Night Riders

Night Riders

Under darkened sky, I rolled up on my bicycle to the New Haven Green flagpole. It was cool out, making me grateful for the professorial green tweed coat I was wearing.

It wasn’t typical cycling gear, but this wasn’t a typical ride. This was New Haven Bike Party’s Nerd Ride—the theme changes every month—with a timely back-to-school twist. As a crowd of cheekily dressed bikers and their decked-out two-wheelers slowly formed, we were greeted by the ride’s labcoat-wearing frontman, Kurt Weseman, who would lead us along our eight-mile path while towing a speaker blasting the night’s soundtrack.

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New Haven Bike Party has been pedaling since July 2015, a few months after founder Coby Zeifman moved to the area. He’d experienced his first Bike Party while living in California, riding with the hugely popular San Jose chapter. “I was really drawn to San Jose Bike Party’s message: ‘We’re not San Francisco, we’re a lot of big box stores and sprawl, but we should get together and make something that’s unique and our own,’” he recalls to me over the phone. After leaving the Bay, he took a two-year sojourn to South Korea to teach English, starting up a Bike Party event in the city of Changwon—“That’s how I learned to run Bike Party,” he says—before coming to New Haven.

This past July, Zeifman moved to Seattle, but the local rides ride on. He’s passed the handlebars to a team of five local bike partiers, who now design and route each event, which usually takes place on the second Friday of the month. Weseman is one of the five, along with Taylor Holdaway, David Malinowski, Kai Addae and Sam Greenberg, all passionate cyclists. The Nerd Ride was their second event as leaders, the first being a beachy “Surf’s Up!” ride last month. “They’ve done a fantastic job,” Zeifman proudly says from afar.

At the Nerd Ride, Weseman, standing on a tall stump, gave a brief speech about crowd bike safety, as the LEDs and headlights of the gathered bikes flickered on. A long tandem bicycle with two riders arrived, and a six-footer, made from two bike frames welded together, loomed over the group. Someone waved a lightsaber. Then we were off, pedaling to the tune of Al Yankovic’s “White and Nerdy.”

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“What is this?” someone yelled from their car as we zoomed by. “Bike Party!” half the group shouted back.

Even though it was a Friday, the downtown streets were mostly empty and quiet, perhaps because it really is back-to-school season. We pedaled up College Street and up Prospect, turning onto Sachem before passing Yale’s new Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray Colleges. From Winchester Avenue, we headed towards King/Robinson Interdistrict Magnet School, where the group took a breather in the parking lot. Then we wove our way through the Southern Connecticut University campus and to the second break spot of the night: the hulking Goffe Street Armory, where an impromptu dance party broke out. Back in the saddle, we returned to denser downtown, to the tune of cheers from passerby and mostly-encouraging honks from drivers.

The ride itself was the easiest 8 miles I’ve ever experienced on a bike. The speed is fairly slow, in part because it’s paced to the lead rider, who had the heavy speaker in tow. Both Zeifman and the new organizers say that before each ride, the route factors out as many hills as possible for maximum bikeability, while more experienced riders wait at each intersection to make sure nobody’s left behind.

New Haven Bike Parties usually finish at a downtown business for socializing on legs instead of wheels. Nerd Ride ended up at appropriately geek-friendly Barcade, where Greenberg handed out tokens for games.

The after-ride hangouts have a purpose. “It’s definitely bringing the community together. Not just biking together, but getting to talk to each other, getting to talk about each others’ bikes, to talk about resources in the area,” says Addae, adding that for those new to the city, both Bike Party and the afterparty can provide an introduction to New Haven’ bars and neighborhoods, in addition to new friends.

New Haven Bike Month is in May, but it could just as easily be this month. The day after the Bike Party, the Closer to Free Ride raised money for cancer work at Yale-New Haven’s Smilow Hospital. This Friday is the New Haven Grand Prix, with racers barreling through a downtown course next to a concurrent pizza fest. Even as I left Barcade, the Elm City Party Bike—which has no relation to Bike Party—was parked outside.

Cycling does a lot for a city, Greenberg says. “It makes it seem a lot more alive. With people that are inside, or in their car, you don’t see faces, you don’t see human beings.”

It also does a lot for our bodies and the environment, and it can be thrilling. During the Bike Party, after cycling up a wooded road, we turned a corner and the almost-full moon appeared, hanging over the road like an enormous headlight. Summer crickets were still chirping, while autumn woodsmoke was in the air. Everyone fell quiet to appreciate the moment, until a passing car slowed with apparent curiosity, and the group shouted its customary explanation: “Bike Party!”

New Haven Bike Party
Every second Friday of the month (check the Facebook Page for dates, themes and other details as they’re announced)…

Written by Anne Ewbank. Photo 1 by Anne Ewbank; photos 2-3 by Sam Greenberg.

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