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« An early biking adventure | Main | A storm in a Hollywood bowl »

Okay, here’s my problem with Critical Mass

1.) CM has no structure or organization. No one is responsible for the yahoo element that behaves badly and spoils it for everyone. Let the police deal with the “Bad” element and don’t rush to their defense when they are handled roughly.

2.) I am always told CM is not a protest it is a “Celebration” of cycling. If it is a celebration then why hold it on a Friday evening when it causes maximum disruption? If it is early in the evening it disrupts people getting home from work. If it is held later it disrupts people going out for the evening. Friday night is always the biggest night out on the town for most people. Cyclists are a small minority of the general population and disrupting and inconveniencing others is no way to get people on the side of the cycling cause.

3.) If Critical Mass is a celebration, celebrate it on a Sunday morning when it is safer and there is less disruption to the lives of others. On a Sunday morning, CM could become a family type event that would actually attract people into cycling. The disruptive element would probably not participate because the event would lose its "Anarchistic" appeal.

I am fully aware that I am in the minority on this issue, and it is really a lost cause. But, so many cyclists cry and whine that everybody hates us and that the cops won’t investigate or prosecute motorists who endanger or injure cyclists, and yet no one is willing to step back and see the other person’s point of view. Mine or that of the general public.

Critical Mass is a boil on the backside of the pastime of cycling, those who started it created a monster that will be hard to stop.

Those who criticize me for speaking out and dismiss me as a “Grumpy Old Man,” should remember I have dedicated my whole life to bicycles and the cause of cycling, and I continue to do so by spending my time writing articles here.

At least allow me the right to rant once in a while about something that quite frankly pisses me off. I fully accept that it is your right to disagree, but remember I am on the side of the cause of cycling.

Now I’ll shut the fuck up



Reader Comments (25)

I've never been to a critical mass event (I don't think they have them in Scotland) but on the basis of what you say I would agree with you that holding up traffic and the idiotic behaviour of 'Free spirits' is not going to win cycling any friends.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstephen_mc

Ranting is one thing and supporting police officers who clearly violate their code of conduct is another. I only have trouble with one of those.

BTW, around here the critical mass rides are organized demonstrations and are ridden in police escort.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTorben Putkonen

You can't use your distaste for CM, which I share to a more limited extent, to explain-away cop misbehaviour in your previous post ('Torben', I don't think he supported it). They are supposed to be trained to deal with people within the law and code of conduct, and all of us have had experience with cops who have gone beyond this, even if not since our youth. Policing is based on intimidation, which is nothing but the threat of force, fine or detention, and not a few go over the line. Look, I am a teacher, and sometimes certain kids can be pricks, but if I step over the line I have two dozen witnesses and I am gone.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjamesmallon

Well, if you aren't, at least the LAPD seems to be taking the incident seriously: LA Times story.

I tend to agree with James, above: You can't use your distaste for CM, which I also share to a limited extent, to explain-away cop misbehavior.

One can't tell from the video if this cyclist offended the officer in any way. It appears not. If that is the case, then this could have been you, Dave. I gather you wouldn't be caught dead at a CM ride, but all the same, if a cop kicked out your wheel as a response to the actions of others, you'd be pissed. And you'd be pissed if someone else came along and said, "Aw, Dave, get over it. It was nothing."

You ask how much abuse can a cop take? Shit, if he can't take more than this, he has no business being a law enforcement officer.

Calling this a "non-incident" and urging others to "let it go" is a huge disservice to yourself and all cyclists. Saying "this is okay" does not make it safer for us.
Your thoughts on the value of Critical Mass are irrelevant to the incident. The ride itself is legal. Whether or not some participants break the law during the ride is beside the point, as nothing of the sort is captured in this clip.

Dave, I really enjoy your blog when it focuses on the history of the bicycle, racing, and your role in both. It becomes less enjoyable when you veer off into social commentary. I am reminded of the time you ragged on the video of the fixie riding "hipster" who just had his dog euthanized after a tough round with cancer. Then, as here, you come off as detached and insensitive; less a friend to cyclists than their critic.

Your blog, your opinions, I guess.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjames

Hey Dave,

I really enjoy your blog. Thanks for you humor, your reason and your passion for cycling. Your writing is lively and witty with a style that reveals your personality to your reader and expresses your ideas in a clear voice.

I appreciate all the hard work you put into your essays.

I hope you have a great weekend.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLanceOldstrong

I agree--Critical Mass isn't a celebration. It's a bunch of rebels looking for a fight (or to piss other people off). They succeeded with that cop (in addition to many regular citizens who probably have less respect for cyclists now than before they were exposed to a CM). It's bad for cycling.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarvinK

Dave, Couldn't agree more with your feelings. Well said.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Baumann

I agree with Dave and MarvinK, although I would have said a bunch of jackasses instead of "rebels".

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

In my opinion, CM is nothing more than anarchy on two wheels. Here in Portland, at least, it's long out-lived its usefulness - to the extent it had any - for making people aware of the need to achieve a balanced transportation system and the role bikes play in that. Simply pissing off people trying to get home in rush hour - as well as the cops - accomplishes little towards that goal. I'm totally in agreement with your thoughts, Dave.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdan

Thoroughly agree with your opinion on critical mass, it's a step backwards. Ask any person on the cycle what it's about and they'll make comments like "raising the profile of cycling" or as you said "celebrating cycling".

