Saturday, September 25, 2010

Critical Mass: September 24, 2010

If you're going to be an Ea-pea, you've got to ride a bicycle; it's that simple. But even if you aren't an ea-pea, you should still ride a bicycle because it runs on fat and saves you money, as opposed to a car that runs on money and makes you fat.

The problem is that for many would-be-heroes, the streets can be a scary place. While I welcome the traffic whizzing by me dangerously close, because I get to thumb my nose at the drivers and look smug when they have to stop during traffic jams, and I pass on by them again, I realize that not all people are as keen as me on the idea of being a road warrior for awesomeness. Thankfully then, there is an event called Critical Mass in Halifax that runs on the last Friday of every month (and indeed in over 300 other cities around the world).

Critical Mass is essentially a semi-organized ride that celebrates being the most powerful force on the road, as it provides strength in numbers for two-wheeled obesity fighters. While the idea and concept of mass rides originated in the late seventies in Sweden (of course), it was not until 1992 in San Franscisco that the spectacle became a regular event.

While Critical Mass bicycle tours are often described as "protests" in the media, the participants themselves describe it as a "celebration of cycling," and this gets them around the sticky legal requirement of giving police advanced notice of an planned protest.

What generally happens at a Critical Mass style event is that any cyclist who wishes to join meets up at a pre-arranged meeting place and the course for the ride is determined by whoever is in front at any particular moment. When it comes to intersections, one or two riders will stop their bicycles and block or "cork" the oncoming traffic until all of the other cyclists have made it through. The rest of the cyclists ring their bells or cheer at the pitiful drivers who feel terrorized by the cyclists for a change (my words and feeling, not necessarily the official position of the organizers).

On September 24 I made my first ride in a Critical Mass event, and I must say that it was brilliant. While I didn't know anyone at first, I made a number of acquaintances along the ride and enjoyed for the first time being able to ride where I pleased without having to constantly look over my shoulder for oncoming murderers... I mean drivers.

I will make it a regular part of my routine to ride in every Critical Mass event that I can until I leave Halifax. To paraphrase Bill Nye: there's something wrong with a society that drives a car to the gym to ride a stationary bicycle. Furthermore, commuting to work in a car increases your nation's dependency on oil (mostly "foreign"), which in turn drives the demand for American "wars on terror", not to mention fuelling extremist fundamentalist terrorism. I don't have any facts for that, but I'm pretty sure it's true. In any event, it's best to be safe rather than sorry. Therefore I say to you, stop supporting terrorism; ride a bicycle.

(The unofficial organizer addresses the crowd of cyclists at Victoria Park underneath the Robbie Burns statue, before the big ride. This month's ride was in honour of a cyclist who was killed when he was hit by a transport truck attempting to pass on the highway.)

(The best scene in Halifax: dozens of cyclists blocking traffic.)

(Happy cyclist on Spring Garden Road. No, it's not me.)

(Where do you stop when you're a cyclist? If you have 60 friends, you stop wherever you want. Take that car drivers!)

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