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Culture

Undead Cyclists Storm Key West for the Zombie Bike Ride

An estimated 8,000 zombies invaded Key West the night of Oct. 20, pedaling on bicycles across the Cow Key Bridge and muttering about brains. But the takeover was not unexpected and had a police escort.

It was the annual Zombie Bike Ride, an unofficial precursor to Fantasy Fest, Key West's biggest and bawdiest festival.

The first ride was held three years ago, with participation from about 300 undead. It marked a change: It was a mostly locals-only event, not done to put tourists' heads in beds, but because it was just good, stupid fun. 

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Credit Mark Hedden
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Key West residents take up flesh eating.

Since then, like most zombie-related , it has taken on a life of its own.

"It's like the town celebrates. It's crazy," said Key West cultural impresario Marky Pierson. He created the event with the owners of local bike store We Cycle.

"It's pretty much free," Pierson said. "We like to sell shirts and get people registered, but it's just a big, gigantic fun party on bikes. ... You know, it's a bike town." 

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Credit Mark Hedden
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Undead in the Conch Republic

During the peak of Fantasy Fest, the island typically gains about 15,000 visitors, and the Key West Police Department sends out a press release reminding everyone that body paint does not count as clothing.

The festival's zenith was this past weekend. During the Zombie Bike Ride a week prior, Pierson counted about 4,500 riders.

"Nice work, zombies," he said as they cycled past him. "You look gorgeous."

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Credit Mark Hedden
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Although Key West has made a name in debauchery, the Zombie Bike Ride sees child participants.