Edmonton Night Cyclists

I apologize to my small readership for my month-long absence from this blog. While there has been no shortage of cycling activities, the non-bikey part of my life (It’s true – I do have one!) has been occupying the greatest part of my attention for several months now. Still, I’ve still been gathering material for the blog all the while.

I have been working on a truly harrowing bit of investigative journalism, a descent into the murky world of Edmonton’s urban nighttime cyclists. These enigmatic riders can be sometimes be spotted cruising the darkened city streets on a startling variety of light-bedecked bicycles, possibly with a music booming, laser light show beaming trailer in tow. Let me provide a necessarily incomplete glimpse into this shadowy society.

Having had some slight contact with a group of nocturnal riders last summer, I began preparations for this investigation during the past winter. My first action was to purchase a set of Monkey Lights to install on my bike. Although moderately pricey, they seemed to be an effective way for me to blend in with the group.

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Nishiki-san at night.

Next, I made discreet inquiries into ways of contacting the night riders to find out when the events might be happening. My efforts lead me to an obscure corner of the internet where some of these people gather. Having made contact I waited patiently for a ride to be announced. Near the end of May, I had my first opportunity.

The trip departed from a certain south-side community bike shop. With a myriad of lights flashing, we glided down  Whyte Ave, accompanied by music blasting from the trailer towed by one of the ride’s ringleaders. Passersby seemed bemused by our presence and many shouted or whistled calls of encouragement. It’s fun to make an electronic spectacle of yourself.

Over the course of the night we bombed through a parkade (slaloming among concrete columns), cruised down the unlit river valley trails, and loitered about on the Fort Edmonton pedestrian bridge. There was worrying moment of excitement when two riders collided, sending both to the asphalt. One rider flew through the air, rolled, and came to his feet like an acrobat. Happily, neither cyclist was injured, although one front wheel was badly tacoed.

I also joined another ride last weekend, but was unable to photograpically document it due to a camera failure. Urban exploring was the order of the night, and several incomplete bits of the new LRT line were investigated.

As the opportunity presents, I will continue to update this blog with the results of my continuing investigations into what one of my informants has referred to as “harmless badassery”.

Again, The Fabulaous Light Bike.

Again, The Fabulous Light Bike.

The Parkade Summit

The Parkade Summit

The Light Cyclist's latest surprise from his trailer of wonders: a projector and Nintendo system beaming Tetris onto the parkade wall.

The Light Cyclist’s latest surprise from his trailer of wonders: a projector and Nintendo system beaming Tetris onto the parkade wall.

I've concealed the identities of the riders.

I’ve concealed the identities of the riders.

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Cycling From Dusk ’till Dawn

What is the best night to attempt cycling through all the hours of the night.? On the shortest night of the year, of course. If one wanted to be really tough they could try it on the longest night – but it’s cold in December and I ain’t that ambitious.

Friday night, as one of the many Bike Month activities,  the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society organized a Midnight Mystery Ride. At Bikeworks South, more than a score of cyclists assembled  in a flashing,blinking, strobing pack of nocturnal, urban explorers. The plan was to was to cruise the streets into the wee hours of the night. My own personal goal    was to ride until sunrise – a sort of solstice cycling vigil. The weather was ideal for the expedition. A thunderstorm had rolled through earlier in the evening leaving behind rain-swept streets, cool air  and clearing skies.

Midnight Mystery RideMidnight Mystery RideMidnight Mystery Ride

We started our ride by travelling down Whyte Ave, Edmonton’s main strip of bars and nightlife. One of our fearless leaders was pedaling his fantastical light bike and towing a trailer equipped with a music blasting boom box providing a soundtrack for the ride. He’d  also hooked up a laser effects-box that beamed a light show on the road behind him. There’s no doubt that we were a head-turning, attention-grabbing spectacle and throughout the ride there were many shouts of encouragement from drivers and pedestrians. We traveled down through Mill Creek ravine, past the Muttart Conservatory where we paused for some photos, and onward to the pedestrian bridge where we stopped for more photos and some refreshments. You can see one of the group photos here. I took very few photos while actually riding as I was simply not up to the challenge of trying to capture unblurred night pictures while also controlling my bike in a largish group.

Most of my riding photos turned out like this.

Most of my riding photos turned out like this.

