By CG Science Editor Audrey Rabalais
Most motorists in Athens are used to driving around a slow cyclist or two on their ride to point B. However, those in motor vehicles late Friday afternoon could not reckon with the massive group of pedaling travelers that took to the roads to raise awareness about cycling in Athens. The phenomenon is known as Critical Mass, and Athens is one of over 300 cities over the world to participate in the loosely organized ride on the last Friday of every month.
Critical Mass began in San Francisco in 1992 and has since had international support. The rides do not require membership to any kind of organization or club. They are usually a group of people who show up at a specified time and place with a bicycle. The Athens Bike Cooperative organizes the rides in Athens which begin at the soldier statue on College Green at 5 p.m. on the last Friday of each month. Eric Cornwell, head of the east side of the cooperative, was present for Friday’s ride along with nearly two dozen riders. His fiancée, Katie O’Neill was perched in a sidecar Cornwell had made from recycled bicycle parts.
“This is the largest group that I’ve seen, which is so exciting,” O’Neill said.
Riders were dressed in anything from post-work business casual attire to jerseys and spandex shorts. They included Ohio University students as well as many community members.
“I think people are doing it for different reasons and that’s why there’s a lot of different kinds of people,” said Max, a barista at Donkey Coffee who preferred to be identified by only his first name. Max said he is participating in Critical Mass to raise awareness about bicycling, especially safety.
He and his friends have experienced dangerous situations in Athens while cycling, he said.
“I’ve been spit at, yelled at, bottles thrown at me. I’ve seen a lot less of that happening the more bikes there are,” Max said.
Before the ride began, O’Neill spoke to a group of cyclists about the importance of the Critical Mass ride, referencing the passion for the first Earth Day in 1970. “That’s what we’re a part of!” O’Neill said. “In order to change people’s minds, it takes generations.”
With continued interest and the onset of spring weather, it appears as though Critical Mass will only become more “massive.” Dan Crosvie, an Athens resident, heard about the ride from friends at the bike cooperative and was there for his first time.
“It’s my only form of transportation. I don’t have a car or anything,” Crosvie said.
Cyclists hope the rides will continue to speak out against the environmental detriment brought about by using vehicles powered by fossil fuels, Max said.
“It shouldn’t be radical to ride a bicycle and to not want to waste gas,” he said. “That should be normal.”