A Revolution Per Minute

A few cyclists hope they have enough Critical Mass to fight Denver's car culture.

The second Denver ride was scheduled for 6 p.m. on September 24. By 5:50 p.m., only a few more people had shown up, bringing the total to ten -- five short of Kumar's goal of fifteen. "We still have a few minutes," Barrera said, pointing to a small group of riders who were approaching.

Steve Dreher was one of them. He had pedaled down the Cherry Creek bike path from his job at eCollege.com in southeast Denver. "I bike all year round," he says. "Denver has a lot of bikers, but until now, no public awareness for bike paths or bike lanes." Dreher commutes ten miles every day by bike from his house in the Baker neighborhood. "Half the reason I work there is because you can get there on the bike trail and because they have a shower," he says.

Dreher and Kumar both admit that Denver has some nice cycling paths and that the city has made an effort to create bike lanes, but they would like to see more. Kumar cycles to his downtown office every day on Lincoln Avenue or Logan Street, "on the sidewalks basically," he says. "Otherwise, people run you over. A bike lane only takes up three or four feet. It is something that should be examined -- if not downtown, then at least on Lincoln and Broadway."

J. Hadley Hooper

"We've all been run off the road," Dreher adds. "That's a risk you take." He isn't nervous about riding in Critical Mass, though, even if it does anger car commuters. As with any revolution, there is always danger. But he would like to see more riders, he says. "At least a hundred would be great."

At 6 p.m., Kumar counted. There were eighteen eager people. Would they do it?

"Yeah, we're going to ride," he said.

And so Denver's first Critical Mass ride began. The group -- with helmets for everyone -- slowly rolled out of the park and down 15th Street. They took up two lanes, and rush-hour drivers, their heads turning, had to hit the brakes and swerve to avoid them. The riders turned onto Glenarm Street and pedaled under the Denver Pavilions shopping mall. There were no bike lanes along the route they took. In some places there were barely enough lanes for the automobile traffic, but the group sailed past dozens of other cyclists who were using the streets anyway.

As they swept around the corner onto 18th Street and then turned on Blake, the group picked up four more people, and they spread out so that they occupied all lanes. Cars honked -- a lot of cars honked -- and one man in a Volkswagen Jetta sped angrily through the riders. A few people cheered. Some of the riders called out for people to join them; one screamed, "Cars fucking suck!"

"We needed that guy, though," Kumar says. "We need more each month, and we need people to get excited and more involved. The size that Denver is, anything above 100 people is going to be dramatic. We want it to be peaceful; we don't want it to be violent. But it can get violent. You never know what people are going to do, bikers or cars."

There were no police -- but that could change. In fact, Sergeant Tony Lombard, a spokesman for the Denver Police Department, says he has already heard of Critical Mass. "We'd have to determine what it was," he says. "Is it a protest? Is it a parade? If it turns into something like a parade, they'd have to have a permit. If it is a direct protest of automobiles, we'd have to look at it a different way and start enforcing the laws pretty strictly."

On this day, however, the group zigzagged peacefully through the streets for another thirty minutes or so, up California Street, down Champa and over to 15th again. They finally ended up at Market Street Station. The route will be roughly the same for the next ride on October 29th and again on November 26th, and on the last Friday of every month after that, Kumar hopes. "We figure if we can keep the motivation, then we can get it going, and if we get a turnout of dedicated followers, maybe we can survive the winter. It's something that doesn't take a lot of time to do.

"We're going to have our own rush hour, I guess."

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