Riding the Westside with Venice Critical Mass

(Editor’s note: this is third in a monthly series of ride reports on Critical Mass from throughout the region.  In April it I rode Pasadena.  In May, Los Angeles.  This month was going to be Costa Mesa, but I decided to put it off until the fall so instead it’s the nascent Venice Critical Mass.)

At first, Venice Critical Mass seems like a weird off-shoot of the Critical Mass movement.  Many of the riders are also regulars at Santa Monica Critical Mass, which takes place the following week, there’s no rolling boom box, few people wearing bright colored costumes, and most of the ride didn’t actually take place in Venice.

But, once you do the ride, you realize it has what’s most important.  A sense of community as you roll through the streets, and a goal of reclaiming public spaces for everyone.  True, some of that public real estate was on the makeshift soccer fields and not just streets, but the theory is the same.

It was sometime after 8:00 P.M. when a group of about 75 riders pulled out of Winward Circle and rolled around the streets of Venice.  The group had taken an informal vote of whether or not to try and meet up with the Los Angeles Critical Mass group going downtown, or to stick to Venice, Santa Monica and West LA and have more time to hang out at the pit stops.  The group voted for the pit stops.

The ride itself was very much in the spirit of Critical Mass.  There was no real route planned, it just sort of veered around the streets until we ended up at a park, there were extra-legal efforts to keep the group together (read: corking) and everyone looked out for each other on the ride.

After about a half hour of riding the group pulled into Mar Vista Park.  There, we found a poorly lit field and set up some bags as soccer goal posts.  Incidently, my team won, 6-5.  At the end of the game, the ride split into two groups.  One went to meet up with the downtown riders, the others decided to stay west.

After a quick stop at a 7-11 on National Blvd., those that stayed west headed to Santa Monica City Hall for another soccer game.  Again, my team won but at such a cost, when trying to pivot on the mud I jammed my leg so I decided to call it a night and head home.  The rest of the group headed down to the gymnastics rings for an impromptu demonstration followed by arguments about whether chain friction and air resistance were significant on the rings, the remaining riders split up and went on their ways.

In short, the ride was different than what many would expect, but it was ultimately fun.  There were no run-ins with the police while shooting down the streets, although towards the end of the time at Santa Monica one cop wandered by to try and figure out what in the world we were doing.  While we probably spent as much time playing soccer as we did riding, at least for the first three hours of the ride, even the soccer was in the right spirit…we were using a public space for an unplanned community event.

Most importantly, the ride was safe and accessible to cyclists of all skill levels.  After a week where I logged about double my usual miles on the bike, my legs were tired after the first soccer game and I had no trouble keeping up with the rest of the group.  The ride itself is probably about 15-20 miles total, not a killer even if you’re not a regular cyclist.

Even if you don’t live in the area, Venice Critical Mass may be the right one for you if you’re a beginner or intermediate level cyclist.  There aren’t a lot of hills and the soccer provides break to rest legs, provided of course you skip the game, that may not be used to longer rides.  The riders are friendly, the route is safe and the police don’t see it as their mission in life to hassle riders.

Below are some other images from the ride.venice_sm.jpg

Photos: Damien Newton