Miami

Critical Mass cyclists cheered through Little Havana

 

jsimmons@MiamiHerald.com

Thousands of cyclists — so many it was impossible to see where the mass of riders began and ended if you were in the middle of it — turned out for Miami Critical Mass despite heavy downpours Friday night.

And authorities were prepared for them.

Miami Police had motorcycles along the route to hold up traffic to allow the cyclists to ride the route from Downtown Miami through Little Havana. The riders rode through red lights, as traffic was held up at intersections.

Traffic hold-ups at the intersections were minor, lasting only about 15 minutes.

But that was too long for one pickup truck which attempted to butt into the mass of bicyclists. The riders screamed at the driver, and gave a victory sign as they passed by.

One wheeled around the truck yelling, “Thank you, bro, thank you!”

Along Calle Ocho, bystanders drinking coffee waited outside shops to cheer as the sea of bicycles went by.

And a show it was: Riders had strollers attached to their back spokes, pulling children; people riding skateboards hung on to bicycles for the 11-mile ride; some riders had sound systems tied onto their bike racks blaring pop songs.

About halfway through the ride, the rain started.

Cyclists cheered and honked their cycle horns as they sped through the downpour.

As they rode past Fire Station No. 7 on Beacom Boulevard, a dozen firefighters blared their horns and waved back.

The fire station knew Critical Mass was coming, said Fire District Chief Julio Mestas, and had a game plan in place, which was needed.

When a call came in, a few firefighters walked out into to spinning crowd to part the way for the fire truck to get out.

“They’ll get out of the way when we need to get out,” said Mestas. “We haven’t had any problems. It’s actually pretty cool.”

Friday night’s Critical Mass ride was a drastic departure from June’s ride, which clogged Biscayne Boulevard and the 79th Street and Venetian Causeways. Drivers complained of being held up for an hour or longer.

Because the cyclist ride en masse, often shoulder to shoulder instead of single file or two abreast, they block lanes. They ride through red lights, not allowing traffic at intersections to cross.

But on Friday night, Miami resident Jacob Rispa waited in his car at the intersection of Southwest Eighth Street and Southwest 27th Street Friday for just 10 minutes as the cyclists passed.

“I think it’s nice. I think these people have the right to enjoy the city on their bikes,” said Rispa, 42. “There are too many cars anyway.”

Miami Critical Mass, part of a global movement designed to bring attention to cyclists’ right to the road, is held on the last Friday of each month.

The rides aren’t formally organized — there’s no official Critical Mass leader — and routes, posted at www.themiamibikescene.com, change with each ride.

The Critical Mass tradition stated in San Francisco in 1992, but it soon went international. Critical Mass rides in Miami started in 2007 with just a few dozen people, said cyclist Rydel Deed, who runs themiamibikescene.com. Now the rides regularly draw more than 2,000 cyclists.

Celebrities like Miami Heat stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have sometimes turned out for the rides, which begin at 7:15 p.m. at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center at 111 NW First St. and end at or near the starting point.

Cyclist and Miami resident Ann-Marie Fernandez said she’s ridden with Critical Mass at least 12 times.

She said she enjoys the ride, but also sympathizes with frustrated drivers and thinks cyclists should follow the rules of the road.

“I follow the rules, but a lot of people don’t,” she said. “That’s what gives the mass a bad name. I believe when we’re riding, we should be respectful.”

Nelson Rodriguez, 37, is an avid cyclist who rides 70 to 80 miles each week and started riding with Critical Mass last year.

“I’m just having fun,” he said before the start of Friday’s ride.

But Rodriguez said there were other reasons for riding with Critical Mass, too.

“It creates awareness, and it brings the community together,” he said.

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