Cyclists ride for sustainability

Not just recycling, but cycling as well – this is the call that 12 Williamstown bikers made at Williamstown’s first Critical Mass ride on Friday. Organized by Sean McKenzie ’08, the event marked the community’s inaugural participation in a worldwide biking tradition that advocates biking as an alternative form of transportation and asserts cyclists’ right to the road.

“We’re here to say that we’re cyclists, and we want our rights on the streets,” McKenzie said in a short speech in front of the Paresky Center before the three-mile ride. He also stressed Williamstown’s cycle-friendly structure. “A lot of where we need to go is self-contained,” McKenzie said, drawing attention the practicality of biking, whether to class or to Stop & Shop.

McKenzie has organized several such rides in his hometown, San Francisco, Calif. which was the location of the first Critical Mass in 1992. He decided to bring the practice to Williamstown as a final project for his Winter Study course on climate change activism, and hopes to continue holding the event, which is typically held on the last Friday of every month.

In addition to drawing those who were merely curious about the cycling community in the Purple Valley, Friday’s ride brought together bikers who hoped to show support for a form of transportation that has a minimal environmental impact. “My goal in life is never to own a car,” said participant David Rogowski ’08. “I want to live in a town where I can bike everywhere.”

McKenzie echoed this sentiment, stressing the eco-friendliness of biking. “Cycling is a great carbon-neutral way to travel,” he said.

Commendable objectives of Critical Mass notwithstanding, Paul Rhinehart, owner of The Spoke, a bike shop on Route 2, noted that the bicycling industry has conflicted views on the movement due to the antagonistic tactics sometimes employed during Critical Mass rides elsewhere, such as obstructing traffic. “The smiling and waving, courteous and thoughtful cyclist is a better model to motorists,” he said.

Despite Friday’s relatively small turnout, Rhinehart said, “There is definitely a cycling culture [in Williamstown] and has been for a long time.” He added that The Spoke’s cycling club alone has 300 members and Berkshire County had the highest number of racers per capita of any county in the United States.

Rhinehart pointed to the middle-aged professional community as the primary bikers in Williamstown although there are a number of avid student cyclists. Due to continually rising gas prices, Rhinehart expects more people than ever before to commute by bike this summer.

Already, several faculty members commute on bicycle from North Adams. Students, too, have taken advantage of the area’s cycle-friendliness. Martin Rotemberg ’08, who biked from the College to work at Mass MOCA daily during the summer, said that it was “the perfect distance for a commute,” adding that it gave him the chance to get outside and exercise. Although he now has a car on campus to travel home for vacations, Rotemberg said that he “rarely goes over distances that [he] could bike.”