This is not your typical bike gang. As 90 bicycles pedal throughout downtown Akron in a friendly flock, yelling “Bike Party!,” bystanders, neighbors and passersby gather to watch this spontaneous parade, one man even pulling a trailer wired with a speaker, providing a soundtrack to this spirited procession.
Akron Bike Party rides monthly, with various themes, ranging from dressing like your favorite Star Wars characters to dressing in purple for the late singer Prince (a ride that ended up on North Hill in front of the house of Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan).
On this summer day, the ride began with a more somber tune, as this was the inaugural memorial ride for Michael Finney, who was murdered last October while riding his bicycle a mile from his home. For this event, riders were encouraged to “dress like their bikes,” in the same way that Finney used to. In fact, bicyclist Freddy Schulz rode one of Finney’s former bicycles, a blue one that he matched with a blue shirt. “Mike would color coordinate his clothing, no matter where he was going, to match the bike he was riding,” said Schulz.
The bicyclists gathered around a “ghost bike” set up against a tree, in the same yard where Finney took his last breath. Like other ghost bikes, this one is painted all white and will be set up as a permanent memorial.
After Rickshaw Willie’s moving rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the harmonica, the bicyclists were soon back on two wheels, chanting “Bike Party!” to neighbors, cars and others.
Every third Friday of the month, bicycles of all shapes and sizes — from fold-up bikes to fat tires and mountain bikes — and riders of all ages, even little children being pulled in bike trailers, take on this relaxed 10-mile ride throughout Akron streets.
“Bike Party is strictly a social ride,” says Schulz, “and as far as running through the neighborhoods and screaming out ‘Bike Party’ and having the chant returned. It brings together people of all ages and all types of cyclists.”
While celebratory in nature, Akron Bike Party is also about education, enforcing bicycle safety and legitimizing bicycling as a valid form of transportation and recreation.
Riders are encouraged to bring “lights, feather boas,” and any other decorative items to spread the joy of bicycling.
“Bike Party is a global community,” said Dave Massary, the grand marshal of this eclectic parade and the founder of Akron Bike Party. “I was in San Jose visiting friends and they insisted I go to Bike Party, and it was a great time. It was 20 festive miles and sound systems, thousands of people riding around the community. It was such a community feeling, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. We’re not protesting anything but we are inadvertent advocates for cycling.”
The next ride takes place this Friday, Aug. 15, at 7:30 p.m. Riders will meet at the Coffee Pot Cafe, next to the Akron-Summit County Public Library’s Main Library on South Main Street.
For info, visit Akron Bike Party on Facebook.