Saturday, October 30, 2010

Massively Critical: The October Critical Mass Ride

The Militant hasn't done a group bicycle ride in a looong-ass time, so he figured he'd check out this month's last-Friday-of-the-month Los Angeles Critical Mass ride on Friday night, having heard it's quite the shiznit these days, with upwards of over 1800 cyclists, and a police escort which followed this unfortunate incident last year.

This was the Militant's first CM ride in over three years. When he first rode in Spring 2007, about 60 riders started at Wilshire and Western, snaked through Koreatown, Hollywood, Silver Lake, Historic Filipinotown and finally ended unceremoniously in Downtown Los Angeles...with about six riders. The Militant thought it was teh lame and has avoided it since, in favor of these rides and this (now defunct) ride.

But now that CM has grown to the size and scope of its originator up north, the Militant wanted to check it out.

He rode over from the Militant Compound to Wilshire/Western, where some 1300 cyclists gathered (pictured right). And just at the ready, LAPD motorcycles were lined up around the corner, with a number of bike cops waiting at the base of the Solair Wilshire building.

The most interesting observation coming back from the Militant's two-year absence from group rides? The change in the group ride demographic. The majority of riders no longer comprises of white hipsters on fixies, but Latino teenagers...on fixies.

The 30-mile ride got underway at around 7:45 p.m., headed north on Western, west on 6th Street, north on Highland, west on Melrose, south on La Cienega...

...and then, well it sorta got iffy after that. The pack thinned out greatly. In fact, though the po-po were escorting us, they were also ticketing cyclists at every other lighted intersection for running red lights. It was sort of bizarre. One female cyclist openly wept as she tried to reason with the officer.

As we headed down La Cienega, there was some confusion as to where to go. Apparently, the pack turned west on Pico, but we continued south on La Brea and turned west on Venice Blvd. towards Culver City.

But Venice Blvd already has a bike lane, and the Militant was increasingly feeling the uselessness of this ride using a pre-existing bike lane when for the past five miles or so we took over the streets (which is the point of Critical Mass in the first place, no?).

At one point, after Mar Vista and into eastern Venice, the Militant was riding all alone. Hmm, this evening started out as Critical Mass and ended like...well, any other night the Militant rides his bike alone. He overheard people heading south on Lincoln, so he dismounted and hung out on Lincoln and Venice. There were other cyclists on each corner, either hanging out or waiting for others. He even saw some head north on Lincoln. At this point, he thought, "Critical Mass the Militant's Ass!" And contemplated either riding the 33 Metro Local bus or his bike back to his compound.

Suddenly, at around 9:25 p.m., a huge gaggle of riders came up to the street and stopped at the light (Pictured left). Here they are! They probably did go down Pico after all. Los Angeles, you never fail the Militant!

Now joining what now looks like a couple hundred riders, we descended south on Lincoln towards Marina Del Rey and Playa Vista, where we got ready to turn left on Jefferson. But since we were all bicycles and there were no cars stopped on top of the road sensors circles, the left turn green light never came. After over 5 minutes waiting at the left turn lane, two motorcycle officers went ahead on a red light and we all followed them.

There were whoops and hollers as we bolted east on Jefferson back towards Culver City. But then again, at every lighted intersection, cyclists were getting red light tickets. So basically, never bolt past a red light (when the police are present, unless they actually allow you to...).

We headed left on Sepulveda and hit Venice Blvd. Being All Hallow's Eve Eve Eve, a number of cyclists wore costumes, everything from the standard zombie and skeleton to some of the more creative ones - including an iPod and Elliot (a dude wearing a red-hooded sweatshirt with an E.T. doll in his bike's front basket - clever).

There were also some pretty tricked-out bikes, including one pulling a long trailer, and one extremely illuminated cycle owned by Dego from Downtown Los Angeles, who had built his over the past couple years and powers all his lights with a 38-volt battery mounted behind his saddle.

We headed east on Venice, using the bike lane again, and didn't turn north again until Western, where the Militant returned back to the Metro station at Wilshire, where he met up with an operative. What started out as roughly 1300 turned into...13.

In all it was a fun night, though the police presence was confusing. June's much-lauded Critical Mass was called a "love fest" between cyclists and LAPD, but the Militant overheard incidents of officers being unnecessarily rude to CM participants. There were riders who had great conversations with the police, mainly the younger officers on bikes (a number of them did look like they were having fun - they normally don't get to ride that far). Officers do have to uphold the law as they are sworn to do, but as the pack thins out dramatically, the purpose of Critical Mass is all for naught. It looked like there were enough tickets handed out to balance the City's budget woes. So thank a cyclist if that happens.

In the meantime, the Militant will look out for the other group rides. Or...he may or may not organize one of his own. Who's down for that?!

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