Contributed by Nate Evans
Bob invited me on this ride just the week before. Pending looming weather or recent illness, I needed to get out for a good old fashioned urban mountain bike ride. Christmas Eve morning it was, so I needed to get everything else for the next day taken care of before I clipped in. I never got a sense for how long this annual ride had been going on, maybe 10 years or so, but I liked the idea. Organizer Phil Kennedy greeted riders as they parked along Bellona and unloaded their mountain bikes. Phil started this ride as a way of spreading good Christmas cheer to the citizens of Baltimore while touring the city by mountain bike. “It’s so much easier to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to someone when you’re riding a bike. Kinda hard to do while sitting in a car.” Phil also used this ride to show suburban mountain bikers some great parts of the city, while hitting some fun mtb spots along the way.”
It was just above 30 degrees when we left Rodgers Forge heading south under a crisp sunrise. The pack of 11 riders past the beautiful homes of Bellona-Gittings, through The (very quiet) Orchards and over towards Bryn Mawr. There was next to no one driving on the roads this Christmas Eve morning which allowed for some aggressive flexibility with the pace of our ride. Being that we were all on fat tires allowed for even more flexibility! With knobby tires in the city, the range of riding increases exponentially. Don’t have to worry about curbs, potholes, cobbles, tree trips, gulleys, roots, rocks or bricks. Applying trail techniques definitely made crossing the footbridge over the old Ma & Pa Railroad line a lot more fun, with jumps at both ends…once you’re through the bollards. We cut through Gilman and hit the single track gem of north Baltimore – the Stony Run Trail. This is also part of the former Ma & Pa Railroad which rolled through here until 1963. Through JHU and across to see the new Druid tree sculptures at the lake.
Criss-crossing through Reservoir Hill, we took a group shot on a boat at Eutaw & Lanvale, then headed across Presstman to Sandtown-Winchester. There were no shortages of “Merry Christmases and “Good Mornings” exchanged as we rode. “I’ve never had anyone give me a hard time on these rides,” Phil shared. ”Everyone is so friendly! 99% of the people as quick to strike up a conversation, and the other 1% just ignores ya.” West Baltimore has a stereotype to overcome, and bike rides help erode that stereotype. As I’ve been biking west of MLK more lately with upcoming projects, I’ve come to really appreciate this side of town. Not only are residents incredibly friendly, but among the gridded streets and parks, are some beautiful houses and just really cool places. We spun to one of those spots, Union Square, for our next stop, then across SoWeBo to Pigtown via Carey Street. Heading across downtown, traffic was not an issue this morning. We were keeping speed with the limited auto traffic on Pratt, then caught the morning sun on the water at Morgan Stanley. This spot has a lot of cool urban obstacles to ride for all ages. Typically, this place would be busy with pedestrian traffic, but today the ramps, stairs and tight turns were all ours for the riding & jumping in both directions.
From here, we headed up Caroline Street to the ‘crib’, ‘rendezvous’ …I never figured out what ‘the Big Stop’ at the end was all about. Stories of Christmas Eve Rides’ Past all centered on the Festivus Maximus end of the ride (well, until home). We rolled up to the northwest corner of Greenmount & Chase. As legend has it, years ago, this annual ride swung by this quiet little pocket park to find a party already in progress. Riders hung with the locals and called in gin reinforcements from across the street at Sunrise Grocery Store. It was such a good time that this tradition repeated annually on Christmas Eve morning. Such was not the case this year. The Homewood Village Elders Garden is a classic urban social space complete with veranda, assorted grills, picnic tables and spot a pot – a low-budget space with all the amenities. I can see why the ride stops here. This would be a great place to end any bike party.
The local bike economy has thrived over the past few years in Baltimore. In four short years, several new bike shops and bike unique businesses have sprung up. This doesn’t account for all the unpublicized bike businesses around the city. Here on the 800 block of East Chase Street, you can find all kinds of bikes. This rowhome has it all. From Johnston Square to Charles North, we stopped by Graffiti Alley to between Maryland & Howard (Watch the glass!) and one last stop at Round Falls before we headed back to Bellona. Merry Christmas Everyone!