An hour after sunset on a recent Friday night, the BICI Bike Club was ready to roll.
“Let’s ride a bike!” shouted co-founder Andrea Hitsman
“Let’s ride a bike!” three dozen riders shouted back.
With that, they left Tower Grove Park and embarked on a coasting, circuitous and, for some, boozy ride through South City. All in the dark.
On its Instagram page, BICI calls itself “A casual cycling club for social deviants”. It was founded by Hitsman with partner Jeff Riggs in March 2020, when other cycling groups were on COVID-19 hiatus.
“We were confined. We had nothing to do,” said one of the original pilots, Brandi Roach. “It started with just a few people.”
For two years, BICI rode almost every Friday evening, plus additional morning and afternoon rides. “We don’t want a pattern, a defining structure,” Hitsman says with a laugh. “That way no one is held accountable.”
During the rides, the party sometimes disembarks and engages in antics like climbing over catwalks connecting buildings or throwing pumpkins from bridges. (The latter has become a post-Halloween tradition.)
“We meet up by the river making bonfires at one a.m. and drinking beers under the bridge while the freight train speeds by,” says Bryce Rawers, who moved to St. Louis in early 2020 and met BICI on Cherokee Street soon after. “It gives you an idea of the city that you wouldn’t have access to [otherwise].”
Many of the routes are planned by Kyle Lewsader, who plots courses to places that many other runners didn’t even know. “I like getting into shit,” says Lewsader.
Rick Merry, a retired florist in his late 60s, joined BICI after a friend noted she had been hanging out with a bunch of weirdos under a bridge.
It’s a welcoming and diverse group, which has come to feel like family to some. This became particularly significant when co-founder Riggs died suddenly last May, aged 38. The rides continued, to honor his spirit.
“Jeff was a tagger under the name SKUM,” says Hitsman. “Now when we ride, it’s a little game we play, trying to spot the remaining SKUM beacons.”
“Jeff knew every spot in this town,” says pilot Sean Chladek. “We will go somewhere and it will be new to me, but there are SKUM beacons everywhere.”
After about three hours of pedaling on recent Friday night, the BICI team arrived at Utopia Studios, in an industrial area behind SLU Hospital. Tying their bikes to a fence, they made their way to the bar and lounge. A DJ installed in an adjacent room. And then what had been a bike ride gracefully turned into a late-night dance party.
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