A crowd of 17 Emory students wheeled their bikes over to the 1 Eagle Row parking deck on Saturday afternoon. They meet in front of the Fixie bike shop every other weekend with the common goal of all college students — obtaining free food.
The group set off on their bikes, along a familiar route that runs through Emory Village, past the Fernbank Museum and through the hills and valleys of Decatur neighborhoods. In a little over 20 minutes, the group arrives at Jeni’s Ice Cream.
This is Emory Bike Social, a loose group of student bikers who gather to ride all over Atlanta together. The club has traveled to the Beltline, Edgewood, Ponce City Market, Little Five Points and more, each trip with a different restaurant as the destination.
Jeni’s in Decatur is a classic, said Davy Song (23C), Bike Social Club’s president. It was his first ride with the club his freshman year, and the simplicity of exploring Atlanta with others and getting free food at the end kept Song coming back.
“[Bike Social] takes you to great places, but along the way, you have Atlanta’s scenery, you can chat, and you can make fun memories as a group,” Song said. “That’s where I see the value, and that’s why everyone from both competitive and casual bike riders attend.”
The club hosts several rides each semester with easier routes that go through the neighborhoods around Emory on the way to Atlanta favorites. For the first ride of the year, students explored Freedom Park and stopped by the King Center on the way to Slutty Vegan.
“Getting on a bike is a much easier way to learn about a neighborhood,” Song said. “If you sit in a car, you don’t slow down enough to see what’s around you, to notice this tree or that building.”
Spots fill up quickly for rides, with the club posting a sign up form on their social media for anyone to join. If you don’t have a bike, the club has five set aside to borrow for the day. The mixture of food and exploration draws in a wide variety of bikers, Song said.
“All the rides are memorable because you always have an interesting mix of people,” Song said. “About 60% are good old friends of the club, and 40% are new faces excited to try something new.”
Benjamin Kasavan (23L) founded the Bike Social Club in 2016 with the same model in place today. At the time, there was no bicycling club for undergraduates, and bicycling communities were just starting on campus. The Fixie, the free bicycle repair shop on campus, was just founded in 2014 and solely run by the bicycling club for graduate students, the Emory Spokes Council.
“The emphasis was to make a non-competitive club but to meet people on campus who also love biking,” Kasavan said. “We chose the name of the club very carefully to be emphatic of that.”
Along with its planned rides, the Bike Social Club now participates actively in the Fixie with two dedicated mechanics on its executive board. The club also has an active relationship with the University’s Office of Transportation to create bike-friendly initiatives on campus.
At the time of the club’s founding, Kasavan did not consider the campus bike-friendly as there were few bike racks and pumps for students to use.
The University has since worked with both undergraduate and graduate clubs to approve bike racks around campus and even proposed to build a bike hub in the WoodPEC, which has yet to progress.
The University most notably expanded Clifton Road in 2017 to include a bike lane along the east side of campus.
The change, however, created only 0.4 miles of a dedicated bike path from North Decatur Road to Haygood Road, abruptly ending at the intersection of Haygood and Clifton. Beyond that point, bicyclists are at the will of Atlanta’s notoriously deadly roads for bicyclists.
In a 2022 study done by real estate data company Clever, Atlanta ranked as the third-worst city for bikeability, with factors of bike trails and workers commuting falling well behind other large cities.
“The University’s support of bicycling is a lot for image,” Kasavan said. “Clifton Road looks much prettier, but [riding around campus] is not actually safer in any way.”
In 2021, Song was hit by a car on Clifton Road as he attempted to cross over to the bike lane. He suffered minor injuries but had PTSD from the event for five months and didn’t get back onto a bike until this semester.
Despite Atlanta’s lack of bike-safe streets, Song said he hopes to continue to be a part of the community he learned to love his freshman year and explore the Druid Hills neighborhood around Emory that students don’t often see.
Song and the club have grown fond of the scenery around Emory, specifically its hills.
“I actually love the hilly routes because you have the ups and downs,” he said. “It feels like your everyday life has its ups and downs and you can’t always see the horizon at the end.”