SAN ANTONIO — Call it a bicycle barrio, or a portable party. Just don’t call it a workout.
"It's a party,” smiles Yvette Hernandez, one of the volunteer organizers, “We're not expected to get a workout here unless you've never been on a bike. But yeah it's more a social gathering."
It’s an enormous social gathering. Hundreds of bike riders assemble in a parking lot on Cezar Chavez downtown every Tuesday night. One bicycle after another wheels into the crowd on a comfortable April evening, just before 7 pm. They are young and old, large and small, students and seniors - all prone to pedal for the SATX Social Ride. The group has a Facebook page and a 501(c)(3).
"It's just a good way to get out, see the city in a different way,” says Daniel Ayala. “All the nooks and crannies we go through, you say 'Wow, I didn't know that place was there'"
It's San Antonio's biggest, best-known weekly bike ride through the city, and it was started several years ago by an unassuming guy sporting sunglasses, shorts, a beard and a grin at the front of the rolling bike gang.
"Roll out!" he yells, and the crowd starts boiling forward.
We met life-long cyclist Jeff Moore at Pearl Plaza, one of his most popular bike destinations. He says the whole thing started because he just wanted to take a regular ride on a weeknight.
"It started with just a couple friends from the house. And then in about 2012, we created a Facebook page, called the Tuesday night bike club, and it bumped up to 60 or 100 people right away. And over the last couple of years, it's just grown exponentially."
Exponential growth, meaning he now leads an average of 250 riders, every Tuesday night.
“It's a bicycle ride, we struggle to keep it from being a mob,” says Moore.
Volunteer marshals help coordinate the event and repair flats each week. The club welcomes people, as well as their pets.
"On any given night, we might have four or five or six dogs in trailers as well. The dogs like it a lot. We've got a mascot, Lilly the riding Chihuahua. She has her own Instagram account."
Every Tuesday night, they roll through city streets, neighborhoods, parks, and major intersections on one of about nine regular routes. And sometimes, something special happens.
“Water gun fights, water balloons might break out at some point. We've done disco rides with a DJ and a light show, and we just stop and have a 30-minutes disco party."
Once in a while, it even gets romantic. "We had a couple get engaged,” says Moore, “there was a proposal at Main Plaza. That was one of the most special things,” he says.
Another benefit of biking: better health habits for a city that needs them.
"We see a lot of people who are struggling with their weight, or with symptoms of diabetes, loneliness, depression, PTSD,” says Moore. “And this is a way for a lot of people to treat those issues."
Moore works in the office of Emergency Management for the San Antonio Fire Department. Another issue he'd like to help address: making San Antonio a little more bike-friendly.
"We need a lot more infrastructure. We need a lot more education on the part of cyclists and on the part of the people in the cars,” he says. “What cyclists are responsible for, how to follow the rules."
For the most part, everyone follows the rules on Tuesday night social ride and sees the city from a new perspective, in a bike parade that one man started. That's why he's another one of the people who make San Antonio great.