South Charlotte

Cyclists hit Critical Mass each month

Joey Emanuel, 29, said he thinks riding bikes is great exercise and an efficient way to commute, even across town.

Unfortunately, not all Charlotte residents would agree with Emanuel, so he hopes that monthly bike rides dubbed Critical Mass will raise awareness of cyclists in Charlotte.

Critical Mass rides are not unique to Charlotte, but they usually are held in response to issues or events that threaten the safety of the cycling community, said Emanuel, who works at The Common Market and Georgetown Spa in Plaza Midwood.

Emanuel first heard of Critical Mass rides happening in southern California in the early 1990s, Emanuel said.

The rides debuted in Charlotte in about 2000. "Cyclists were angry that the city's street-level development was sprawling so rapidly with no accommodations for cyclists - no bike lanes and no 'share the road' signage," he said.

"As far as motorists were concerned, cyclists had no reason to ride bikes on streets, and I hear it was a hostile relationship between bikes and cars then."

So cyclists gathered at the corner of Trade and Tryon and rolled through downtown Charlotte, followed by an impromptu escort of police cars. he said.

"Everyone watched them roll by, wondering, 'what was that? And why?' It was solidarity to get everyone's attention," Emanuel said.

Since that initial gathering of cyclists, Critical Mass rides have been held on the last Friday of every month, with cyclists gathering in the evening at The Common Market in Plaza Midwood.

"Often cyclists are targeted by driver hostility and the distracted nature of motorists. I and many other cycling advocates use Critical Mass as a way to show people that in addition to being good exercise, bikes can get you from point A to B efficiently, even if that point B is all the way across town," Emanuel said. "Bike trips are a balance of recreation and a way to get to a destination."

Some cities have as many as 1,000 cyclists participate in their rides. Charlotte rides have seen as many as 100 participants in nice weather including a costumed Halloween Critical Mass.

Rides usually stay within a 10-mile radius of uptown Charlotte, and anyone can participate. Emanuel usually cycles between 25 and 200 miles a week and is currently on a cycling trip across the United States to promoting cycling.

Supporting cycling in Charlotte is as simple as getting out on your bike and wearing a helmet, he said.

"Simply use your bike if you want to better conditions for cyclists," he said. Ride a bike and wear a helmet. To noncyclists, helmets stick out. Helmets tell motorists ... you know what you're doing,"

"Go to a city council meeting and wear your helmet to show that you're a cyclist and you care about how the city is built.

"If you get tired and don't want to ride the return trip, you can always put that rusty Huffy on the CATS bus or roll it aboard the Lynx."