The last rays of sunlight were sinking below the horizon in Phoenix. Despite the 103 degree temperatures, locals fixed and road cyclists were meeting in Civic Space Park for the 18th Monday night in a row. It was another edition of Phoenix Loops, a local social ride sponsored by State Bicycle Company and PHX Bike.
Cyclists met by the fountains inside the park and started greeting one another. Some cyclists were track standing on their bikes, shifting their weight from side to side to stay balanced. Meanwhile, others stretched and talked about previous rides they went on over the weekend. They were all waiting and preparing for the forthcoming group ride.
I heard about the group ride days after the very first Phoenix Loops in late April. I saw flyers about the ride on Instagram and Twitter, but it was a friend who I was riding with one afternoon who told me, “Hey come down to Phoenix Loops.”
I was apprehensive at first for fear of running into the stereotypical fixed gear hipster who would ride with a PBR in hand as they talked about Arcade Fire all the way to the finish. I was admittedly wrong about the PBR and Arcade Fire, and riding with fellow cyclists all through Phoenix became something I looked forward to week after week.
Phoenix Loops takes cyclists all around Phoenix.
Some nights the ride will take you to Tempe Beach Park and the next week you’re riding on the Air Lane, a road parallel with the runway at Sky Harbor International airport.
Tonight’s ride was a 16-mile ride through sleepy North Phoenix neighborhoods. Mehdi Farsi, co-founder of State Bicycle Company, and one of the sponsors of Phoenix Loops stood amongst a group of riders as he ate a Snickers candy bar.
Phoenix Loops started when Farsi’s company began selling a lot of bikes back in the day, but when he’d be out riding, he’d never see them around. Farsi began sponsoring Loops in Tempe two years ago. Then, after the success of the Tempe group ride, he brought Loops down to Phoenix.
“I was saddened to think that people were buying bikes and locking them up in their garage,” Farsi said. “So we started Loops, a really casual and non-intimidating way to get people out and riding in a group.”
Every week since then on Mondays and Wednesdays, local riders have been coming to Loops as a way to ride with and meet other riders.
Ryan Walsh, a self-employed photographer arrived at the park early. He sat beside his road bike, looking down at his phone as he waited for more riders to get there. Walsh started riding bikes as a BMX racer when he was younger, but over time he switched to fixed and now goes between that and a road bike.
For the year he’s been participating in Loops he’s gone to both Phoenix and Tempe Loops.
“I really like downtown Phoenix a little more than Tempe because you get the city feel and the culture here,” Walsh said.
One of his favorite parts about riding in Phoenix is the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal runs diagonal through the city and as cyclists ride along the canal they get a spectacular view of Phoenix.
After all of the riders are finally in the park, Farsi and Palmer Kelley, the two sponsors, explain the route of the night and the rules of the ride including the importance of a helmet and lights. Once the rules and route are known to everyone, the ride begins.
By the time the riders left the park the sun was completely gone. As the group ride took off into Phoenix, the streetlights guided the cyclists to their destination. They stayed in a large group, cycling together. Some riders would chitchat as they rode through the city, others would race each other in personal competition from one point to the next.
Each rider was in his or her own personal rhythm as they rode through the streets. Pedestrians would see the big group of cyclists and yell out words of encouragement or astonishment.
“Right on, dude,” yelled one man as Loops passed him by.
That night a rarity happened at Loops. Jeff Buchanan was going as fast as he could, and as he came up toward a bridge that would lead the group over the canal he clipped the curb. At the speed he was going he was launched about 25 feet where he landed on his shoulder.
The ride stopped and everyone fell silent as they went to his aide. Steve Cannon, a senior and Communication Major at ASU, went to his side making sure he was alright and offered any bike parts to Buchanan.
Buchanan sat besides his defeated bike and said, “I’m okay, just shaken up.”
The hiss of air coming out of his two popped tubes filled the air and the chain dangled back and forth as it hung off of the crank.
Cannon got Buchanan’s number and then rode back to his truck to pick up Buchanan and his bike. Ryan Walsh stayed behind with Buchanan as the ride continued.
Farsi gave the roll out call and the ride began once more, this time with a solemn seriousness in the air.
“Thank god for helmets,” said a rider as they all went over the bridge.
Buchanan went home after the ride and Cannon and Walsh later joined in with everyone else. The ride continued, and as time passed the riders became less tense.
The people in the front of the ride were always going as fast as they could, pushing themselves further and further into the night. David Palacios, a Jimmy John’s employee and occasional delivery rider stayed up in front frequently with his bright red bicycle.
Palacios has been doing Phoenix Loops since the beginning. He rides weekly with friends outside of Loops and has even tried his hand at racing. Him and two of his friends, Piersten Doctor, a Jimmy John’s delivery rider, and Tino Acosta, a former Jimmy John’s delivery rider and now an employee for State Bicycle Company were in the Red Bull Ride and Style Race 2012.
After completing the majority of the ride the three friends sat by their bikes outside of Lux, an uptown coffee bar; the halfway point and meet up point for Loops Phoenix, to reminisce about the race. They laughed at each other’s failed attempts as Palacios said with a smile on his face, “it’s not about winning.”
At the coffee bar the riders parked their bikes and hung out in large groups. Riders went in for more water, caught an extra breath or grabbed that quick chocolate chip cookie.
In the center of one of the groups was Jaime Rojas, a pastry chef at Olive and Ivy- Scottsdale Waterfront. He’s been riding bikes for more than ten years and on top of that is the winner of three big races. His wins include first place in the Premium Rush Alley Cat, first in the Werewolves and State Bicycle Scavenger Hunt, and first in the AZ Summer Bike Games Alley Cat.
As he talked humbly about his wins, Farsi passed by as he headed toward the street to start Loops up once more. Farsi yelled about Rojas, “he’s the only person I know who owns a coveted jersey. He’s really fast.”
Rojas smiled as Farsi yelled words of encouragement.
Rojas is one of the more hard-core riders. He rides 20 miles every day for work and frequently goes to Loops. On top of all of that riding he trains on South Mountain – every rider's goal.
“It’s the people man,” said Rojas. “It’s fun coming out and meeting people and just ride really.”
After the short break at Lux, Loops took off south down Central. This was the last part of Loops, the dead sprint back to the park. As every rider pushed harder and harder on the pedals going as fast as they could, Rojas effortlessly sped by all of them to the front of the ride.
After the last sprint to the park riders met up once again. They compared speeds and times with Strava, an app for smartphones that tracks the speed and distance a cyclists has gone on that specific ride. They planned out the rest of the night too. Some broke off to Crescent Ballroom for some brews and good times, while others pedaled on home, saying their goodbyes as they went back to life outside of the group ride. Until next week where they’d do it all again.