They meet up the last Friday of every month on the corner of Trumbull and Warren in Detroit — mostly cyclists, but sometimes skateboarders, rollerbladers and others. They come from all over Southeast Michigan to take part in a unique event, a ride called Critical Mass.
Cyclists swarm the streets, filling lanes and for a short time making motorists rethink their notions about traffic on the public roadways.
Critical Mass rides started in San Francisco in 1992 as a way for cyclists to increase their visibility on the road. The biking get-together has spread to hundreds of cities around the world. It’s a decentralized movement, and some in its ranks use the ride as a way to critique modern society’s over-dependence on motor vehicles. To others, though, it’s just chance to go on a fun bike ride.
“Critical mass is just basically a way to contrive a lot of people to go biking together, to mass up and collectively make the public aware that there are bikers out here,” said Derek Savage, 27, a Wayne State University student and office manager who’s been participating in the Detroit event for about a year and a half.
Savage said Detroit’s Critical Mass cyclists respect the rules of the road. Special riders called “corkers” block traffic at certain intersections to ensure bikers’ safety. According to Savage, the local smaller rides tend to be free-form, while larger events have leaders who plan routes out ahead of time.
Dywayne Neeley of the East Side Riders bike club enjoys Critical Mass, but takes a less orderly view of the ride than Savage.
“It’s chaos. Instead of riding in unison — like for instance taking one lane — they’re all over the place,” he said, adding that the commotion can infuriate some drivers.
Neeley said members of his club usually stick to one lane and communicate with signals when they take the whole street.
Participants in a Critical Mass ride in Detroit on March 30, 2012.
Like any trip, the Detroit ride tends to have its stops and starts, and has even been declared dead on occasion.
Motown’s Critical Mass started with a very small crew around the turn of the millenium. Detroiter Steve Weller, 36, joined several these early rides. At one, he said, police arrested cyclists for wearing Lone Ranger masks. The riders were protesting the Organization of American States, which was in nearby
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