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Protesters to take to bicycles

They will claim the war was all for oil and offer plenty of anti-Bush invective — all while balancing on two wheels.

Putting the bicycle to political use, thousands of demonstrators plan to swarm the city during the Republican National Convention, blocking streets and flouting traffic laws as they spin through midtown.

"We don't necessarily follow traffic patterns," said Ludmila Svoboda, 32, an East Village nurse who will be among the mobile provocateurs. "The ride has a life of its own."

This summer, riders will convene a Bike National Convention from Aug. 20-28, with subsequent rides during the GOP gathering Aug. 30 through Sept. 2. For those without wheels, a bike lending library is growing at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The message: Conventioneers "are not welcome here," said Brandon Neubauer, 26, an East Village cinematographer who is lead organizer of Time's UP!, an environmental group organizing the bike protests.

The group has not applied for a permit for the rides and doesn't plan to, he said.

One recent Friday evening, preview of what could happen in August, more than 1,000 bicyclists pedaled from Union Square to the South Bronx in a monthly ride called Critical Mass.

They gathered before dusk near the Greenmarket, perched on a motley collection of bikes, including some jury-rigged with oversized handlebars and audio speakers. Suddenly, a stream of bicycles gushed onto Park Avenue — the riders ignoring changing traffic lights and cheering sporadic horn blasts.

Not many motorists appeared angry. Most seemed startled.

"It's a movement for peace," said Bronx maintenance worker Toto Ramos when told about the ride as he idled at the corner of Park Avenue near 16th Street.

Cabbie Al Sandresy of Astoria had a different take.

"They have to get some police around them to make the road easy," he said.

In fact, there were no police officers in sight. Organizers say the police once helped guide traffic, but stopped about two years ago.

" want to let the ride run its course, and that's the fastest, easiest way to deal with it," said Noah Budnick, project coordinator for Transportation Alternatives, a pedestrian and bicyclist group that used to sponsor rides a decade ago.

The Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. The city Department of Transportation referred calls to the Police Department.

There are several reasons why a bike saddle makes a fine soapbox, protesters say.

Bicycling softens protesters' image, and conveys an environmental message without a placard. Riders also acknowledge the tactical advantage of two wheels during confrontations with cops.

Alex S. Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College who studies how police respond to demonstrations, said, "There's a greater possibility of a certain cat-and-mouse with the police."

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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