It’s unlikely that if you have ever driven by 9th and 9th on a Thursday night you haven’t noticed an assortment of bicycles. Similar to what you’d see at a dog park, you will find bikes and their owners from every spectrum of the community. Heavy duty mountain bikes, racing bikes with colorful LEDs, even vintage Wheelies that look like they belong more in an art museum than in a bike stand lining the area starting at 9 p.m. every Thursday.
The 999, more commonly known as “The Nine,” is an all inclusive bike ride that traverses the moonlit streets of Salt Lake City. It welcomes people from every skill level, to the point that they follow a “no-drop” rule, which means they go no faster than the slowest biker. Like many of my college friends, I look forward to Thursday nights when bicycles reclaim the roads and my commute to school becomes a kind of playground, forcing automobile traffic to yield.
“I bet it was just two guys drinking on their porch one summer night who came up with the idea, or some biker junkie with piercings that started the ride,” some participants theorize. The truth behind the story is that it started with a man named Naresh Kumar. Kumar is 33, handsome, tall, slender, with dark brown hair in a bun and warm brown eyes. He has a degree in bioengineering and chuckles when I tell him how some people believe “The Nine” started. Five years later, Kumar is happy there is still a mystery behind the origin story of the nine because he started the event with the intent of making it leaderless, where the people riding were in control.
The cruiser ride in Boulder, CO inspired Kumar to try to start something similar in SLC. Kumar didn’t have much riding experience before he started The Nine. In fact, he remembers that he had to go to his mom’s house and dig through the garage to find the rusty bike that he’d used as a teenager. Kumar and his good friend Skylar then began to meet every Thursday on the corner of 9th and 9th at 9 p.m. and the two would set off. Slowly the word spread and the two-man team grew into what it is today, with nearly 200 people some nights.
Originally called “An Evening in the City with Naresh,” the popularity of the location and time quickly caught on and the name 999 stuck. In the winter months the numbers of bikers wane, but there are still people who are willing to brave the weather all 52 weeks of the year.
Each person creates their own meaning as to why they ride The Nine, using it as a way to socialize, exercise, or even to protest our current air pollution. T.R., suited up in a retro purple and green ski onesie to brave the 32 degree weather, leans on his bike and says, “this is my time. My wife knows that Thursday nights is when I get to socialize and get out the funk of routines.”
Kumar hopes to create an environment that brings people of all ages together; a place without the daily distractions of phones and media that often keep us less connected, and hopes that this event is one way to make our community more welcoming. Kumar compares the ride to having a child: you set guidelines, hope that people listen to them, and cross your fingers that the original idea doesn’t stray too far from the core values. So far, that’s what has happened. Despite there being an emphasis on making the event leaderless, there are “administrators,” which are some of the original members that model bike etiquette and help up a rider who might have taken a spill on the TRAX lines.
Photos by Conner Ashton, firstname.lastname@example.org.