Critical Mass returned to Portland last Friday, and by the accounts of those in attendance, not a moment too soon. While mass thrives in cities all over the world, Portland, Oregon hasn’t seen this ride happen in years. An attempt to revive it in 2008 proved limited in success. Yet here we are in the year 2014, Portland is still dominated by motor vehicles clogging the streets, making them unsafe, spewing toxic exhaust into the air, adding carbon to our atmosphere and accelerating a global climate crisis.
While many have pondered exactly why mass died out in Portland, many more have devoted worthwhile energy into building this city’s evolving bicycle culture. Instead of just a single protest ride, we now enjoy hundreds of different annual and monthly rides that cater to just about any theme, niche, or celebration you could imagine. Some even claim we don’t need critical mass anymore, that drivers are already ‘aware’ of cyclists. Those who met Friday in the North Park blocks around the bronze elephant statue clearly disagree.
What started as a small gathering gradually grew to about 50 riders. Around 6pm, folks circled together. Several old school massers explained the history, intent, and tactics used back in the day. This would be a protest ride, and rush hour traffic would be targeted deliberately.
— Joe Biel (@beaugheale) June 28, 2014
Once everyone was briefed and feeling ready, the mass spilled out into the streets. There seemed to be a bit of initial reluctance about where to go and how to navigate as a group. Most present were well familiar with group-riding, corking, etc; June is Pedalpalooza, after all. Then, gradually, people began developing a bit of form and control as a group.
The mass would reach a key intersection, and riders would swarm in a circle, blocking traffic in all directions. Ironically, most of the car honks this disruption elicited seemed friendly in nature, as drivers would wave and snap photos of the mass. When those honks would become aggressive or when somebody would try to push their car through the mass, everybody would exit the intersection, continuing to ride on.
There were chants, too. ‘Put the fun! Between your legs!‘ ‘What do we want? Bike lanes on Burnside!‘ Despite there being an almost total lack of police presence during the ride, at least one person comically shouted out ‘Burn cops, not oil!‘ As the ride progressed, the mass grew larger, picking up more riders along the way, topping out around 75 bicyclists or so.
Throughout the ride, people conversed. They expressed how important they felt it was for critical mass to once again grow into a monthly event that drew hundreds or more. Ironically, rides like the World Naked Bike Ride and Loud n’ Lit draw far more than this now. While largely celebratory in nature, these simply don’t have the same purpose, though organizers maintain WNBR is at its heart a protest.
Whether this new reboot of mass lasts remains to be seen. I know the people who posted notice of this rekindling on Portland’s Shift calendar, and they intend to continue doing so. With any luck, their drive and intention contributes to a renewed insurgent attitude within a cycling community that’s seemingly grown complacent with the status quo. Portland needs a new two-wheeled rebellion.
See you in the streets!
All images copyright Hart Noecker.