Massed together: Critical Mass takes off in Topeka

Andrew Dunlap

Each month a group of cyclists gather at the Boobie Trap Bar at 1417 SW 6th Ave. and rides through Topeka, together trying to take up as much room on the streets as possible. This phenomenon is known as Critical Mass.

The term Critical Mass refers to a size, number or amount of something large enough to yield a given result. So when a street has too many bikes, the system breaks.

Critical Mass Topeka began in November 2007 and consisted of five people. There are groups of cyclists that meet and do a similar event in several cities across the nation. San Francisco’s Critical Mass started in the early ’90s and within one year gained 500 members. They now total in the thousands. Imagine what would happen if 1,000 bikes took up the streets of Topeka one Friday evening; people would certainly start to notice. This is what Washburn graduate Karl Fundenberger hopes can be accomplished in the future for Critical Mass Topeka.

“We want to raise cycling awareness in the city,” said Fundenberger. “We want people to know that when you ride your bike on the street, you’re traffic, too.”

Critical Mass is about more than just raising awareness. Junior Elizabeth Carson, who majors in technical theater at Washburn, started riding in Critical Mass in February. Elizabeth rides her bike everywhere and does so for several reasons.

“It’s more fun than driving, you get to exercise while traveling and save money-food tastes so much better than gas,” said Carson. “It doesn’t even take much longer to get to where you’re going than if you were driving and it does a little something to improve the environment too.”

Elizabeth said she had to relearn how to ride a bike last year after purchasing a bike at a yard sale for $10.

“I learned how to ride for the first time when I was about 10,” said Carson. “Then I stopped riding… and I actually forgot. Which is kind of funny, you know the saying ‘it’s like riding a bike.’ When I first tried to get back on, I couldn’t steer, I couldn’t balance, but I kept at it. I’m sure my neighbors thought I was crazy.”

There are usually about 10 riders in Critical Mass Topeka any given month, the most so far being 18. The official time to ride is the last Friday of the month at 6 p.m., but recently several members have begun meeting weekly.

Critical Mass Topeka has a standing open invitation for anyone to show up with their bikes and take to the streets in the masses. Anyone and everyone is encouraged to join, even those who don’t know how to ride a bike.

“As long as you can balance, steer and turn… it doesn’t matter what you ride,” said Carson. “If you bring a bike and want to ride with us, you can. We don’t even go very fast. It’s more of a leisure ride. Last week my dad went with us, he just had heart surgery last year, he was fine!”

Check out the Critical Mass Topeka blog at: