Eric Channing Brewer considers himself an impulsive guy. It was that very quality — that impulsivity of his — that led him to walk into a bike shop and buy a bicycle during his senior year of college and then, three decades later in 2009, create the Tweed Ride, now a November tradition in DC.
It was a perfect storm, really, that led District residents to grasp hold of Brewer’s idea of dressing up and jumping on bikes just to ride around the city. There was no agenda — it wasn’t a gala event or a fundraising function, nor was there a fee. The concept is dead simple: dress up and ride.
As the Tweed Ride gets ready to celebrate its 12th year this Sunday, November 7 (with a rain date on November 14), Brewer remembers that first year, when the world was still new to social media-pushed events; his idea for the ride, he says, went viral simply by word of mouth. Hundreds of riders showed up — by some estimates, as many as 400 people.
The time was right for his concept, Brewer believes, as fashion collided with cycling — both becoming more popular in DC at the time. Brewer says the anti-fashion ’90s were long over, and the lock that hip-hop had on culture and fashion was beginning to fade; grunge, too, was losing its appeal. “Millennials didn’t necessarily want to look like their uncles or older siblings; they wanted to self identify, you know, in a different way. So that really was a part of, I think, the popularity of how the Tweed Ride was embraced. Because you had this generation that was just like, ‘Oh, yeah, I want to look sharp and I want to look put together.” It was the birth of the menswear movement, Brewer, now 53, says.
Brewer, who had never really been a fashion guy, had come across some photos of London’s brand-new Tweed Run, which had taken place for the first time a few months earlier, in February 2009. A former pro-cyclist, “I was never one to really get dressed up,” says Brewer. But “the images of the folks all dandied up in the UK really struck a chord with me.” There was something about the aesthetic, he says: “Particularly the aesthetic of looking put together, but not looking like you couldn’t kneel in the grass.”
Brewer showed the photos to a friend and, on an impulse, recalls telling him, “This is something we should do in DC.” A few weeks later, that friend asked him how the planning for the Tweed Ride was going, because he had at least 12 people ready to ride. When the City Paper and the Washington Post heard the mumblings about the event and called him up for details, Brewer says, he began to “scramble” to organize a ride he hadn’t really planned for.
At the time, Brewer’s interest in fashion had just started taking root. He was beginning to understand clothes really do make the man. His interest had roots that went well beyond basic image. “It was very easy to sort of disappear and be marginalized in a gentrifying city as an African-American man,” says Brewer. “I was determined to not be sort of displaced culturally.” Dressing up, he determined a way to “remain relevant,” be “noticed,” not be “perceived to have less value,” not be “somebody who was run from” — and to be heard, because “to be ignored is tragic, and traumatizing, actually. I had decided that that was not going to be my story.” Getting dressed up “became like my business card,” says Brewer. “And people would ask me who I was and what I did, simply because of the way I got dressed.”
It was also important to Brewer to make a statement about what DC is and the people who make up the city he called home. Born and raised in Gaithersburg, Md., Brewer had lived in the District since 2001. “DC may be accused of not having birthed anything super-significant culturally, outside of maybe Go-Go music [and the Gin Rickey],” but, Brewer says, real people live here. And, as the clamor for DC statehood grows louder, Brewer’s ride is a showcase that exemplifies that fact. “People come here and they live. They live lives and they have interests and collectively, they create an environment that you could be hard pressed to find anywhere else,” says Brewer. In fact, while other cities in the US have tried to imitate DC’s Tweed Ride, including New York, Miami, Boulder, San Francisco (and outside the US, Sweden), according to Brewer, their events have paled compared to DC’s. “You don’t find any photos of any that show the numbers and enthusiasm that occurs in DC. And that says something.” Nor do you find the diversity. “The ride brings different people together [with a] willingness to share the same space and contribute to the same vibe.” The riders, too, keep coming back. Over the course of a decade-plus, Brewer has watched couples meet, marry, and bring growing families to the ride.
In fact, so popular was the original ride that its spring-time cousin — or really its Irish twin — was conceived immediately. In the “afterglow” of that first ride, during the unofficial afterparty, Brewer and his friends birthed The Sear Sucker Ride, which debuted the following spring. After each event, the bike party continues into the night with organized after-ride parties. Each year they are held at a different location.
Next (bike)-path for Brewer
While Brewer was burned out on a life of competitive cycling that consumed him for a good decade, riding wasn’t something he was ever going to give up. He wanted to further develop his “riding to involve a community and communal aspect that I had found and helped create.” And, so he and his wife launched Bluemount Connection, a touring event company that smacks of camaraderie, says Brewer of the once-a-month cycling tours they lead throughout the DC area. Their new endeavor has had “a huge impact on how people in DC see cycling and adventure,” says Brewer, whose main focus is riding gravel roads. His favorites are in Loudon County, Va., where, he says, there are hundreds of gravel roads to be ridden. “People go out and explore these 300 gravel roads that I can’t live without. And, then they come back to the city and they feel revived.”
Eric’s favorite rides in the DC-area
Rock Creek: Potomac – Georgetown
“The reason I never moved to New York,” says Brewer.
Loudoun County Gravel Roads
“All of them. No really, all 300 of them,” says Brewer.
Maryland Eastern Shore: Cambridge – Easton
“Flat, but fun.”
Lost River (or Shepherdstown), W.V.
“Not as remote as one might think,” says Brewer.
C&O Canal Towpath
“Leave from Georgetown, bike to Great Falls then back on gravel and car free.”
Need to put together an outfit for the Tweed Ride? Try the Bespoke Not Broke vintage clothing store at 7042 Carroll Avenue in Takoma Park.
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