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‘A fun way to get people out’: Santa Rosa taco truck rides build community

Want to ride?

The Taco Tuesday ride departs from Humboldt Park in Santa Rosa every Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. Gathering and bike safety checks start at 5:45 p.m. For more information to go: facebook.com/NBKRUZERS

I have covered, watched and enjoyed countless parades, but I have never been in one. Unless, of course, if you count the time in junior high when my friend Shelly and I were handed a shovel and a wheelbarrow before a holiday parade in downtown Santa Rosa and tasked with walking behind the “reindeer,” to prevent any of Santa’s little helpers from marching through muck.

With that in mind, Tuesday night felt like a first. As I rode my bike through the SRJC neighborhood, into downtown and west to Roseland, in the company of 25 or so strangers, I had the distinct feeling of being in a parade. A parade of fun, loud, merrymaking bike riders.

“Everybody has been cooped up so long,” ride co-organizer Juan Chavez said. “People that normally wouldn’t be together are getting together. Everybody is hanging out and having a good time.”

It’s true. It’s hard to be down riding around on bikes with funky ’80s dance tunes pumping from boom boxes.

But these parade participants didn’t merely roll around with the intent of being hooted at by passersby, there was a targeted destination: tacos. And there was a stated goal: community building.

“Kids need somewhere to go,” co-organizer Chad Hunt said. “It’s a fun way to get people out.”

So for the past nine or so weeks, Chavez and Hunt, and their collective all-comers-are-welcome attitude, have put together these rides with little on the agenda other than fun, getting some eats and riding bikes. They start in the SRJC neighborhood, ride through the streets in a not-so-direct route, roll through downtown and head west on the Prince Memorial Greenway. After a stop at the taco trucks on Sebastopol Avenue near West Avenue, riders head back through downtown and to Yogurt Farms for dessert. Then it’s back to Humboldt Park and calling it a night.

“Nothing wrong with tacos on a Tuesday,” said Chavez, who heads up North Bay Kruzers, a club for custom stretch bike enthusiasts, just before launching the ride.

On Tuesday, our group of cyclists were aboard exotic stretch bikes, straightforward mountain bikes and road bikes. One man rode his handcrafted recumbent bike. One mom pulled two tots in a trailer. If you don’t have a bike but want to ride? Chavez and Hunt will rally to find riders a set of wheels.

“It’s such a nice event to be here with kids, families,” Sonia Chavez (no relation to Juan) of Windsor said. “I just kind of jumped in. I don’t even own a bike. Juan’s been awesome with lending myself, my kids bikes — anyone who wants to join, he’ll figure some way to make it happen.”

Bikes had bells. One had a flag. There were no fewer than four boom boxes and speakers lighting up the evening with competing tunes. At one point, Lady Gaga was playing from one speaker, Bruce Springsteen from another and a steady stream of old school R&B was pulsing from the largest JBL speaker I have ever seen. It was loud and glorious.

The whole spectacle, which launched at 6:15 p.m. from Humboldt Park, drew people to their front porches. They waved and cheered. When the rolling parade reached downtown, people walking along Fourth Street stopped, starred and smiled.

From 6:15 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. I rode with this festive group. We were honked at all of once and that was immediately followed by a pair on their porch hooting and hollering in what felt like delight at the sight of us.

But lest it sound like a free-for-all, know this: There are rules. Helmets and lights are encouraged. When there are bike lanes, riders are asked to use them. The group is encouraged to ride close together, with the youngest and most inexperienced riders in the middle of the pack. There is a no-drop rule: If any rider for any reason needs to stop, everyone stops.

When Erica Lipanovich’s daughter Alden dropped her pink fuzzy blanket from her perch in her mom’s bike trailer as they cruised along Orchard Street, everyone waited.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “The fact that we are able to do this without feeling unsafe, being in the road, everyone is looking out for each other. It’s awesome.”

“We moved to Santa Rosa, my husband and I, to be a part of a community,” she said. “I just love the fact that Santa Rosa does stuff like this, getting outside, doing something active, especially when it involves kids.”

For Hunt, who is a third grade teacher at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School in Roseland, the goal is to get as many kids and families out and riding as possible — including his mom.

“Everybody is totally welcome on this ride,” he said. “Two weeks ago my mom was visiting from out of town and she rode a low rider bike with raised handle bars and she’s 69 years old.”

Want to ride?

The Taco Tuesday ride departs from Humboldt Park in Santa Rosa every Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. Gathering and bike safety checks start at 5:45 p.m. For more information to go: facebook.com/NBKRUZERS

For a less experienced rider like Sonia Chavez, being in a pack not only feels fun and festive, it feels safe, she said.

She listens for called out instructions regarding bike lanes and how to manage trickier intersections. The group never breaks apart. She’s aware, but at ease on the ride, she said.

At least three riders on Tuesday supervised intersection crossings, waving riders through as cars waited. For many motorists, it appeared that the colorful spectacle made up for any short-lived delay on the road. But I could be wrong. Just because I was having a blast doesn’t mean a motorist made to wait a few extra seconds was, too.

Joshua Barnett, a member of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, played the role of crossing guard and lookout Tuesday, stopping at intersections to wave the group through as quickly and safely as possible. He was all smiles about his job.

“The Bicycle Coalition and Juan asked me to be on point for traffic and stuff and I’m glad to help out,” he said. “We want to respect the motorists of course, but we also want to keep the group together and keep everyone safe.”

“This is just fun. Any excuse to get on a bike and go have tacos,“ he said.

It’s so fun the ride seems to pull people into its orbit. On Tuesday a man stopped Juan Chavez on Fourth Street and asked what in the heck it was all about and how could he sign up.

That was how Darin Wick of Santa Rosa got involved.

“We literally ran into them walking up King Street. We were out walking the dog and saw a bunch of people on bikes go by and said ‘Wait! How do we join you?’” he said.

So for the last two Tuesdays, Wick has joined the cruise on his recumbent utility trike that he crafted himself.

“It’s so much fun and it’s completely different from day to day commuting when you’re surrounded by cars,” he said. “With a group like this you can enjoy the ride more.”

And that, for Chavez and Hunt, is what the Taco Tuesday rides are all about — enjoying bikes, enjoying people and enjoying the ride.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together. This column is about the story behind the story, a place to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. With your help, I'll be tackling the questions that vex us: (the funny, the mundane, and the irritating.)

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