By Scott Spitz
There is the saying “You can’t kill an idea,” and the idea of getting a considerable number of cyclists together for a rolling party certainly hasn’t died, though some oppositional forces have definitely tried to kill it. Most notably, Critical Mass embodied this idea of a roving, rolling party, “putting the fun between your legs,” and generally having a good time. As time moved forward Critical Mass became a contentious force to many, bringing a level of repression down upon the party and squashing its more positive vibes. Over the years, Critical Mass has struggled to keep its party vibe and initial momentum, but the idea itself has transferred or evolved into other forms, such as the large group fun ride. The idea is the same—get a bunch of cyclists together for a rolling party—but how that idea has been implemented consists of great diversity, barring easy definition. The logistics, however, remain simple and steadfast. Get a bunch of people together. Start riding. Have a good time. And that idea not only can’t be killed, but continues to get stronger as more and more group fun rides fill the void Critical Mass has left behind in many locales. How did we evolve into these new forms of rolling parties and what might come next?
Critical Mass wanted to be a rolling party, but depending on who you ask, the political protest element couldn’t be ignored and sometimes overshadowed the fun atmosphere. In some cities the political, defiant atmosphere hit such a fever pitch the police were an expected, unpleasant presence. Soon followed arrests, intimidation, and increased incidents of physical violence. The documentary, Aftermass, details this escalation and subsequent decreasing number of riders due to the growing hostility. The party was quickly becoming a buzzkill. The cyclists, however, weren’t ready to quit riding.
What follows in the wake of Critical Mass is a new type of rolling party, where cyclists gather to be social and have fun, with no manner of confrontational agenda. These new rides often organize around themes rather than politics. There are the World Naked Bike Rides, Tweed Rides, Underwear Rides, Slow Roll in Cleveland and Detroit, Bicycle Prom in Miami, Flock of Cycles rides in Pittsburgh, Radder Day Rides in Indianapolis, among countless others. Sometimes they are sporadic, scheduled on a whim, while others are yearly, and yet others monthly. They all, despite their various themes, center around a couple of key principles. As Mike MacKool of Slow Roll Detroit states it, “Slow Roll started in 2010 with the initial intent of riding bikes with friends and contributing to the growth of cycling in Detroit,” or as the mission of Flock of Cycles states, “Flock of Cycles works to bring people together and make Pittsburgh a fun place to ride bikes,” and how “Dapper” of the Albany Tweed Ride explains, “The intent was just to try to get people together and have some fun on bikes, and demonstrate that you could do so without looking like Lance.”
The reoccurring theme is obvious. It’s not explicitly about breaking oil dependence, asserting one’s right to the streets, creating new expanses of public space, goading the authorities into a state of social tension or anything else. Whether an individual rides for these purposes or not, and whether these dynamics are part of the ride isn’t the point. The rides themselves are organized around no agenda but fun, and that’s where the break from the old Critical Mass approach is most noticed. With this break comes new riders as well,