get to ride my bike,” he said. When pressed for a more in-depth analysis, Goto added, “It’s fun.”
That’s just the thing about Bike Night. It must be undergone, submitted to and experienced in whatever sense of the word requires the least thinking. There’s no sense in sitting around talking about it.
Maybe there is a second rule; you do not talk about Bike Night. Go and be there.