In Boulder, Colorado, a unique community event has been taking place for over 30 years. The Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride is a weekly gathering of cyclists who dress up, decorate their bikes, and parade through the streets of the town. The event is open to all, and it's more than just a bike ride - it's a celebration of community, creativity, and fun. In this interview, we speak with Gabe, one of the Facilitators of the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride. Gabe, who joined the ride in 2008 as a rite of passage after graduating high school, has been instrumental in shaping and growing the event over the past 15 years.
In this captivating interview, we discussed about:
1. Understanding the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride
2. The Evolution of the Ride The Organization and Structure of the Ride
3. The Impact of the Ride on the Community
4. The Future of the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride
5. Advice for First-Time Attendees and Those Looking for Similar Events
6. Start Your Own Cruiser Ride
"It's more than a bike ride, it's a celebration."
Understanding the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride
Can you describe what the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride is like for someone who has never heard of it?
Once a week, on Thursday nights in Boulder, Colorado, over 100 to 200 cyclists gather at a park. They dress up for a theme, deck out their bikes, and parade through the streets of the town. This has been happening for over 30 years, from April to October. People from all backgrounds and with all types of bikes join in to have fun and build community. It's the Happy Thursday cruiser ride. Everyone is welcome and the unique aspect of our ride is the incorporation of costumes and the Happy Thursday cheer. Even people unfamiliar with our ride recognize it from this distinct, fun, loving and unique quirkiness.
Can you share the origin of the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride and why it takes place at night?
The Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride started in the 90s at a bicycle shop called the Sports Garage. After work, instead of going for drinks, the owner and a few employees started going for rides. It began small, with just the employees and a few of their friends, and it actually started on a Monday, not a Thursday. Over time, it grew as friends invited friends. It wasn't until about five or six years that it grew to about 50 people. The ride was unique because it was just about cruising around, having a good time, and ending at a fun location. The addition of costumes and unique bikes set the ride apart from others and it became a fun, creative environment. At one point, the ride grew to 600-800 people. The ride had a simple origin, just a group of friends riding around after work, and now, almost 30 years later, it's a Boulder tradition.
Would you say this event could only happen in Boulder? How does it compare to social cycling events in other cities?
While Boulder was one of the first to have a quirky, unique ride with costumes, I believe Austin, Texas, were the pioneers of social cycling. When you look at Austin in the 90s, they were the real innovators. They had mad scientists making super tall bikes, people getting together in a shop and just welding things, like meshing eight bikes together. So, when it comes to costumes, Boulder may have snagged the award for the wildest ride, but Austin, Texas, they were the real pioneers.
Nowadays, they have a ride for every day of the week. They have a yoga ride, a coffee ride, a Thursday night cruiser ride, an endurance ride. They even have a ride where they volunteer to help people with limited seeing abilities, riding with them on tandem bikes to give them the experience of biking. They have so many rides, there's something new to do every day, and I love that. Hopefully, we'll do that here in Boulder similarly one day and have so many rides there’ll be one for every week of the season.
Speaking of costumes, do people often wear the same costumes?
Some people do show up in the same costume, but we always encourage people to be sustainable and shop at thrift stores. Costumes are encouraged but not mandatory. I personally have a few costumes that I sometimes mix and match. We always have a few costumes every week that look fabulous. Every rider demonstrates ingenuity in their presentation, as some spontaneously assemble costumes just before the ride, while others dedicate months to pre arranging their attire ahead of time.
The Evolution of the Ride
Is the Cruiser Ride a Thursday-only event?
While the main event is on Thursdays, we've also started a new midday weekend ride called the Sunday Slow Roll. This is a smaller event with 20 to 30 riders and a different vibe. It's a great opportunity for people who prefer riding in the day or with a smaller group. We do these Sunday rides two to three times a month and they've become a regular thing.
How does the ride maintain its freshness and excitement? Is there a set route, or does it change every week?
Unlike some rides, like the Venice Beach Electric Light Parade or some of the Critical Mass rides in Europe, which follow the same route every week, the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride likes to keep things fresh. We start at different parks and locations around town, and we aim to stop at three different places during the ride. These could be fun and scenic spots like a park, a playground, a parking garage, a watering hole, a tennis court, or a basketball court. What's really fun is when people who have lived in town for years say, "I have no idea where we are. Oh, I know this area. I didn't even know this was back here." That's one of the biggest joys and honors I get from doing this. If we did the same thing every week, I think people would get kind of bored with it. Boulder is such a unique and fun little mountain town. We have so many creek paths that people can ride on and explore. We have excellent bike infrastructure. We have so many beautiful places around this town to show people such as parks, creeks, street art, nature, and so much more. I have lived here pretty much my whole life, and to be able to show people around town and take them to spots they've never been to is one of the biggest joys and honors I get from doing this.
