Houston’s Group Bike Rides Are Joyful Anti-Car Protests

Like many, I picked up cycling during the early months of the pandemic. At first, it was simply a way to forget, at least for an hour or so, that the world outside seemed to be collapsing—a collapse that was starting to feel incredibly boring when watched from the relative safety of my hermetically sealed home. Those first months of cycling, my long-unexercised legs would turn to Jell-O around the five-mile mark, and I would defeatedly slow-pedal my way back home. After a while, though, I built up more stamina, and my weekly bike rides turned into daily occurrences, my distance increasing with each ride. By the time a year rolled around, I had ridden 1,500 miles in the Houston area—about the same distance as between Houston and Los Angeles.

Around the one-year mark, I also started going on group bike rides, which were just beginning to reemerge after going dormant due to the pandemic. For years I had responded with slight annoyance from my car every time I got stuck behind one. Now, I was one of those cyclists, and my perspective shifted quickly. Group bike rides are a form of protest against the car-centric layouts of our cities, of which Houston is one of the worst offenders. There’s safety in numbers, and part of the fun of cycling through the city with a group of 500 to 2,000 cohorts is watching the irritation on drivers’ faces as their world is reversed and they are the ones forced to give up space.

This oppressively hot summer made my fervor for biking diminish, and I get embarrassed now every time I check my stats on my ride-tracking app. Hoping to rediscover my love for cycling, I decided to dust off my bike and join the August edition of Critical Mass, which throws down the last Friday of every month. Critical Mass, the original group bike ride in Houston, has ridden here since 2009. It started in 1992 in San Francisco as a form of protest against the lack of biking infrastructure in cities; there are now iterations of the ride in almost every major city nationwide and across the globe, from Houston and Miami to Cape Town and Oslo.

The August Critical Mass was as frenetic as they come—perhaps more so than I remembered. The ride started at Guadalupe Park Plaza in the East End before making its way into the Northside, then Independence Heights, the Heights, Washington Avenue, downtown, and back to the East End. A total of 19.5 miles, the ride took about three hours to complete (including a one-hour midpoint stop at a Fiesta). Our collection of over 2,300 cyclists, rollerbladers, and skateboarders totally took over the roads, forcing cars along our path to either change their routes entirely or be reduced to a slow crawl behind our great horde.

It was thrilling to bike down normally busy roads that I would never dare to bike down on my own, and it reminded me of why I learned to love cycling in the first place: It’s a great way to explore the city.

The August ride was led by longtime Critical Mass organizer Mutulu Kafele, who has been leading group rides for nearly 15 years, first in Austin and then in Houston after he relocated here in 2010. Kafele is an evangelist for all things group bike rides. “Group rides are one of the few times where many people can cycle together at once, because you have the streets to yourself. It’s almost like recess,” he says, noting that people drive in from all over the region each month, from Katy to Webster and even Beaumont, to participate in Critical Mass.

Part of the thrill of group rides is that they often take on a festive atmosphere, sometimes feeling as much like a party as they are a group exercise activity—a nice trick considering I’m usually not a fan of group exercise. Surrounded by all the revelry, it’s easy to find a sense of community. And with that sense of community comes some level of accountability. If you become a regular at a particular ride and then start missing them, people will reach out to see what’s going on. That’s what I’m hoping for, at least, in my case.

Fortunately, there are rides almost every day of the week, so if you miss one, you can likely catch another the following day. Here are our favorite group bike rides in Houston.

Clutch City Cruisers

Date: Every Thursday
Meet: 7 p.m. downtown at Market Square Park
Rollout: 7:30 p.m.
Return: 10–10:30 p.m.
Length: 15–25 miles
Stops: One midpoint stop, usually at Bad Astronaut Brewing Co. or Wakefield Crowbar.
Crew: 500–700

Critical Mass

Day: The last Friday of every month
Meet: 7 p.m. at Guadalupe Park Plaza in the East End
Rollout: 7:30 p.m.
Return: 10:30–11 p.m.
Length: 15–20 miles
Stops: One midpoint stop, usually at a grocery store.
Crew: 500–2,500 people

East End Bike Ride

Day: Last Wednesday of every month
Meet: 7 p.m. at D&W Lounge in the East End
Rollout: 7:30 p.m.
Return: 10:30 p.m.
Length: 15–20 miles
Stops: One midpoint, usually at a refresqueria or taco truck.
Crew: 40–50 people 

Illegal Amigos Bike Crew

Day: Every Tuesday
Meet: 7 p.m. downtown at Discovery Green
Rollout: 7:45 p.m.
Return: 10:45 p.m.
Length: 20 miles
Stops: One midpoint stop, normally at a bar or somewhere else with food.
Crew: 75–100

Liquor & Wood Bike Crew

Day: Every other Thursday
Meet: 6:30 p.m. at Saint Bernard’s Pub in the East End
Rollout: 7:30 p.m.
Return: 10:30 p.m.
Length: 15–20 miles
Stops: One midpoint stop, usually at a bar.
Crew: 60–100 people

Pride Bike Ride Houston

Day: Every Tuesday
Meet: 7 p.m. at the Eagle in Montrose
Rollout: 7:30 p.m.
Return: 10:30 p.m.
Length: 20-mile maximum
Stops: One midpoint stop
Crew: 40–50 people

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