Gem Abrahamsen

Today I saw a chicken riding a bike. I saw a dog dressed up as a hot dog. I saw a family of three riding one tandem bike. I saw the best dancer ever, who happened to 11-year-old Dakota Fernandez (watch a video of his street performance here). I saw a guy being pulled down the street on his skates by a pack of eight or so dogs. I saw lots and lots of cool things: Neat bikes, beautiful families, tiny little kids sharing big laughs, and even a few wrecks.

Why did the chicken cross the road on a bike? Because it’s Síclovía. A man dressed as a chicken cruised the streets with a group of young bikers behind him. Photos by Alexander Gandara.

Sunday was a day you could run almost every red light on Broadway, yet the police officers staged at intersections just smiled and waved. I saw a San Antonio sharing the road and sharing a healthy day together. I saw a San Antonio that makes me hopeful for our future. As I sit at the end of the day I am looking at a free, three-day pass to the TriPoint YMCA and eight miles logged on my (borrowed) bike. Mayor Julián Castro and the rest of the city government is giving us the tools to be healthy. It’s up to us to use them.

Even before I got dressed I felt a sense of excitement about the day. I missed the first Síclovía in October 2011. I was working at a food truck during the last one in March. Now I was finally going to get to go, this time with the purpose of writing about it.

Alexander Gandara. Photo by Paulina Kababi.

Alexander Gandara, 25, hadn’t been on a bike for 15 years. That changed Sunday at Síclovía. Ninety minutes after he delivered my wake up call, Gandara and I met at my workplace, The Hub, the B-cycle bike share headquarters located on the southwest corner of HemisFair Park and Cesar Chavez Boulevard. We were teaming up to experience the city’s third Síclovía on a cold, blustery morning. I was taking notes. He was taking photographs. I grabbed two bikes, one for me, one for Alex.

“A part of me was like: ‘Is it too late to back out?’” he said afterwards.

Alex just moved to San Antonio from El Paso, a city that he says is many years away from having bicycle or pedestrian friendly routes. If you see someone riding a bike in El Paso, it’s not because they’ve chosen to.

Riding a bike again was not “like riding a bike” for him at first.

“It wasn’t as easy as I remember. I tried to keep it cool, but you could probably see on my face that I was afraid of falling,” he said laughing.

10 a.m. – Alamo Plaza Opening Ceremony

Short and sweet chalk art.

You could feel the building energy. Volunteers were hawking brightly colored tee shirts. Food trucks were opening for business. Bike mechanics were working at a maintenance station, fixing minor problems for free. There were bicycles all over the place, all different kinds and colors. Every variety of running shoe under the sun. The first jackets and scarves of the season made their debut on an overcast morning with temperatures that had plunged from the previous day.

There was a jitteriness that I felt. I wasn’t sure if it was the excitement of being in the crowd, or if I was shivering from the cold. We parked our bikes and inched close to the stage. A number of speakers offered inspiring words, but the heart of the event really came through in these simple words by Castro, dressed in denims and running shoes: “We want a San Antonio full of folks who want to be healthy.”

10:12am – Wild Dawgz
The first reminder of the lightheartedness of Síclovía was in seeing the Wild Dawgs. I’ve seen these guys before. They have a grownup version of a bike gang and go on regular rides. They also happen to have some of the most painstakingly built and cared-for bikes in the community. They also have great senses of humor.

Wild Dawgz Rick Rios aka “Crazy Dawg” (left), Abraham Rios aka “Ace Dawg” (center), and Richard Tamez aka “Dirty Dawg” (right) are ready to show off on their cruiser bikes downtown San Antonio.

After talking with them for a few minutes and checking out their sweet rides, I cruised north of Broadway – the heart of the Síclovía route. The street was blocked from Mahncke Park down to Lexington Avenue. Starting at Alamo at Commerce, the route cuts over on Travis, snakes up Broadway all the way to Parland, making it longer than previous years. I pedaled on, precarious photographer in-tow.

10:32am – B-Cycle Tent
I asked Cindi Snell, the Executive Director of B-Cycle, why they supported Síclovía.

“We have been doing Síclovía since the first one, it’s more like why wouldn’t we be? This is an awesome opportunity to experience bikes without traffic,” she said, “It gives a lot of people a chance to ride a B-Cycle who never have before.”

We saw no shortage of people riding the B-Cycles up and down the street amid the other foot and pedal traffic.

11:11am – Broadway
Although traditional bikes were the stars of the show, there were plenty of skateboards, scooters, roller blades, roller skates, recumbents and more than a couple tandems (multiple-rider bicycles).

