San Jose Bike Party Incorporates to Pursue Nonprofit Status

The first time Joe Tate encountered San Jose Bike Party was outside his home in downtown a few years ago. Hearing shouts and music, he stepped out to see a whir of lights and a crush of riders—thousands of them. One was towing a sage-green sofa (the “Happening Couch,” he’d later learn). Others were decked out in costumes, glow sticks and streamers, carrying on conversations over the din.

“Wow, something to do on a Friday,” thought Tate, who’d already picked up biking because it’s easier to get around downtown without having to worry about parking. He joined the next ride, a Mardi Gras theme, on his cargo bike and fell in love with the pandemonium that is San Jose Bike Party. It wasn’t long before he volunteered for “The Hub,” the party’s core organizers who map out routes and drum up ideas for themes (like “That ‘70s Ride,” “Ride of the Gods” or “Robots and Long Socks”). Together, they came up with the idea for “Raven Bikes,” cargo bikes with trash bins to clean up during the event, and teamed up with local food trucks to offer sustenance to cyclists.

But there’s been recent murmurs that Tate’s moving to suck the soul out of Bike Party, to quell the chaos that drew him to the event in the first place.

“He took something organic and vibrant and turned it corporate,” a bike party volunteer told San Jose Inside, declining to share his name because he’s a regular at the event. “That goes against the very spirit of Bike Party.”

Tate did, in fact, register San Jose Bike Party as a corporation this past spring. But he insists his plans are anything but soul-sucking. He and fellow Hub volunteers want to turn the amorphic event into a nonprofit organization—mostly to protect against liability, partly to be able to fundraise. The first step on a journey to 501c3 status is incorporation.

“I understand some people want more of an organic, street-life thing,” says Tate, 52, who works by day as vice president of product management at Qualcomm. “That’s where they are in life. But me, and others, we’re looking at this a little differently. We’ve got to evolve the product. We want more people. We want to start organizing a little bit more.”

The debate has been simmering behind the scenes for about a year. Justin Triano, a former Hub volunteer, has objected Tate’s plan at volunteer meetings. Some folks are put off by the terminology Tate employs: corporation, product. For a group that prides itself on being anti-establishment, anarchistic even, those words seem unsettlingly bureaucratic.

“I’m so surprised to hear somebody incorporated San Jose Bike Party,” says Diane Solomon, founder of History San Jose’s “Silicon Valley Bikes!” project. “Incorporation is about control and structure, but what makes San Jose Bike Party so absolutely wonderful is it’s free and joyous and uncontrolled.”

Perhaps some of the backlash comes from the lack of any formal announcement about the plan, which has been labeled oligarchic.

“As of late, there has been a lot of talk about ‘taking Bike Party to the next level’,” noted bike partier Cain Ramirez. “With the Hub’s recent actions, this ‘next level’ seems to be more reflective of their own interests as opposed to what the greater community is actually calling for.”

Records with the Secretary of State’s office show that Tate filed for incorporation on March 5. No one, at least not in any organized way, told Bike Party cyclists—except for an inner circle of volunteers—that there’s now a legal entity called SJ Bike Party, Inc.

Tate says that secretive action was made because he and SJ Bike Party, Inc.’s board of directors would rather the legal structure take shape in the background. Out of sight, out of mind, Tate figures, creating as little impact on the culture of Bike Party as logistically possible.

“There are some people who are totally offended by thinking of this as a product,” says Tate, an attorney. “But listen, at the end of the day, you are offering a product. By promoting this to people, you’re creating a product. But this isn’t about making money. It’s about protecting us against liability. That makes for a better product.”

Tate has a point. San Jose Inside encountered several volunteers who hesitated to have their names connected to the event out of fear of becoming a target for a lawsuit. Tate says that’s a common worry, one he’s trying to alleviate. What if, he posits, someone posts a route for the few-thousand riders, one of them gets hurt and that injured party finds out which volunteer posted the route. Regardless of the likelihood, that’s a concern several bikers have expressed. Tate got to thinking about it after a bike partier hurt herself en route through Santana Row and sued the shopping center. Her lawyers contacted Tate and other Hub volunteers, which quickened their efforts to get their paperwork in order.

