Bicycle Diaries: July critical mass and the square wheelmen

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July critical mass and the square wheelmen

Dave and I as well as two new buddies, John and Peter, rode in Critical Mass Friday evening. Some estimated that 1500 massers gathered in the 90+ degree heat. Like the last two masses, the route took us down to the southside, ending at the 32nd Street Beach. The spectators, including a majority of motorists, were surprisingly enthusiastic about the metal herd rolling through their neighborhoods. Even the police were incredibly helpful sending out patrol cars as well as police bikes and 4-wheelers to block traffic for us.

This month's theme was nautical. The folks to the left showed up on a huge bike done up as Neptune's chariot. For the most part, folks in all of the neighborhoods treated us as if the circus had come to town.

In Pilsen, a bunch of kids openned up a fire hydrant to splash us as we rolled past. In Chinatown, several elderly men sprayed us with his garden hose.

This was defintely the best mass I've ever been on. The southside has all these hidden treasures like the Guernika mural in a railroad underpass. Also, the joy of the moment was infectious. Whoops of celebration were frequently punctuated by "Happy Friday!" called out to pedestrians and motorists alike. They often replied with "Happy Friday!" as well...

All this got me thinking about starting a new bike group, The Square Wheelman. Actually, Dave and I have been discussing it for the last couple of months as we tooled around with our beaterbikes. Some might think that wheelmen is a tad sexist. But it harkens back to the golden age of biking. In the last years of the 19th Century, both men and women organized local groups to advocate for better roads. They called themselves wheelmen and wheelwomen. Today, the wheelmen, consisting of men and women, collect and preserve antique bikes from the 19th Century. Our group will celebrate the beaterbikes from the mid-2oth Century. Square refers to the fact that we're based up here in Lincoln Square as well as the reality that our 20something hipster days are well behind us.

One of our mottos is More Beaters, More Barrels. Tooling up and riding beaterbikes is the ultimate act of conservation. We're decidedly NOT anti-car. If we ever have a bike accident that requries medical treatment, we want to go to the hospital in an ambulance. Unlike new bikes - not that there's anything wrong with them - the only petroleum they use is 3-in-1 oil and the occasional tire or tube replacement. So our idea is that the more beaters that are out there, the more oil there is for cars.

Our other motto, That Which Rolls, comes from the Absurdist poet, Alfred Jarry who I've posted about before. He always refered to himself in the third-person and to his great love for bikes in the abstract. I think biking for him wasn't a fetishized way of life. Rather, it was a practical means to several inter-related ends: thrift, convenience, independence, as well as physical and mental well-being.

And so it is with The Square Wheelmen!

[note: Don Sorsa took the 2nd and 3rd Chicago Critical Mass photos. To see all of his mass photos go here]

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