A group of guys ride together down streets closed off to traffic.

“Try navigating with a camera and little kids running in your way, I felt like I was in an obstacle course,” Alex said. “You can tell the noobs (newbies) from the experts. Some people were paranoid, sticking to the sidewalk … and the experts were swerving around people and dogs.”

Robert Stallings (left) and Jack Sanford took some time to answer questions at the BikeTexas booth.

We saw booths for a few different bike shops, another repair station, and a variety of bicycles for rent, but I saw only one booth about advocacy: BikeTexas. They are the state-level advocate for cyclists in Texas. I was thrilled to see them out representing responsible cycling in our city.

“Síclovía is a great chance for families to get together for physical activity. It shouldn’t be a chore.” said Robin Stallings, Executive Director of the Austin-based organization, “This reminds us that for fun and for the practical matters of life we need to keep moving.”

12:12pm – Lion’s Field

The Reclovía (a stopping point along the Síclovía route with free activities for everyone to enjoy with local charities and demonstrations) was full of little furry temptations. Puppies of all ages and sizes were on leashes running all over while children were squealing with delight. I adopted my own dog from the Spay-Neuter-Inject-Project of San Antonio (SNIPSA), the organization supplying this furry kryptonite, almost a year ago.

The next tent over was a brand new organization called GoPLAYGirls. The founder of this new non-profit, Becky Bliss, found the events and message of Síclovía riding in-tandem with that of GoPLAYGirls.

“The mission is getting more girls involved with sports and fitness,” Bliss said.

12:48pm – Parland & Broadway

We made it to the northernmost boundary of Síclovía, just south of The Witte Museum. The street was covered in huge chalk murals. A yoga class was taking place in Mahncke Park.

Art work on the streets where popular this time around. Kids, artists and even parents decided to have some fun on the closed off roads.

1:20pm – Maverick Park

On my trek back to Alamo Plaza we ran into Louis Lopez, the District Vice President at the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. The City of San Antonio handed the Síclovía reins over to the YMCA for the afternoon. Lopez was on a small team of overseers that made this year’s Síclovía happen. With the projected attendance at 50,000 at this event it was definitely the biggest San Antonio has seen yet.

Luis Lopez, district vice president of the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, at Maverick Park.

“The culture has changed [since the first Síclovía]. The City of San Antonio has had a strong emphasis on wellness and activity. The long term effects of physical activity bring down all of the negative statistics,” Lopez said, “The City has always supported and believed in Síclovía. They have embraced Síclovía and what it means.”

He has been quite a busy guy, with more inquiries than ever. When asked what he was most excited about, he said that the Reclovía at Lyon’s Field was very dear to him.

“I had an ‘Ah-Ha!’ moment,” he said, “How do we help our community to be more active all the time? Sustainable programs.”

Sustainable programs like Síclovía. His idea was to bring the local organizations directly to the people who need them the most at little or no cost..

“I wanted to help connect those occasionally active people and focus on eliminating barriers on cost or location,” Lopez said.

1:48 p.m. – Alamo Plaza

By the time I came back to Alamo Plaza, I was famished. I was ready to eat some delicious grub from a couple of my favorite food trucks. I was surprised, however, to see one of my Say.She.Ate favorites off the menu. No duck fat fries today?

“No fried foods were allowed at today’s event.” said Brandon McKelvey, owner of the food truck.

His truck, known for wholesome comfort food, offered their classic sliders (which boast akaushi beef and local arugula) but traded the deep fried staples for healthier options.

I also had a hankering for some Duk Truck tacos. The gluten-free darlings were served on homemade corn tortillas and filled with pulled duck confit, compressed pineapple, spicy green salsa and crème fraîche. The flavors were perfectly balanced.

Probably more balanced than Alex.

By the time the day was over, he was riding much more comfortably. His only casualties: a couple of orange road-cones. It’s events like Síclovía that help the public become more comfortable with bicycles. As gas prices rise and cities become more focused on low-impact transportation, bicycles will only become more popular for both transportation and recreation. Síclovía 2013, here we come.

After having an on and off relationship with this city all her life, Gem Abrahamsen fell in love with San Antonio the summer she turned 16. She is an avid bicyclist, serious foodie, voracious reader, humanist, lover of music and film, rebellious curmudgeon, and a founding member ofWho Wants To Ride?, an upstart nonprofit that advocates for bicycle safety and education. She also works at B-Cycle San Antonio. She’s got lofty goals and wants to make her world a better place, starting with her hometown. 

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...