Friends Stan Palla and Vero Vanblaere of the Naked Art gallery thought they were starting a fun once-a-week social bicycle ride. Vanblaere was a bicycle commuter, Palla an experienced cyclist. They decided to enjoy a weekly ride along Birmingham’s city streets and invited a few people to join them. They didn’t expect it to become anything big.
“At first three people, four people would show up. Six at the most,” says Vanblaere. “And then one day we were at 150. The ride is for everyone, and appealed to so many people that had not ridden a bike in so long. It was a great opportunity for them to try it out again.”
Every Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. across the street from Naked Art , cyclists meet for a social bike ride called Le Tour de Ham . The crew rolls out promptly at 6:15 p.m. for a 10-12 mile bike ride through the eclectic, bohemian and fun parts of the Magic City. This social bike ride is considered to be the largest weekly ride in Alabama. Le Tour de Ham cyclists often end their ride through Forest Park at the Silvertron Café , a sponsor of the ride, where they enjoy a drink and meal together. With a 15 percent discount for the riders, who could resist?
This is a ride that is for everyone. Palla and Vanblaere insist that “no spandex or fancy bike is required,” and they want you to just come along and enjoy the city. Families with kids and seniors alike enjoy a two-wheeled adventure through the city.
According to Vanblaere, anyone can come along for the ride. “We even have a guy in a wheelchair that hops onto a three-wheeled bike and pedals with his arms...We’ve had dogs come along that ride in a basket on their owner’s bike.”
With riders showing up from Atlanta, California, and many places across the U.S., it’s no wonder that Le Tour de Ham strongly promotes community and friendship. Both advanced cyclists and beginner riders are welcome in the same space. If the slower riders lag behind a little, the advanced riders pause to allow the others to catch up. No one gets left behind. The ride tours through Avondale, Highland, 5 Points, UAB, Railroad Park, Linn Park and back.
Palla, the new director of Red Rock Ridge & Valley Trail System, has been an avid cyclist all his life. He originally started Le Tour de Ham as a way to bring artists and cyclists together to create a ride that would appeal to a broader base of people. “My goal was to bring people together to ride bicycles together again, both for exercise and for hobby. Cycling is not a transportation alternative—it’s a transportation choice. Wear regular clothes and have a fun, social ride.”
Le Tour de Ham strongly supports being respectful of the city by obeying traffic rules and promoting cycling. Helmets, tail lights and headlights are strongly recommended, as safety is expected among the riders. But other than than, come out, join the ride, and discover just how much fun Birmingham can be on two wheels.