Nonprofits can buy insurance. They’re also protected under the umbrella of the federal Volunteer Protection Act, which can limit or eliminate a volunteer’s risk of tort liability if they’re acting on behalf of the organization. While Tate set up a board of directors consisting of four Hub volunteers (Inventec executive Mark Hirsch is president, but the positions will rotate), he says there’s no plan to give anyone a salary—now or ever.

“This is not about making money,” Tate says. “If anything we’ll keep nothing more than $1,000 in the account, so we’re not a target for lawsuits.”

Seven years have passed without Bike Party becoming anything official except a massive festival on wheels every third Friday of the month. It wasn’t “founded,” as much as set in motion by Nick Laskowski.

Starting sometime around 2004, a small group tried to pull together a regular ride modeled after Critical Mass, the monthly event, which started in San Francisco but went global, in which cyclists take over car-crowded roadways. But that didn’t sit well with the car-centric South Bay. Over the years, large rides would start and peter out. In 2005, Laskowski helped organized a “get out the vote” ride around Halloween. Nothing really took until 2007, when he teamed up with Amber Lamason, having met her on Craigslist by way of a roommate ad in which she delivered a delightful critique of suburbia.

“It was something to the effect of, ‘I’m moving up to San Jose. Is there anybody with a soul up in this dead, suburban wasteland?’” Laskowski recalls. He was into bikes, she was better at organizing. They brought on another friend, Lauryn McCarthy, got a MySpace page, plastered flyers at coffee shops and art shows and managed to lure a few-dozen riders to what’s considered, in retrospect, the first-ever San Jose Bike Party in 2007. They dreamt up crazy themes, started the rides at “party hour” on Friday night, shared routes and told folks to follow along if they pleased.

“As far as a mission, we were clear from the beginning that we wanted to build community through bicycling,” Laskowski says. “That grew into a desire to build a vibrant urban space, to build cultural events, a connecting space. As far as a vision for what we would become, we had only the most tentative forecasts.”

For the 10th ride, 200 people showed up. Laskowski was amped. He stood at the start of the ride and hung on to a streetlight, shouting to them with a megaphone about how amazing it felt to reach the 200 mark after less than a year.

Four years later, thousands gathered. These days, volunteers’ clicker-counters during the Bike Party’s summer rides tally up to 5,000 cyclists. City officials, dignitaries, tech execs, college students, kids and even the Lord Mayor of Dublin have joined the ride. It’s spread from San Jose’s downtown to hundreds of cities around the globe—as far as Seoul, Korea.

“People come here, experience the Bike Party and want to take it home,” says Laskowski, who’s pulled back his involvement to focus on his teaching career. “That’s incredible to think about. It’s the best of San Jose in that it could only come from a place like this. It fits our goofy, suburban, not-quite-city sort of city. It’s flexible, it’s open, creative and it’s fun.”

Laskowski says he’s not opposed to Tate’s plan to tighten up what’s so far operated as a loosely organized phenomenon into a nonprofit—as long as the fundamentals remain.

“Bike party isn’t a structure,” he says. “It isn’t a ‘thing’ you can hold. It’s a vision of what our community can be. There could be hundreds or thousands or millions of ways to make that a reality.”

Correction: Joe Tate is 52 years old, not 53. San Jose Inside regrets the error.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

37 Comments

  1. Sounds like what happened to Mavericks, and to some extent, The Sierra Club.

  2. I think there are going to be a bit of corrections .

    Cain Ramirez is the owner of a courier business and is running the SVBC, Silicon Valley Bike Coalition’s Holiday Party. SVBC is a corporation.

    Justin Triano owns a bike business and has gotten funding from corporation and businesses. Including personal loans from SJBP hub members.

    Why they are against legal protection for SJBP when they themselves absorb those benefits is a little bit dubious.

  3. SJBP is better now than it ever has been before! Better dancing, better food and less of the negative, bad elements.
    If they’ve been incorporated for over half a year then they must be doing something right. Whats not to like about what they are doing?

  4. “Nonprofits can buy insurance. They’re also protected under the umbrella of the federal Volunteer Protection Act, which can limit or eliminate a volunteer’s risk of tort liability if they’re acting on behalf of the organization.”

