Every Friday is reason enough to celebrate, but the last Friday of every month something called a Critical Mass happens in a few major cities across the world. Prior to my first ride, I had no idea what a critical mass was, but thought it sounded rather threatening and/or uncomfortable. It reminded me of a hospital or something and I had no desire to attend, but a few of my friends dragged me out, and I’m really sure glad they did.
A critical mass is more like a parade of sorts and celebrates the bicyclists right to the road; I know how unfriendly the city is for bicyclists after all the urban rides that I’ve been on, but a critical mass is something entirely different. It’s a pro-bike celebration!
There must have been two or three hundred bicyclists gathered around Leu Gardens in downtown Orlando, and never before had I seen so many young hipsters on road bikes with skinny jeans and even skinner tires. Where did all of these people live? I’m pretty sure that I was the only one wearing a helmet, so I stuck out like the newbie that I was.
The ride took off during dinnertime down Orange Avenue, which is the main drag in town; it was like a rush hour on bicycles!
I started about mid-pack, and, when a streetlight turned red, a few bikers “corked” the traffic while the herd pedaled on. Cars honked and people looked furious for a Friday eve, but there was really nothing they could do, right? They couldn’t just run over the bicyclists? I couldn’t believe my eyes. My gut feeling told me that something just wasn’t right as the Critical Massers continued to wheel around in circles until the long line cleared the intersection or the light turned green.
“If you’re going to stop traffic, get a police escort,” one guy yelled from his huge, over-sized pickup truck. “This is ridiculous!” he said.
“One less car!” my buddy yelled and I noticed a few of the drivers smiled and waved; at least, there were a few happy witnesses. We even picked up a few bicyclists along the way and invited them to join our parade.
As the pace crept along, I shot to the front of the line of mostly grunge-type males with tattoos and piercings, tight jeans, Converse and fixie bikes. There were beach cruisers, BMX bikes, fold-ups, laid-backs and all sorts of bicycles, but once again, I was the only one wearing full gear: a jersey, clip shoes, helmet and gloves, although I did receive a compliment from a cute roadie. “Nice spandex!” he grinned at me. “I have some on under my jeans; don’t let it fool you.”
I stayed with him and watched a few of the line-leaders grab onto the back of a tow-truck. The driver started freaking out when they wouldn’t let go; it was hilarious, and entirely illegal.
Even though I barely broke a sweat, I was intrigued by this sub-culture of people who I have never seen before out and about, and how every one of them seemed to know each other. Once the sun started to set and the line was breaking apart, someone yelled, “Tighten up! We got bigger holes than Bill’s ears!”
We ended at a vegetarian bar, where most of them ordered organic beer and such. It ended way better than this critical mass ride in NYC, where the bicyclist was beaten by a police officer. It was all I could think about on my ride home. There’s got to be a better way to promote bicycling as an alternative form of transportation. We really weren’t advocating anything except the fact that there were too many bicycles to arrest us all. I know the saying goes, “We’re not blocking traffic. We are traffic,” but I had mixed feelings about Critical Mass, and I’m still on the fence. Be a leader, not a follower!