Elm City had an Elvis sighting last Friday — he was seen on a bike leading Batman, Shaft, Blues Traveler, Hillary Clinton in a Dominatrix Outfit and a crowd of almost 100 other cyclists.
This festive crowd was part of the monthly Critical Mass bike ride, an informal tour of New Haven to promote cycling and encourage motorists to share the road. Community members from Greater New Haven and surrounding areas rode everything from stunt bikes to the old fashioned penny-farthing bikes.
“Critical Mass is about making the streets a little safer, and making drivers a little more aware,” said Rebecca Kershnar, one of the cyclists. “I’m just happy to make biking more mainstream in New Haven.”
This year’s Halloween trip went through the Whitneyville Cemetery on Whalley Avenue, ending at the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop.
The New Haven group, founded six years ago, rides on the last Friday of every month, and Critical Mass tours have sprung up in 250 cities worldwide, cyclist Bill Kurtz said.
Though the crowds can be larger than 100 in the summer, Kurtz said the group prides itself in being low-key.
“There are no leaders or sponsors,” Kurtz said. “We are an organized coincidence.”
Despite the loose organization, Matt Feiner, owner of the Devil’s Gear Bicycle Shop, said the group is still effective because it is united in its cause.
“It’s hard to set the tone with no leaders, but we all want to tell motorists that we have to use these roads together,” Feiner said, in his shimmering Elvis outfit.
Sometimes riders just shout out directions, Kurtz said. Each trip is unique and usually visits a different part of the city, he said.
“I love it, I come as often as I can,” cyclist Marcus Watson said. “Even in the winter, just add a couple of layers and you’re set.”
Though the bikers take up an entire lane, or sometimes the entire road, Kurtz said the New Haven Police have been cooperative.
“The police are actually very supportive,” Kurtz said. “Chief [Francisco] Ortiz told officers to slow traffic and help us out.”
Feiner said Critical Mass has lent its support to larger-scale changes. Due to the collaborative efforts of Critical Mass and the State Biking Coalition, all city buses now have bike racks, Feiner said. He said in the near future, there will be 11 total bike lanes in the city.
Since Critical Mass is globally decentralized, the groups vary in size and tone from city to city. Feiner said he helped to start the Critical Mass in Austin, Texas but said it took on a more aggressive character than the group in New Haven.
“In Austin, they just agitated people,” Feiner said. “Ours is a celebration, we want to show people that this is the problem, and this is how to solve it.”
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