Not Massive, but Critical

Riding off into the sunset

In celebration of last Saturday night's full lunar eclipse, I joined Critical Mass Miami to ride the 16-mile loop at Shark Valley Slough in Everglades National Park. The route, it turns out, is open to the public 24/7 — if you go at night, you don't have to pay admission to the park, either. With the sun just setting on our way out, and the eclipse in full swing as the moon rose over the 'Glades, it was a mind-numbingly gorgeous ride.

The fun was marred only slightly at the park watchtower, which the group ascended for a better view of the eclipse. The park ranger there, who seemed used to quieter, duller sorts of gatherings, demanded that bikes be taken down from the tower, or he'd remove them himself. How he was going to accomplish that was not explained. Another small bummer was other groups of bikers on the way back who, undoubtedly out of concern for everybody else's safety in the dark, felt the need to call out every motion being made by every biker around them: "Bike on left!" "Bike slowing!" "Bike passing!"

The thing about bicyclists in general is that some of them are assholes — we all know this -- and for the sociable biker, Critical Mass Miami is a good alternative to the spandex hordes.

Critical Mass started about fifteen years ago in San Francisco, with the simple idea to gather enough bicyclists together that cars would have no choice but to cede the road. Since then, the movement has spread to virtually every major city in the country, as well as abroad.

The group has no formal leadership structure, no fees, and no official contact person. Unofficially the current incarnation of Miami Critical Mass was started last July by three local activists - Adam Schachner, Tia Williams, and Sara Yousuf, with the help of "Flash" at downtown hangout Wallflower -- good people to keep an eye on. Since the holidays, the ride has been picking up steam. Somehwere between 35 and 45 riders showed up for the last two rides.

Critical Mass doesn't have the same edge here as it might in other cities; whereas a big part of the experience in, say, Chicago involves staring down cars and whooping at them with a solid column of triumphant bikes behind you, an outing with the Miami group is — so far, anyway — more or less just a pleasant ride with pleasant people. "Most Critical Masses have the ethic of trying to block traffic - at this point, we're just trying to build a community of bikers," says Adam Schachner. "As far as active protest its concerned, we're not trying to do that."

That's bad news for the radical anarcho-bikers of Miami, but probably good news for the laid-back and timid — and it's easy to be a timid biker here. So, go ahead - join Critical Mass if you haven't already. You won't become a U-lock-wielding, fixed-speed-gearing, black-flag-waving, old-tube-saving, traffic-blocking, spandex-knocking anarchist freak. Or will you?

Critical Mass will meet Saturday, March 10, at the Dadeland North Metro-Rail Station, at 10:00 AM, to ride to Matheson Hammock Park. For more info contact Flash, at the Wallflower Gallery: 305-579-0069. Visit here to receive regular emails on Critical Mass. --Isaiah Thompson

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Frank Houston