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A two-beard case for Critical Mass

If there are two arguments for why Critical Mass, the worldwide monthly bike-fun event, should return to Portland after petering out in 2008 or so, here they are:

Critical Mass

That’s Scott LaForce, a 30-year-old artist and retail worker, on the left, and David Kennedy, a 37-year-old Gresham schoolteacher, on the right. They were the only two bikers I saw when I stopped by the traditional meeting point for Critical Mass today to investigate the unexpected online announcement of the first CM ride in a long time.

LaForce said he’d never been to a Portland bike event. Kennedy had checked out the World Naked Bike Ride.

They were smart, political, and moderately engaged – the kind of guys who read the bike stories in the Mercury and Oregonian, talk about bike lanes with their friends and probably catch BikePortland posts on Facebook sometimes. They seemed confused when I mentioned Shift, the local biking listserv, and they certainly didn’t know anything about the Bike Liberation Front, the group that had supposedly called for the ride on Shift’s calendar.

Instead, they’d shown up because LaForce, a Portlander since January, and Kennedy, a two-year resident, had known about Critical Mass in Atlanta and New York and assumed it would be fun to join in Portland. They’d presumably found the defunct local Critical Mass page by Googling it, the same way the new resident of a town tends to shop at Best Buy.

More bike lovers pour into Portland every day. Critical Mass is the name they know.

“I’ve always seen it,” LaForce said, ethusiastically. “And I’ve just never taken part.”

When I told them Portland’s event basically died out a few years back, they were surprised. Maybe, LaForce told me, it was because of the mainstream reputation of Critical Mass, which they said has driven away the hardcore anarchists.

Some folks say Portland doesn’t need Critical Mass any more, I said. It’s got lots of its own events now.

That didn’t make much sense to them.

“The highways are expanding,” LaForce said, accurately. “People are not stopping driving.”

“Compared to other cities, though?” Kennedy cut in, also accurately. “For lack of a better term, the bike lobby here seems to have quite a lot of influence.”

All around us on the park blocks, bike commuters headed home. I swung my own bike around – I had a late appointment to get to myself. I suggested they check out Aftermass, Joe Biel’s documentary-in-the-making about the history of Critical Mass in Portland. They recommended I check out B.I.K.E., a documentary about a New York bike gang. I couldn’t tell, as I pedaled off, whether anyone else would be showing up for tonight’s promised ride – or whether, if nobody else came, these two potential bike advocates would slip out of bike politics permanently.

“We’re supposed to be a model,” LaForce said. “If we stop doing it, who’s going to continue?”

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