May 8 2013 08:48 AM

Social biking groups bring fun and games to laid-back rides

Photo by Charlie Sears

For 25-year-old University Heights resident Alex Hemphill, cycling is about socializing, not sweating.

"I'm not interested in doing a sport," the electrical engineer says, comparing biking to going for a stroll or a dip in the pool. "When I ride my bike to get food with friends, bicycle racing isn't on my mind any more than walking or swimming."

Compared with Spandex-wearing, sponsored-jersey-donning cyclist teams, social bike groups are more casual endeavors. The groups range from those that go to Padres games or coffeehouses to those populated by beer drinkers who pedal around to parks and pubs.

Here's a sampling of some of the social bicycling groups in San Diego:

THEAWAREWOLFS: Less than 10 minutes into one recent ride, a pack of some 20 cyclists started howling as riders raced along streets in University Heights. It's the kind of group that rides through storm drains and plays games like limbo—on a bike, of course—and "foot down," in which people slowly ride in a circle, sometimes stopping and going in reverse, and are eliminated when a foot touches the ground or they crash. The group meets when there's a full moon, typically with an 8 p.m. departure from Old Trolley Barn Park in University Heights. Rides can run any where between 10 and 20 miles, but the group stops at several locations, whether it's to wait for others, hang out in parks or stop for snacks. 

Las Calaveras: Check out this group if you love bike rides that aren't beer runs. Cyclists typically meet at a coffee shop, then head off to parks, events or taco shops. The group also prefers 10-mile rides at a pace that allows for conversation. They'll meet next at 6 p.m. Saturday, June 1, at Old Trolley Barn Park in University Heights before an 8:30 p.m. ride. At the park, they'll play games like bike jousting and a bowling-type game in which plastic trashcans are the pins and people on bikes are the bowling balls. 

Critical Mass: Mark this ride for your summer bucket list. Riders gather in Balboa Park at night and then frontrunners make up the route as it develops. Rides start around 8 p.m. the last Friday of the month at the fountain near the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and they often end at the pier in Ocean Beach. For last month's ride, the group cut across the traffic circle in the center of the park, immobilizing cars, then used its long line of riders to run as many red lights as possible. At the intersection of Front and Market streets, scores of cyclists swarmed in a circle to wait for slower riders to catch up, creating a gridlock that pissed off motorists and police. Critical Mass events are held in cities across the globe as a way to reclaim the streets. 

Queers & Gears: A small group of women and transgender folks recognized that the bike community seemed less geared to the queer community, so they recently created a group for themselves, although straight allies are also welcome. The group hosts movie nights, maintenance workshops, training sessions and ice-cream socials. Rides have lasted anywhere from seven to 25 miles, and they begin at 9:30 a.m. the first Sunday of each month, usually starting from a spot in North Park that's announced online. 

Tuesday Night Social Ride: Check out one of these weekly gatherings if you want to get a scenic ride in before taking advantage of drink and food specials with others in the group. A recent ride made use of the Ocean Beach bike path, the Ocean Beach boardwalk and a dirt bike path that runs parallel to La Jolla Boulevard then leads up to La Jolla High School. The trip was about 15 miles each way, but it was one of the longer rides. You can find them starting their journeys from the Bea Evenson Fountain in Balboa Park, where Critical Mass meets, at 6:15 p.m. on Tuesdays. 

Urban Bike and Social Club: Leave it to a former frat boy to create one of the largest social bike groups, with around 1,000 members. The group is all about doing social activities together, ranging from Taco Tuesday outings to seeking out other weekday appetizer and drink specials, concerts and outdoor movies in parks. Rides typically occur on Tuesdays and Thursdays and last less than 45 minutes each way. See the accompanying story about their keg hauls.

Write to or follow him on Twitter: @cityscrub.


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