Bike ride shows cyclists belong on the street, too

From the Omaha World-Herald. Sounds like their ride is much like ours!

Mention the cycling event “Critical Mass,” and it may bring to mind images of hundreds of bicyclists fouling up automobile traffic in Seattle or San Francisco. But Friday afternoon in Omaha, “Critical Mass” involved five guys — six if you include the reporter assigned to cover it — enjoying a pleasant, half-hour bike ride through north and downtown Omaha.

“Critical Mass” is a mass bicycle ride held on the last Friday of the month in hundreds of cities worldwide. Typically two to four times as many Omaha cyclists take part in the monthly local event, regulars said. But turnout suffered on a weekend dominated by a concert in Memorial Park, the Omaha Summer Arts Festival and high temperatures approaching 90 degrees.

“It’s hard riding alone,” said Tyler Magnuson, 20, of Omaha. “Cars can be very violent towards bikers … It’s very empowering to be in a group of people.”

Often such events are attempts to call attention to how unfriendly some cities can be to bicyclists. And while some of the Omaha riders said they were interested in raising awareness of two-wheeled traffic, most of Friday’s participants said their primary interest was getting together for a bike ride.

“I don’t consider it a political activity,” Magnuson said. “It’s just something you do.”

Riders described “Critical Mass” as typically leaderless and informal. The unorganized nature and lack of a formal political agenda keeps riders from having to notify police of a political gathering, particularly in foreign countries not under the protection of the First Amendment.

The bicyclists assembled in Gifford Park, just south of 33rd and California Streets. Things were supposed to kick off at 5 p.m., but the riders chatted while waiting for stragglers.

There was no pre-planned route. There never is. Someone suggested they ride downtown to the Summer Arts Festival and the Old Market, and no one argued. The group pulled onto 33rd Street and peddled north. The small band of cyclists took up the whole northbound lane.

The group hung a right onto Burt Street and sped past the district headquarters of the Omaha Public Schools, where participants waved and said hello to a young man riding a bicycle in the opposite direction. Riders described a community among cyclists, sharing the common experience of being shouted at or treated rudely by motorists.

They went north on 24th Street to Nicholas Street and then east, still occupying the eastbound lane. Behind them, a line of vehicles stacked up. One by one, the drivers of cars and trucks gunned their engines and sped past them as the opportunities arose, but no vulgarities were shouted, soda cans thrown or middle fingers extended, which, they said, is not always the case.

A couple of months ago on North 72nd Street, a motorist zipped up from behind and bumped one of the “Critical Mass” cyclists, knocking him to the ground. He was uninjured, but the bike was wrecked. The police were called and the matter settled when the motorist paid for a new bike.

On Friday evening, the group rolled south, first on 14th Street then 10th. Near Dodge Street, a line of cars got caught behind them, but again, no gestures or shouts. The ride ended near 11th and Farnam Streets. Some cyclists stayed for the Arts Festival; others continued to ride alone.

This “Critical Mass” was the first for Stephen Horn, 69, of Blair, and probably his last. He enjoyed the ride but would rather not put himself in a position where he has to depend on the good sense of drivers. He prefers bike trails.

“I don’t like putting my life in someone else’s hands,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of crazy people driving cars, frankly.”

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Critical Mass Memorial Ride

Tomorrow night Critical Mass will be having a special ride, in commemoration of two area cyclists who died in cycling accidents in the past week.

BobFrederickOn Friday, June 12, Lawrence resident and former KU athletic director Bob Frederick died as a result of injuries sustained in a cycling accident. Frederick was an experienced cyclist, and was riding in Lawrence when he struck a pothole and was thrown from his bike. He was taken by helicopter to the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, where he later died. Frederick was 69.

The following day, Saturday, June 13, Michael Ebron, 48, of Topeka, was riding on US Highway 24 in North Topeka, near NW Goodyear road when he was struck from behind by a motorist in a Toyota 4-Runner. Emergency responders pronounced Ebron dead at the scene.

As often as we ride, it’s easy to forget that there are very real dangers on the road, and that we must continue to be always mindful of our surroundings. The purpose of Critical Mass is to raise awareness among motorists of the presence of cyclists, and to remind them to share the road with all its users, not just other motorists. Mr. Ebron’s death is an example of why what we do is important, and should strengthen our resolve to educate motorists in Topeka and elsewhere.

ghostbikeDuring our ride tomorrow night, we will be placing a ghost bike at the corner of US Highway 24 and NW Goodyear Road, in memory of Mr. Ebron. For those who aren’t familiar, a ghost bike is an all white bike, installed at the site of a cycling fatality as a memorial to the cyclist who lost his or her life, and as a visible reminder to motorists to share the road. For more information, refer to

Bob Frederick
1940 –  2009

Michael Anthony Ebron
1961 –  2009

This Friday!

Hey, let’s ride our bikes. To heck with the rain. I have a huge pair of bright yellow rain pants if anyone needs to borrow them. But I just plan on rocking my denim.

We should try to hit the Legacy Arts Center, since it’s at 6th and Lane, close to the Trap, and the Tinkham Veale building on Kansas Avenue should also be pretty neat.

Meet up at the Boobie Trap Bar, 5:30.

And if it’s totally pouring down rain and the streets are flooding and it’s miserable out… well, Tavio will probably still be riding, but I think I will chicken out until next week.