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Lighted Bike Parade AKA Critical Christmas Monterey, an Annual Event

Annual Critical Christmas Monterey /

Lighted Bike Parade

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Note: Rain cancels event.

Bicycling Magazine knows where some great holiday rides are in the USA. And yes, one is Critical Christmas Monterey—also referred to, since 2014, as the Lighted Bike Parade.

Many of the tips below remain relevant.
For updated info, refer to the event’s Facebook page.
Gather by 5:45 p.m. Ride rolls out at 6:00 p.m., and the group usually finishes riding by 7 p.m. Planned route is Custom House Plaza to Monterey Bay Aquarium and back. Side trip to Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row. Option to downtown Monterey. Battery powered lights highly recommended.
Start and Finish at Custom House Plaza, Monterey

Which plaza is that? See “Where the Plazas Are…”

Review CA bike laws, prep your lights, and come ride with new and old friends!
All ages, locals and visitors, are welcome to participate in this annual holiday celebration.  Be a good ambassador for bicycling as you demonstrate safe riding practices and having a blast on a bike.
Cali bike laws and riding skills/personal safety tips: bike lights and reflectors, and more
Bike lights and reflectors
  • Reflectors: See a summary of equipment required by California law in Bike law summary – Spanish and English.
  • Front light is required by CA law. If you don’t own one, see “Biking in the Dark” for tips on purchasing one locally or rigging up a low-cost option. 
  • Rear reflector (but not a rear light) is required by CA law. However, a rear light is highly recommended, for safety. Note that CA law may be changed in the future to require a rear light. Check for any legislative updates about equipping your bike:

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    This annual holiday season ride was organized through 2019 by Jim Wrona, who was a member of Velo Club Monterey, a fun group of riders and bike advocates.  On December 6, 2020 Jim announced: “Due to Covid restrictions, the December 20, 2020 Critical Christmas Bicycle Ride is cancelled.” Jim also advised us that he had moved, and that a new organizer would be taking the reins for this event in 2021. Indeed a community volunteer stepped up, and the ride happened again December 19, 2021 and December 18, 2022.

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    The information below has not been updated for 2021-2023.

  1. Options for all ages/abilities: Event organizer Jim Wrona reminds participants that there is no pressure on any individual or family to bike beyond the Custom House Plaza and the coastal bike/multi-use trail.  Some people, especially those with children pedaling their own wheels, may prefer to drop out if other people bike on the streets.
  2. Sidewalk riding varies around the state and within the county too. In the City of Monterey, it’s been legal except where posted, including not legal on Alvarado Street and Calle Principal. See “Local ordinances on sidewalk riding and more: Monterey County cities and unincorporated areas.” Learn more about sidewalk riding in a 90-second audio and related text; see “Bicycling on sidewalks: Misconceptions and advisories.”
  3. Biking is allowed on both Wharf II/Commercial Wharf and the Coast Guard pier.
  4. A City of Monterey ordinance has in the past prohibited bike riding on Wharf I/Old Fisherman’s Wharf.  It makes sense many people missed seeing that “no biking” sign posted above eye-level at the top of Wharf I (as with many signs, it was posted high to prevent vandalism). The sign was down when last checked (7/16/15 and 10/16/17). That means you can now ride your bike on Wharf I. However, please exercise the usual courtesies for sidewalk riding, including biking slowly and yielding to pedestrians, giving a friendly audible signal if overtaking and passing a pedestrian, and so on.
  5. “Same roads, same rules, same rights.”  Unless you are part of a calvacade/procession that is formally excused (by the presence of a directing police officer) from obeying traffic lights and stop signs, California traffic laws apply.
  6. Cruising with tunes? Remember to keep one ear bud out–because it’s the law, and because it makes you and those around you safer in a group ride situation. 
  7. Refer to one or more of the following to prepare for this ride:
For info on decorating your bike, see Jim Wrona’s tips below, and contact Jim with questions.  Of course, avoid decorations that could get caught in spokes or otherwise cause injury to you or others.

Photo contributed by Jan Valencia, Velo Club Monterey’s Answer Man

Spotted in downtown Monterey, these two would be all set for the Critical Christmas ride!

Critical Christmas Monterey

by Jim Wrona

Lighted Bike Parade / Critical Christmas is free. If the fountain still existed at Custom
House Plaza, we would begin the event with hot laps around the fountain, but with no fountain, we will resort to a different form of frivolity.

Expect a trip on the recreational trail to Cannery Row and back, and possible side trips thrown in to enhance the holiday spirit.

