Month: November 2013

Critical Connections

Hello again!

My dad at our first Critical Mass

Getting back to where I left off– I made it back to our beloved city with a newfound passion for riding my bicycle around town and zero desire to get an automobile. I found a place to live as well as a job. Next I needed to find friends and other people who shared my interest in the cycling lifestyle. While living in Chicago I’d heard of a gathering/bicycle ride called Critical Mass. It was held on the last Friday of every month and after looking into it I found out that it wasn’t only happening in Chicago. Critical Mass originated in San Francisco in 1992, but by the end of 2003 over 300 cities world wide had joined in the fun. Sadly I never made it to one in Chicago but it sounded like the perfect opportunity to see what the cycling scene in KC really looked like up close.

The last Friday of the month came, so my dad and I headed to the Sunfresh parking lot in Westport around 6:30PM to meet up with whoever would be riding that evening. When we got there we noticed that there weren’t a whole lot of people hanging out yet. The Facebook page said we’d be riding at 7PM so we waited. Slowly more and more people began to show up and finally it was 7. Anxious to get riding we started getting our things together while looking around trying to figure out how we’d know when it was time to leave. No one else seemed to be in a hurry. So we relaxed and waited. And we waited. And we waited. It was about 7:30PM but no one seemed to notice. Finally a few people started riding in circles around the lot, then a few more, and finally we had everyone riding around. Someone yelled something and we were off headed into the heart of Westport. Later I found out that the person who was yelling was not the leader. Critical Mass specifically doesn’t have a leader or a set route. So anyone who can get to the front and have the mass follow can be the leader. Since then I have been on a handful of Masses and we’ve taken a few different routes though, in general, they usually stay around the same areas.

Cruising the plaza

I’d never ridden with more than 2 or 3 other people in my entire life. This night we had a group which was easily around 100 people total. If you’ve never ridden with that many people I HIGHLY recommend it. We headed south on Broadway towards the Country Club Plaza which is a very nice straight downhill ride. Surrounded by bikes I’d never felt more safe while riding. We took over both lanes and cruised, letting our numbers announce our presence.  When we reached the plaza we paused for a while to “mass-up”. Critical Mass has no rules but there are some guidelines we follow. The most important, I think, is that no one gets left behind. It’s not a race but a parade; a celebration of our love of cycling and of our city. As a group we took over the plaza waving to everyone as we passed by exclaiming “HAPPY FRIDAY!” which is our motto or mantra of sorts.

I guess this is where I should inform you, if you’ve never heard of Critical Mass, that there are two opposing views of the ride. One, which I believe is what Kansas City’s Critical Mass is based off of, is the idea that Critical Mass is about showing how great cycling can be and kindly letting people know one day out of the month that we cyclists are on the roads and deserve our space to have fun and be safe. The other is a little more offensive. It is the view that it’s one day for cyclists to do whatever they want and to get their “revenge” on the auto-driven world which puts their life in danger whenever they ride on the street. A slight problem with the ride is that it’s open to whoever wants to join. Some people may have one positive intention while others have another. However, I have noticed on the rides that with so much positivity around it’s hard to be an asshole. Instead of getting angry people will simply wave and repeat the chorus, “HAPPY FRIDAY!”

“Massing-up” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum

So, our next stop was the Nelson-Atkins Museum where we actually stopped and took a 15-30 minute break. Here people used the bathroom or grouped up and talked about whatever sounded interesting. Pictures were being taken, beer was being ingested, jokes were told, and everyone had a smile on their face. I had a few people come up who introduced themselves and asked if I’d ridden Critical before. When I’d reply with a timid no they would just smile and welcome me in one way or another.

Once again, as when we left Sunfresh, there wasn’t a leader saying let’s go or anything. People started circling as they got ready to leave and when enough people were up and riding we left. This time we kept heading north up Gillham towards downtown. I looked around and could tell a few people had dropped off, it was around 9PM. We passed Crown Center and kept riding north past the Power and Light District and the Financial District stopping at a gas station called Grand Slam which is located on Grand and 6th St. Here we took another breather and loaded up on beverages before making our final stop. Again when we left there were fewer people and the majority of the ones who were left were in their 20’s or 30’s with a few (like my dad) who were just a “little” older.

