Critical Mass rides again

Bicycles are planning friendly takeovers of Durango’s streets on this and coming Thursdays. Critical Mass, the bike-based movement that mixes celebration and advocacy, is back in Durango. Even though Critical Mass had its first local ride in April of 2005, the movement’s latest local incarnation is marked by heightened awareness, increased involvement and more frequent rides.

In short, Critical Mass rides are cyclists forming a group and doing easy rides on city streets. The rides began in San Francisco in 1992 and currently take place worldwide on the last Friday of each month. At the root of the movement is a love for all forms of bicycling, though in many cities, Critical Mass has grown into a form bicycle advocacy and political protest.

The movement came into the media spotlight in 2004, when more than 5,000 bikes and riders descended on the Republican National Convention in New York City. In one of the largest Critical Mass rides in history, cyclists, skaters and pedestrians filled 45 city blocks and over the course of two hours rolled past the convention at Madison Square Garden. The celebratory mood ended when police moved in and started arresting participants. At the end of the day, more than 250 cyclists and pedestrians had been incarcerated.

Former Durangoan Thomas Schiefer got Critical Mass moving in Durango in 2005. Rather than a bitter protest, he envisioned the ride as a celebration of the bicycle, a sensation he hoped would be contagious.

Though it has been through its share of ups and downs, Critical Mass has been contagious in Durango. Three years later, the ride is back with new energy and taking off every Thursday. Critical Mass’ local revival was spearheaded by several Fort Lewis College students as part of a class project on community engagement. While Critical Mass has no leaders, Nathan Coe, of the local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, has been out spreading the word.

Coe explained that the Durango version of Critical Mass is aimed at raising awareness.

“I think it’s safe to say that a collective intent of our ride is to build community togetherness while having fun and at the same time demonstrating fossil-fuel-free, sustainable alternatives to the car culture,” he said. “Though it might not appear so at times, our intent is not simply to be in the way and infuriate drivers.”

Just as Critical Mass rides have no leaders, they also have no set routes. On the last two Thursdays, turn out has been strong, and Durangoans riding everything from cruisers to road bikes have set out to raise awareness about alternative transportation. Durango’s ride differs from the norm in that it is now a weekly rather than monthly affair. The frequency is in part an attempt to make the rides less confrontational.

“Those who got the rides going, as well as the vast majority of the participants in the first ride, were in favor of weekly, seeking to model the ride off of Boulder’s ‘Happy Thursday’ cruiser bike ride, which is a little more friendly and less confrontational than Critical Mass tends to be,” Coe said. “Anyways, after the first ride, when discussing the question of whether we should ride monthly or weekly, the majority was clearly very enthusiastic about weekly rides. We just decided that if attendance dwindled, we’d rethink things and perhaps opt for monthly rides.”

Durango’s weekly Critical Mass ride leaves Buckley Park, at the corner of 12th Street and Main Avenue, this Thursday and on coming Thursdays at 5 p.m. To get involved and keep up to date, join the mailing list at

FLC Cycling approaching Nationals

Even though spring just arrived, the collegiate road cycling season is already winding down for the Fort Lewis College team. The local squad has just two races left on the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cycling Conference schedule, beginning with the US Air Force Academy/Colorado College races on April 18-19.

Along with the Conference Finals at Wyoming, the race will help determine who will represent Fort Lewis College at the National Collegiate Cycling Association (NCCA) Road National Championships in Fort Collins on May 9-11. The team finished third in the team omnium in Division I last year and is feeling confident about improving upon it this year.

There will be three different events at Nationals for the FLC team. The Team Time Trial event will be held on a 20-kilometer course, and both the FLC Men’s and Women’s teams are defend

ing National Championships from last year. Second, the Road Race is scheduled for May 10 and features many steep climbs around Horsetooth Reservoir. The race is fairly short by National Championship standards but should play to Fort Lewis’ advantage.

“The teams from the Rocky Mountain Conference have a great advantage because of the altitude and that the course resembles many of the hilly courses in the Rocky Mountain Conference races,” said Dave Hagen, team manager. “The race will start with as many as 200 men and 130 women and the first climb could diminish the size of the field by as much as 60 percent.”

The weekend winds up with the Criterium in downtown Fort Collins on a flat, eight-turn, technical course.

The foremost goal for the local team during Nationals will be to have as many racers in the top 20 as possible, which brings a large number of points to the overall team omnium competition. Top returning riders from last year’s team include Ian Burnett, Joey Thompson, Yarden Gazit, Kristin McGrath and Sabina Kraushaar. The teams two top recruits for the school year, Ben Sonntag and Amy Dombroski, will add a lot of power and experience to the team. A Division I Road National Championship is the only team title that FLC has not won before. Fort Lewis is the current Mountain Bike National Champion and the 2008 No. 1 ranked team in the NCCA.

‘Images from Iraq’ visit Durango

Hard Iraqi realities are going into the local spotlight this week. David Smith-Ferri, author of Battlefield Without Borders, is reporting back from the War in Iraq this Friday at Fort Lewis College. The talk, “Images From Iraq,” is a fund raiser for Iraqi refugees.

An estimated 4.5 million Iraqis have been displaced by recent violence in the country. Many of them suffer compounding traumas, including the loss of home and livelihood, severe physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. For the past year, Smith-Ferri has been on a national speaking and book tour, to educate Americans about the plight of displaced Iraqis and raise funds for their urgent medical needs.

During his local talk, Smith-Ferri will report on current conditions in Iraq and in Jordan, and describe a grassroots humanitarian aid program, called the Direct Aid Initiative (DAI), headquartered in Amman, Jordan. He will also read from his book of poems, Battlefield Without Borders, and present a slideshow from his trips. The focus will be on stories of Iraqis who are trying to cope with violence and lawlessness in their country and with increasingly desperate conditions in Jordan.

Coordinated by two Iraqi staff in Amman, the Direct Aid Initiative is designed to be a collaboration between American and Iraqi people. It recognizes that most Iraqis are already resisting the traumatic effects of war and occupation and seeks to support these efforts. All proceeds from the sale of Battlefield Without Borders will go to the Direct Aid Initiative.

The April 18 slide-lecture is being presented by the Newman Club of Fort Lewis College, and the event gets under way at 7 p.m. at Noble Hall 130.  For more information, visit

-Will Sands



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