Only helmets, headlights and rear reflectors are the required gear for participants in one of downtown Knoxville’s most popular and creative holiday traditions. Everything else is up to your imagination.


More than 1,000 people on bicycles will don strands of lights, Santa hats, elf ears, reindeer antlers, noisemakers and other inventive decorations in the 10th annual Tour de Lights bike parade on Friday, Dec. 16.


“It’s like a Mardi Gras of Christmas,” says longtime participant Ken Daniel – with no qualms about mixing holiday references. He dressed as Santa Claus in 2015, but the jolly old soul’s outfit was barely a match for temperatures that hovered around freezing. The chill didn’t deter upwards of 1,000 people of all ages and skill levels from riding —and neighbors along the route from cheering them on.


“People of all ages and bicycling experience turn out; it’s not a race,” says Kelley Segars, manager of the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission’s I Bike KNX regional bicycle program. “The pace is slow, so everyone can ride together.”


Festivities begin in Market Square at 6 p.m. with a photo booth, bike safety checks and judging for the costume and decorating contest. At 7 p.m., the parade of bicyclists departs Market Square for a five-mile loop through the downtown, Fourth and Gill and Old North Knoxville neighborhoods.


Motorists, anticipate street closures during the ride. At the end of the parade in Market Square, Mast General Store and Three Rivers Market will provide hot cocoa and cookies for participants, and awards will be presented around 8:15 p.m. in the following categories: Best Costume (Adult and Child); Best Bicycle and/or Trailer; Best Helmet; Best Group with Theme; and Best All Around.


All ages and skill levels are welcome. For more information – and links to previous years’ photos – visit Tag your Tour de Lights tweets with #christmasinthecity and @KnoxvilleCity on Instagram!