Hanging at the pier

This was our shortest section of the ride. We made it over the highway and down through the River Market to the river where we went out onto the pier on 2nd and Main Street. Here you can also walk down the pier and ride around a very well kept trail which runs a good distance up and down the river. Everyone parked their bikes at the end of the pier and took out their provisions acquired at the gas station. The ride was over but the night had only just begun. I looked around and saw a group of people sitting in a circle on the pier while others were gathering next to the river. I sat with some people and  listened to their conversations, walked around and talked with a few people, then my dad and I headed back towards Sunfresh.

When I got home I was very excited to get out again and explore the city. We’d seen so much but had only ridden a handful of streets. I was also excited to get to talk more with some of the other cyclists I’d met at Critical. I’d overheard conversations about Kansas City, about cycling, about music, and art and friends and love and loss and anything else you can think of. I’d found my community, I just needed to find my way into it, which was surprisingly easy.



Meet Michael, Our New SpokesPerson: Nervous Beginnings

Hello there!

I guess introductions should come first. My name is Michael Harris and my story began in Lee’s Summit, MO (technically St. Louis but I only spent my first 3 years there). Growing up I assume I was like most any other suburban kid; sports teams, birthdays, school, and neighborhood friends. I don’t remember when I got my first bike but I do remember many of the great times I had on it. Back then they didn’t seem like anything special; but I learned how to propel myself through time and space, and to arrive at a pre-chosen destination (pretty hefty stuff for a kid who had yet to reach his teens!).

Anyway, I grew up and got my license, a goal most teenagers have, and found a new freedom. What did I have to worry about? I could drive my parents car and all I had to do was pay for gas? No problem. Then I got my first car which was previously my brother’s; paid in full! That didn’t hold up for too very long so I had to buy another one. All the money I had saved growing up; GONE. Slowly I was realizing that owning a vehicle could cost some money.

Oops… I forgot to get the oil changed!? Well there’s some more money gone.
I have to get new tags!? What kind of world are we living in!?

Fast forward and I’m 20 years old on the verge of a life changing experience (for the better). I decided to move in with a friend who was going to school in Chicago, Il. I was strapped for cash so I sold my truck and then packed my bags. When I got to Chicago I was fortunate enough that my friend had fallen in with a group of people who rode bikes regularly for recreation, as well as for money. Within 2 weeks I had a job and a bicycle, and I was experiencing the city in a way I’d never imagined possible (sounds hyperbolic, I know, but it’s true). I got an old schwinn, paint chipping off and no way to identify it other than how gnarly it looked, for 75 dollars from a friend. I was on my way.

After spending a year in Chicago I decided to come back to Kansas City to try and save money for my next adventure. So here I was back in town with no ties to any sort of cycling community or even any friends who rode bikes. But, that was two years ago and slowly I began to see that there were quite a few people propelling themselves about town. I found a place in the city, got a new bike on Craigslist (which is my LOVE), and found a job not far from home (key for living a vehicleless existence). It was time to hit the streets and meet my city face to face.

Next time I’ll get into how I found the cycling scene here in KC and about what it means to me.

I’m excited to explore the city with all of you. I plan on using this as an excuse to get out and research our beloved city more in depth and with more passion than I have previously. Although I grew up just 30 minutes from the city I hadn’t begun to really see its beauty or complexity until recently. Biking has changed the way I see my world and I hope that through this outlet I can help others change the way they view theirs.

Meet a B-cyclist: Kirsten Gustafson

KirstenKirsten Gustafson starts every morning with a b-cycle ride.

Gustafson, who lives in the Westside and works at Crown Center, usually walks to the station at 19th and Wyandotte and check out a bike to ride to work.

“For anyone that works downtown, they are great and super usable,”Gustafson says. “I can just hop on the bikes and not have to worry about parking, which is a pain to find downtown.”

Gustafson says she used to ride a little bit before becoming an annual member last year, but didn’t like having to worry about the maintenance of her own bike.

“It’s great not having to worry about flat tires, maintaining the gears, etc.” she says.

She acknowledges that some people make comments about the weight of the bikes, but she has never noticed them being a problem.

“They’re not meant to be racing bikes, they’re sturdy and tough–they have to be,” she says.

Since beginning to ride b-cycle about 20 miles a week, Gustafson says in addition to an improved fitness level, she’s started to see Kansas City in a whole new way.

“It’s interesting how things that once felt so far away in a car are actually not that far when you ride your bike,” Gustafson says. “But you have to get out of your car to realize that. It makes you see everything in the city more, and you begin to realize that there are all these great local amenities available that are only a bike ride away.”

