On South Florida Cycling and Critical Mass

Biking, no matter what form, makes me happy. Ridiculously happy. It’s the perfect, most efficient method of transportation, exercise and entertainment. I feel great when I finish, and I know that once I get the pedals turning, my mood will lift (even with these damned South Florida “breezes,” as they’re called in some circles…). Cycling has allowed me to explore on my own without sitting in gridlocked traffic and see Miami from a different perspective.

It’s like falling in love again. In love with two wheels and all the wonders they afford me.

Since moving to Miami, I’ve tried on multiple occasions to encapsulate this feeling with words, as well as document the few Critical Mass rides I’ve participated in. (Miami’s ride—more on that HERE—is the last Friday of the month and leaves from the Government Center metro station. The more than 1,000 riders create a 20-mile parade! If you’ve never been part of a large Critical Mass ride, come visit me, damnit, and we’ll ride!)

These responses, submitted to a survey from the Miami Herald, shared on Facebook from Miami Bike Scene and Miami Critical Mass, paint a better picture of my impression on two wheels here. I hope they resonate with you, or at least make you think before honking at a cyclist.

Have you participated in Critical Mass this year?

Yes

What do you think about Critical Mass in general?

Critical Mass is, to me, CRITICALLY important, especially in a car-centric city like Miami. There is nothing more uplifting than seeing people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds on bicycles stopping traffic on a 20-mile route on Fridays. These people are taking responsibility for their health and well-being, they’re participating in a peaceful ride and demonstration, and they’re sending a message to drivers that as a cyclist, they deserve to safely be on the streets, too. Similarly, the mostly positive response we see from drivers is encouraging, as well as the helpful cops at the June ride on Miami Beach.

I’ve lived in other (smaller) cities where Critical Mass doesn’t work, and where participants merely wanted to break the law. Critical Mass Miami truly feels like a mass, not led by a particular group or motive. This distinction, as well as the coverage in social media and mainstream media sources, makes rides welcoming, family friendly and really FUN. Usually by the end of a ride, my face hurts from smiling and laughing and cheering so much—it’s like a 20-mile parade!

However, Critical Mass exposes how fragile and small individual cyclists are when riding alone on the roads. Whereas for a few hours thousands of cyclists take over and can do it safely, when I ride alone, I ride knowing it’s likely I’ll get hit by a car at some point or another, even when following the rules of the road, using common sense and making myself as visible as possible. In most American cities, bicyclists are seen as second-class citizens or recreational riders who should be confined to sidewalks. When cyclists take to the road, they participate in a FREE activity that reinforces livable/walkable communities, they have improved health, and they represent fewer cars on the road.

Critical Mass gives a voice, creates a presence and makes a stand for people who choose to ride, no matter the reason. It gets people OUT of their metal and glass safety boxes, hurdling down roads, texting while driving and running lights, and puts them in touch with their surroundings and fellow riders, neighbors and human beings.

Bottom line, critical mass plays an important role in larger cities, especially ones, such as Miami, that have been built for cars—not people.

If you participate in Critical Mass, why do you do it? Tell us what the monthly ride means to you.

I ride in Critical Mass because I’m a cyclist and a human being interested in creating livable, walkable cities and safe streets for EVERYBODY. I also ride because it’s the most freeing, fun experience. If I had to categorize myself, I’m not a roadie, I’m not a mountain biker, and I don’t lolligag on beachside bike paths—though I’m glad someone does. I ride for transportation, utility, bliss and exercise.

I’ll admit Critical Mass allows me the rowdy excitement of STOPPING traffic in this pavement- and car-dominated city. On my solo rides, I exercise my right in taking the lane when necessary for safety. I hope Critical Mass inspires cyclists to join us, encourages cyclists to ride more on their own, gives drivers a different take on their commute, and maybe opens someone’s eyes to a different way of moving, getting to work, being with friends—and living.

When I’m on a bike, I know no bounds. When I’m riding with at least 1,000 other cyclists, I feel invincible, like I have a real presence on the road, where I have a right to be, for 2 or 3 hours. Riding a bike is one of the most freeing, smile-inducing activities that nearly every body, every person can do. I hope that when drivers see us riding by with smiles plastered on our faces, they can at least smile back.

Have you driven in Miami during Critical Mass?

No

How has critical mass affected your commute?

The metro is crammed full of cyclists—it’s amazing!

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