Critical Mastermind

In Grand Rapids, there is one man who seeks to make the streets safer -- for bikes. Who is this mysterious Bike Man, cycling on behalf of justice for alternative transit?

Rapid Growth reveals no secrets, but was able to meet Bike Man in a clandestine location (Kava House) to talk to him about his undercover agenda (bike safety) and his enigmatic (extremely practical) affinity for cycling.

Some time ago, Bike Man left Grand Rapids for New York to attend school, and did a considerable amount of traveling. He settled in bike-friendly Denver, CO for four years before returning to Grand Rapids, MI this summer.

Bike Man had no frame of reference for what's happened regarding biking during his absence. Grand Rapidians know about the June addition of a 1.2-mile bike lane running down Lake Dr. SE between Cherry St. and Carlton Ave, and they also know about Commute (120 S. Division) and owner Daniel Koert's Wednesday Night Rides. But for Bike Man, the city seemed dismissive of the man and his bike, including a crash with a vehicle where the driver seemed somewhat unconcerned.

"In Denver, there are a lot of bike lanes," Bike Man says. "Motorists are used to bikes. The city breeds a culture of biking to work -- my former workplace had a bike-to-work day. Coming here, I feel like motorists aren't used to that."

Despite being a law-abiding cyclist willing to share the road, Bike Man found himself being honked at frequently, in addition to his crash. Being unable to find an active Critical Mass group, Bike Man organized his first Critical Mass in September. Traditionally taking place on the last Friday of each month, Critical Mass simply involves a number of bikers meeting in one location, and then taking to the streets together to create awareness for bikes as a form of transit. Critical Mass can have up to hundreds of participants. Sometimes the routes are planned and sometimes it can be spontaneous.

"It's a free, sponsor-less community event," Bike Man says. "It's fun gathering people before, during and after the ride, wherever the ride takes you to hang out with and meet people. The people are into bikes, and usually, you'll find other areas you're interested in too."

Bike Man chose to be anonymous for a few reasons: he didn't want a personal Facebook, and so being Bike Man on Facebook allows him the power to organize events with anonymity. He also feels that these events need to be leaderless, with people simply showing up and participating. Not to mention, Bike Man's Facebook posts about his arch-nemesis Car Man lurking in the streets of GR are a good read.

"I think bikes are amazing," Bike Man muses. "They promote a healthy lifestyle. You've got people bitching, myself included, about all these environmental things going on. Bikes are a good way to support the environment."

Bike Man invites all cyclists interested in riding to join his next ride, even those who may currently be uncomfortable or inexperienced with riding.

"Critical Mass rides are a really good way for people who don't ride their bikes in traffic to start out in a bubble of other riders and get used to riding in the streets," he says. "I've talked to people who find that very comforting. They feel safe and work their way into riding in traffic."

And that's what this is about. This isn't a "two wheels bad, four wheels good" society. We can all share the road in harmony.

Bike Man's next ride occurs on Friday, Oct. 29. Coinciding with the international critical mass, bikers are invited to arrive at Veterans Park (corner of Fulton St. and Sheldon Ave.) at 5:30 p.m. In the spirit of Halloween, this is being billed as a Critical Mass-Querade so don your masks, fasten your capes to avoid your spokes, and get on your bikes and ride.


Bike Man (4)

Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved
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