Today was my first Critical Mass Ride. I've been meaning to go on the ride, but somehow I've had schedule conflicts all year.
It's been cold, nearly freezing in Seattle at night. It's also dark around 4:30PM. But the ride still goes on.
I joined a group going downtown at the UW, in Red Square. People were nice, people had nice bicycles and camaraderie was evident. It felt like a regular Cascade Bike Club event except people were about 30 years younger on average. There were a lot more fixxie bicycles as well.
A lot of people liked my singlespeed Casserroll. The fenders on it stand out especially at night with the lights on it, the hammered facets somewhat resemble a disco ball's surface. There were a lot of well-loved frames, some more than 20 years old. Everyone had a lot of pride in their ride, to use a little alliteration.
Getting to downtown our group of 30-40 or so riders mostly obeyed traffic signals but it was a little difficult. We headed across University Bridge and along Mercer, down 5th and to Westlake Center. With all the traffic and some people obeying and disobeying rules, the group was chopped up a bit. It was 5:30PM and traffic was heavy, making it actually easier to bicycle without worrying about cars.
Arriving at Westlake Center, there were around a hundred or so riders. Some bicyclists were older, some were riding unusual bicycles, some were women. Beers and flyers were being passed around, people were chatting, music from the nearby Merry-go-Round was playing Christmas music. People had signs saying "Honk if you Love Bicycles". I was cold. The main ride eventually started.
Hundreds of cyclists taking off in a pack downtown is pretty amazing, especially at night with all the flashing lights and all. The group moved fairly slowly, but did not stop. To keep the flow of bicyclists moving, if the light would turn red, bicyclists would block cars from entering the intersection on a green. And so I would later discover most honking was not encouragement from cars, but from mostly upset or irate drivers trying to move through. Bicyclists were breaking the law, obviously. But really, it seemed more efficient to move everyone through as a group than divide up the mob. I guess if the police had been paying attention (there was no sign of them except once I saw a police car at an accident scene) there might have been mass arrests or what-not.
I heard that last week, the group actually bicycled onto the Viaduct. The route this week was not on any major freeway, but still problematic to some cyclists, like those on tall bikes, who had to take some steep hills. The route was a loop, at least in the beginning. Back at Westlake, down to the waterfront, we headed back into downtown but again on a very steep cobblestone road. Obviously, the route was not thought out. It was too steep for my single-speed bicycle, for sure. Then, though I heard talk of heading to a particular watering hole on Capitol Hill for some libations or the like, the mob wanted to do yet another loop in downtown, down and up another steep hill. It was cold and riders weren't obviously into vigorous hill-climbing. Critical Mass Rides aren't organized, which is good in some sense and bad in others, obviously.
A couple of highlights: Seeing hundreds of cyclists descending a hill with all their blinking and strobing lights all going at different rates. Chummy guys passing around seasonal micro-brews in knit hats. A rider with a Bakfeit with his son inside a covered tent watching in the front, watching a DVD during the ride. A cute Asian girl with silver streamers on her old pink Scwinn lady's frame. Some guy carrying enormous speakers on the front of his bike — but please better music next time. The occasional happy motorist who didn't mind the wait and could enjoy the show.
I left with some riders heading to Ballard, mid-forties, veteran-looking types who also were cold. My right foot was cold through the cleats, and my finger tips were frosty. I was wearing fleece lined jeans which, interestingly, made me tired at the pedals. The two guys gave me pointers to Dexter, and I took it hard up, and hard up Stone Way, Greenlake and back home.
Hitomi had dinner going and I was cold and hungry. It was a welcome return.