Andrew McFarland

Pedal Pusher

In the fall of 2009 I wrote a weekly blog for BU Today, Boston University’s news and information site, about biking in Boston. The following’s a piece I wrote about Critical Mass, a monthly group bike ride. You can find the rest in this series here

Wheel to wheel in a crowd 100 bikes deep.

Couples roll by on pink and green tandem bicycles.

A man with a boombox balanced on his back tire weaves through the group.

A driver leans into his car horn, but none of the bikers bats an eye, even though it’s rush hour on a Friday evening.

The horn moans again.

A chorus of bell rings chirps in response.

A voice calls out, “Whose streets?”

A multitude responds, “Our streets!”

This is the beauty of Critical Mass, an event that sadly comes only once a month. In the security of numbers, bikers come together to enjoy the streets of Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline.

Critical Mass is a whimsical way to jumpstart the weekend, and a worldwide effort to reclaim streets from gas-guzzling cars. As petroleum reserves dwindle and the clean energy debate continues, Critical Mass bikers act as a reminder that cyclists are not only sustainable and practical, but a powerful social force.

“Bikes are vehicles, too!” is a common reply given to automobilists impatient with the crowd on two wheels.

There are hundreds of Critical Mass rides happening on the final Friday of the month; a Facebook search turns up more than 500 locales, from Vancouver to Istanbul to Putrajaya in Malaysia. Yet the events are not organized by any central authority. Each group is completely independent — my roommate once described it as an anarchist parade on wheels. There is no appointed leader or itinerary. Group decisions and whimsy dictate every twist and turn.

Beyond social activism, the gathering is an excellent opportunity to celebrate the end of another month with some interesting characters. If you have questions about how to fix your bike or simply want to meet some fellow bikers, this is the event for you. And there is nothing quite as refreshing as being able to ride down the middle of Boylston or Mass. Ave. without worrying about being run over by a car.

The next Critical Mass ride will be on October 30 — Halloween garb surely will be welcome. Rides officially leave at 5:30 p.m. (more like 6) from the plaza in front of Trinity Church in Copley Square.

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