The Organization and Structure of The Ride
Can you explain the organization of the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride? Is there a hierarchical structure?
The Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride is organized by a small committee of core riders, including myself. These are people who have ridden with us for many years and help put together themes, routes, and guidelines. People volunteer in various ways, such as acting as a sweep to ensure no one gets left behind, bringing music trailers, or even providing food such as cookies and quesadillas or even entertainment like jugglers who attended a recent circus themed ride. We aim to create an experience and cultivate a sense of adventure, while also ensuring everyone gets home safely.
"Shared experiences can foster community bonds and transformation."
The Impact of the Ride on the Community
What's one standout moment or experience from the many years you've done this?
One of the most unforgettable experiences I've had during my many years of cruiser involves one of our riders named Zach, who nowadays goes by the nickname Wisdom. Back in the spring of 2018, the Happy Thursday cruiser ride was in a period of significant transition, and Wisdom began attending our weekly rides. At first, he was quite reserved and kept mostly to himself, but he consistently showed up to the ride week after week, month after month. He had recently graduated from high school, a time when we typically discourage students from joining our rides due to their tendency to be a bit more reckless. However, Wisdom was an exception. He displayed an eagerness to learn and contribute, and over the years, I've had the privilege of witnessing his remarkable growth and maturation. He has now become an integral part of our committee, leading rides, acting as a sweep, bringing his own music trailer, and even constructing his own tall bike. Reflecting on the impact of observing Wisdom's growth as a result of the ride has been one of my greatest joys and honors in doing this activity. Wisdom’s journey underscores the transformative potential of our activity and has had a profound personal impact on me.
How does the town and its residents feel about the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride? Is there a contentious relationship with the police?
The town and its residents generally appreciate the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride. We often see kids and parents excitedly watching us from their homes, and cars honking their horns in support. We do our best to avoid main roads and not to disturb anyone, especially since we ride after most people have returned home from work. We hardly ever receive complaints, but we're always open to feedback and do our best to never overstay our welcome. In the past, there were occasional altercations or incidents with the police, but a truce was put in place that if we could police ourselves, they would leave us alone. Over the 15 years I've been doing this, we've rarely encountered any issues. When things do come up, we take them seriously and make changes. Safety is a big priority for us, and we always encourage people to have more lights and wear helmets.
The Future of the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride
Do you plan out how the Happy Thursday cruise rides will evolve in the next few years or do you just take it year by year?
We usually plan a year at a time, but we're always thinking about how we can evolve and grow. We've been experimenting with different types of rides, like a monthly movie night or a story night. We've also been participating in cruiser exchange programs, where ride leaders from other cities come to visit us and vice versa. This allows us to learn from each other and bring new ideas back to our own rides. We're also considering the idea of a summit where ride leaders from all over could meet and share ideas.
Have you thought about organizing a summit for night-ride social rides?
Yes, we have thought about it and it's something we're interested in. We've already started connecting with other rides and have monthly chats to discuss what's working and what's not. It would be great to have a summit where we could all meet in person and learn from each other. It's on my personal bucket list to travel and see how other social rides operate around the world.
Advice for First-Time Attendees and Those Looking for Similar Events
What advice would you give someone who is attending one of your Happy Thursday cruise rides for the first time? How would they find something similar in their city?
For first-time attendees, I would advise them to come with an open mind and a willingness to seek out adventure. They'll need to bring some form of transportation, whether it's a bike, electric scooter, or rollerblades. It's okay if they don't have a wild costume or many lights on their bike for their first ride. The most important thing is to bring themselves and be open to making new friends.
For those looking for similar events in their own cities, I would recommend checking out Meetup.com, Instagram, and Facebook. They can search for keywords like "critical mass," "bike party," or "cruiser ride" followed by their city or state. Local bike shops can also be a great resource, as they often know about local cycling events.
If they can't find an existing event, they can always start their own. The Cruiser Ride started with just a few friends after work, so it's definitely possible to start small and grow from there.
Start Your Own Cruiser Ride
Remember, the journey of a lifetime begins with a single step, and so do these rides. If you're inspired by the Boulder Cruiser Ride and want to start something similar in your own community, or if you're interested in attending a ride, reach out to Gabriel. They're always happy to share their experiences and offer advice.
The Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride transcends the simple act of cycling - it's a vibrant celebration of community spirit, creative expression, and pure enjoyment. It stands as a powerful example of how shared experiences can foster community bonds and bring about transformation. Regardless of whether you're a Boulder local or residing in another city, the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride presents a unique chance to forge connections, discover new facets of your city, and most importantly, have an unforgettable time.