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At least 10 bike sound systems at the last critical mass

I went to the June Critical Mass with Thao and some friends. We rocked two Soul Cycles (linked by wireless broadcast.) On the way there I was nearly knocked down by a taxi. A fellow biker immediately jumped off his bike, threw it down (a nice single-speed), and prevented the taxi from moving while I got my bearings back.

At the ride there were at least 5-10 other bike sound systems. It made the mass very noisy. Most of these systems were pretty hacked together things, not much to look at. My friend Hector had been working on his — he added some bright red fake fur to make a passenger seat. Not my style, but hey.


It got me thinking about bikes and amplified music. I have been rolling my Soul Cycle around San Francisco for three years now, and the response has been 99% positive. But, I depend on the goodwill of the community to explore this art further. When 10 music bikes show up at Critical Mass, it definitely takes away the shared experience for other folks. Conflicting musical styles and clashing soundwaves makes this potentially ethereal experience into another thrash session.

The next week I was up at the Oregon Country Fair. The Fair limits amplified music to designated music stages. This means you can’t have a boombox at your camp, and you can’t roll the Soul Cycle. We did it anyway, of course, but we limited our excursions to a few and tried to keep it on the periphery of the fair grounds.

But I have to say… The no amplified music rule was really special. At night, groups of friends would simply walk the paths of the fair. Acoustic guitars had no problem being heard. We sang and rapped for cookies, noodles, and tiramisu. Spontaneous freestyle cyphers popped up, and the whole fair had a magical, ran-away-with-the-circus feeling to it.

So that got me thinking about the limitations of Soul Cycling. Yes, it does elevate the mood of a cruiser ride, but it also prevents other creative expressions from popping up. Since coming back, I’ve been listening to music lower, and only turning up when people are really gathered around and dancing. (When they crave the bass.)

It’s important to show respect to the community. This means turning down if you’re stopped outside someone’s house. Think about the music you’re playing. Does it make other people smile? Do you have a kill switch on your handlebars? You should. A kill switch can help to diffuse any sort of negative situation whether it be a cop, a neighbor, or one of your own friends who wants to tell you something. Cruising with music is not about playing music loud. It’s about elevating the spirit of the neighborhood.