“Punk rock” and “bike tour” are two phrases you don’t expect to see together. Throw in “history” and you’ve got the East Bay Punk Rock History Bike Tour. When I saw this in my news feed a few weeks back, I knew that I had to make the trip. The ride was co-sponsored by Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO) and the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). So I cashed in some frequent flyer miles and began looking for a rental bike that wouldn’t make me look like a tourist who’d escaped from Fisherman’s Wharf. Shout out to Golden Gate Rides who set me up with a Cannondale Quick flat bar road bike that was perfectly suited to a long weekend in the Bay Area.
Chris kicking off the ride at OMCA
The sellout ride began at the museum in downtown Oakland. The 30 or so riders mingled prior to a welcome and pre-ride briefing from the WOBO board president, Chris. CBGB and Dead Kennedy T-shirts replaced the typical cyclist kit. And there was a bit of minor incredulity that someone would fly 1500 miles to participate. Each rider received a pocket-sized Powerpoint deck detailing each stop of the tour.
We rolled out under clear blue skies to the first stop at the former site of the Practice Pad, in downtown Oakland. Our guides were Kamala and Kate, pioneers of the punk rock scene in the East Bay.
Here, and at each of the eight following stops, Kamala and Kate related stories “from the day”. Stories of starting bands, communal living, and less-than-normal rental practice spaces shared with semi-legal tattoo parlors and offbeat print shops.
More than half of the nine stops no longer resembled their punk rock roots, due to gentrification, remodeling, and new construction. This ride was not about sightseeing as much as about the stories. After each stop’s story, the guides played a song from one of the associated bands. There’s nothing like a punk rock soundtrack on a bike ride.
Here’s a quick video of the music portion at one of the stops:
(East-bay-punk-rock.mp4 upload to youtube and place here.)
One particularly interesting detail about gentrification stuck with me. Most of these neighborhoods were, at one time, inexpensive warehouse spaces or housing. They were often very ethnic and dubious of the punk squatters. Gentrification in the early 90’s hadn’t started, but Kate expressed regret that they didn’t try harder to build bridges with the existing neighborhoods.
The final stop on the tour was 924 Gilman which is a:
- DIY and nonprofit venue for music, art, and community events
- Cultural landmark since 1986 that continues to inspire similar spaces globally
- Volunteer-run, all-ages, drug and alcohol-free safe space
- Multi-generational, independent collective
- Place for young people to work cooperatively
The route from OMCA to 924 Gilman was just under nine miles:
Stretching to Berkeley, the ride also provided a quick glimpse of some of the exceptional Bay Area cycling infrastructure, e.g. bicycle boulevards.
To top off the post ride, WOBO sent a playlist of the tracks played at the stops and during the ride:
02_Special Forces_South Africa.mp3
04_Neurosis_Double Edged Sword.mp3
05_Christ on Parade_Just Pretend.mp3
10_Fang_Berkeley Heathen Scum.mp3
13_Isocracy-2 Blocks Away.mp3
15_Operation Ivy_Junkies Running Dry.mp3
16_Mr. T Experience_Gilman Street.mp3
17_Blatz_Berkeley is my Baby.mp3
19_Lookouts_Big Green Monster.mp3
20_Screeching Weasel_Ashtray Song.mp3
Most of these titles seem to be available on Youtube.
Although this wasn’t a commercial bike tour, I’m including the usual:
What We Liked
- It was a well organized, well run, well thought out event. Kudos to WOBO and OMCA.
- The pocket guide and music samples were a great idea.
- Tim from WOBO even brought water along in his panniers.
- Follow up emails with the route information and downloadable MP3s.
- Friendly fellow riders.
What Could be Better
- Nothing, even the weather was perfect.
Over an après-tour beer, I heard that WOBO is planning a shipping container themed bike tour around town and the Port of Oakland area.
And, finally, if you’re interested in learning more about the East Bay punk scene, check out a new documentary titled: Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk.