Fun events in Downtown Gretna were the name of the game before the restrictions of the pandemic hit. A kick-off to normalcy was the recent return of the Gretna EZ Social Ride on Friday nights.
In the past, hundreds of bicyclists would take to the streets with their bikes lit with LED lights in all colors. Residents have long enjoyed standing on their porches and enjoying the sight, flippin’ out over the lights and often cheering the riders on.
No one knew for sure how many riders to expect on June 5 when the Friday night bike ride started back up after Covid-19 shut it down. Turned out it was about 40 riders each night for the last two weeks.
The bike ride’s re-opening was led by Rene Poche who took over the reins from founder Damon Gerrets.
“We were excited to get back out there for such a great weekly event.
We encourage all participants to observe social distancing and especially encourage the wearing of masks during this restricted time,” Poche’ said.
The EZ riders gather up on Huey P. Long Avenue at 1st Street near the Gretna ferry landing to be ready to roll out at 7:00 p.m. The riders go down Huey P. Long Avenue and the parade then winds among various streets, stopping for a rest in front of St. Joseph Church, even cutting across the Hook & Ladder Cemetery to go around Heritage Square and make its way to 1st Street which is the river road and on toward McDonoghville.
Prior to the pandemic, at Perry Street the cyclists would go up on the levee and ride to Algiers Point where they would stop to rest and enjoy the local pubs.
That isn’t possible right now due to the New Orleans Covid-19 restrictions in Algiers where the pubs are not yet open. Most of the group has been going up the levee at Perry Street and riding atop the levee back toward the Gretna ferry house.
According to Gerrets, whose wife Cathie rides alongside him, they started the Gretna Social Ride on March 13, 2016 with 18 riders, mostly those who had started in the Nola Social Ride’s Happy Thursday Ride.
They named it Gretna EZ Social Ride in favor of their business, EZ Realty Inc. and created a Gretna Social Ride Facebook group that had over 1,400 members by the end of 2016, today up to 3,431 members! https://www.facebook.com/events/2622866664651279/
“Our approach to the original ride in 2016 was different than NOLA’s. We “seeded” the ride by giving away 500 sets of “spoke lights” and to make it a Friday event. When we threw in the charm and safety of Old Gretna, the view of New Orleans from the levee at night and excited riders, it became an overnight success,” Gerrets said.
Those 18 riders the first week grew to over 400 on any given week during 2016, breaking the 500 mark soon thereafter.
Over the next few years, participation reduced with not as many riders, down to less than 100 by 2018 and down to 55 a week in 2019. Promoting comradery and exercise, Poche and his wife, Lisa are intent on building up the census.
It would be a good thing for the ride to become a large outing again. Besides positive feedback from the public and the bicyclists, the ride has been well received by the business community as well. Before the pandemic, on Fridays at local restaurants you would see lots of bikes and lots of riders. You would also see those that were out to just watch the bikes go by.
“We called it a social ride. We combined families, trikes, fitness riders, bubble machines, disco balls, bells, music and lights. It’s all about the lights and the bells, they turn adults into kids. I think that is where the magic comes from. In fact, we’ve had people tell us that there is just something magical about the ride,” Gerrets said.
The EZ riders typically ride about 10 miles at a 6-8 miles per hour pace, stopping for photo ops and refreshments several times. It’s a diversified group of people riding and participants claim it’s nice to have that kind of peace together. There are people from all areas. It’s an opportunity to run into people that know each other from school, work or old neighborhoods.
Bike riding at night with this group is a fun thing to do. Everybody is upbeat, it’s all positive. Residents on their porches get involved with a wave. It’s a happy moment, with the benefit of exercise. For newbies, the trek up the levee is a hard workout, but a fun one. Legs get stronger with riding and it can become a challenge for those who, first time out, can’t make it all the way up the levee without stopping.
Participants in the EZ Ride are from all over, all sizes, shapes and ages.
Everyone is welcome. The goal of the ride is to enhance biking in general, promote the benefits of riding to make exercising fun, offer something to look forward to and get people to step out and join their neighbors.
“For some, riding was just a fad but for others it turned into a love. Some enjoy the exercise, some the social event and others, the commitment. It’s really a mix of people and a mix of why they are out there. No fees, no rules, good music, good people, a sense of community and comradery! The ones that ride weekly understand the need for lights, bike maintenance, etc. The people driving autos now are aware of the ride and both the biker and driver are courteous. It just seem to fit Gretna!” Damon Gerrets said.
Riders make their own decisions on when, how and what they ride. They ride at their own risk. Every rider is individually responsible for taking care of themselves and for the safe operation of their bicycles.
Every person that joins the ride is accepting the risks which are inherent in riding a bicycle with a large group of other people. Riders are expected to be courteous to each other as well as traffic on the roadways. Just follow basic common sense rules of the road, respect the efforts made by all and have some fun doing it. Riders are asked to pick up their trash at every stop and to leave their glass bottles, their drama and their egos at home!
Go to Gretna Social Ride on Facebook to enjoy photos, videos and comments about the EZ Ride. You are welcome to just show up on your bicycle at Huey P. Long Avenue at 1st Street near the Gretna ferry house for the ride that rolls out at 7 o’clock every Friday night.
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