Houston biking group eyes future
On the last Friday of every month, Houston bicyclists meet at Market Square park to take part in Critical Mass, an informal bike ride that happens among different groups all over the world.
The size of the last ride was the talk of the town on Friday night, good and bad.
Abrahan Garza has been riding with CM since May 2009. He remembers there only being around 300 riders on his first ride. Friday night, he says he was one of nearly 1,500. Some estimated there to be close to 2,000.
Some have begun asking out loud if this means the event is getting too big for its own good.
The main gripe of people who encounter CM during a ride is that some of the riders are not observing traffic laws as those driving cars and trucks are expected to.
The practice of "corking" an intersection to protect riders is what usually angers most outsiders. An experienced rider blocks cars from entering an intersection as cyclists come through it.
This leads to plenty of honking and and back and forth between CM riders and those in cars. Riders also remind one another to not block train tracks or emergency vehicles.
Craig Taylor is a regular CM rider in Houston. He said he and others in CM would love have a police cruiser, a motorcycle cop, or even just a bicycle cop available to tour with them to help with safe passage.
Some CM materials do make mention of traffic safety, noting that in the interest of the group staying together while on a route, sometimes red lights and stop signs aren't obeyed.
"Safety always comes before the law," says one FAQ available online from the Chicago CM group.
The Houston-area rides usually last two hours or so, kicking off at 7:30 p.m. and sometimes encompassing 20 miles of biking.
Friday's ride began at the park and ended at Summer Street Studios, where you can still find some of artist David Adickes' sculpture work.
The goals of Houston's CM, besides camaraderie and appreciation of the cycling experience, is to send a message to those in automobiles that bicyclists are also on the streets and to respect their space.
In turn, this should cement Houston's image as a bike-friendly city.
Garza says he's seen riders as young as 10 and as old as 80.
"This proves that Houston is a bike city," says Garza, of the loosely-organized CM.
CM doesn't enforce any official rules or codes, other than basic bicycling etiquette. There is no enforcement of helmets or other protective gear. They welcome all bikes as well. Some newbies are coming to CM on B-cycles too.
From what Garza says, the group very much depends on riders using their best judgment.
As Garza reminds, there is no way to drum out problem bicyclists.
Since CM is a capital-O organization, there is no one to complain to directly. There is no official leadership or hierarchy.
The group's Facebook page is full of complaints from riders and outsiders alike.
After each ride, there are CM regulars and critics who air their beefs on social media.
Taylor says none of this is new, and it does come with the territory. Internet trolls sometimes get the best of a few riders.
"Any community that grows to a size that CM has will have bickering," Taylor says.
The disagreements don't affect the Friday night rides though.
"When you are out on the road this doesn't seem to be an issue," he says.
Taylor noticed on Friday that some in the group were littering and voiced his concerns on Facebook. He's now looking into instituting recycle crews and rolling litter baskets.