Are you a b-cyclist? Want to tell us why you ride? Email and we might pick you as our next featured rider.

Cold Weather Commuting Tips from KC Cyclists

4272676716_6e0d0ff1e8_zTemperatures are dropping. There are fewer hours of sunlight. Snow might be just around the corner. Some may be tempted to store their bicycles away in the garage for a few months of winter hibernation. Not so fast.

Give riding your bicycle in winter a chance. With the right clothing and gear, you’ll forget how cold it is. Sara Ramirez, a librarian, bike mechanic and all-season bike commuter, says convincing yourself to get out of the door is half the battle.

“Keep a positive mindset because once you get moving, you warm up,” Ramirez says.  “Riding in the cold makes me feel all empowered and in awe of the beauty of winter.”

What to Wear:

Toes, hands, and face get coldest the fastest. “Wool socks, gloves, and a facemask have been my three best investments for winter riding,” Ramirez says. “Facemasks seem to be better than hoodies because hoodies seem to limit my view.”

Ramirez also suggests layering, wearing an outer layer that can be unzipped or zipped depending on how cool/warm she gets.

Maggie Priesmeyer, BikeWalkKC’s Education and Outreach Coordinator,  recommends investing in a pair of waterproof, lined gloves. “And by invest I mean spend no less than $20,” Priesmeyer says. “You can always wear multiple pairs of gloves, but that messes with your handling skills a little.”

5392502855_b2025c95fb_zFor women, Priesmeyer says “leggings and tights are your best friends.”

“Shy away from cotton, it will hold sweat and won’t dry as fast.”

Priesmeyers layers as follows when wearing a skirt: tights, leggings over tights, leg warmers on top. When it comes to footwear, Maggie recommends wool socks and boots.

“Don’t be dumb and ride in flats or shoes with little lining,” Priesmeyer says. “Unless you’re wearing wool socks, then maybe. ”

tikascarfPriesmeyer also recommends wearing a scarf or popping a collar. “Scarves make a huge difference in preventing a draft down your neck!”

Tika Wrisner, a car-free cyclist, has a unique clothing technique. She wears everything in twos, i.e. “two pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, tights and leggings, a jacket and a coat, and 2 scarves worn around your mouth and nose.  “Having a scarf over your mouth and nose creates a natural “heater” for your face with your own air and breathing,” Wrisner says. “Wearing your helmet keeps all of this in place, strapped down, ready to withstand the wind!”

Eric Bunch, BikeWalkKC’s Education Director, recommends wearing lobster gloves to keep hands warm. “I also recommend windproof over‐mittens, which can be worn over the lobster gloves for really cold weather, or over mid or light weight gloves.”

Another way to keep your fingers toasty are by using  Pogies, which are essentially giant mittens for your handlebars. They attach directly to the bars and you just stick your hands in for a little hand-warming oven.

How to Prep Your Bike:

Once you’re properly outfitted for a ride in the snow, it’s time to pay attention to your bicycle. Eric Bunch has some suggestions for how to convert your everyday commuter into a lean, mean winter riding machine.

“No amount of Gore Tex is going to keep you and your feet dry from road spray on a wet or snow covered street,” Bunch says.  “So fenders are an absolute must for any regular bike commuter despite what season we are in.”

For added traction on icy, slippery streets, Bunch suggests studded snow tires. He also suggests swapping out clipless pedals for platform pedals.

“Riding in my first Denver blizzard back in 2009 I found myself constantly digging snow out of my cleats,” Bunch says. “Eventually my shoes became so snow packed that I could not longer clip in. Plus riding on platforms allows you to easily wear the snow-proof hiking boots.”

To keep his hands warm, Bunch wears mittens. “My hands are the most needy part of my body when it comes to the cold and I’ll sacrifice a little gear shifting dexterity to keep from frostbite.”

With fewer daylight hours, you’ll probably end up riding in the cold at one point or another, meaning it’s time to invest in a good set of lights. Don’t be afraid to spend more than $50 on a good set of lights. They’ll last you season after season and keep you safe.

And last but not least, safety first. Always wear a helmet, and be sure to give yourself extra time to brake in case there’s any moisture in the air that may cause ice to form on your brakes.

Clothing and bicycle gear aside, sometimes the biggest challenge to overcome when biking in the winter is psychological. “Try it a couple times before ruling it out,” Ramirez says.

Have your own tips for how you stay warm in the winter? Send your comments/suggestions/photos to