Throughout the year Savannah hosts a number of truly unique events and I consider the annual Midnight Garden Ride — this Saturday, Aug. 31 — to be among them.
Presented by New Belgium Brewing, the event will attract hundreds of cyclists for a nighttime ride through the streets of Savannah and a post-ride party and concert in Telfair Square.
Now in its fifth year, the Midnight Garden Ride is an authentic one-of-a-kind experience that has earned its position alongside Savannah's other signature events. But what makes it stand out in a city with so many festivals and celebrations? How can its originality be quantified? The metric I use is the number of questions I'm asked about the event.
With some things, you just don't get it until you've done it.
Still, I do my best to explain the spirit and fun of the Midnight Garden Ride to the uninitiated.
Here are the most common questions about the event.
Is it a race?
No. In fact, it's the opposite. The goal is not to finish first, but to savor the ride. Savannah is different at night, taking on a mysterious appeal that's enchanting even to long-time residents. That's the inspiration for the ride, which departs from and returns to Telfair Square via a 10-mile route that winds through some of Savannah's most beautiful neighborhoods.
The Midnight Garden Ride is casually paced and police-escorted. Helmets and bike lights are required and marshals ride along to enhance the safety of all participants. People enjoy the event on all sorts of bicycles, from recumbents to tandems to fixies. The perfect bike for the ride? It might just be a humble beach cruiser.
So it's just a big bike ride?
It's much more than that. While a white front light and red rear light are required on all bikes (and available for purchase, along with helmets, at the event), many participants use that as a starting point in their illumination efforts. The results look something like the love child of a bicycle and a slot machine. Or maybe a pedal-powered Christmas tree.
And it's not just the bikes that are decorated. Contestants in the pre-ride costume contest ride along in costume, providing more visual interest. Add in the Fools Brigade, a group of bicycling jesters with bike- and backpack-mounted sound systems, and you have the recipe for a rolling party like no other.
The fun doesn't stop when the ride returns to Telfair Square. The A.J. Ghent band will perform at the Good and Evil Party. Brought up in the sacred steel gospel tradition (Robert Randolph, the Campbell Brothers), bandleader A.J. Ghent plays searing, blues-tinged slide guitar as he fronts an electric sextet including his wife on vocals. Attendees of this free, all-ages show can expect an onslaught of juke house blues, soul and funk. Soft drinks and New Belgium beverages will be served.
Good and Evil Party-goers also look forward to a raffle with prizes including a limited edition New Belgium Fat Tire cruiser bike, a Giant Simple 3 bike from Quality Bike Shop, a classic Brooks B17 saddle from Perry Rubber Bike Shop, and helmet and reflective vest combos courtesy of Mavic. Tickets can be purchased at the party or in advance online. Winners need not be present.
All this starts at midnight? Isn't that a bit late, especially for kids?
Midnight's in the name, but don't take that literally. The costume contest starts at 7:15 p.m. The ride launches at 8 p.m. and the A.J. Ghent band takes the stage around 9 p.m., when the riders return to Telfair Square. Pre-registered riders should check in from 6-7:30 p.m. Preregistration at midnightgardenride.com is strongly encouraged (Savannah Bicycle Campaign members: $25, Nonmembers: $35). Onsite registration is available (Savannah Bicycle Campaign members: $30, Nonmembers: $40), however onsite registrants are not guaranteed a super cool Midnight Garden Ride t-shirt. The concert is free, but registration is required for the ride and costume contest.
You mean I have to register and pay to go on a bike ride? We wanna be free to ride our machines without being hassled by The Man!
Bicycling is all about freedom, I agree, and the Savannah Bicycle Campaign aims to keep it that way. Registration fees help defray the considerable cost of organizing a massive ride and throwing a party for hundreds of people. More importantly, proceeds from the Midnight Garden Ride fund the nonprofit organization's ongoing efforts to make Savannah better for bicycling. SBC works in the areas of education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement, and evaluation and planning.
That means teaching bicyclists and motorists to safely operate their vehicles, producing programs and events that encourage Savannahians to make bicycling a healthy part of their daily lives, advocating for new and better bicycling infrastructure, working with law enforcement officials to make our streets safer, and cooperating with planning professionals to measure increasing rates of bicycle use and ensure that cycling is an integral part of a transportation network that will serve our growing community.
The Midnight Garden Ride is a party with a purpose. If you haven't done so already, register and get ready to ride. It's a good time and it's good for Savannah.
What if it rains?
Don't even think that way. But if it does, the ride rolls on.