You may have seen a stream of bicycles in passing while shopping on Abbot Kinney, or people with bike lights filling up the street while having a drink on Main Street. Once a week, on Sunday evenings at sunset, the Electric Bike Parade takes to the streets of the local Venice community. Since 2015, the free bike ride has brought energy to our streets and anyone an join.
Marcus Gladney, 48, leads the pack. Gladney plans it all out each week to make the best free and safe experience he can for everyone who participates. All sorts of people join in the fun: singles, couples, parents with children, retirees and dog owners, whether it’s in a pedicab, on an ebike or on a traditional bicycle.
It all began when a Kansas City newcomer to Venice had little to do in the evenings and wondered what happened on the boardwalk after dark. He decided to find out, and discovered to his surprise, in addition to the usual things you’d expect on the Venice boardwalk, there was also a magical vision of random bikes with lights, unexpected celebrities who didn’t want to be seen in the light of day, and a solo entrepreneur selling the lights by the side of the path. Gladney wanted to be part of it. He began planting the seeds to connect all these seemingly disparate elements.
Gladney soon picked up a bike of his own and slowly befriended Sebastian (“The Light Man'') Butler. Butler sells bike lights by the path each night to help riders stay safe and abide by California State bike laws, requiring a red rear light and front white headlamp visible on the front of the bike or a helmet.
As Gladney’s bike got brighter, so did the attention he got, and like the Pied Piper, his music and lights drew a few other bike riders to follow him on his nightly rides. One night, James Corden of the “The Late Late Show '' tracked him down with his crew and wanted to feature the bikes at the start of their show, which they did—that’s when Gladney knew he was really onto something. If Hollywood was calling, they must be seeing what he saw, he thought to himself, “and I thought that was so cool,” says Gladney.
It’s at that moment Gladney decided to take it all a little more seriously. He fixed a time for the ride. At first it was small: three to five people, sometimes 10. Then, it grew and grew and now the rides can be 250 people or more. Onlookers take pictures, wave at them, and react as if seeing a “parade” which lent itself to Marcus creating the name. People who participate get really into it,” Gladney says. “You have everybody with their lights adorning their bodies, on their heads, on their dogs.”
Gladney grew up riding a BMX dirt bike for fun. Now he calls his bike “Big Red’ and it has a whopping 5,000 LED lights. He also owns a small assortment of rental bikes, and ebikes that he shares with others joining the ride as his guests. He also has a team of volunteers who help to keep this “bike at your own risk” ride safe each time. It starts at Windward Plaza and finishes at Hinanos Café.
“Marcus is our Captain and has been doing this every Sunday at sunset for over 6 years. That’s commitment, and it has created a real gift for the community!” says a Venice resident, who goes by the name ‘Bliss’, and participates in the hour and a half weekly ride.
“We have LED lights, bikes, skate boards, scooters, roller bladers, onesies, great DJ’s, music, and happy people, flowing together in community, spreading positive energy in the world!” she adds enthusiastically.
Now, one of Gladney’s dreams is to meet James Corden again, this time as a guest on his show. He’s also in pre-production to do a documentary about the ride. And one day he hopes to set up the Electric Light Bike Parade as his legacy to continue and be part of the fabric of the local Venice community for many years to come.
For those who want to participate, look up the time of the Sunday sunset, and show up 45 minutes before at Windward Plaza for the start of the ride. For more info: http://VeniceElectricLightParade.com, and on Facebook or Instagram.
Article originally published in Venice Living Magazine April 2022.