Maybe it's because, at the age of 39, the Moonlight Ramble is creeping up on a midlife crisis. Whatever the reason, this year's Ramble -- an annual midnight bicycling event that benefits the local chapter of Hostelling International and has become a real St. Louis tradition -- is receiving more than a few face-lifts, upping its hip quotient and shaping up to be a most kick-ass bike ride.
To begin with, the starting line will run amok with magicians and musicians -- most notably, local alt-country darlings the Rockhouse Ramblers, whose name is but a happy coincidence and whose honky-tonk vibes should get the crowd riled-up and ready. "Magic" is also the theme of this year's costume contest, says Ramble coordinator Mark Cockson, and he's hoping for a get-up that'll outdo last year's winner, the "Biking Viking." "She was dressed like Broom Hilda, with the big horns coming out of her bike helmet and everything," Cockson laughs. "She had me cracking up."
Cockson is also bringing back last year's new addition to the event, the three Moon Cups. A "huge, huge trophy" will be bestowed upon each group of riders that produces the best turnout from an individual corporation, a government office and a recreational organization (such as a church or even a family). "We're pretty loose about that recreational category," says Cockson. "If you really want to go home with a trophy that night, that may be your best shot." (And if you're anything like Cockson, you really, really do want to go home with one of those trophies. Cockson: "When I think of Moon Cups, my mind goes wild.")
But changes this year aren't all about fun and games. The accompanying children's bicycle rodeo, sponsored by the local group Safety on Wheels, will instruct kids in bicycle and bike-helmet safety and will even give some helmets away. Plus, special efforts are being made to help riders with mechanical support, as a handful of local bike stores are providing on-site repairs. "People get so bummed when their bikes break down in the middle of the ride," says Cockson. "Our goal this year is to fix those damn bikes lickety-split and get them back in the Ramble." That'll also get them to the finish line that much quicker, where a continental breakfast of St. Louis Bread Company goodies awaits, as does free admission to the after-Ramble party at the City Museum.
This year's ride begins at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, August 17 (or, as most of us would call it, midnight on Saturday) downtown at 1315 Chestnut Street in front of Soldiers' Memorial. As always, the Ramble's route remains a secret until that night, but bank on biking between ten and twenty novice-friendly miles whilst in the company of 10,000-plus night cyclists. Registration costs $20 per person when purchased before the event (an extra $5 buys you admission that night) and can be secured online at www.moonlightramble.com. In person, visit the Hostelling International office at 1021 South Big Bend Boulevard (314-644-4660) or numerous bicycle shops around the region (the Web site lists which ones). Helmets are required for all riders, or they can prepare to face the wrath of St. Louis' finest.