Some Cyclists are Critical of the Mass

Celebrating Mass

Some time ago, the Bike Blog wrote about our city’s burgeoning Critical Mass, noting that Miami’s is a pretty tame incarnation of the worldwide pro-biking event. The confrontational nature of Critical Masses in some larger cities – in which riders completely stop traffic – is absent in Miami’s group, which has focused instead on building a steady membership of bike-concerned Miamians through remarkably pleasant, low-key rides. The group’s most notable departure from the norm is that it rides on Saturdays, and not at rush hour on the last Friday of each month – the acknowledged time for most Critical Mass groups around the world.

But lately, there have been grumblings.

It seems that some folks are pushing for the traditional last Friday approach – and with it, a more confrontational ride. And while Critical Mass is officially leaderless, it always takes someone to get the ball rolling.

Yesterday, the Bike Blog got a call from Kevin Gonzales, a young activist/anarchist who’s been pushing for the move. He and a few others, he said, are holding an alternative Critical Mass ride tonight, Friday May 24, starting at 6:30 at the Torch of Freedom downtown. Gonzales is a little vague on the details, calling it “a preliminary kind of thing.”

The Friday vs. Saturday debate represents something of a rift – in style, if not opinion -- among a small group of Miami activists. A recent meeting of Emerge Miami, the group that plans the Saturday rides, got a little heated over the issue of whether or not moving the ride to Friday – and using it to stop traffic – was wise, or even possible, in a city as hostile to bikes as Miami. A bike messenger who had moved from New York two weeks earlier spoke up for Fridays, jeeringly going back and forth between calling everyone pansies and bragging about what a bad-ass he was in the Big Apple, where Critical Mass events draw hundreds of riders.

But Miami is not New York. The Saturday rides draw thirty or forty people max, and of those, how many would be willing to piss off traffic? Then there’s the police – how they might react is still anybody’s guess. Friday’s not a great night for going to jail (I learned that in college). On the other hand, moving Critical Mass to Friday afternoons would make the group more visible and be more in keeping with other groups around the world; by facing off with traffic, the logic goes, you force a city to acknowledge the bikes in its midst.

There’s a certain amount of MRTTism (More-Radical-Than-Thou-ism) going on here. Last we checked, the planners of tomorrow’s splinter ride had not bothered to notify most of the existing Critical Mass group or its organizers. And that’s a shame – sure, there’s nothing like some good old-fashioned American factionalism, but the current Critical Mass is a well-organized group with some vision – they’re working on an officer-escorted bike ride for kids in Liberty City, for example – and no one I’ve talked to actually seemed opposed to trying out a Friday ride.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Stay tuned to the Bike Blog! -- Isaiah Thompson

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