    All these so called volunteers apparently don’t want to be legally protected. Are they dumb?

  5. A classic new age story of “people who want to matter” without know what really matters, and the ancient existential struggle between tribalism and civilization.

    Normally, I might try to lock up the movie rights, but it’s clear it would be a really boring movie.

  6. Sooo aside from the Dublin mayor, what celebrities have actually been to SJ Bike PArty?

    • The mayor of Dublin isn’t really a celebrity, is he? He’s a politician.

      Of the politicians, a good portion of San Jose’s former and sitting council have participating, including Oliviero, Cortese, Liccardo, and Herrera. I’ve seen former fire chief McDonald at the ride. Several staffers for SJDOT have also taken part for at least part of the ride.

      • Yeah I don’t view him as a celebrity either, probably should have made that clear. I know ample local politicians have made the effort as part of their outreach plan. Regardless, I wasn’t aware of any real celebrities, hence my question.

        So excluding anybody political, what celebrities have attended (if any)?

  7. I’m a former hub member who’s advocated for just such legal protection since four years ago (with nothing but opposition from hub regulars before Joe joined), and support it now. It shows responsibility to the community. It makes hub members visible to the riders so they can no longer hide in the shadows cherry-picking comments for the web site. It makes the ride accountable as a regularly scheduled event. Thanks Joe.

  8. Corporation is a dirty word that is anathemic to the spirit of SJBP.

        • Was fun while it lasted, Joe “Craftsman” Tate, who speaks in the third person.

          • Yes, its me. Everyone knows me by that name on WordPress and in the bicycling community. thought the story was over? Is there a reason that you are STILL contacting people asking about me? As I told you during your interview, I am just the guy who picks up the trash! I had two conversations with you. 1. on Oct 29th asking for an interview where I asked you to speak to Carlos and the 2. After Carlos said you were looking to write an article about all the good things happening at Bike Party November 12. The same day you had lunch with your friend Cain Ramirez. If you are friends or not, i really don’t care. I’ve never had interactions with you other than that. After the piece, I deleted you as a friend. This isn’t about me, its about Bike Party. Let’s stick to that. No need to continue to ask people about me.

          • I want to make sure the statement below is factually correct, unlike your editor, it was 3 times. The 2 below were in reference to Facebook. Only 1 time over the phone.

    • > That makes this about the shoddiest reporting I’ve witnessed since FOX news.

      Slinky:

      If you paid more attention to Fox News you would know who Jonathan Gruber is and what he thinks of you.

      Hint: he doesn’t thing you’re a rocket scientist.

    • OK, let’s set the record straight. I spoke with Joe Tate yesterday about the article and it’s clear that he is backtracking because some of his words have received scrutiny in the Bike Party community. None of his quotes in this story are inaccurate, and there is no conflict of interest in Jennifer’s reporting.

      The most perplexing part about Joe’s reaction to this story is that it’s not a negative piece. Joe would prefer to portray himself as a victim, rather than understand there are more sides to this story than his own. We were approached by multiple sources for this story and it was thoroughly reported.

      JK

  9. Ms. Wadsworth, does that mean you sitting at the Falafel Bar with Cain Ramirez enjoying lunch together means you are strangers? Funny how he tags everyone in this story and they all seemingly are mutual friends of yours.

    Do you make it a habit to involve yourself personally to your story subjects?

    Where are your sources that you don’t have personal attachments too?

  10. > So…. can you at least tell the rest of us why you aren’t concerned with Ms. Wadsworths reporting ethics?

    You got me, Slinky.

    I don’t have a good answer for you.

    So I guess I will just have to give in to peer pressure and agree with you and with “the rest us us” that Jennifer Wadsworrth’s reporting ethics are awful.

    And, I AM CONCERNED!

    Just my opinion, but Jennifer should work on being a better person.

