Thursday Night Social Ride Rolls Through Austin
By Taryn Jones
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas – Hundreds of cyclists gather every Thursday evening underneath the I-35 bridge next to Chicano Park.
Headlights and neon decorations attached to bicycles illuminate the park as the sun sets. At around 8:15 p.m., a shrill whistle pierces the air, announcing the start of a 10-mile ride through downtown.
This event is called Thursday Night Social Ride, and it began more than a decade ago as just a group of small cycling enthusiasts.
Kimberly Jarboe, a safety volunteer for the event, joined the group in 2009.
“In those days, the routes were typically pretty difficult,” Jarboe said.
“I actually didn’t even make it to the halfway point that night. We ended up having to dip out because we had some hills.”
As more people joined, the event shifted from being fitness-focused to having a relaxed, party-like atmosphere instead.
At the end of every ride, participants finish the night at a bar. Event organizers have developed relationships with business owners.
The Jackalope, a downtown bar, started offering riders a free keg of beer. Some bars have even installed bicycle racks to accommodate the event.
“We’d go hang out with these folks and you just end up seeing the same people every Thursday night and partying with the same people,” ride group leader Justin Ridgway, a ride group leader, said. “They end up becoming like a second family.”
Safety volunteers are sprinkled throughout the ride, helping maintain the group’s formation. Riders called “Corner Drops” stand at turns and tell participants where to go while a person called a “Sweep” stays at the back, ensuring no one gets left behind.
“We’ve been so large and we’ve been doing this every single week that we try to not disrupt traffic,” Jarboe said. “We’re really big on stopping at red lights, and not corking.”
Corking is when a ride stops the flow of traffic at an intersection to get all riders through. Organizers emphasize safety in order to build healthy relationships between bicyclists and cars, and ensure that everyone feels comfortable on the road.
“I’m not nervous. It’s just another night with all my homies,” Trevor Hughes said.
Ride leaders determine the exact route and design the route’s middle and end points to contain a fun activity. Recently, these activities helped bring up attendance numbers following the COVID-19 pandemic. The average number of bicyclists range from around 150 to 200 per ride, half of pre-pandemic numbers.
Previously, organizers brought in a DJ with a full sound system for a rave on Montopolis Bridge.
On a recent ride, they pedaled to Barton Springs for a mid-point swim.
“There’s nothing to it but riding bikes and having fun, like that’s it,” Ridgway said. “Why wouldn’t you want to do that?”