Feeling young and youthful and crazy

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Lucy Haggard

No one’s sure when the Happy Thursday Cruiser Ride first took over Boulder’s streets. Some say it happened in the ’90s when a few friends decided to bike across town weekly for a drink. Word spread in the community, and Boulder being Boulder, the ride established itself as routine by the mid-2000s. It’s hard to know if Boulder was the first place with such an activity, but it certainly propelled a wave of bike parties across the country that continue to grow today.

Of course, bike parties in Boulder and beyond all but ground to a halt during the summer of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was still young and people were still figuring out which activities were safe to do pre-vaccine. With almost three-quarters of Boulder County residents age 12 and up fully vaccinated by summer 2021, the cruiser ride returned in full force, much to the relief of newcomers and returners alike. 

This reporter joined the crowd on a blistering hot July evening as a summer rainstorm brought much-needed relief right before wheels hit pavement. Boulderites of all ages meandered over to Scott Carpenter Park, a typical starting point for the night. One couple attended to mark the 10th anniversary of their first ride; others were there for their own inaugural cruise, looking to meet new friends and get to know the town from a new perspective. Among some of Boulder’s youth, joining the ride while school’s out of session has become a rite of passage, a night to dress up in costume and experience life without parents nearby. Regardless of age, the ride has become a welcome ritual for participants and observers alike.

“When we first started we would say, ‘Happy Thursday,’ and people would look at us like we were nuts,” says Jennifer, who says she’s cruised with the ride for decades. “On the way here, strangers are like, ‘Happy Thursday!’ They’re yelling it to us before we have a chance to say it. So it’s just a state of mind.”

There’s no one person claiming leadership for the effort, and it’s been that way since the start. A decentralized format brings an organic energy, longtime participants
say, and it keeps
everyone responsible for themselves when they’re on the road. It is a party, after all, and many participants are of legal age to consume inebriating substances at their discretion. 

Rides typically remain
copacetic and chill, but every few years someone will do something that leads police officers to patrol the meeting point for a number of weeks. This summer a teen let off some fireworks, bringing back bike cops to snoop out rascal behavior. There have been concerted efforts in the past to rein in the rowdier parts of the ride, and longtime cruisers want participants to be respectful — which includes using bike lights and obeying traffic laws — even when they’re riding like the wind.

Lucy Haggard.

“When you’re on the cruiser ride you feel young and youthful and crazy,” says Ryan Van Duzer, a locally based adventurer who’s cruised since the early days. “It’s a sacred thing.”

The dichotomy between the adult riders and the high school crowd has recently led the ride to split in two. The younger group (organized through the Instagram page @2021_thursday_cruiser) tends to depart from the meetup spot first, zooming fast and free to a number of stops throughout the city for dance parties and various shenanigans. The adults (found online at @boulderbikenight) prefer to meander through the streets, chilling on bikes tricked out with speakers, lights and sometimes even fog machines. This reporter opted to tag along with the latter crowd for a winding route through the center of town, with a brief foray up north, before ending up back near Pearl Street.

Despite the decentralized nature of the ride, there’s almost always someone who guides bikers through a route of their own design, ensuring the peloton stops at red lights, stays on the right side of the road and yells “Happy Thursday!” to layfolk. For more than a decade that person has primarily been Gabriel, equipped with a toy lightsaber to direct the crowd. Though he doesn’t lead the ride every week — sometimes it’s Zack, who’s made a circus-type contraption out of his bicycle — many point to Gabriel as a primary reason the ride has flourished in recent years. For his part, he didn’t join the ride to become its grand marshal; “It just happened organically,” he says. 

“I’ve seen it change people’s lives, and it’s changed my life,” Gabriel told Boulder Weekly. “I feel indebted to the ride, to take care of it, to protect it, to allow other people to have the experience that I’ve had, if not even more.”

It’s become a rite of passage for so many, and Gabriel is no exception. He’s connected with other cruisers across the world, occasionally even exchanging lights and decorations, and he hopes to go ride in other cities to see how they put their own spin on it all. Eventually Gabriel will abdicate the baton to the next guide, but for now, he’s ready to cruise with so many other Boulderites, fostering this welcoming community on wheels every week.

“I’ll lead from point A to point B, and the rest is up to you,” Gabriel says. “But I’m more focused on the journey, honestly, because it’s fun.”