Thousands of bicyclists swarmed the streets of Santa Cruz Saturday in the fifth-annual Santa Cruz Ride Out, a family-oriented bicycle gathering and ride that snarled traffic citywide for hours.
The event began at Harvey West Park, with bicyclists coming from as far away as London, Australia, New York and Texas. It then rolled out to the Westside of Santa Cruz, where the massive mob clogged streets, shutting down 15 to 20 blocks at a time, with as many as 5,000 bicyclists, from kids to seniors on three-wheelers. Many performed stunts such as wheelies and standing on their bike seats and handlebars and riding sidesaddle.
Santa Cruz Police Department, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol monitored the wave of wheels and bike enthusiasts who largely rode BMX big wheel style bikes.
“We ride as one; it’s about the movement,” said Rick Grant of Gilroy. “It’s a great, great day, great weather, and a great atmosphere. You can’t go wrong.”
Grant says he learned about the event on social media.
The SCPD said the event was unsanctioned.
Thousands of motorists were stranded in massive logjams along the route that included the Westside, downtown, Ocean Street out to East Cliff Drive, Seventh Avenue, the Santa Cruz Harbor and back to Harvey West Park.
Organizer Thomas Laughron of Santa Cruz says the event has grown since its inception five years ago. It was created, he says, as a way to get young people onto their bicycles, a time-honored childhood activity that has taken a back seat to their electronic devices.
“We’re getting kids back out on the street, with nothing else but the wind and the pedals beneath them,” he says.
Laughron calls the Ride Out a positive event that brings all walks of life. So many people come to participate, he says, that hotels are booked and hospitality businesses see a jump in revenue.
“It’s been beautiful to watch it build,” he says.
But the size of this year’s Ride Out was also its downfall. Laughlin says the estimated 5,000 participants were no match for the 40 volunteers tasked with controlling the flow of traffic, preventing issues and stopping altercations.
Laughron says he is considering ending the event, but added that if it does occur in the future, he plans to work with law enforcement and city officials. He tried to do so this year, but was faced with a nine-month permit process, he says.
Laughron admitted some participants were “out of control.”
“We can’t have that,” he says. “We do not want that for our culture. It’s not the positive image we’re trying to create.”
He says he regrets the traffic tie-ups that caused headaches citywide.
“We didn’t expect anything like this, nor did we intend it,” he says. “I am truly sorry we caused issues and grief. We never intended that.”
Both the Sheriff’s department and SCPD issued Laughron citations for the unsanctioned event.
Other legal consequences for organizers, Santa Cruz Police Chief Andrew Mills says, could include billing for the time put in by SCPD, the CHP and Sheriff’s Office.
Laughron says the response from the community was largely positive. He characterized most of those who complained about the event as “Karens”—the pejorative label given to people, usually privileged white ones, who blow trivial matters out of proportion.
Mills, however, described the event as a “traffic nightmare.”
“The event was problematic for many in the city and we had several incidents where some people were assaulted for being impatient,” Mills says. “Any time you have 5,000 cyclists riding in a very spread-out fashion where it took 20 minutes to clear an intersection, you have problems.”
Mills added that some social media reports, such as looting along the route, were not true.
During the ride, many in the pack of bicyclists ignored stop signs or red lights; Laughron argues this actually improved the flow of traffic. Having that many people stopping, he says, would have drawn out the group over a wider swath of the roads.
The bicyclists took over roadways as they flooded the streets in huge numbers. Scores of riders, meanwhile, performed stunts between stopped cars, weaving through them and, at times, stopping to take a break in the middle of the roadways. Witnesses saw many passing open alcohol containers between themselves.
The event, which also included a scavenger hunt, a raffle and bike-related promotional items, attracted a huge amount of attention beforehand with the help of the bicycling group Santa Cruz Maniaccs and the clothing business JT Racing USA.
The Sheriff’s Office stated on Facebook that riders were disobeying vehicle codes and riding with disregard for others in the roadway.
Oscar Marron of Fresno said he came to the ride with his wife.
“This is our first time on the ride,” he said. “The people are great, the cops are chill; we ride, we break, we ride; it feels great to be here in Santa Cruz.”
About 15 sponsors set up tents in Harvey West Park alongside several food trucks. By the end of the day, streets and sections of the parks and area businesses were cluttered with food wrappers and empty water and soda containers, along with numerous empty beer cans and liquor bottles.