For the most part, Christmas spirit is a wildly fraudulent concept in America. In the name of good will towards men, we browse catalogs like hymnals while listening to frantic product descriptions sung to the tune of our favorite Christmas carols. In misplaced attempts at good cheer, we max out multiple credit cards to buttress our Christmas trees with a four-foot skirt of professionally wrapped boxes. We spew huge wads of money at anything decorated with even the faintest hint of tinsel. We consume conspicuous mounds of food and drink far too much. And afterwards we moan and squirm for months in great orgies of guilt like good Puritans. Worst of all, we train our children to do the same.
Yet beacons of light do exist. Meet Jim Wrona. This local man has created an expression of the Christmas spirit that is very pure, very simple and tremendously goofy. Without trying to do anything more than have some fun on Christmas Eve, he’s designed a refreshing antidote to the season’s vulgar displays of consumerism. Six years ago, this father and avid bicyclist convinced some friends and family to get together, decorate their beat-up and vintage bicycles in Christmas kitsch, and take a long leisurely ride from Lovers Point to downtown Monterey on Christmas Eve while singing carols, having fun and spreading some genuine Christmas cheer.
And that’s the whole idea. There’s nothing more to it. They’re not raising money by the mile or selling wreaths for a new velodrome or building their membership pool. They’re not even trying to make some kind of statement. They’re doing it purely for the sake of doing it.
“There’s no objective, no donations, no fundraising,” Wrona says. “There’s not even really any organization to it. I certainly don’t make any money from it. It’s just a word-of-mouth happening kind of thing where people strap crap on to their bikes and ride around. It’s fun.”
The main goals of the Critical Christmas ride are simply to ride either the worst bike you can get your hands on or a classic bike (“Schwinn StingRays are highest on the pecking order,” Wrona says), decorate it with as much Christmas stuff as you can duct tape into place, and ride and sing your way through Monterey and PG.
Although the event has evolved into something of a showcase for Schwinn-built products, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a “classic” or “cruiser” ride. It’s not about the bike, it’s the junk taped to the bike that really counts.
“The official motto is ‘More of Everything,’ Wrona explains. “We go through a lot of duct tape.”
According to Wrona, popular bike decorations include garlands, Santa hats, beards, and battery-powered Christmas lights. Notable decorations have included a cheesy contraption taped to handle bars that chanted ‘ho-ho-ho’ in a weird voice and a tape recorder blaring Sinatra.
A ceremonial decorating of the bikes kicks the event off at Lovers Point. Once it gets dark, the assembled bikers roll out along the bike path towards Monterey.
“It’s not a race,” Wrona says. “We go ridiculously slow on purpose, wishing everyone we come upon a Merry Christmas. One year we rode our bikes through the lobby of some hotel. We go up and down Alvarado Street, up and down the wharves. Then we do hot laps both ways around the Custom House Plaza fountain.”
The ride is usually over in about an hour so everyone can get back to their families or friends or go to church, if they wish.
“We keep it short and sweet,” Wrona says. “It gets cold and batteries run out.”
Wrona says the event is very loosely patterned after the Critical Mass bike rides in cities that feature bicyclists taking over the streets (“but we’re not taking over the street, just the bike path”) and “that silly event they do every Christmas where truck drivers decorate their 18-wheelers and parade through Ukiah.”
Although Wrona is a member of Velo Club Monterey, the Critical Christmas ride is not an officially sanctioned VCM event.
“Legally, there’s no such thing as an official VCM event because of insurance issues, so the club can gather but it’s not an official gathering,” he says. “The club supports me just by making announcements and showing up.”
The ride attracts anywhere from 15-30 bicyclists.
“It’s really a diverse crowd,” Wrona says. “Kids, moms and dads, people who just enjoy bike riding. My daughter and I do it every year. She thinks it’s hilarious.”
Wrona suggests that first-time riders dress for the weather. It can be cold on Christmas Eve and rain cancels the event.
“Who wants to ride in the rain?” Wrona asks. “That’s no fun. Plus, it messes up the decorations.”
And in case you missed it the first time, it’s all about the junk taped to the bike.
The Critical Christmas Family Bike Ride starts at 5pm on Friday, December 24, at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove.