#210 Ride in Critical Mass

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I admit it. I have a really negative view of Critical Mass. Most of the stuff I’ve seen about it are videos of confrontations between cyclists and drivers. I liked the original idea of Critical Mass but it seemed like it had turned into just an excuse for bikers to take over the road, harras drivers and pedestrians as well as clash with the police.

But I’ve been wanting to find out for myself what Critical Mass is really all about. So I went online and found out there was one going on tonight.

When I was at work, the sky darkened. There were reports of raining in LA. The ride was supposed to be at least three hours long and 30 miles. I didn’t want to ride 30 miles in the rain.

At quitting time, I stood in my cube trying to decide what I wanted to do. I just didn’t feel like going. On top of the rain, I would have to take the metro down to the meet location with my bike, which I never like doing during rush hour because it can get crowded. But what other scary thing was I going to do tonight? And if I didn’t go tonight, I’d have to wait a month for the next CM.

So I hopped on my bike and headed to the metro station. The ride down was easy and not crowded at all.  I think because of Rosh Hashanah. I decided to get off at Wilshire and Vermont and bike to Wilshire and Western instead of transferring. When I got onto Wilshire, I was immediately in a group of 4-5 teenage bikers on fixies. I myself had opted for my Bianchi Via Narone. I didn’t feel like I had enough time in the saddle of my fixie to be comfortable riding in such a big group of people.

I forget how different it is riding on the other side of the hill. Sure the Valley is crazy for bikers but riding on Wilshire during rush hour is a different story. It’s a lot scarier and more technical. I loved it.

Pretty soon we got to the Wilshire and Western metro station and it was already filling up with bikers:

I get claustrophobic around a lot of people. I found a nice spot by some newspaper dispensers where I could lean my bike and stay out of the way. There were a lot of young people. Like under 18. But still all kinds of people and races. It was pretty diverse. The majority of bikes though, by far, were fixies. I felt like an outcast with my geared bike. But I kind of liked that.

Pretty soon, the station got fuller and fuller:

Everyone was getting anxious. The time neared 7:30. I wondered how we were going to know when to start and where to go. When it happened, it was pretty obvious. The motorcycle cops who were there (and by the way, there were A LOT of them) fired up their sirens and pulled out heading north on Western. Everyone started screaming and shouting and scrambling for the road.

It was pretty intense. There were hundreds of bikers and I was in the middle of them. It was like the start of a marathon, a lot of shuffling and not a whole lot of movement. I didn’t even really pedal till a block later. I felt closed off so I pushed to the end of the group so I could get some breathing room. Then we were off.

I was unaware we would have a police escort the whole way. There were the previously mentioned motorcycle cops and also a ton of bike cops. There was even a police chopper in the sky. Because of this, we were able to take up a whole side of the road.

My thoughts were this is crazy fun and this is a pain in the ass. It was truly a rush to ride through LA with hundreds of other bikers. We rode down some of the busiest streets. Something you just don’t get to do every day. Again, it reminded me of the LA Marathon in that way.

It was a pain in the ass because it was so crowded. People were jostling for position. Some were too slow, some too fast. Some people swerved around without looking. People were on cell phones, not paying attention. Maybe this is just my inexperience riding with other riders but it made me feel really anxious. I’ve never used my brakes so much in my life. I think I probably wore through my pads.

It was a lot of stop and go. This might have been because I was in the lead pack. The organizers would stop the entire group either at a big traffic light or to ensure that the group didn’t get too spread out.

This just made it feel like there was no flow to the ride.

Most of the riders were cool but of course there were obnoxious ones. People that rode on the sidewalk and gave a hard time to pedestrians. I didn’t see one interaction with a car and I credit that to the police escort. But for the most part, everyone just seemed like they wanted to have fun.

After about an hour, we pulled into the Best Buy in Culver City for a break. I had to pee like a racehorse so this was much appreciated.

It was amazing to see so many bikers just chilling out in a parking lot.

After another hour or so of riding, we made another stop. At this point, I was over it. I mean, sure it was fun riding with all these people, but the riding style was kind of annoying. All that stop and go. I know logistically this makes the most sense but it doesn’t mean it sucks after awhile. 20 miles in and 10 miles to go, I ditched the group and headed home. It was 10:00pm.

Now I had to make a decision. Did I want to ride 10 miles or so to a metro stop, take the train over the hill then ride back to my apartment another 8 miles. Or did I want to ride over the hill myself and shave about three miles off my ride. I opted for the latter.

Probably not the best idea.

Going over Sepulveda in the middle of the night is fucking scary. There was also a shit load of construction going on and I was tired, hungry and dehydrated as fuck. The ride home turned out to be a mini-adventure in itself.

It didn’t turn out to be that bad though. I took my time and was home by 11:00pm. I promptly gorged myself on Fatburger and passed out. Total bike miles for the day: 43 miles.

My impression of Critical Mass has definitely changed. I see it as more positive. I still feel like a lot of the kids there didn’t really know what it was all about. But then again, I don’t think everyone has to . I guess CM is just about getting out there and riding your bike which is really what everyone should be doing more of.

Oh and my Bianchi did get a some “nice bike” comments. And two teenagers on Bianchi fixies told me I had a “sweet Bianchi” and I was in their “club.”

36 years old and I am finally accepted by teenagers.

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