In most towns, the words “Bicycle Festival” would mean some kind of green-friendly homage to the pollution-free mode of transportation. There would be workshops on bike repair and seminars on how to select the right bike for you and proper helmet fit.
Not in Abita Springs. The eclectic little town in the heart of St. Tammany Parish has put its own spin on a lot of things. Art, for one. Mardi Gras, for another. Even beer. “Bicycle Festival” here means a ragtag gathering of aficionados, collectors, artists and the curious, who show up for an early morning parts swap meet and flea market, then hang around for the “spontaneous” midday bike ride through town. It’s the parade no one will call a parade, a loose meander that will make onlookers do a double take for the crazy-quilt variety of bicycles rolling by.
There are art bikes, vintage bikes, custom wackadoodle bikes with multiple frames and handlebars, unicycles, recumbents and trikes. Their owners are of every age, some costumed, with little obviously in common but the interest in bicycles and the spirit of fun surrounding the event.
It’s what you’d expect from the eccentric impresario behind the town’s Abita Mystery House, John Preble, who’s also founder of the Bicycle Festival and who can usually be seen leading its bike ride. Preble founded the festival in 2000, and in 2020 handed the reins to Patrick Brooks, owner of Brooks' Bicycle Shops in Covington, Mandeville and Slidell, who moved it out of its home on the Saturday before Father's Day to the cool of fall and the long weekend after Thanksgiving. The festival continues to draw more than 500 participants and visitors each year, some traveling from out of state to join in the free-form frivolity.