Midnight Mystrey RideMidnight Mystrey RideMidnight Mystrey Ride

Next we headed up the serpentine path through the Chinese garden in a sinuous glowing line. We cruised through downtown and up to the top of one of the parkades looking down over the city center.Swooping along under the low ceiling was a blast but I’m glad I wasn’t the one pedaling the heavily laden trailer through all this climbing. After the parkade we visited the “Tron” building and the Legislature grounds.

Midnight Mystrey Ride

Fun to ride up. Even more  fun to ride down. There is a picture of the descent here.

Fun to ride up. Even more fun to ride down. There is an excellent picture of the descent here.

The nearly full moon rising over downtown.

The nearly full moon rising over downtown.

As far as I know the Legislature grounds are open to the public all night. I don't think I've ever been there when it was completely deserted

As far as I know the Legislature grounds are open to the public all night. I don’t think I’ve ever been there when it was completely deserted

Dancing with sparklers.

Dancing with sparklers.

A number of people called it quits after the stop at the legislature grounds. A few more said goodnight  after we crossed south over the High Level Bridge, leaving just five of us to wend our way through the University grounds to a location where we could see the lightening sky, distant lightning flashes and a perplexing a meteorological phenomenon. After this we gradually headed to our respective homes.

Midnight Mystery Ride

Drenched with laser light.

Drenched with laser light.

Once I was on own, I headed back towards my own neighbourhood. I plotted a routed through the quiet old residential neighbourhoods before cutting up to speed down 118th Ave. Even at this late hour a few businesses were open, with music floating out and light spilling from doorways onto patrons gathered outside smoking. Scattered pedestrians wandered the Ave.

I pushed on towards my favourite local park to watch the sunrise. I am rarely out and about during these late hours and I savored the peaceful and unusually quiet sleeping city. The singing of wakening songbirds rang out in the absence of the normal human made cacophony. It’s been many years since I’ve stayed up all night; I’d been doubtful that at my age I still had it in me. However by sunrise, though my  mind was getting foggy, my body was still willing to ride more, leading me to an unsurprising conclusion: bicycles – an ideal stimulant.

Midnight Mystery Ride

Midnight Mystery Ride

Edmonton Tron Ride (Warning! Contains terrible nighttime photography)

Ah, Tron. An 80’s SF gem. Great visual style, the introduction of big screen computer graphics and a tolerable story (a point where so many SF movies stumble and hit their head on the coffee table). I can’t remember if the movie even played in the small town theater nearest to my rural home but I do know that I didn’t get to see it. This crushing pre-teen disappointment was slightly mitigated by reading the novel based on the movie. That’s kind of pathetic, I know. Fortunately, I was later able to see the movie through the miracle of VHS.  Even if you haven’t seen the movie you are likely aware of the famous light cycle scene.  It’s  memorable and even though they’re some form of motorbike rather than bicycle it’s still fantastic two-wheeled fun. A Tron themed  night ride could only be a good thing.

The Tron ride came at the end of a stupidly busy Saturday. I filled in at Bikeworks North for a couple of hours and then raced off to busk the incoming crowd of the football game. After that I had to scurry home to adorn my bike and helmet with glowsticks and stuff a quick bite of food in my face. To go on the ride I had to skip busking the outgoing crowd at the game, a decision that had caused me no little agonizing on the previous days. Oh, the lost busking dollars!

Still, dusk found me at the North Shop with about a dozen other riders. Glowsticks were much in evidence. Chris was riding his famous and dazzling electrified light bike and pulling a glowing trailer equipped with a sound system. We made quite a spectacle as we cruised through the city. Our rambling tour took us past the crazy traffic around the football stadium, through residential neighbourhoods and into the river valley trails. There was a stop at the legislature, some zippy downtown riding with a little parkade excursion, culminating in a stop at the new building that had inspired the ride in the first place. We had shed a few riders by this point. Too bad for those who missed the blazingly electric setting. I was disappointed that nobody wanted to go back to BWN for the planned screening of the movie and 80’s video games. C’mon people! It was only 10:30PM on a Saturday! In any case, it was a great ride and many thanks to Coreen for organizing and leading it.

My humble effort.

My helmet may not have been true to the movie but it was pretty light-tacular.

A beacon amongst bikes.

I sensed the ominous presence of the Master Control Program when we arrived at the legislature grounds.

The end of the ride. Very Tron. Or maybe Max Headroom.

Just ridin’ my light-cycle. No big deal.

The final few.