My first Critical Mass
I have never been on a Critical Mass ride
before. I first heard about them maybe five years ago and I saw
one ride by my house a few months ago, but what really pushed me to go
was the news that the downtown branch of the company I work for is
being transfered to the burbs and I wouldn't be able to easily go in
The formula is pretty simple - show up
at the Art Gallery around 5:30 and the ride starts at 6pm. There
is a short announcment before the ride starts - related events (like an
after party) are announced and a short saftey talk is given. The
saftey is pretty brief - stay together. Don't stop
suddenly. Thank the corkers. Who are corkers? Corkers
are you - they are riders who stop traffice so that the ride can go by
safely (and quickly).
There is no set route - the course is set by the people at the front of
the ride and everyone else just follows. Slowly, with lots of
bike bells ringing, we funneled out onto Howe Street. We rode
down Howe Street and onto the on ramp.
Being my first ride, this is all new to me. When we got a clear
sight of the bridge, you start to understand how many people are
involved in this enterprise - easily a thousand, probably closer to two
When we reached the crest of the bridge the mass stopped. Near
the front of the ride, you could see people raising there bikes over
their heads. Turns out this is tradition - a celebration of
sorts. I suspect this was also a smoke break. Soone
enough (and gathered together), we were off again.
The freedom of riding over the whole bridge is quite hard to put into
words. The Granville Street bridge isn't normally bike friendly -
the sidewalks are too narrow to tbe shared, the outer lanes are
dominated by busses and the traffic is fast even though it's a long
uphill. Taking over the whole bridge, we could take the time to
I pulled aside on the far end of the bridge to try and
get a sense of the scale involved here. Even though we were well
off the bridge, the were people still coming on on the far end.
So how do people deal with an unplanned 10 minute long
parade? 98% of people are supportive. We get tons of thumbs
up and smiling people honking. Rarely, you find someone who just
has to turn left right now and they don't understand that hundreds of
bikers are using that part of the road. When a car appears
to be turning into the mass, people on bikes will pull up in front and
just stop - they are corking. Often a conversation will ensue -
once explained, most drives are content to wait or find another route.
We turned onto the Burrard Street bridge - another
bridge with bike history. Currently bikes and pedestrians share
too narrow sidewalk. There is a multi-million dollar project to
wide this bridge to put in a bike lane, but for several years there
have been proposals to close a lane to cars to dedicate to bikes.
Nothing has happened yet.
Knowing how many people were riding, you get to
understand how much this ride disrupts the usual flow of traffic.
We rode up Burrard street - usually a no go zone for bikes (Hornby, one
block over has a good bike lane) and started heading back towards the
core of the city.
Biking down the middle of streets amoung the forest of towers is
magical. The sun was getting lower on this horizon so the light
became more patchy as it weaved it's way through the buildings.
Vancouver has a crew of people who like to modify bikes. Double
decker bikes (higher than SUV's) are a common modification, as are
various cargo bikes. There was a gentleman with a TV tied to the
back of his bike. The TV was driven by batteries and he could
change the image using his iPhone. Impressive tech for a bike.
We headed out of the downtown core towards Main and Hastings - the
downtown east side. This area can be little rough (a lot of
characters), but the locals were very enthusiastic supporters of the
ride. The downtown night market was already going and people
lined up to watch us go by.
We rode up Main street towards broadway and it
coming up to my time to end the day. By this point we had been
riding for about an hour and half. I didn't realize that the
critical mass didn't just start and end - it just keeps going as long
as there are people. Very cool.
Tags: biking(18), Vancouver(13), city(5), bridge(5), crowd(3), panorama(3)
From: John Harvey Photo > Blogs for 2020 to 2005 > May 2009
Last Modified Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 at 01:42:54 Edit
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