Riding daily, celebrating monthly
October 8, 2008
Although the mood is festive, the purpose is critical.
At Critical Taco Tuesday at Sara Levinson’s house , dozens gather with a critical purpose – to create a better future. Many global citizens strive for a better future. Some preach peace and some attempt to help the hungry. However, this group aims to create a better future through the celebration of the bicycle. Inside the house, with a 20-ounce Tecate in one hand, a Sharpie in the other and a taco by her knee, Levinson makes a colorful poster. It reads, “Ride Daily, Celebrate Monthly!”A couple kisses in the backyard after spray-painting a T-shirt. The shirt reads “Critical Mass” in bright red spray paint.
The group is preparing to promote the upcoming Critical Mass ride, a monthly celebration from South Tahoe to Sao Paulo, Brazil. While the point of the gathering at Levinson’s house is clear, the purpose of the monthly ride is not so specific.
A Critical Mass ride is described on the local group’s Web site as “a non-hierarchical ‘spontaneous coincidence’ of bike riders who come together en masse to reclaim the streets once a month. Our goal is to promote sustainable transportation, celebrate the bicycle and enjoy the day riding with friends and neighbors.” The ride happens on the last Friday of every month and the South Tahoe group has been growing in numbers since its beginning in 2007.
Critical Mass’ impact has a far greater reach than the basin walls. While riders claim Highway 50 once a month, other riders all around the world do the same thing to their streets.
“Rides take place all over the world, from South Lake Tahoe to New York City to Budapest, Hungary,” says Critical Mass promoter and rider Sterling Wallstrum. “One unique aspect of the rides is that (for the most part) they happen on the same day at the same time across the globe. I find it an inspiring image of bicyclists of all nations coming together in unison.”
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Beyond the bike
Although the ride is a monthly occassion, promoting the ride is a full-time job for Levinson, who also works as a massage therapist for Body Essentials Spa.
“If I’m not massaging, I’m talking about Critical Mass,” says Levinson.
“The ride happens from the ‘Y’ to a fixed point,” explains Levinson. The fixed point is usually a restaurant, bar or home where the riders conclude their trip with food and drinks.
“I contact different restaurants that might support us, and then we end our ride there. Especially in the slow season, it’s good to bring in a lot of business to them.”
Levinson spends the rest of the month promoting the ride with fliers, posters and communicating the old-fashioned way: word of mouth.
Community members have stepped up to help Levinson on her mission.
South Shore graphic designer Scott Steele donates his creative view to help make eye-catching fliers. Ed at Fast Prints helps reduce the printing cost.
“My friends really help out, too. We have Taco Tuesday night at my house. All my friends get togther and we all make posters and on the Wednesday before the ride everyone goes and puts posters up.
“This month I’ve dropped about 250 bucks into it and a lot of time. I talk a lot to people, so it’s really just part of my everyday social life.”
Riding with Reason
On Friday, Sept. 26, a mass of bike riders heads down Highway 50 from the Mikasa building to MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa, and back to the Tudor Pub. Motorists’ heads turn in confusion as more than 100 cyclists take over one lane of the highway. While some honk in appreciation, others cut in front of the group, speeding up to avoid being stuck behind the cycling mass.
Most of the motorists probably had one question: Why? When asked about the purpose of the global event, rider Wallstrum said, “Many simply just want to enjoy a ride across town with their friends and neighbors. Those promoting the event may have similar or different reasons. I personally promote Critical Mass to help grow sustainable transportation in my local community. I believe those participating in these events worldwide wish to create a positive future, one lush with bikes.”
While different riders and different rides have different purposes, Levinson believes the South Lake Tahoe ride has some specific goals.
“It’s letting the people who are in charge, the city council, it’s showing them the biking community,” she says. “It’s like, ‘Look, here we are, we exist’ – Let’s pave the bike lane, let’s pave the roads past the bike lane. On a small scale politically, it’s for our safety; it’s for awareness for them.”
Levinson also believes the ride has a greater social importance that can benefit the community. “The reason for the ride is not only environmentally, it’s a more friendly mode of transportation. It’s good for the body, the mind, the soul, the community and human interaction. It’s also to show motorists, us enjoying our bikes and enjoying the ride. Hopefully it will get them feeling like, ‘Oh, I want to ride, maybe I’ll ride my bike to work tomorrow,’ or ‘Maybe I’ll ride my bike to dinner with my friends.'”
While Critical Mass grows at the South Shore, some might associate the gathering with the massive and infamous San Fransisco ride that garners much attention.
“Some of them (Critical Mass rides) are a little more anarchy-based. Like the one in San Fransisco is very much ‘in your face’ – they chant, ‘Buy more stuff,'” says Levinson.
“They’re all about really geting a rise out of the motorist and cutting them off. It’s a little more aggressive form of communication. And then there’s small rides like the one in San Diego; they do a leisurely ride all throughout downtown, they go through all the little district, ring their bells and really just enjoy the ride.”
The Future is Critical
“I think with the high cost of gasoline, diminishing energy resources, and a growing acceptance of the dire consequences of global climate change, the use of bicycles as a viable form of transportation is bound to grow,” Wallstrum said, when asked about the place of the bicycle in our community’s future.
Levinson believes Critical Mass can help push change in the South Shore community. “I want the roads to be safer, I want it to be more bike friendly.”
“If it was safer, more people would be out there. We’re only inhibited cycling-wise about four months of the year. The majority of the year, we could have a lot more bikers out there. … Some parts of the road, the bike lane is so tiny, it’s just not safe for commuting purposes. Road bike tires can’t actually be on all the roads in Tahoe. The thin tires get into the cracks and people are falling. So, its unsafe.”
When Critical Mass started two years ago in Tahoe, it was seasonal and included 10 to 15 people, according to Wallstrum. Now, the ride is monthly and numbers are growing past 100 riders strong. The future of Critical Mass at the South Shore is becoming more concrete with increased ridership. With more numbers, the promoters chance of creating social change is becoming more real.
“There’s a lot of people who are settled here who aren’t transient and they derserve bike lanes, they’re the ones who keep Tahoe going,” says Levinson. They deserve to have wider trails, maintained roads and bike paths for their commutes so they can enjoy their city, and enjoy the nice clean crisp air out of their car.”
Want to ride?
Where: Miller’s Outpost Parking Lot at the ‘Y’
When: 6:30 p.m., Oct. 31 – Halloween **
What: Costumed ride to Stateline ending at the Tudor Pub*
* Free entrance to all riders at the Tudor Pub
** Rides happen the last Friday of every month, same time, same place