I’ve been taking a bike maintenance & repair class at Recycle-a-bike, down at the Steelyard here in Providence. I like the idea of being able to repair my own bike. It’s a relatively simple machine and I should be able to do most repairs on my own. I plan on volunteering at recycle-a-bike once I get some skills. You gain points with your volunteer hours and you can cash in those points for bike parts – and even a complete bike. My plan is to use the points I earn to put together a “beater-bike” that I can use during the winter in order to give my Cannondale a bit of a break. I’ll also put fenders on it, since I can’t imagine fenders ruining the look of my Cannondale (and making it heavier!)
Most cities have a place like Recycle-a-bike these days. The general term for them is “Community Bike Center.” My friend Andrew runs Troy Bike Rescue in Troy, NY. There’s also the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters in Edmonton, Alberta, and Bikes Not Bombs in Boston, MA. The community bike centers are a nice fit in the bike universe along with the Local Bike Shop (LBS), and the online retailer. I would even say that the boutique bike shop and Big Box store have their place in the Bike-a-verse.
In class #2 of Recycle-a-bike’s four class series, we learned about taking out and replacing cables on a bike. It was interesting to see how it was a pretty simple thing to do – but at the same time I could see that it will take doing it again and again before I feel competent at doing it.
The class was split into two groups – my group working with an instructor in his mid-20s included a few college-age kids as students along with me. The instructor and the college kids got on the topic of Critical Mass. The instructor mentioned that last month, 3 people met in Providence for a Critical Mass. The instructor and the kids started talking about how to make it bigger in April. I just bit my tongue.
I understand the appeal of Critical Mass. I rode in two of them in Edmonton and I experienced the feeling of solidarity with the other cyclists. The first one was okay, there were dozens of people, and we took up one lane of a four lane street so cars could still go past us. The cars were certainly inconvenienced, but not completely stopped. A few laws were bent, but not flagrantly broken. Eventually, we made our way down to one of the bridges that connects the two halves of the city. The mass made its way onto the bridge, and took up both lanes, moving along at about 3 MPH. At this stage of the CM, it seemed like the point was to piss off the drivers as much as possible. For the second CM I joined in Edmonton, there were almost 100 participants and the group took up both lanes in one direction of a major street (during rush hour, downtown, again going 3-4 MPH). We made our way to the same bridge and again completely blocked traffic. I couldn’t stand it anymore and went ahead at a more normal pace. I could hear cars revving their engines behind the mass. It sounded like a pack of motorcycles, but it turned out to be a Ferrari of all things (I guess a high-revving V-12 sounds like 3 high-revving 4 cylinder engines).
I never wanted to be in a Critical Mass again. As a form of protest, it seemed pointless – how does blocking the streets and pissing everybody off do anything for cycling? I recently learned that my brother had a small health scare on a plane and when he landed in San Diego, an ambulance was waiting for him to rush him to a hospital. Except it couldn’t rush to the hospital because traffic was completely snarled by the monthly San Diego critical mass. Luckily the health issue turned out to be a false alarm.
My brother has worked in the auto industry all of his life, and even he was beginning to understand how America’s car-centered lifestyle is not going to be sustainable in the long run. His personal solution is to live in a walkable neighborhood – while still owning a gas-guzzling sports car* and flying all over the country for his job. But now, he hates the San Diego cyclists – they could have cost him his life.
After my recent road rage incident, I got to my office and steamed for quite a while. (This was the morning after the bike class described above.) I thought, “Fuck it! I’m going to Critical Mass this month and I’m going to piss off as many drivers as I can. If they don’t like it, they can suck on their exhaust pipes.” Eventually I calmed down and came to the conclusion described in that post.
In conclusion, I won’t be riding in the Providence Critical Mass if it starts back up. I wouldn’t mind riding in a pack of 5 people or so. I’m okay with taking up a lane, but going at a reasonable speed, obeying (most of) the laws and allowing people to pass. But something tells me that no one is up for Half-assed Mass.
*BMW M3 with SMG paddle shifters – unbelievably fun to drive on twisty roads.