The latest phase in the evolution of cycling is on display every Thursday evening in Tracy.

Last week it took the form of dozens of bicycle riders, all together in one big group and each bike with its array of lights on the spokes and rims, on the frames and on the riders’ helmets. At 6:30 p.m., after some of the riders showed off with wheelies and other stunts, they left the parking lot in front of the former Orchard Supply Hardware store on 11th Street and headed out onto Corral Hollow Road for a trip around town.

“It’s fun. We put on all the lights. You’ll see hundreds of bikes with lights on the rims and stuff like that,” said Jason Reser, one of the riders who showed up for last Thursday’s Rideout.

Rideouts have become regular events all over the country over the past few years, and folks who had gone to Bay Area cities to participate in these massive rides have established the Thursday night event in Tracy.

Garett Murphy is one of the riders who got involved last year, organizing the Tracy rides.

“That’s a new thing with the big wheel BMX,” he said, referring to the most popular style of bicycle among this group of riders, the SE Bike with big wheels, 29-inch diameter on many of them, and fat tires. “The kids do wheelies and stuff. Our kids are more behaved than some of the other towns you’ve been hearing about.”

Murphy added that while the popularity of the Rideouts has clearly taken hold among the younger crowd, he and other older riders have become involved and encourage all age groups to get involved.

“It’s a family thing that brought tons of people together. I’ve met hundreds of friends over the last four or five years through it.”

Now that Rideouts have become popular in Tracy, they’ve also become controversial as cyclists take over the streets during their rides, and motorists complain to police that so many riders constitute a traffic hazard as they fill up the roadway.

James Hallen of Tracy said the role for older riders like him is to be ambassadors: That is, somebody who embraces the culture that brings dozens to hundreds of bike riders together as they move along city streets in one big group.

Rideouts can’t help but make an impression, so ambassadors are there to remind motorists that any inconvenience is brief and temporary, and the trend now to make Tracy’s Thursday night Rideout more of a mainstream event and less of an outlaw event.

“I just want to make it like a PSA, you know, to the community from the riding community: Keep an eye out on Thursdays. If they're slowing you down. Don't worry, they'll pass in a minute or two,” he said.

“That's the message, because these people think we're stopping them all night long. That’s how they react, not realizing that they’re only stopping them for a minute and a half, before they can continue on their way.”

Hallen acknowledged that the outlaw aspect has its appeal to young folks as they take over stretches of roadway to do wheelies and stunts, but the bulk of last Thursday night’s crowd looked to be out for a safe and family-friendly ride.

In that spirit, the local organizers, who can be found on Facebook at Bay Area Bike Life (www.facebook.com/TracyBikeLifeLights), promoted a GoFundMe.com campaign to buy headlights and taillights for riders who needed them. Horatio Monroe, who is also active with local groups, the Spoke Eazies and Tracy Bike Life, received the package of lights from Amazon just before the ride, and handed them out to young riders as the group prepared to embark on a loop around the city.

Ideally the pack of riders stays to the right and those who do the wheelies and stunts do so in a way that doesn’t put other riders at risk. Hallen said ambassadors are there to discourage the boldest riders from playing “wheelie chicken,” where they run the risk of clashing with oncoming traffic.

“We get our local kids, we get some that are outlawing, and then we get the kids from out of town. Where they're completely unsafe,” Hallen said. “The issue is, you’ve got these kids predominately staying to the right, and then you’ve got these kids that want to swerve off to the left. It’s the irritated driver back here that passes in anger.”

Drivers do get irritated. During the last Rideout in town, the Tracy Police Department got at least five calls regarding large crowds of bicycle riders, some reporting that they were blocking lanes, others saying they were running red lights.

Tracy Police Lt. Miguel Contreras said officers just want people to be safe and follow traffic laws.

“Our take on it is, as long as they obey the law and people understand it’s a shared roadway, we will allow them to ride,” he said. “We do monitor it. When we do get a call we send an officer out to monitor it to make sure they’re not causing a hazard.”

Hallen added that responsible riders don’t mind police scrutiny.

“We’re also sending a message to the police, like: Hey, come out. Have fun with us. Be these kids’ friends. Especially considering the culture that we're all in. They can participate cooperatively, then if the kids are breaking rules, they're warning them. They're not getting in trouble.”

• Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com, or call 209-830-4227.

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