Alex Steiner is tall, toned, and moves like a dancer. He is easy to spot, not just because he rises above most of the 50-or-so riders, but because he's leading the charge. He pedals fluidly down the back streets of Tempe, guiding his flock past parked cars and through intersections. When a car approaches, he calls, "CAR UP!" The phrase is repeated, down the block-long queue, until the very last rider knows to veer right.
Sultry hip-hop blasts from a speaker, which one of the frontmost riders carries on his bicycle. The music has been synched perfectly with a rider's stereo in the rear, and no matter how far the cyclists stray from the crowd, the music always guides them back.
"I don't have a lot of things I'm good at," Steiner later confesses. "I never felt like I had a calling. I can make T-shirts, and I can sell a customer on T-shirts. But when I realized I was really good at navigating the social waters here in Tempe, I just went crazy, man."
This is the CRAP ride, a cycling event so beloved that someone even waves a homemade flag. "CRAP" stands for Car Resistance Action Party, one of many informal bicycle clubs in the area. Founded largely by engineers, CRAP has drawn riders since 2006.
While the ride only lasts an hour, the evening get-together is a kind of preamble to the main event, the Solstice Ride, which takes place on Saturday, June 27. True to its name, the ride is scheduled for (what is purported to be) the hottest day of the year. Wheels start spinning at Tempe Beach Park at 3 p.m. Where will the motley crew end up? Only the organizers know, which basically means just Steiner and his closest collaborators.
"We're going to ride from water source to water source," Steiner says vaguely. But that's all. There are no maps, no GPS coordinates, not even a decent rumor. Whoever shows up will be pedaling into terra incognita.
Steiner is better known as "Jayarr," a New York City native who worked a short stint at a Phoenix power plant. He liked the city and decided to permanently relocate here three years ago. A graphic designer by trade, Steiner owns Jayarr Customs, a printing company that specializes in T-shirts.
But for Steiner, social cycling has been a revelation: Precisely one year ago, Steiner joined his first Solstice Ride and met the Tempe Bicycle Action Group, or "TBAG." CRAP and TBAG were several years old, and the Solstice Ride was an established tradition. Yet many of the old guard had lost interest or moved on to other things. There had also been some hiccups: Last year's Solstice Ride drew more people than expected, and after overcrowding a public pool, TBAG was fined by local police.
Still, Steiner loved the event and felt inspired. He speaks eloquently of the "energy" of the group, the joy that comes from such three-dimensional improvisation. One year later, he has taken over many of the groups' responsibilities and is organizing the Solstice Ride himself.
"I said, 'If you guys give me the keys, I will want complete control,'" recalls Steiner. "'But I will make sure [those fines] never happen again.'"
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This year the TBAGers have much to celebrate: They filmed a commercial for their organization, which will be screened at the ride's afterparty. Meanwhile, Steiner feels the community is better prepared for the guerrilla cyclists. The ride itself is free, along with the water balloon fight and slip-n'-slide at Birches Park. The afterparty costs $20, but guests can expect free beer from San Tan and New Belgium breweries, along with hours of socializing at the University Pointe housing complex.
"I created a logo for it, did a photo shoot, created the apparel," says Steiner breathlessly. "But the bones have always been there. There's nothing else like this in Tempe, man."
The Solstice Ride starts at 3 p.m. at Tempe Beach Park on Saturday, June 27. The ride is free and open to the public, while afterparty is $20 to $24. Make reservations at the Jayarr Customs website.