A rolling celebration of family, cycling

All-ages Tacoma group spreads love of bikes via Kidical Mass

Staff writerJune 22, 2014 

The woman leapt from her perch on the porch of a Hilltop neighborhood home and moved briskly to the curb.

“It’s a parade,” she said, leaning out into Cushman Avenue and craning to see the stream of kids on decorated bikes. “And they’re still coming!”

This 51-person spectacle in mid-May was a rolling celebration of bikes and kids known as Kidical Mass. In its second year in Tacoma, the event is a casual monthly bike ride for kids and their families.

The event seems to be growing in popularity. While it was enough for some to watch, others joined in to complete the short roundtrip between People’s and McCarver parks.

For the Ritchie family, the May ride was their fourth Kidical Mass.

Violet and Grace Ritchie prepared for their ride by coloring bike-themed bandanas while their dad, Todd, admired their work.

“Why do we keep coming back?” Todd Ritchie said. “We get to ride bikes as a group and being around people who love kids and bikes is pretty cool.”

Kidical Mass started in April 2008 in Eugene, Oregon, as a way for families to tour communities by bike while passing their pedaling passions on to the next generation.

The idea soon spread to other communities and in 2013, Tacoma cycling advocate Matt Newport decided the South Sound needed its own Kidical Mass.

Newport mined the local cycling community for help and by May 2013, Kidical Mass Tacoma was up and rolling.

The Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club covers insurance to keep the event free for cyclists. Members of VeloFemmes, a 1-year-old cycling club for women, are among those who volunteer to help during the rides.

Perhaps the most popular volunteer among the kids is Jeff Smeed. He pedals along with the kids pulling a ice cream cart. At the end of the ride, each cyclist gets a treat. The Wheelmen’s club also picks up the tab for the ice cream.

While the kids are the focus, the creative bikes participating in the event get plenty of attention too.

The Ritchie family’s bike is built for three. One girl can ride behind her dad, while the other can sit up front in a recumbent-style seat. Newport’s bike also has room for three with a motorcycle-style windshield in front to protect his toddler son.

Other bikes were adorned with trailers for children and baskets, while a few had bathtub-size cargo containers.

During the May ride, the most creative bike of all was saved for last. Moments after the ride finished, the Fab Lorean rolled into People’s Park.

Modeled after the time-traveling DeLorean in the “Back to the Future” movies, the Fab Lorean is a two-person pedal car built at Tacoma’s Fab Lab. It’s seems slow, but Billy Davis of Fab Lab says it has a top speed of 88 mph (the speed needed for time travel in the movies).

Slow is fine at Kidical Mass, however. Nobody gets left behind and the group is bookended by volunteers.

In fact, a young boy – new to cycling – finished the May ride without pedals on his bike.

The rides are short, most are less than four miles roundtrip, Newport said.

“Usually we start at a park and ride to another park,” he said.

Families often arrive early to let their kids play and the ride breaks for more playtime at the second park.

It would seem getting the kids off the monkey bars and back on their bikes for the return trip would be a challenge, but during the May ride the kids seemed eager to ride.

But when they aren’t so inclined, there’s always Smeed and his ice cream cart to add a little motivation.

While the kids often say the ice cream is a highlight, for Newport it’s seeing the kids enjoying their community and cycling.

“I think it (the highlight for the kids) is just getting to ride with other kids,” Newport said. “And a lot of times its kids that they don’t know.”

Ritchie says watching the kids making new friends and the parents doing the same are some of the reasons he expects Kidical Mass to keep gaining steam.

“It (the ride) keeps growing,” Ritchie said, “and it keeps growing community.”

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497

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