Bike Filmmaker Joe Biel on Miami's Critical Mass: "It's the Biggest Monthly Ride in the World"
All photos by Hannah Sentenac
As home to the nation's largest Critical Mass turnout (and given recent police attention to the monthly two-wheeled trek), it seems pretty clear that Miami's cycling culture is headed toward a tipping point. Bike advocates are working for widespread awareness and major changes citywide -- and people in other places are paying attention.
One of those people is Joe Biel, a cycling filmmaker out of Portland who created the documentary Aftermass: Bicycling in a Post-Critical Mass Portland. Biel and team rolled into Wynwood's Gramps last night for Dinner & Bikes, an evening of activism and eating. They talked to Cultist about the major changes happening nationwide -- and how Miami has its own unique niche in cycling culture.
Joe Biel, Elly Blue, and Joshua Ploeg are the trio behind Dinner & Bikes, an annual tour that hops from city to city serving up film screenings and vegan meals. This year they did a five week tour of the Northeast before heading to Miami; next, they'll host a finale in Tampa.
"The bicycle movement is huge. I would have said that last year people were really interested in bicycles, but this year we're finding that people are really informed and really educated in bicycle issues," says Blue of her experience on the road. "Our work in past years has been more like, 'Hey, here's why and how to build this kind of movement.' This year it's like, 'We're here to inspire you to take it to the next level because you're already doing amazing work."
From what they're seeing around the country, a lot of cities are really starting to build a bike infrastructure, she adds.
When asked about Critical Mass and concern about potentially unruly bikers, Blue points the question back to the bigger picture -- unruly drivers. The issues with cyclists causing problems during Critical Mass are generally far fewer, she says.
Crowds at Miami's Critical Mass in 2013.
Michael E. Miller
"It's democracy, it's messy. You're going to have that one drunk person and all the news cameras are going to go to that one drunk person," she says of Critical Mass. "I feel like part of it is PR, part of it is just learning how to manage the story. But another part of it is really to have the confidence that this kind of action and civic participation is productive."
"It's the rule of the 1%. If you have a state fair, like 1% of attendees will act inappropriately. It applies to anything," adds Biel on the issue.
Biel has been following Miami's bike scene story for years, particularly the estimated participation numbers for Critical Mass. "It's unbelievable. It's the biggest monthly ride in the world," he says.
Miami's ride garners as many as 4,000 riders. In contrast, Chicago is proud to say they have 600 to 800, Biel says.
The fact that Miami's bike advocacy organizations work in cooperation with Critical Mass is also an anomaly, he adds. These concepts often clash in other cities.
"All those in tandem I think will really propel you," he adds. When he started making his film, he was surprised by what was happening in South Florida. "I would have never thought Miami would be the epicenter of all this stuff, but it really was happening here on every level."
Eric Madrid, champion of Miami's cycling scene via Magic City Bicycle Collective and Miami Bike Polo, was the one who urged Dinner & Bikes to come the 305.
"We need a lot of outside perspectives in our baby bike scene," he laughs.
"I guess the biggest thing is for the city to realize that biking isn't just something people do for fun or to be annoying to car drivers," explains Madrid. "That it actually helps the entire city overall. [In] a city that has so many traffic problems, you'd think they understand that more cyclists and having friendlier roads for cyclists would help with these problems. Twenty people on their bikes doesn't take up a lot of space, but 20 cars is traffic."
Miami has a long way to go, but it's clear that cycling proponents have their wheels down on the right road.
"One of the films in this screening talks about how Portland, being one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the U.S, took about 30 years to get to where they are now," Madrid adds. "And we're just in our infancy, really, as far as pushing the city to be bicycle friendly. I think it just takes a lot of patience and a lot of education."
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