The last Friday of every month brings
out a certain group of people – a “mass” of
bike riders pedaling through the city streets as if there were no cars.
A city without cars is exactly the dream
that many riders of Critical Mass share. A
world-renowned idea in action, Critical Mass is a monthly bike ride to celebrate cycling and assert cyclists’ right to the road.
Participants cleverly identify Critical
Mass as a “worldwide, unorganized coincidence.”
It is important to note that it is not
a centralized organization with leaders and
Critical Mass is simply an established
time and place in major cities worldwide – 6 p.m. at the west side of City Hall for Philadelphians – where cyclists of all backgrounds and ages can come out, meet new people and have a great time on a Friday evening.
Cyclists that take part in Critical Mass
have many reasons to do so. For many, it is
just a social event involving a bike ride.
This is exactly what Mike Geno, a 36-
year-old art teacher at Moore College of Art and Design, experienced during his first Critical Mass event. Expecting a sit-in or a protest, Geno found quite the opposite.
“What I didn’t expect was that it would
be such a fun communal activity,” Geno
Some riders, namely the ones who spend many hours cycling around the city on their own, have deeper convictions for attending Critical Mass. For just a few hours, once a month, urban cyclists take back the streets and show the rest of the city how effective and efficient urban cycling really is and how unnecessary automobiles are in the city.
The notion of safety in numbers is one of the most notable characteristics of Critical Mass.
“The thrill was to experience cycling through Center City with like-minded strangers open to having fun,” Geno said, “and just enjoying a nice bike ride in an area [that is] normally less than safe for bikes.”
Before September’s ride, an advocate of Critical Mass spent an afternoon walking around Temple’s campus, stapling small paper tags near as many bikes as possible to remind the cyclists of Temple to come out for Critical Mass.
This worked for one Temple student, who claimed to have found a new calling in Critical Mass.
“I can’t sing the praises of Critical Mass enough,” said undeclared freshman Brandon Chalmers. “I came out to the ride a bit nervous, expecting a bunch of couriers to blow me out of the water, but I found a bunch of people I already knew and met a lot of really cool people. It’s really incredible to share the feeling I always get riding through the city with 100 other people.
“The Sept. 29 ride was a slightly unusual one because of the route taken. Typically, the ride circles City Hall several times, and then passes through Center City, making quite a scene wherever it goes.
Rittenhouse Square, South Street, Washington Square, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Logan Circle and the Italian Market are all traditional points the ride passes, complete with cheering pedestrians and the occasional frustrated motorist.
However, on this ride, the group headed immediately north. Before making any of the standard Center City passes, the riders were led through the Mantua section of the city, around North 40th Street and Girard Avenue, for more than a half-hour.
After riding through the more deserted section of the city, the group made a triumphant return to the Benj Franklin Parkway and traveled down 19th Street en route to South Philly.
From that point, the ride made many of its usual passes through the crowded Rittenhouse Square area, South Street and Washington Square. Finally, the riders pedaled out to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the more than 100 cyclists in attendance made their ritualistic charge up the steps.
“Years ago, Rocky made his legendary dash up the steps and that’s sort of become a Philadelphia tradition,” said sophomore Doug Schultz, an engineering major. “It’s really fun to sort of adapt that as a tradition for us cyclists at Critical Mass. It’s really quite a sight.”
So keep in mind that while driving in Center City, or anywhere, that the folks riding bikes have just as much a right to the road.
For those already riding a bike through those crowded, unforgiving streets – remember to come out on the last Friday of this month, Oct. 27 at 6 p.m. for Critical Masquerade, the biggest Halloween party around on two wheels.
Julian Root can be reached at email@example.com.