2003-09-24 Best Socially Aware Tourist Attraction - NY Press

Best Socially Aware Tourist Attraction
Critical Mass

The New York Press
 

A bicycle built for 200. Too much social-justice stuff is grueling and thankless. Not so at a Critical Mass outing, where you can tool around the city on your bike with a couple hundred people. Some call it "activism lite," because it's more about the fun than the message.

On the last Friday of every month, all manner of bike riders gathers for a trip through the city streets. Whizzing down Broadway, grinning like a banshee, other cyclists and the occasional Rollerblader alongside and behind and in front of you, often as far as the eye can see—it's quite a rush.

Many recreational riders express reluctance about taking part—afraid they're not fit enough, or that their bikes aren't sophisticated enough, or that the pace will be too demanding. No need to fret. Everyone can participate, on any bike. You'll see antique Schwinns and three-speed Raleighs and seven-foot choppers and fixed-gears and hybrids and mountain bikes and fold-ups. Cyclists of all ages and abilities come along, and with that many bikes, the pace is normally no speedier than a brisk amble.

The first time a little kid on the sidewalk catches your eye and sets to hopping up and down frenetically, squealing with glee at the spectacle of hundreds of mismatched people on mismatched bikes, your heart will melt, even if it's January and you're otherwise numb. Sure, Critical Mass has pissed off a motorist in its day, usually, but not exclusively a Beemer or Escalade, but it's mostly rounds of cheers pressing you forward—coupled with the flashing of digital cameras. To us, that's the coolest thing about Critical Mass—every month a crew of tourists will interpret this sea of cyclists bum-rushing the avenues as just another piece of New York City.