Shane MacRhodes had this idea cycling and re-cycling through his head during an early morning brainstorming session: There must be a way to get more kids and families excited about riding bicycles.
Rhodes, a longtime bicycle enthusiast and the Transportation Options Coordinator for the city of Eugene, Oregon, wanted to start a family-friendly bike ride through a community. And so he created Kidical Mass; it’s a play on bicycle’s version of Critical Mass where people meet at a set location and time and travel as a group to make it safe to ride bicycles through their streets, based on the old mantra: there's safety in numbers.
The first ride was in April 2008 in Eugene and has spread to communities throughout North America and the world. Kidical Mass provides a safe environment for kids and their parents to learn and practice bicycle safety skills.
Fast forward four years to the Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach where Blair Cohn, the executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, is hearing from city officials about making the Atlantic Avenue corridor’s business district more bike-friendly because the city was launching a campaign to be recognized as a bike-friendly city.
“I told them it would be hard because Atlantic Avenue is a very busy, heavily-traveled venue,” Cohn said. “But I said we would set up one ride.”
Cohn rallied the community, with the starting location being Los Cerritos Park. More than 300 people showed up, including City Council members. There was a police escort and at the end of the ride there was music and treats. Cohn recognized immediately that the ride was a great way to keep the neighborhood engaged.
Kidical Mass put the pedal to the metal in Long Beach.
The month of May was the eight-year anniversary of Kidical Mass in Bixby Knolls. But because of Covid-19, the ride has put down its kickstand.
“We were going do our March ride, but that’s when things started to shut down,” Cohn said. “Then April was intense, so there was no gathering. We don’t want to risk it. Even though we are on pause we intend to continue to do it.”
Friendships have developed, Cohn said. For example, last July, one family invited the riders to their house for a pool party with pizza and a lifeguard. And each month has a theme: there was Ugly Sweater month, Iron Kid month and in January there was the Polar Plunge where participants headed to Deep Blue Swim School for a dip in the heated pool.
Each 4-to-4½ mile ride starts and finishes at Georgie’s Place at 3850 Atlantic Ave with a reward of soft-serve ice cream.
“We wanted to connect the ride to a business and Georgie’s was perfect,” Cohn said. “We start at 1 p.m. and the ride takes around an hour to an hour-and-a-half. Families have joined us for years. It’s another way to gather folks together and it’s another way to support the business people.”
May is National Bicycle Month and for the last seven years, Pastor Danny Bradfield of the Bixby Knolls Christian Church has said a blessing over the bikes.
“I moved to the area in 2008 and I started getting involved in community things,” Bradfield said. “I would take my sons to the bike rides, knowing that Long Beach is a bicycle- friendly town, and I thought about doing a blessing over the bikes.”
Bradfield knew that a similar blessing was done in Los Angeles, so he took the A (Blue line) train to downtown LA and experienced the blessing and knew this was something he should do for Long Beach.
This year’s blessing, though, was modified with an acknowledgement to the pandemic:
"Blessed are the bikes on which you ride, and blessed are you who ride them.
"Blessed are those who ride with you, and blessed are those who can’t ride with you now due to COVID-19.
"Blessed are the bikes we once rode to school, to work, to friends’ houses, and to places of worship; may we be able to do so again soon.
"Blessed are the bikes that made us stronger. May our strength continue to grow.
"Blessed are the bikes which brought us together as a community. May we remain united and connected even now, and always.
"And let us remember the lesson of the bike: to stay upright, keep moving forward."
“It’s been a joy to see the community and families grow over the years, from one bike to two or three alongside them,” Cohn said. “It’s our monthly marker of growth and we truly have enjoyed every third Sunday that we’ve gotten to explore our lovely neighborhood, street by street and ice cream cone by ice cream cone.”