The ‘Taco Trek’ is a Johnson City-born community unity event turned ‘global phenomenon’

Tri-Cities Original

It all started with a few friends on a “Taco Tuesday” night.

“No one was really racing, and no one cared how fast we were going,” Chad Wolfe remembers.

On that Tuesday night back in April 2015, Wolfe, his wife, and 10 friends posed for a quick picture before the ride from the newly-opened Trek Bicycle Store in downtown Johnson City to the nearby Holy Taco Cantina.

(Note: it’s about a block away.)

“I wish there was a better story than this, but I happen to love tacos and beer,” Wolfe said.

Linked by the their love of bikes, tacos, and beer, friends posed for a photo before the April 2015 inaugural “Taco Trek” outside the newly-opened Trek Bicycle Store at 110 W. Market Street, Johnson City. (Photo: Chad Wolfe)

After the casual joy ride through downtown and some nearby neighborhoods, they parked their bikes, enjoyed some tacos and (adult) beverages, and promised the meet again on the first Tuesday of the next month.

Little did they know they’d just completed the inaugural “Taco Trek”, a monthly phenomenon that’s become a signature event for a city that, not long ago, wasn’t known as “bicycle-friendly.”

“We just saw this blank canvas of Johnson City,” Wolfe said. Back in 2015, he’d just move to Johnson City to open the Trek store on West Market Street. It was big news for the city — a national retail store located in a renovated historic building in Johnson City’s struggling downtown.

“When we opened, downtown wasn’t downtown as we know it today,” Wolfe said.

As customers discovered the Trek store, novice cyclists joined the small group of bike-riding taco-loving friends, so the Taco Trek gradually grew in size. Dozens grew to hundreds, and by the end of 2019 more than 680 riders were packing the streets of Johnson City.

What started as a group of 12 grew to a group of almost 700 within just a few years. Here, riders joined at the starting line near King Commons Park next door to Trek Bicycles in downtown Johnson City. (Photo: Chad Wolfe).

“People would come to the Taco Trek ride, and then they would bring five more friends the next time,” Wolfe said. “And then those five friends would bring their families, and that’s what’s ramped the numbers up to what we see today.”

There’s no fee to join. No fancy bikes are required. (“But fancy bikes are cool!” Wolfe said) According to the Trek Store website, the qualifications are straightforward: “Do you own a bike? Do you have a great attitude? Great! You’re in.”

“It’s just about having fun, and there are bikes are involved in it,” Wolfe said.

Trek stores in other states heard about the Taco Trek in Johnson City and launched events of their own. Wolfe says he’s aware of Taco Treks around the country. There’s even one in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia organized by Trek Bicycle Woolloongabba.

The Trek Bike store in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia heard about the event created in Johnson City, Tennessee. This Instagram post invites the public to “warm the soul with some tacos and a spin.” (Source: Chad Wolfe)

“It’s literally a global phenomenon!” Wolfe said, laughing at the thought of it. “It really focuses on what’s fun about riding a bike, and I really think that’s why it’s so successful.”

COVID-19 meant the Taco Trek had to be put on hold in 2020. But loyal fans kept riding, some doing their own “Taco Treks.”

“They would come to the store. And they would ride the trek route because they loved it. And that just shows the buy-in of people.”

On July 6, the Taco Trek returned to downtown Johnson City. More than 334 riders showed up including Trek store manager Chad Wolfe who sees the Trek as an example of a mission accomplished.

“We (he and the Trek store) came to Johnson City because wanted to have an impact on the community, and I feel really proud that the Taco Trek has.”

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Born and raised in the Tri-Cities, Josh Smith has been a member of the WJHL team since 1999. His family roots go deep in the region, and he’s traveled through almost every part of it covering news on local TV since 1995. When he’s not on the job, he’s with his wife, two sons, and daughter.   “They’re the best part of me,” he said.   You may run into them biking on the Tweetsie Trail, hiking around Bays Mountain Lake, or browsing the shelves at the local public libraries.

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