  11. Setting the record straight… An attempt was made to Inside San Jose to correct the mistakes, but they were more concerned to backing their article as written rather than getting the information out to their readers. This article really didn’t capture the essence of what is happening at Bike Party. its a shame the real questions weren’t asked about what is the “Taking Bike Party to the next Level” that Cain mentions and why anyone wouldn’t be in favor of those changes. Instead, an inflammatory article was written by a journalist who has a questionable personal connection to Cain Ramierz. The “next level” Cain refers to has to do with not only getting protection for our great volunteers through forming a non profit corporation in case legal action is taken against San Jose Bike Party or one of its volunteers, something that the vast majority of event organizers do for protection. This was done only for that end. This wasn’t done “secretively”. This has been discussed for years at Bike Party and at many volunteer meetings. No real effort to obtain additional funding through asking for donations or charging for the ride was ever planned. The “next level” that is discussed that Cain is opposed to in the article involves organizing the tasks that need to get done every month. Those being 1. Artwork on time, 2. Routes done on time 3. More Volunteer involvement through regular volunteer meetings to allow those who want to help shape bike party can contribute and suggest additional items 4. Better and more organized communications 5. Picking up trash at regroups and finding a solution to the public urination problem so we further our goals of leave no trace 6. Organizing Food Trucks in a fashion that allows for the regroups to be better organized and laid out in a fashion that helps the party flow better. 7. Having a dance area where people can go and dance and have a good time with a DJ. 8. Having other entertainment from time to time organized in a given area where people can see something unusual like the bicycle exhibitions, Fire shows, etc. 9. Controlling companies who are going to show up and promote goods or services, like Bombotix. This is the extent of the changes that Justin, Diane and the other bicyclist who was afraid to give his name were opposed to. The organization in general has not changed. Its as it was when setup by Nick and the original organizers. A Hub for organization, Birds for helping out during the ride, and a bunch of bicyclists. Although one individual was singled out in the article for some reason, there are a number of great riders who contribute to Bike Party. and have been involved in the decisions. This is really what the article should have been about. Good luck on the ride tonight.

    • OK, let’s set the record straight. I spoke with Joe Tate yesterday about the article and it’s clear that he is backtracking because some of his words have received scrutiny in the Bike Party community. None of his quotes in this story are inaccurate, and there is no conflict of interest in Jennifer’s reporting.

      The most perplexing part about Joe’s reaction to this story is that it’s not a negative piece. Joe would prefer to portray himself as a victim, rather than understand there are more sides to this story than his own. We were approached by multiple sources for this story and it was thoroughly reported.

      JK

      • Josh, I don’t feel I am a Victim, the victims are the readers who don’t get to hear the facts. You should spend more time worrying about the facts, rather than trying to wordcraft that a story is correct. BTW, the story is over. You can move on to something else. Please stop having your reporter ask about me…. a “unnamed source” messaged this to me on Friday well after the article was written… “Today that reporter contacted me asking for my opinion of you and i didnt reply. It does seem like an unnecessary hit piece against you in particular, especially if she’s coming around asking me for comments about you specifically. Yesterday I gave some candid feedback about why some people, including myself, are no longer involved, but it’s not like I think you are the root cause or anything. Anyways, hope you enjoy the ride tonight if you’re going” Sad. Move on Josh… There are really more important things to report about in San Jose than a guy who tries to help out the community by picking up trash at Bike Party.

    • Bike Rider’s post makes BPSJ sound even more like what happened at The Sierra Club and to Mavericks–Clash of the Egos

      • Not that I have any interest in the clash of personalities at a bicycle club, but I’m always receptive to accounts of social dysfunction as they involve The Sierra Club.

        Dish!

        And who the hell are “The Mavericks”?

        • Mavericks is the big wave surf competition off Pillar Point. Was a grass roots ride held when the surf got huge. A few invited riders only. Then it got corporate, and the original guys and the corporate guys took to internal strife, and even went to court for TV rights.

  12. “Bike bullies”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/bicyclist-bullies-try-to-rule-the-road-in-dc/2014/07/08/f7843560-06e3-11e4-bbf1-cc51275e7f8f_story.html

    “YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!”

    http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Washington-Post-Bicycle-Bully-Column-Prompts-Protest-266680691.html

    I think we can all see where this “Bike Party” is heading:

    http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/spinning-its-wheels-critical-mass-long-ride-from-relevance/Content?oid=2826822

    Couldn’t we just fast forward, concede the bike children their fifteen minutes of fame, and ask them to keep their spandex touches out of traffic so working people can get back to making profits and paying taxes, or since it is California, at least paying taxes.