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Promoting the bicycling lifestyle in The Buckeye State
I attended my first-ever Critical Mass ride last night. I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Critical Mass concept. Like many cyclists who ride sometimes for recreation and sometimes for utility, I agree with the message behind the event, but question if this is the best way to deliver the message. But whatever my feelings, I figured that as one who promotes the bicycling lifestyle, I should check it out for myself. At the very least, I saw it as a good excuse for a few dozen (or a few hundred) people to get together in the city to have a good time, and nobody can argue against the idea that Cleveland can use more of that.
My girlfriend and I loaded our bikes on the car (yes, probably antithetical to the spirit of the event) and drove to the Tremont neighborhood, the eventual ending point of the ride. We made the 15-minute spin over to downtown and Public Square, just in time to say a few hellos and get started at 6:30pm sharp.
The Halloween Critical Mass ride in every city tends to bring out a large crowd, and Cleveland was no exception. The variety of costumes being sported was second only to the variety of bicycles. Some of my favorites were a woman dressed as Fay Wray, complete with a giant King Kong hairy hand wrapped around her body, a guy on a tallbike dressed as a masked wrestler, a Supergirl and a Wonder Woman, a stuffed dinosaur, and two guys as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, who battled with their light sabres as we rolled through the streets.
Unlike the the Critical Mass rides in certain other cities, the Cleveland ride has a reputation for maintaining the peaceful nature of its demonstration. The police were present at various points throughout the route as we pedaled east along the Euclid Corridor through the Cleveland State University campus, back past Progressive Field and through Public Square again, through the Warehouse District, then over the Detroit Superior Bridge into Ohio City, then eventually to Tremont. It was not apparent whether the police were present specifically to monitor the event, or we just saw them as they were making their regular rounds around town. At a couple of intersections, they even helped direct traffic for us to help us to keep our whole group together.
We did get a fair number of honks in protest from the drivers that were being held up at intersections, but got just as many (if not more) honks of support from other drivers.
It was a fun and unique experience for my girlfriend; her most memorable comment was, “I was just called a freak for the first time in my life.” At the end of the ride, we enjoyed a pizza and a beer at Edison’s pub.
As I’ve reflected on the event afterwards, I still have my mixed feelings about it, but also have a little more respect for it as a valid form of peaceful protest. Among the diverse crowd, there were many who, like myself, were just there to have a good time. However, I became more aware that many of them live the bicycling lifestyle not because they feel it’s the best choice they have, but because it’s the only choice they have. I have a renewed appreciation for somebody who demonstrates to defend their lifestyle when the only choice they have is their lifestyle or no lifestyle.
There’s a saying that’s becoming more and more popular in all advocacy circles lately, “The world is run by those who show up.” Critical Mass is a reminder to the rest of the world that when necessary, we have a lot of people who are willing to show up.
See clevelandcriticalmass.com for the movement’s own words.