The peloton cruised down Larimer Street at 8:45 p.m., easily 100 cyclists strong. Pedestrians strolling beneath the Edison lights strung across Larimer Square stopped to ogle the passing cyclists. This was no ordinary spectacle.
Perhaps it was their flashing lights, the bumping stereos or the neon-clad pedicabs that drew attention. But more than likely, it was that many of the cyclists were wearing dresses, including men. This was the Denver Cruiser Ride’s “Dress Night.”
Since 2005, Denver Cruiser Rides have been an integral part of cycling culture in the Mile High City, rolling costume parties that celebrate life on two wheels and whatever weirdness is still left in a gentrifying city. But while the costumes on July 31 were standard fare, this ride was unusual in a couple respects: It was both a protest of unsafe bicycle conditions in Denver and a vigil for cyclists recently slain by drivers, including two in July.
Thirty minutes of pedaling in, during which time one pedicab blasted the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” to match the night's rainy conditions, the Denver Cruiser Ride arrived en masse at the intersection of South Marion Street Parkway and East Bayaud Avenue, an area just south of the Denver Country Club. There, the mood turned somber. Battery-powered LED candles appeared like bobbing beacons, held aloft by scores of cyclists.
“Good evening. We are here tonight to honor Alexis Bounds, killed here by a truck driver in the bike lane one week ago,” said Piep van Heuven, an organizer with Bicycle Colorado. “[Alexis] was 37, a mom to two. She was going for a ride around the park. … Alexis and 46 other people died in preventable traffic crashes in Denver this year. Seventeen of them were walking or biking. So tonight we are coming together: to mourn, to support each other, to ask our city to do more, to ask friends and family and neighbors to do more. Because we need people to share road space, and we need our streets to be safe for everyone, especially people walking and biking.”
Van Heuven then asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence. Mingled in with the collective mourning was many cyclists’ feelings of rage; before Alexis Bounds’s life was cut short by a trash truck that entered the bicycle lane where she was riding on July 24, a prominent member of the cycling community, Scott Hendrickson, was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle in the Valverde neighborhood on July 12.
Father Joseph Dang, a Denver Police Department chaplain, offered a prayer at the streetside vigil before Denver Cruisers organizer and bike activist Brad Evans offered brief remarks of his own.
“This is about all of us: cars, people, bikes, pedestrians,” he said. “We can all make this a great city, so please help us do that. Ride safe, ride fun. We’re all in this together.”
The entire ceremony lasted five minutes, and afterwards some music and dancing — including a spat of drunken singing to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” — filled the intersection. But the Denver Cruiser Ride did not descend into a full-on bacchanal as it does many Wednesday nights upon arriving at the ride's end point, sometimes complete with rock bands and food trucks. Instead, the costumed cyclists milled about South Marion Street Parkway to honor the memory of one of their own, someone who was taken from this world too soon by yet another instance of careless driving.
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“Safe street design is so important to get people out there biking,” Van Heuven said in an interview with Westword after the vigil. “We need intersection design that slows car speeds. We need more protected bike lanes. We need to connect our bike network. We need those safe sidewalk spaces. And that means our city officials really have to step up and get that stuff on the streets. We have a lot of really good plans in place, but the pace has not been fast enough, and it’s tragic that we were too late for Alexis.”
As is usual on social media, at least one person decided to criticize aspects of the vigil, particularly that the Denver Cruiser Ride’s “dress” theme was not appropriate given the tragedy of Bounds’s death.
But Evans posted on Twitter that Bounds’s family members were honored by the party ride’s participation in Wednesday’s vigil.
“Alexis’ father in law told us 'it was as close to a New Orleans jazz funeral as we could get,'” he wrote. “Her family is from NOLA. It doesn’t get any sweeter than this.”