If you’re walking the streets downtown this coming Friday night, chances are you might see a Kris Kringle or two (or five or 50!) opting for an alternative means of transportation. Santas, reindeer, elves, and angels will be pedaling through downtown streets and neighborhoods on two wheels with garland, holly, and twinkling lights wrapped around their bike frames. This isn’t a new executive health incentive to curve North Pole insurance premiums. This is the 9th annual Tour de Lights Bike Parade, part of Knoxville’s Christmas in the City celebration.
This holiday ride has grown from a hundred to more than 1,000 participants since its inaugural excursion back in 2007, and even more are expected to turn out this year. Sponsor I Bike Knx welcomes anyone and everyone to bring their wreathe-wrapped bikes for this self-propelled seasonal delight. The night starts at Market Square around 6 p.m. and the ride will start at 7 p.m., going for 5 miles through the 4th & Gill and Old North Knox neighborhoods, which will be shut down to all other traffic for the event.
Unlike Santa, you’re not expected to visit every house on earth in one night, so speed is not a factor in the Tour de Lights. The tour moves at a casual, leisurely pace and children are encouraged to participate as long as they have good control of their bikes. Younger and less experienced cyclists can ride in trailers or on tag-a-longs.
It has been strongly reiterated that the Tour de Lights is a ride not a race, so no one will be fighting for first place, but the competition does heat up when it comes to the costumes. These highly creative cyclists deck out their bikes and themselves with full-on holiday pageantry, and awards are given for best adult costumes, best child costumes, best bicycle and/or trailer, best helmet, best group, and best all-around.
“One year, we had a group come as characters from The Nutcracker. Another year, we had a gingerbread family. A group came as characters from various Christmas TV specials,” I Bike Knx's Kelley Segars told the News Sentinel . “It just amazes me how much creativity and effort people put into the decorations and costumes.”
Those hoping to grab the gold for their holiday garb need to arrive before 6 p.m. so the judges can get a look at you. Early arrivers can also benefit from free bike safety checks as well as hot chocolate and other holiday treats courtesy of Mast General Store and Three Rivers Market. Right at 7 p.m., all the riders will set out down the street to pedal holiday cheer to nearby neighborhoods and the audience of admirers gathered on city sidewalks.
The Tour de Lights is part of the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization's (TPO) larger vision for bicycle access in the city which includes year-round work providing education and infrastructure to help protect the city's growing cycling community. The TPO coordinates Bike to Work Day , the Bicycling Ambassador's Program , and a host of other programs and events that encourage alternative means of transportation in the city. The Tour de Lights is a fun, joyous, and a literal shining light for the ongoing growth of Knoxville as a pro-pedestrian, pro-cyclist, and pro-health city.
Here are the basics to know if you’re heading to the event:
- The event will be held Friday, Dec. 18, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
- Meet at Market Square downtown
- Costume judging starts at 6 p.m.
- Ride starts at 7 p.m.
- The 5 mile ride should take no more than an hour
- Goes through 4th & Gill and Old North Knox neighborhoods
- Free hot chocolate and treats available
- Learn more at ibikeknx.com