Strength In Numbers: How Group Rides Bolster DTPHX Bike Culture

by Taylor Costello
Arts & Culture Community Community Voices Phoenix Community Alliance Taylor Costello October 13, 2022

The senses come alive in the fall.

And as the Cooler temperatures of fall greet after a particularly bracing summer, it gives everyone opportunities for outdoor activities not possible on high humidity and triple digit days. Farmer’s markets, early morning strolls with the dog and jogging of course, a ride on the first mechanical mode of transportation: the bicycle.

In the recent past (and increasingly following the isolation imposed by the Pandemic in 2020), a healthy and robust biking culture emerges in Greater Downtown Phoenix and beyond, offering people a safe and effortless way to connect to others in their community.

As summer turns into fall in the downtown area, local groups and similarly themed multi-modal events provide robust programming. For instance, Downtown Phoenix, Inc. will host a Pride Ride, Sunday, October 23 at 2pm, a bike ride routed to Portland Parkway Park to showcase recent bike infrastructure improvements, to kick off our 2nd Annual Pride on the Block party event, in celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community and Pride Month. At this and other sponsored Fall events, Rainbow-colored Bird shirts will be sold to benefit the Southwest Center.

The following groups and organization promote biking culture but also advocate for a shift in mindset in how bikes (and similarly micro-mobility options) are perceived on the road, as a way of navigating the community.

Critical Mass / Saturday Morning Service

Critical Mass founder Luke Parker directing a mass of participants prior to roll out of the ride. (Photo by Erik Binggeser)

A community bike ride modeled after successful ones in San Francisco and Chicago, Critical Mass easily represents the most engaged community of all downtown-centric riders. The first community activation garnered about 70 people, all contacts of its founder and route curator Luke Parker. Now, more than two years after its soft early 2021 launch, the average second Thursday ride attracts 300 participants taking over city streets en masse. Riders, of different stripes, from casual cyclers on beach cruisers, up to trick and BMX riders, follow Parker’s lead. According to Parker, the more confident cyclists ride up front, while the inexperienced tend to hang back.

“And so the mantra that I’ve always tried to push is, is safety in numbers. And to let cars be aware of that we are traffic too. Together, we ride safe,” Parker said.

As Critical Mass grew, Parker created a separate entity, under the same roof, called Saturday Morning Service. After a year into the former’s existence, Parker announced rides for people acclimated to pedaling 30 miles to locations. Although Parker tailors these rides, which are usually lead from downtown to the east valley, to experienced riders, novices aren’t excluded from participation. Other sponsored programming, like “My First 40,” a structured distance group ride with predetermined stops opens the ride up to others.

Phoenix Spokes People

Riders gather for a group photo during their regular Second Saturday ride that launches from Short Leash Hot Dogs. (Photo Courtesy of Phoenix Spokes People)

Every riding community define themselves differently and the carefree roots of Phoenix Spokes People underscore their advocacy and cultivation of a local biking culture in the making. The Second Saturday monthly rides are free but donations advance the mission of their all-volunteer board. For instance, a membership to the organization supports a monthly newsletter of upcoming city meetings, upcoming projects, and other vital information to keep the advocacy strong.

To further promote biking, the group also provides a bike valet service, previously used at Wayne Fest, Pizza Fest and McDowell Music Festival, for riders who want a place to secure their bikes.

Along with Urban Phoenix Project, they participate in regular meetings with the city to learn about new biking infrastructure and if more shared micro mobility programs is on the horizon. Recently, they signed onto a letter of support for Vision Zero Road Safety Action Plan.

Urban Phoenix Project

UPP’s President Ryan Boyd and their Treasurer Cory Kincaid pose for photos with Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg during the announcement for funding of a pedestrian bridge connecting Downtown and South Phoenix. (Photo Courtesy of Urban Phoenix Project)

A regular fixture at Phoenix Community Alliance’s (PCA) Multi-Modal Committee meetings, the organization’s intent is more apparent in the original name, the ‘Thunderdome Neighborhood Association for Non-Auto Mobility,’ formed in 2011.

Their president, Ryan Boyd, describes their mission as creating infrastructure for safe, convenient and plentiful modes of transportation less contingent on cars, and more on bikes, bus or lightrail. “You shouldn’t have to think about it. It should all just be that easy,” Boyd said.

A regular presence at City Hall, their advocacy involves a lot of regularly showing up at city council meetings and PCA Committee meetings to influence transportation developments to come.

Currently focused on strengthening the implementation of the T2050 and Vision Zero Road Safety Action Plan, a Phoenix City Council approved measure to redesign city roads to reduce pedestrian (including cyclist) fatalities to zero, they’re always working for the future.

Phoenix Downtempo Ride

Participants of Phoenix Downtempo Bike Ride pose while temporarily stopped in Roosevelt Row during a Christmas themed ride. (Photo Courtesy of Downtempo Bike Ride)

Beginning in 2015, Phoenix Downtempo Ride, a 21+ social ride, introduces freewheeling (no pun intended) elements to their regular festivities. Rides take them to a variety of destinations, but more importantly wherever a bike rack secures their transportation. Annual water balloon fights and costume themed rides punctuate the weekly fun. In the past, Cheba Hut, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co., Gracie’s Tax Bar, and Pizza People’s Pub, acted as final destinations for riders to socialize afterward. They introduce typically launches Mondays at 8pm from Civic Space Park.

Other biking groups of interest: AZ Pedal Squad, Car Resistance Action Party Ride (Tempe riders), PHXFXD (Fixed-Gear riders), Heavy Pedal (Those interested in speed), North West Valley Cycle Nation (Surprise riders), Phoenix Photo Cruise, Spinelli’s Cycling