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.
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!”
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.
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.
I HOPE TO SEE YOU AT CRITICAL MASS THIS FRIDAY!!!!
Mass is like a holiday for cyclists, celebrated every month! And you’re so right- it’s a quick and easy way to connect with other cyclists in the community! Keep the posts coming Michael.
Great post. And by the way that’s not a beer in my hand in the first pic!