MORE THAN a decade ago, Drew Wade organized a massive, nighttime bike ride through the streets of Savannah to raise money for the Savannah Bicycle Campaign, a nonprofit organization known today as Bike Walk Savannah.
The appeal of his idea has endured.
The 11th Annual Moonlight Garden Ride, a joyful cruise through historic neighborhoods, is scheduled for Oct. 19.
The location of the ride’s departure point and post-ride party has changed over the years, from a parking lot on Liberty Street to Forsyth Park to Telfair Square to Ellis Square to Grayson Stadium.
The Moonlight Garden Ride will move to Mother Matilda Beasley Park on East Broad Street this year, and that’s not the only change.
Caila Brown, executive director of Bike Walk Savannah, has shifted the schedule so the live music, food, and activities all take place before the ride launches. Her goal is to emphasize what brings participants back again and again.
“This year we decided to refocus on the biggest element of our event: the ride,” she said. “Through ten years of successful MGR’s we’ve had a variety of concerts, events, locations, and activities. But year after year, all anyone can talk about is that experience of riding underneath live oaks, seeing the blinking bicycle lights wind through town, and being part of the Savannah cycling community.”
Riding with hundreds of other people at a leisurely pace — it’s not a race — encourages a sense of conviviality among people of all ages and abilities.
“I frequently hear from people who don’t feel confident in riding alone on our streets, but welcome the opportunity to ride in a group, and have used the Moonlight Garden Ride to introduce Savannah riding to their children and other family members and friends,” Brown said. “It is a truly unique event.”
Instead of using a closed course, Savannah Police officers control traffic at intersections as the ride moves along. These brief street closures, which last just a few minutes, maximize safety for participants while minimizing traffic disruptions.
In fact, residents along the route, look forward to taking in the pedal-powered parade of lights and music from their porches as the ride travels through the National Landmark District, the Victorian Districts, Thomas Square, Baldwin Park, and Ardsley Park.
According to Brown, the ride’s route is also configured so that participants can view their city from different perspective. For visitors, the Moonlight Garden Ride is a chance to see that Savannah’s charm extends far beyond downtown.
This is why Brown said she’s excited about the new location for this year’s event.
“We’re also looking forward to hosting the 11th Annual Moonlight Garden Ride at Mother Mathilda Beasley Park,” she said. “Serving as our launch point as well as the location of fun and games prior to the ride, we hope our event will highlight this gem in the Chatham County park system.”
A costume contest encourages riders to create inventive outfits for themselves and for their bikes, adding to the fun for participants and spectators alike. Moonlight Garden Riders quickly learn that they will be called upon to explain what’s happening to observers, who are unacquainted with the event.
The most common response from those witnessing the festivities for the first time? “We have to do this next year!”
Proceeds from the Moonlight Garden Ride support Bike Walk Savannah’s efforts to make our city safer and friendlier for people who walk, bike, and roll. (Disclosure: I serve on the Bike Walk Savannah board of directors).
The organization advocates for sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, and paths, which provide public health, public safety, economic, environmental, and social benefits to everyone in the community. Better facilities encourage more people to walk and ride bikes and improve conditions for residents who walk or bike as their primary mode of transportation.
This emphasis on equity is also manifested in Bike Walk Savannah’s New Standard Cycles program. Working in a historic building that once housed a Standard Oil gas station, NSC volunteers recondition donated bicycles, which are then given to deserving people selected by local nonprofits.
A free helmet, light set, lock, and reflective vest go along with each bike. Over the last five years New Standard Cycles has provided hundreds of bicycles to people who need dependable and affordable transportation so they can travel to work, class, and other important destinations.
A holiday bike drive, held every December, ensures that local children experience the freedom and fun of bicycling.
Moonlight Garden Ride registration includes a T-shirt, an unforgettable evening, and the feeling of satisfaction that comes with supporting a worthy cause. Registration and more information can be found at moonlightgardenride.com.