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October 15, 2021

South County residents participate in massive Santa Cruz bike ride

Event causes ‘traffic nightmare’ in seaside city

Thousands of bicyclists swarmed the streets of Santa Cruz Aug. 21 in the fifth-annual Santa Cruz Ride Out, a family-oriented bicycle gathering and ride that snarled traffic citywide for hours.

The event began at Harvest West Park, with bicyclists coming from as far away as London, Australia, New York and Texas, in addition to some from South Santa Clara County. It then rolled out to the west side of Santa Cruz, where the massive mob clogged streets, shutting down 15 to 20 blocks at a time, with as many as 5,000 bicyclists, from kids to seniors on three-wheelers. Many performed stunts such as wheelies and standing on their bike seats and handlebars and riding sidesaddle.

Rick Grant of Gilroy was among the participants.

“We ride as one; it’s about the movement,” he said. “It’s a great, great day, great weather and a great atmosphere. You can’t go wrong.”

Grant said he learned about the event on social media.

Santa Cruz Police Department, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol monitored the wave of wheels and bike enthusiasts who largely rode BMX big wheel style bikes.

Santa Cruz Police say the event was unsanctioned. 

Thousands of motorists were stranded in massive logjams along the route that included the west side, downtown, Ocean Street out to East Cliff Drive, Seventh Avenue, the Santa Cruz Harbor and back to Harvey West Park.

Organizer Thomas Laughron of Santa Cruz said the event has grown since its inception five years ago. It was created, he said, as a way to get young people onto their bicycles, a time-honored childhood activity that has taken a back seat to their electronic devices.

“We’re getting kids back out on the street, with nothing else but the wind and the pedals beneath them,” he said.

But the size of this year’s Ride Out was also its downfall. Laughlin said the estimated 5,000 participants were no match for the 40 volunteers tasked with controlling the flow of traffic, preventing issues and stopping altercations.

Laughron said he is considering ending the event, but added that if it does occur in the future, he plans to work with law enforcement and city officials. He tried to do so this year, but was faced with a nine-month permit process, he said.

He says he regrets the traffic tie-ups that caused headaches citywide.

“We didn’t expect anything like this, nor did we intend it,” he says. “I am truly sorry we caused issues and grief. We never intended that.”

Both the Sheriff’s department and SCPD issued Laughrin citations for the unsanctioned event.

Other legal consequences for organizers, Santa Cruz Police Chief Andrew Mills said, could include billing for the time put in by SCPD, the CHP and Sheriff’s Office. 

Mills described the event as a “traffic nightmare.” 

“The event was problematic for many in the city and we had several incidents where some people were assaulted for being impatient,” Mills said. “Any time you have 5,000 cyclists riding in a very spread-out fashion where it took 20 minutes to clear an intersection you have problems.”

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