Utne Blogs > Politics

A Kinder, Sillier Display of Bicycle Power

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: Politics, culture, bicycling, Tour de Fat, Critical Mass,

Tour de Fat ridersLast weekend, my two young sons and I attached twin booster rockets to their Burley bike trailer and shot like a comet through the streets of Minneapolis. Actually, the rockets were tomato cages encased in wrapping paper, with red streamers serving as flames. And when I say “shot” I mean we traveled at 2 to 3 miles per hour. We were part of the bike parade in the Tour de Fat, a traveling bike festival with a carnivalesque atmosphere sponsored by the New Belgium Brewing Company.

We had the only twin booster rockets in the parade, but we weren’t the silliest bikers by any stretch. There were cowboys, Vikings, a green bumblebee, an Elvis, and men in dresses. Propellers whirled atop beanies, crazy wigs struggled to stay on heads, at least one toga got caught in rear brakes, and a sound system in a bike trailer pumped out cheesy hits from the ’80s. A good half of the riders had taken to heart the suggestion to “come as a participant, not a spectator” in this “costumed celebration of human-powered transportation.” We looked ridiculous, and we had a blast.

It was a refreshing change from past mega-bike rides I’ve been in, notably the now-infamous Critical Mass, which I sampled more than a decade ago. In the Tour de Fat there were no hyper-aggressive “corkers” blocking traffic at intersections and holding their bikes in the air like triumphant WWF champions. It didn’t feel like a hipster clique, even though there were plenty of trendy bike fashions on parade. Bikers of all ages, sizes, and abilities were welcome. And it didn’t matter what kind of bike you were on, as long as it had pedals. For once I didn’t feel as if the twitchy, track-standing dudes on meticulously color-coordinated fixies were looking down their noses at my ancient Trek mountain bike repurposed as a commuter ride. (I’ve been riding since you were in training pants, punks.) Again, the atmosphere was written right into the guidelines: “Honor all other bikes: All bikes are good bikes, and all those who ride them are good people.”

As we circled Minneapolis’ Lake of the Isles, it was amusing to see bystanders’ reactions to this rolling mass of weirdness. Most of them couldn’t resist a smile, and even the lines of drivers roadblocked to let the parade pass seemed less hostile than drivers held up by Critical Mass—though I admit I saw one unmoved SUV driver wearing that unmistakable “I hate bikers and all they represent” scowl. Looping back to the Tour de Fat venue, we engaged in more silliness: neo-vaudeville stage shows, a ring full of crazy bikes for people to ride, afternoon beer drinking, a funeral for a car (which had been given up by the lucky winner of a deluxe bike).

It struck me that perhaps this was a better approach to promoting bike power than the in-your-face confrontation of Critical Mass. By dressing in crazy costumes, encouraging diversity, and discouraging testosterone-charged grandstanding, we disarmed our potential foes and robbed them of any good reasons to tell us to get back on the sidewalks or, worse, back in our cars. Because, as more than one T-shirt proclaimed, Cars R Coffins. Long live bikes!

Sources: New Belgium, Critical Mass, Cars R Coffins

Image by dustinj, licensed under Creative Commons.