You can hear the voices, laughter and music as you roll down the hill toward the crowd of fellow cyclists at Festival Beach.
Some riders have decked their bikes out with bright and colorful LED lights. Others have wedged stereo systems into the frames of their bicycles to provide a soundtrack to the peddling. Strangers bump into strangers and become strangers no more.
As the sun fades away on Thursday nights, this diverse pack of 200 or so bicyclists are geared up for a casual group ride. Social Cycling Austin sets up the mini trips, which start around 7 p.m. at Festival Beach, near where Lady Bird Lake flows under the I-35 bridge near downtown.
The crowd size varies each week. But it’s a popular place to be, especially for people in their 20s and 30s. After an hour or so of socializing at the park, the loose string of illuminated riders pedal out, often to another park or to a bar or two. As the evening goes on, the herd thins, ultimately winding out the night at a final bar stop.
Make New Friends, Stay in Shape and Explore Austin – 7 Days a Week
The Thursday rides are just one of the many group bicycle rides circulating Austin streets every week. It’s what you can expect in a bike-friendly city full of newcomers who want to make new friends, stay in shape and explore new parts of town.
Here’s a look at some rides to check out throughout the week. Remember weather and vacations sometimes lead to cancellations, so check the social media and websites of these groups for up-to-date posts.
Most rides are geared toward road bikes. Cross-training or mountain bikes, however, are acceptable on most rides.
Some other important essentials: Helmets, water, front and rear lights, sturdy bike lock and appropriate clothing.
Bikin’ Betties, 6-12 miles: This women-only ride gathers on Monday nights with a goal to get a little workout, learn new bike routes around Austin and have a drink or two. It’s a “no drop” ride, which means they won’t leave people behind.
Nelo’s Shop Ride, 15 miles: The group meets in northwest Austin just before 7 p.m. and heads out for a hilly route. Their pace depends on who is riding on a given night.
Mellow Johnny’s, about 20 miles: Mellow Johnny’s hosts several rides, including a Tuesday and Thursday morning option that heads out at 7 a.m. for a moderate-to-fast pace hour and a half ride.
Austin Tuesday Nighter, 27 miles: This is for the racers. The decades-old ride features three laps around a 9-mile course. It’s a race, although there are no judges or prizes. They meet at Mellow Johnny’s 400 Nueces St at 5 p.m.
Wednesday Beginner Ride, 15 miles: Break the ice into your group riding adventures with this 6:30 p.m. meetup for those new to biking in a pack. In about an hour-and-a-half, you’ll get an easy introduction and meet others who are new to the scene. They meet at Bicycle Sport Shop, 10947 Research Blvd.
Gruppo VOP, 28 miles: Get a good workout to propel you through the rest of the week. This ride is for more advanced riders who want to grind up challenging hills and speed pedal through some sprints. The ride starts at a residence in Southwest Austin at 1813 Holly Hill.
Thursday Night Social Ride, about 10-15 miles: This moderate ride sometimes has hundreds of riders. It’s a ride to meet new friends, have a drink and get a little exercise along the way. They meet at about 7 p.m. at Festival Beach, in the northeast corner of the Lady Bird Lake and I-35 intersection.
Gruppo VOP, 28 miles: Start the day out with a medium-to-fast-pace ride in the hills. The group meets at a residence in southwest Austin at 1813 Holly Hill at 6:30 a.m.
ATC World Championship Ride, 30-55 miles: This is for the experts — or those who aspire to be. Cyclists gather at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at Austin Tricycle at 923 Barton Springs. Get ready to push it.
The Bagel Ride, 50+ miles: The group meets at 8:15 a.m. for a 50-60 mile loop that can be capped off with a bagel.
Sunday Violet Crown Ride, 50+ miles: The group of experienced riders pushes off from Mellow Johnny’s at 400 Nueces St. at 8:15 a.m. Their Sunday rides have been going on more than 30 years.