If you see a pack of bicyclists taking up the road this Friday evening, do not be alarmed.
Should you be driving a motor vehicle at this time, please do not attempt to drive around or, God forbid, through them. Refrain from unnecessary horn usage, as the cyclists are aware of your presence. The point of their ride is for you to be aware of theirs.
This is Critical Mass, a loosely–organized wheeled sojourn through the city streets meant to raise bike consciousness and provide some free fun. These grassroots gatherings originated in San Francisco in the early ‘90s and are regular happenings in 300 cities around the world. Mostly held the last Friday of the month, the number of participants can range from a few dozen to tens of thousands. Savannah’s next Critical Mass takes place Friday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m.
There have been several attempts to get the monthly ride going over the years, occasionally deteriorating into a intoxicated mess when merged with the city’s liberal to–go cocktail policy. This latest incarnation is facilitated by Joseph Padworski, a clean–cut 22 year–old from Long Island, NY, whose passion for biking around Savannah appears endless: A former pedicabbie, Padworski delivers sandwiches on his bike six days a week for Jimmy John’s and often spends the hours before and after cruising downtown.
“I probably ride between 30 and 40 miles a day,” he estimates. “Savannah is such a great cycling city — no hills!”
He prefers a fixed–gear rig with no brakes, using his own momentum to come to a complete stop. He has found like minds among the city’s underground cycle culture, working with the Backyard Bike Co–op to help build bikes for needy citizens out of donated parts.
“This is such a helpful community, everyone is so kind,” he says.
Being out on the streets so much, Padworski has suffered his share of drivers who cut him off or worse. He decided to revive Critical Mass in Savannah to raise awareness for cyclists’ rights, but frankly, gathering up all his buddies for a long bike ride sounded pretty great, too.
His first effort in January brought out over 50 people for a 20–mile loop that began at the Forsyth Park bandstand, meandered downtown and went into Thunderbolt past Savannah State. For this Friday’s ride, he plans to have points for people to peel off as they like.
“We move as a pack, like we’re our own car,” he explains. “The front people obey all traffic laws, and the rest follow.”
This adherence to the rules of the road is key, as a few Critical Mass events in other cities have aggravated tensions between cyclists and drivers rather than ameliorate them. Incidents in San Francisco have clogged commutes and enraged people, causing a backlash against a movement that is trying to change attitudes towards sharing the road.
“I think Critical Mass can be very positive. But it can devolve into a bit of a mob when folks are not being courteous,” says Drew Wade, chair of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign. “Because they feel disenfranchised as cyclists, they use this as a way to take out their frustrations. But I don’t get the sense that’s the case with this current group.”
The Savannah Bicycle Campaign works at the city and state levels to incorporate bicycle–friendly points into official transportation policy, and while it doesn’t organize Critical Mass events, it is definitely down with the event’s intentions.
“We certainly support the idea bicycles have the right to the road, and this is one way people choose to make a statement about that,” continues Wade. “As long as they follow the law, it’s a perfectly acceptable way of expressing the right of bikes to be on the road.”
Padrowski also wholeheartedly encourages law–abiding and courteous behavior. He also asks that Critical Mass participants wear helmets and bring lights. Participants will receive a laminated card to display in their wheel spokes.
The hope is to attract a wide range of cyclists for the next ride, unified in the fight for bike rights and the love of the ride itself.
“I’d love to see the road bike people join us, the older riders, the families,” says Padrowski. “This is for everyone who rides a bike and wants to raise awareness.”
Critical Mass Savannah
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22
Where: Meet at Forsyth Park bandshell