Critical Mass Works!

The last Friday of every month, you might notice a small, ragtag group of bicyclists rolling out from Lake Eola Park early in the evening. They’ll be mostly young, probably laughing and chatting, and perhaps — if they are at a stoplight — even dancing a bit.

Chances are 22-year-old Andrew Van Wart will be one of them. He’ll be on the skinny-tired racing bike and carrying the backpack-loaded stereo system and MP3 player.

“It [doubles] as a microphone so I can speak to people along the way,” he offers before a recent ride. “You know, to encourage bicycle safety.”

Of course. And the two cans of caffeine- and sugar-laden Red Bull?

“Just the bare necessities,” he says.

Slowly, very slowly, a half-dozen fellow cyclists pedal up to meet him. The ride is supposed to start at 5:30, but it turns out this is more suggestion than rule. No one is in any particular hurry.

There’s also no particular leader, no official route, no designated pace and certainly no entry fee. That would ruin the whole concept.

There is, however, a name for the ride — Critical Mass. It’s the local version of an event held in roughly 300 cities worldwide to promote the right of bicyclists to share the road.

Elsewhere, though, the ride typically features hundreds, occasionally thousands, of cyclists, and it sometimes turns confrontational. In August 2004, for instance, an estimated 5,000 riders showed up at a Critical Mass event in New York to protest the upcoming Republican convention. They blocked traffic, infuriating commuters and taxi drivers, and faced off with police, who ultimately made more than 250 arrests.

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