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Jun252010

« Roll Your Own Kidical Mass »

It's almost this easy. Photo from carfreedays.

I've been asked how to go about starting a Kidical Mass ride, and have been terrible about responding, swept up in bike fun as we've been. Besides, Kidical Mass was originally started by Shane Rhodes, Paul Adkins, et al. in Eugene, Oregon. They have great info up on their website, www.kidicalmass.org. But since Shane is juggling newborn twin boys (yay!!!), and Paul's got his own circus going on, I thought I'd post a few things I've learned here on our site: 

  • You're welcome to borrow from our Kidical Mass Seattle description and FAQ, and use Paul's Kidical Mass sign. Do let them know if you're starting a KM ride in your city, and post photos to their flickr group.
  • If you have an especially controversial Critical Mass in your town, you may have a bit of a branding problem to overcome (see this post). Your ride will speak for itself, however. Or pick a new name.
  • Certainly post flyers at bike shops, but also reach out to non-traditionally bikey venues, like schools, community centers, libraries, parent list-servs, etc. Social media (twitter, facebook, a blog) was very helpful in getting the word out here in Seattle. 
  • Then again, do collect emails for ride announcements, as not everyone will be following your social media feeds regularly.
  • To waiver or not to waiver? I've chosen not to. I am skeptical about the protection waivers offer, and worry that the message they send is that cycling is an extreme sport. I prefer to think of these rides as groups of like-minded families biking around together, with each parent owning responsibility for their kids, while looking out for each others' as well. I did, however, consider adding some umbrella coverage to my home insurance policy. We do live in America, after all.  
  • Count on some weebly-wobbly young riders showing up, and plan accordingly. Being used to passengering younger kids just about anywhere, I've had to learn to pick shorter, calmer routes. 2-4 miles seems doable for most. You'll still get kids telling you with pride that this was the furthest they've ridden in the city. If you're not planning a round-trip ride, remember that families will generally have to get back to the start.
  • Include a brief safety talk - pertinent rules of the road, intersection etiquette, signaling, and 1 or 2 abreast, depending on your local laws. I tell the kids that it's a single-file follow-the-leader ride (parents often riding abreast), because otherwise you can get a fair bit of jockeying for position. Given how many dangly helmet straps we often see, we'll probably start doing some helmet checks too. I'm reluctant to be school-marmy that way, but I think somebody's gotta do it.
  • Have an experienced sweeper at the back end of the ride, with tools, who can help stragglers or folks with equipment issues. Kids and parents show up on bikes that are in need of some mechanical love, at times.
  • Crossing busy streets without traffic signals can be scary. We do aim to be legal and courteous, so what we've found works well is to have an adult or two dismount and escort small groups of riders across the street. By "pedestrianizing" the adults, traffic is legally required to stop, but by crossing in smaller groups, we don't "cork" traffic. 
  • In general, try to avoid routes with lots of controlled intersections; if you have a sizable turnout, it can take a looong time to cross legally. Kids don't wait well.
  • Involve treats. I let go of my "food rules" on KM rides. We've featured popsicles, Mighty-O donuts, and other treats on rides. They're working hard, why not? Or serve GORP and organic orange slices, it's up to you!
  • As for ride ideas, we've had fun introducing families to our favorite A-to-B routes around North Seattle, riding to destinations like the beach & Green Lake, as well as riding to bike/family-friendly special events. In general, though, I think it's nice for KM rides to be their own special event, ending in a potluck or ice cream social. Otherwise the opportunity to socialize and sniff each others bikes dissipates in the larger excitement of the other event. For inspiration, check out KM Eugene's dynomite 2010 lineup of rides.
  • Scheduling is a challenge, for me at least. I really need to work on publishing a schedule in advance. In fact, it would probably work better just to pick a regular time, like last Saturday morning of every month. Evenings are doable in the summer, but weekend days have worked better overall, it seems.
  • Our general rain policy is that we ride in drizzle but cancel for downpours. Then again, last time we rode a downpour started one minute into the ride. We all got soaked, and bailed after a mile at Hale's Ales for a fun, impromptu long-table dinner. 
  • That's it and that's all! Any questions? Tips from other ride organizers or feedback from participants?

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Reader Comments (3)

This is perfect! Thank you so much! We're looking forward to our ride in less than three weeks.

June 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDorea

Has any one tried riding a bike with their infant in a baby bjorn? I'm thinking of trying this to get my 4 month old out in the fresh air...any tips?

July 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterR

That crosses an arbitrary line for me, at least. Maybe on a recumbent trike, as the Stouts did, where the chances of going over the handlebars or tipping is essentially nil. But it does happen in other parts of the world where the streets are tamer and cycling with helmet-less youngsters is commonplace.

For ideas on riding with baby, see this article ...

July 12, 2010 | Registered CommenterJulian / Totcycle

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