Critical Christmas Monterey is very loosely patterned after, and an amalgam of, Critical Mass plus that goofy event they do in Ukiah where truck drivers decorate their 18-wheelers and parade through town. Critical Christmas is intended to get adults and kids out for a leisurely, fun, and goofy bicycle ride, although not necessarily in that order.

One goal of our local Critical Christmas is to ride either the worst bicycle you can get your hands on, or a classic bicycle (Schwinn StingRay’s are highest on the pecking order), decorate it with as much Christmas stuff (also known in popular culture as “bling”) as you can duct tape in place [Gaffer’s tape / gaffe tape used for temporary repairs is recommended, as regular duct tape can damage your bike’s paint], and ride and sing your way through Monterey. The Critical Christmas motto is “More of Everything,” which pretty much sums how much wattage you should be considering when buying those battery powered LEDs. This is, after all, Critical Christmas, where it’s not the bicycle but the decorations taped to the bicycle that really count. (Caveat: anyone sporting a racing bicycle will be made fun of relentlessly.)

The event starts at Custom House Plaza at 5:30 or 5:45 p.m. for the ceremonial decorating of the bicycles (bring lots of tape and batteries, please). We will roll out at 6:00 p.m. in some random direction. We usually finish riding in less than an hour.

Dress for the weather. Rain cancels. Food and libations follow at a local establishment [Dutch treat]. Critical Christmas is free, however complimentary pints of post-ride beer will be accepted by the organizer, Jim Wrona. Contact Jim via Facebook event page if you have any questions.* * *

History of Critical Christmas Monterey

How long has this annual event been going? Jim Wrona commented on his Facebook event page that 2014 will be the 15th annual. And the Monterey County Weekly likewise acknowledged the longevity of this event in their 2004 story.

Check out the fun via Dennis Taylor’s 12/21/14 report in the Monterey County Herald.

Read the Monterey County Herald’s 2011 story (12/19/11) by Kevin Howe, “Light on Wheels:  Cyclists maintain unofficial bike parade tradition.”  (Update from organizer Jim Wrona: A total of about 75 participants turned out for Critical Christmas 2011, Jim’s count taken on the return trip from Cannery Row.)

As Howe’s story noted, Girl Scouts [of the Central Coast/Northern Region] were represented by at least one troop leader and a cadette.  Curious to learn more about Critical Christmas 2011 participants?   Read 13-year-old Rebecca and 11-year-old Justine Warwick’s story, “Campfires and flat tires:  The Warwick sisters on keeping up with Dad.”

Two days after Critical Christmas 2011, Salinas High Cowboy Racing’s Jim Warwick–coach of the first organized public high school mountain biking team in Monterey County–and his daughters returned to the same spot to share with friends the pleasures of the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail and other bikeways by daylight.  Below they are at the Custom House Plaza on the morning of December 20–a bright, beautiful morning and early afternoon that brought out a lot of people on bikes; click here for a gallery of others out biking Monterey on 12/20!

For photos by David Royal from the December 22, 2019 ride, go to:

ARCHIVED: Dec 8, 2013 – Critical Christmas Practice Ride

by Jim Wrona

The Monterey Lighted Boat Parade is Sunday, December 8 at 5:30 PM. Let’s have a Critical Christmas practice ride and join the boats. Meet at Custom House Plaza [gather approx 5:15-5:30] for a planned departure of 5:30 PM. [Note this is an earlier departure time than on December 22.]

Bling up your bikes and kids and dogs. Yes, the real Critical Christmas will still take place on December 22, weather permitting. The December 8 ride is a “practice.” Local TV media are expected to be there. Should be fun if the weather holds.  Rain will cancel this practice session.

Monterey’s annual lighted boat parade will take place Sunday Dec 8th, beginning @ 5:30.
The only West Coast parade that leaves protected waters. Boats will leave Monterey’s harbor at 5:30 sharp and proceed along Cannery Row to the Aquarium and turn back along Cannery Row to the judges. The judges will be on the balcony at Massaro and Santos restaurant located at the Coast Guard Pier.  The boats will then parade by the end of Wharfs I and II.
Prime viewing spots will be by the judges’ location and at the end of the wharfs. The “Taste of Monterey” will be staying open late for the parade and should offer spectacular viewing, along with all the other great waterfront establishments along Cannery Row.
Interested bicyclists are encouraged to decorate their pedal power and “ride-the-rec-trail” at the same time.” A truly unique event!

  •  Looking for more group rides? For starters, check Bicycling Monterey’s Master Calendar.
  • For more winter holiday tips–including about free Bike-and-Ride option to First Night Monterey, click here.

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This post has been partially updated from the 2010-2017 editions.

This post was published on 3 December 2018. One or more changes last made to this post on 26 December 2022.

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