Friday, June 29th was my first Miami Critical Mass bike ride. It was a 14 mile trek that started at the plaza in front of downtown's Government Center and ended, a bit chaotically, at the Filling Station at the intersection of NE 1st Ave. and SE 2nd St. (in front of the building known to you depending on how long you've been in Miami as the Bank of America or Centrust or I.M. Pei building). Given I've just recently taken up biking after an extremely long hiatus my pics from the ride occurred only before taking off and after finishing. Hopefully as I get my rusty freewheeling bearings straight again I'll be able to get more action shots. But for other great pics from the ride see here.
This edition of the ride focused on areas directly west and southwest of downtown (route can be seen here or here). That meant jaunt through Little Havana, Coral Gables, Coral Way and The Roads. It was a great start, crossing the Flagler St. bridge giving riders a view a downtown and Brickell. Crossing the bridge you get a faint smell of fish and river. The Miami River isn't one of the cleanest or most scenic rivers around, but I've seen way uglier and way more polluted ones. And the center of the Miami seafood universe (Casablanca and Garcia's) was just up North River Drive from the bridge which was probably the seafoody scent. After the bridge we descended into one of Little Havana's main arteries, Flagler St. It's almost immediate what you smell. You smell fried. It was a thick smell of things frying. And looking around you see why. Fritangas abounded surrounding the bastion of fried seafood in Miami, La Camaronera. For the rest of the night I felt like I'd ridden through an invisible cloud of grease. I think if NOAA would take an air sample of the air on Flagler St. it'd come up with an inordinate number of parts per million of peanut oil, canola oil, and lard. This part of the ride went fairly close to the Marlins ballpark, but there was not way the smell of peanuts and Cracker Jack was going to break the barrier of of fried.
The ride then cut through to westbound Eighth St. (where it switches from one-way to both directions). The welcoming Pollo Camepro sign was there and a smell of roast chicken mixed the car exhaust from the much busier Eighth St. traffic. West we went on Calle Ocho and past Versailles to get a whiff of Cuban coffee (it'd be great if they handed it out triathlon style, but alas no). A left on Ponce de Leon (past eating house where a pit stop for chicken thighs and waffles would've been much appreciated) took us into Coral Gables. A left on Miracle Mile and into Coral Way we went. The first place you get a whiff of is Sergio's. The guys I next to me that I was talking to said the night's ride was so big you could probably get a pan con bistec and a coffee at Sergio's and still make it back to catch the stragglers. Given my hunger I was about to take his advice. Given it was my first Critical Mass and I wasn't about to risk getting left behind, I kept going.
Coral Way is extremely interesting. When driving down it my first instinct is to get from Coral Gables to I-95 as quickly as possible. But a slow bike ride down the same street produces a new appreciation for it. There's mom and pop shops along with Miracle Center (I don't know what it's called now, but I'll always call it Miracle Center). Tons of Cuban restaurants (Habana Vieja and Villa Havana within blocks of each other) along with Peruvian (El Chalan) and Spanish (Xixon) and a new smattering of Portuguese (Jardim de Portugal and an under-renovation Old Lisbon). There's also the place that takes over your senses as you ride by. It smells like grease and spice and raunch. The Hooter's on Coral Way pretty much grabs everyone's attention with its outdoor area which lets everyone coming within 3 blocks of it get the advantage of walking away smelling like tasty basted fried chicken. Thanks Hooters.
The ride continued back to Calle Ocho on what happened to be Viernes Culturales (Culture Friday) which meant more people than usual were out and about. The ride got a little scary here as pedestrians tried to bolt from one side of the street to the other and cars decided they could take on 500 cyclists. As we headed towards Brickell we made a left to take the Miami Ave. bridge back into downtown. It was familiar territory passing River Oyster Bar and Tobacco Road and a great sight seeing hundreds of blinking red lights going up the bridge towards the end of the ride. I could have easily stopped at River and called it a night with a dozen oysters but I was going to make sure that my first Critical Mass was complete.
And completion happened as soon as we reached the intersection of NE 1st Ave & SE 2nd and en masse riders began yelling "Get off the street!". It was a bit chaotic but I guess necessary to prevent hundreds of bikers from continuing to block traffic. The Filling Station was the end of the line but friends were waiting for me at another restaurant for which I was completely underdressed and overly sweaty for. But heck, I just saved what would've been a gallon of gas in a Hummer by riding my bike those 14 miles so I was having me some tasty dinner. I'd ridden through places that whiffed of seafood, fried food, Cuban coffee, pan con bistec and drenched chicken wings and ended at a place playing jazz and devouring chicken liver crostini and pan roasted chicken. All of these places were different, but they were all so very Miami.