In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina came through and shifted the entire landscape, as well as the demographic of the beautiful city I call home, New Orleans, Louisiana. It forced many residents to be uprooted and temporarily displaced for indefinite amounts of time, and for many of us, permanently relocated to other cities. Any native will tell you, us New Orleanians live by two different time periods....before Katrina and after Katrina. It was the day that everything we knew, changed.
In the weeks and months to come, gentrification was slowly but surely sweeping through the city. Many parts of town were still inundated with abandoned buildings and blighted houses, while just a few minutes away, the city would be bustling with tourists as if nothing ever happened. There were juice bars and high rises, and over priced condominiums being built in communities where small family owned businesses once stood. Meanwhile, most of the progress of the predominantly middle-class, suburban black neighborhoods, was being side swept, overlooked and under policed, while they continued to push the panic of widespread uncontrollable violence. Yet New Orleans is a city that celebrates even in the midst of despair, and will always find the party after the pain.
About 3 years ago, Blake Owens, moved back home to New Orleans after residing in Houston, Texas post-Katrina. He moved into the French Quarter, less than a mile away from his job at the House of Blues and had been fighting a DUI charge so responsibly, he invested in a bike. Luckily, New Orleans is the kind of place where you can actually navigate around majority of the city without even having to hit the freeway. As soon as he started riding, he says, nostalgia hit him and he was immediately reminded of his childhood and how much fun it was. So like many others, he started riding around the city with friends for leisure.
Group biking is making a comeback in many closer knit cities such as New Orleans and Austin; and in a generation where transportation is constantly evolving, Blake and his friends, Nick Reed and DJ Poppa, decided to organize some people for a bike ride one night just to see what would happen. Little did they know, they were on the brink of a movement that would be named BikeRite.
The first ride was around the end of 2015, they started with 8 riders and by the summer of 2016 they had over 500. He says it was easier than he thought to get people involved because it was almost like our people forgot how much fun, and most importantly, peaceful it was to do something as simple as ride a bike and be a kid again, even if just for a few minutes. Thanks to word of mouth and social media, more people started coming out for the rides each week. They put bright colorful lights on the tires, (for safety, and for fun) while speakers play music throughout the ride. Blake, also a local recording artist, says he loves being at the forefront of this movement because he's able to connect biking to Hip Hop and Hip Hop to people, in a way many haven't seen before.
After managing numerous complaints about noise and crowd size, the BikeRite team worked hard to get the permits required to ride as an organization. After fighting to get local officials to see how positive this sort of social environment is for the people, culture, and the city of New Orleans, Blake Owens and Nick Reed launched BikeRite as an official touring company.
Together they organize private rides for celebrations, disaster relief rides, charity benefit rides and Santa rides during the holidays in which they deliver gifts to the homeless. BikeRite is also known for their special event rides, sporadically held all through festival season. According to them, BikeRite's mission is to "connect the locals, tourists, and bike lovers of all races and backgrounds together by doing something positive, fun, unique, and healthy."
Despite the reputation of inner city violence that precedes New Orleans, there hasn't been one serious incident reported since the induction of BikeRite in 2015. Considering the community of strangers that ride together each week at night, this is a beautiful thing to witness.
As BikeRite's Tuesday night rides grow in popularity, they hope for the movement to spread to other cities and also want to organize a national day dedicated to bike riding; in an effort to have everyone riding at the same time. For now, however, they are focused on their beloved streets of New Orleans. Coming up on April 23rd, 2017, they will be hosting New Orlean's the very first Bike Fest on Bayou Road in effort to bring more attention to minority-owned businesses in that area.
For more information on BikeRite or to organize a ride, visit their website.