#NewyNightRides lights the City

On a mild Winter’s evening in August, a near full moon rises over the City.

People casually dining, drinking, laughing along Honeysuckle, King Street, Hunter Street. West, the sound of a line being cast from the old wharf near the Marina–the regular nighttime fishing crowd. The odd car, or taxi shuffle through the streets.

In the distance, noises, cheering, laughter… faint at first but getting louder. Wait, is that 70s disco music? Where is it coming from? What is going on?

Then you see it. The start of a seemingly endless stream of bicycles, flashing lights and colour, pumping out funky 70s disco beats. Mesmerised, you whip out your phone and start filming. Smiling, you raise your beer and cheer at the passing crowd. Or if you’re that one cop, you wind down your window, say hello and turn your lights on to join in on the fun (what a legend)!

GoPro footage taken from the back of my bike, plus a great clip from Grant Donnelly.

This was the sight of the first #NewyNightRides #ElectricLightExtravaganza on Saturday 20 August. And what a sight! I could not believe it. When Gus, Harry, David and I first sat down to talk about putting this ride on, we thought we might get 20 people or so. But a few weeks into the Facebook event page going live, we realised we were onto something as the RSVPs kept climbing, until we surpassed 80, plus 124 people ‘interested’ in going. I recall Gus’ words, “we’ve obviously tapped into the zeitgeist of the community”.

And so it was. A huge, neon speckled crowd gathered at Wheeler Place. People welcomed each other, chatted, danced. My partner Angela brought a stack of glowsticks, handing them out to excited kids. For me, on Saturday the essence of Newcastle shone. And by that I mean a few things. First, having a bunch of amazing, friendly and creative people turn up. Second, the power of three degrees of separation in Newcastle (and some help from Facebook)–we put minimal effort into marketing or promotion. Third, the cheers and happiness from the crowds we passed and the politeness of drivers who paused for us. Fourth, the City itself. The perfect backdrop for an easy city ride. Not too many cars, just the right size, flat, and *just* enough off road shared spaces for people to safely enable this ride (more please!).

But I need to take a few steps back so you can see how we got to this point. Because, truth be told, there is a fifth element to this “Newcastle essence” I speak of. Can you guess what that is?

It’s Sydney. A few months ago I had the absolute pleasure of attending #CycleHack in Sydney. A global marathon weekend of getting to know strangers, thinking about barriers to cycling in our cities, and applying ‘design thinking’ to smash out creative solutions. When I say smash out, I really mean it – our challenge was to prototype ideas in the real world before the weekend’s end. One day I will do a post about CycleHack!

It was here at CycleHack Sydney I met the infectiously energised Jullietta Jung, founder of Sydney Night Rides. Training down to CycleHack from Newcastle by myself, never having ridden in Sydney city, I sent a plea of assistance into the Twittersphere. Jullietta answered, offering to chaperone me from Central Station to UNSW, where CycleHack was being held. Along the way, I learnt more about Sydney Night Rides and we agreed how great it would be to host something similar back in Newcastle, along with lots of lights, equally inspired by the Venice Beach Electric Light Parade, California. Not long after CycleHack,  I spoke with Gus. Turns out he had been wanting to do something similar all this time too. Together with Harry and David, and with the help of Juliette, #NewyNightRides was born.

How better to kick off this thing by asking people to don their bikes with as many lights as possible and giving away some prizes? (Big shout out to The Edwards Bar, Parry Street, for hosting our after party and donating some vouchers as prizes).

We did not imagine at the time so many people would go all out with the light works. To top it off, Bernard from MetroCycles built his own mobile disco to blast out 70s tunes the whole length of the ride.

I dare say we made history folks, for the biggest crowd of electric light bicyclists to ride through Newcastle. That and the disco-bike on wheels itself, of course.

An institution for Newcastle, in one instant. Join the Facebook group, tell a friend, kit up your bike and join us for the next #NewyNightRide.

Big thanks to Jullietta, Gus, Harry, David and everyone who participated and made it easy for us on the night.

In the meantime, us organisers will regroup and start planning the next ride, taking on board some things we learnt this time around.

Cheers, Tom

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