Let us ride



Last month, a federal judge ruled with the NYPD to outlaw bicycle rides of 50 or more which go off without a permit in New York City. That’s code for the Critical Mass ride, which used to be the greatest time to be had on a bike in New York until the Republicans came to town in 2004 and killed whatever joy was left over after Giuliani.

The rides in the early years of the decade were some of the best times I had in New York. I will never forget the summer night we rolled through Times Square, hundreds of cyclists strong—everybody stopped in unison and many riders raised their bikes over their heads. People cheered. Tourists gawked. The cops held back traffic. It was unabashed fun. It didn’t last long; the ride moved on. But that moment will stay with me as long as I ride a bike because it was completely genuine.

Say whatever you want about Critical Mass. It’s a gelatinous idea, so your criticism or promotion will slosh around inside with the rest of it. That’s part of the charm and part of its derision. I never thought it was a particularly effective tool for protest. Nobody looks to a crowd of cyclists for that, not the way a crowd of marchers used to inspire change. Not everyone who rides is even remotely interested in cycling advocacy anyway. I would argue those people are the small minority. The rides are harmless fun at a casual pace and just about every other major city in this country seems to get and support that but New York. (I know SF has its perennial issues.)

It’s a shame, because New York is such a fascinating place to ride a bike. I’m sad to see this continuing to drag on and I am bewildered to see Time’s Up has estimated the city spent $1.32 million for two years to shut it down. Can anyone report on how the ride is today?

My last ride was the one in April of 2005 when that million and change was hard at work. The NYPD may not have killed it entirely, but they certainly made it incredibly unpleasant. I wrote a ride report for Stay Free! Magazine shortly after and rereading it now for the first time in years, I can still remember the helicopters—helicopters!—chasing us through Alphabet City as though we were extras in a straight-to-video sequel in the Batman franchise. It was definitely intimidating. But mostly it was weird. Weird and sad.

One Response to “Let us ride”

  1. 1 David Calder

    Just had to get these two comments out of the way: If they outlawed groups of cars numbering 50 or more, that would be the traffic problems of NY sorted once and for all.

    What’s to stop several rides of 49 people all following the same route at the same time?

    But seriously, this is just another example of The Man (TM) making life crap for everyone else. Why can’t we have fun any more?

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