Biking good in the neighborhood
Critical Mass commemorates the hot nights of August by celebrating bicycles
The driver of the Pontiac GTO revs his engine and pushes forward a few inches into the mass of bicycles driving toward Virginia Lake. Screeches to a halt.
Vroom. Screech. Vroom.
He launches his silver sports car into the oncoming traffic lane to try to pass. The Pontiac brushes a bit too close to a bicyclist.
I don’t see a bicyclist jab at the car’s tire with his foot as the car brushes up alongside him. I hear about it later. I watch from a half-block ahead as the driver pulls over and gets out of his car. Angry. Red-faced. Pumped up.
Bikes surround him. Like ants on a jelly sandwich.
Ants, by themselves, wield little power. As do small humans pedaling slight, two-wheeled frames down streets created for 3,000-pound cars and 4,500-pound SUVs that could smush ’em like, you know, bugs.
But amass about 60 bicycles cruising together down the streets of Reno on a recent Friday night in August. That equates to some power.
Perhaps realizing this, the gray-haired man, well-dressed, gets back in his V-8-powered sports car. The woman in the passenger seat looks sternly forward.
“I bet she’s embarrassed,” one bicyclist says.
Bikes swarm the car for a few more minutes. Then the driver lurches out into oncoming traffic, gets honked at by oncoming cars, and doesn’t see the bikers again until they, like him, pull into the parking lot of Ben’s Fine Wine and Spirits on Lakeside Drive.
Call this Critical Mass, Reno’s tribute to the national bike protest movement, or refer to it as just an informal gathering of bicycle lovers. Dozens gather at 5:30 p.m. the first Friday of the month. Some are new to the monthly rides. Others have gone out a half-dozen times. A few have been with Critical Mass since its inception here more than a decade ago.
“Critical Mass is a celebration of the bicycle as an alternative to gas-guzzling in traffic,” announces the text at the Reno Critical Mass Web site, tribes.tribe.net/renocriticalmass.
“It’s not a ‘f@?j you’ to motorists,” says the self-censored Web site. “Come and be cool and show them we’re having much more fun than they are!”
The mix of bicyclists covers a wide swath of ages, gender and bike styles.
Paulo Vandenberg, 29, of Bicycle Bananas, rides a BMX.
“It’s not the bike I’d normally ride to work,” he says. “I wanted to be the only person on a 20-inch.”
Rossitza Todorova, 25, tools along on a 1969 English bicycle, a three-speed Dunelt that she bought at a thrift store in Carson City. Todorova says she’s excited about Reno’s growing bicycling subculture.
“You meet one other biker, then you meet more,” she says. “And you hear about events like this.”
Ruth Flack, a Renown nurse, rides her brother-in-law’s bike.
“Someone stole my Gary Fischer out of my garage,” she says.
She heard about the Critical Mass ride while shopping at the Great Basin Food Co-op. “I’m interested in community work,” Flack says. “And in connecting with local people.”
Flack has an old Peugeot that she plans to restore, using the resources of the Reno Bike Project, a new community service intended to encourage bike use. (www.renobikeproject.blogspot.com)
The ride doesn’t start, as planned, at 5:30 p.m. Though the event boasts no leader, a few people are waiting for Pete Menchetti, 33, a.k.a. The Sticker Guy, to arrive with his red septocycle—a roundish seven-seat bike on which is mounted a stereo and a drum set.
When he’s riding around with a band—as he’s done several summer nights in recent weeks, Menchetti calls his human-powered vehicle the “Rocktocycle.” Menchetti has taken the 450-pound, German-made “conference bike” to Burning Man for the past two years. He’ll be throwing rocktocycle parties on the playa this year, as well.
While we wait for Menchetti, I chat with Hans Frischeisen of Everlasting Health. He just returned from biking 2,200 miles across Australia and recently gave a presentation to the Reno City Council about how to make Reno streets more bicycle friendly.
Rockette Bob of Reno has decorated his bike with colorful plastic flowers, Barbie parts and a Pee-Wee Herman doll.
The Pee-Wee TV series changed Bob’s life, he tells me. Despite the masturbation controversy.
“Here Pee-Wee was, riding around on his bike,” Bob says. “So instead of drinking myself to death, I ride my bike. I still drink.”
Employees at Ben’s Fine Wine are less than pleased to see dozens of bicyclists pulling up to the door, then trickling into the store and heading to the drink coolers. One bicyclist foots the bill for the combined drinks, which include a 12-pack of Tecate, a few large bottles of Newcastle, Jagermeister and assorted juices and waters.
While standing in line, perhaps the youngest bicyclist, a third grader from Ester Bennett Elementary, complains to her grandfather about the Pontiac driver.
“He was being a big jerk,” she says. “He should have just let us go.”
Back to the bikes. Drinks are packaged up for later after-ride parties. There will be no drinking and biking here. A police car trolls through an adjacent parking lot. Then we’re back on the road, heading toward Virginia Street, where we take up two lanes.
Menchetti’s fellow riders skew young on this ride. Pedaling next to me are Brittany Sterling, 20, and Erica Wirthlin, 17, who’s been active with the Holland Project.
“I like your goggles,” Sterling tells Menchetti. Across from us is Mitch Jones, 18, a recent graduate of Reed High, who helped Menchetti ride the septocycle downtown.
We cruise north up Virginia, clapping to the music and shouting joyfully as we approach a sprinkler near Park Lane Mall. I’m nervous for a minute when a Citifare bus pulls up too near my back. But Menchetti’s a skillful driver.
We turn on Center Street, stereo blasting the Skatellites singing a song that seems to be about a visit to Reno.
Cars drive by, passengers staring. Some honk their support. One guy waves his hat at us, drops it on the street. A bicyclist picks it up and returns it to the slow-driving SUV.
“I love your bike,” one woman tells Menchetti, as she parks her car along the road.
“Do you wanna ride?” he offers. “We have an extra seat.”