Napa Bike Fest’s High Wire Act
The organizers of the first Napa Bike Fest, held this past Saturday, had a difficult balancing act to pull off (as does the Napa Bike Coalition): Advocate for the needs and safety of cyclists without alienating automobile drivers. Northern California is a community of drivers. Speeding, swerving, steering-with-their-knees-while-texting drivers. We live in our cars. We shave in them and apply our makeup. We eat In-N-Out burgers in them. Probably do other things we shouldn’t talk about in them. And, of course, we carry our bicycles in them (mostly so we can ride them somewhere we won’t get splattered across the pavement by the aforementioned ‘us’s). But to this point, unlike in some other communities, the vast majority of cyclists in Napa are also drivers. And for a very long time, drivers have been the preeminent concern when it came to infrastructure.
The laudable Napa Valley Trail Coalition has been working to make a safe route through the entire valley (clear to Vallejo), but thus far, while raising awareness and funds, has failed to capture the full coöoperation of the localities that is probably going to be necessary to make the unimpeded bike trail a reality.
All this is to say that in Napa the concerns of cyclists and drivers are one in the same, because by and large the Venn diagram of their interests overlap to the point where it should essentially be a perfect circle. It means that Napa Bike Fest — as much as it might feel like the thing to do — cannot be about claiming the streets from cars, or venting frustrations about hugely inadequate bike lanes (in most other communities these are known as “shoulders,” and even then, just barely). To this end, the most activist ride of Saturday was Kidical Mass, in which 60-70 screaming kids took to the streets some conveyed by training wheels, others by The Hub’s complimentary pedicab, and many with pipe cleaners sticking out of their ladybug or robot themed helmets. In places like Manhattan and Los Angeles Critical Mass rides often end with overzealous police assaulting riders. In Napa it ended with ice cream.
While the Kidical Mass (and its ice cream component) was surely a highlight for the younger riders, there were pleasures a-plenty to be had for adults: Chiefly, the pleasures of enjoying fine sets by musical guests The Ramblers and The Rebobs while sipping beer in the sunshine without the, er, exuberance of children to distract from said pleasures (the Kidical Mass ride was mercifully long). Local Napa bike shop The Hub poured the suds from Sierra Nevada, who donated the kegs, so all beer sales went straight to the Napa Bike Coalition.
Sierra Nevada also provided all the payment the bands would receive (so long as they could count all the IPA and Torpedo they could drink as payment). Following terrific sets from The Ramblers and The Rebobs, The Deadlies — Surfabilly’s answer to Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler — took the stage. Cosmos Percussion Orchestra closed out the day in propulsive fashion. All the acts played for free to promote Napa Porchfest, an event that will mark its second year this July.
One of the standout rides of the day was the Cultural History Ride led by Bill Tuikka from Napa County Landmarks, a tour of the city’s historic districts and landmarks by bike. Tuikka treated a disparate group to a fast (not too fast though) overview of some of the more interesting buildings in town, though it showcased just what you could accomplish when you take your time pedaling just as much as it did the historical import of the sites.
Overall the full day of music, movies, food, rides, a bike swap, parts sales, BMX ariel shows and more provided a forum for cyclists big and small, young and old to meet and congregate. The only thing they had in common was two wheels — sometimes three. There was as much spandex (some of it stretching its stretchability to the limit) on display as there were second-hand fashions from Wildcat.
On my ride home from the fest I had a sobering reminder of one of the important reasons why we need groups like the Napa Bike Coalition and Napa Valley Vine Trail when I passed the ghost bike memorial to Don E. Mitchell, an avid Napa cyclist killed on Solano Avenue in 2010. But like the spirit of the day, the plaque attached to the memorial dwells not on the accident but on the reasons for riding. “It was not the dark and unknown road I sought,” it reads, “but rather the kindred spirits I rode with.”