I wonder if they have contacted their local authorities, lobbied their local representative, or actually made any effort to use the system to improve the lot for cyclists. Not likely.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGavin

I think the "Massholes" would do far more to "raise the profile of cycling" if they would simply all ride (individually) to work/school/bank to deposit daddy's check while respecting the rights of all other road users and yielding the right of way when appropriate.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

It's important to put kid gloves on and be politically-correct even with anarchists :-)

Still like to read your blog, and whatever topic you care to write about.

Judging by the number of heel pedallers that go by under my window in Friday CM rides, and by the obvious lack of any bike fitting notions whatsoever, not too many seem to be actual cyclists.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPierre

I've ridden in CMs from time to time over the past 15 years here in SF. If it didn't start here, I think SF was one of the first cities to take it up.

Yes, there's no formal leadership. That's because the event is regarded as illegal and if someone actually acted as formal leader, s/he would be arrested. (But as anyone who has ridden in a CM knows, there is organization and leadership at the rides because routes are selected and volunteers step up to block off traffic as necessary and try to keep the peace.)

Yes, it does cause something of a disruption. Usually that lasts for a total of 2 hours or so. Traffic at any particular intersection is usually not stopped for more than 30 minutes. By now - just about everyone knows about the rides and plans accordingly. So, let's see, for 12 times a year traffic is disrupted for a couple of hours. This couple of hours is less than the disruptions caused by the Marathon, Bay to Breakers Run, crowds downtown for baseball games, and the various parades that happen. Also, about 15 or 20 times each year there are "protests" in the middle of Market Street (the main thoroughfare usually ridden by CM) on behalf of anti-war protestors, striking union workers, etc. These are generally timed for noon-rush hour or evening rush hour. I am not involved in any of those and they are an inconvenience to me. That's the price I pay for living here. I think - at least regarding SF - this gives some perspective about CM.

All that said - I seldom ride in it anymore. I guess I'm just getting old and grumpy, but I don't like riding at 5 or 10 miles an hour surrounded by people with questionable bike-handling skills.

But I say - let them have their fun.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commentert1

I totally agree Dave, I've complained about CM many times before as well. to comment on what t1 said above. True the marathon etc do delay traffic more than CM, however, they have to pay for road closures. Same with baseball games, sure the traffic they generate isn't paid for, however, the increased economic boost from the baseball game is a worthwhile endeavour. CM doesn't benefit anyone for the inconvenience (financially) so I really don't think it can be bunched with other sporting events.

The protest on the other hand, that they can be compared to no problem.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVlavallee

SF critical mass has no formal leadership because it would tehn need a parade permit and all the rest that goes with that. As expressed in a previous post. People who protest something always have trouble getting permits, permission to do so.

Has it passed it's usefulness. As a protest to bring up cycling safety to the leaders of the city? Probably yes. It now has somewhat of a mind of it's own since there is no 'formal' leadership. Current leadership is trying to make theride safe for all concerned rather than complete anarchy that may happen if no leadership is around.

As for how much disruption actually occurs, my wife worked down near the starting area, on any given evening one stalled car creates gridlock for blocks at a time. That usually that happens more than 50% of the time.

That being said I abhor any violence used by either side to try to make a point.

June 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

Dave.... please don't "shut the fuck up". Your well thought comments are just what we need.

June 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Peter

I live in SF (born and raised here) and have yet to see what usefullness CM has on the driving populus other than raising more disdain towards cyclists. The police force in SF is out with the group on their Friday evening runs, equally, I believe, to protect the riders, as well as the drivers. CM does nothing to promote cycling in the city; the SFBC does that and unlike CM, is organized and works well with City Hall to protect the rights of cyclists.

Someone above mentioned parades, protests, etc. As a note, those are usually well defined in terms of when/where they will be held, so as a driver, I can map my route accordingly. CM does not do that. A "leader" determines the route that night, so many of the riders have no idea where they are even riding. The idea is to create havoc in the streets. I'm a cyclist and I love all aspects of cycling. There are currently 7 bikes in my garage and two more under construction. I always give cyclists their due on the road when I'm driving. Having said that, CM serves no purpose for me at all...and probably never will.

As a note, that video is just a snapshot of the evening. We have no idea what had happened before then as it relates to traffic, verbal abuse thrown at police officers, etc. I'm not excusing what I saw, but I'm also not going to assign "Gestapo" to the officers. Some of the prior postings mentioned that they should be able to take verbal abuse. Why should they even be given verbal abuse? Double edged sword: abuse the heck out of the cops, but man, when you need them....where are they? CM can disappear and the world would be all the better because of it.

And for all of you people who think everyone should be on a bike....well, wake up and smell the rubber...it ain't going to happen. Get over it and let's lead a life of co-existence.

June 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermaltese falcon

One other thing.... keep it coming Dave. Nothing like creating some good discussion on this blog.

June 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermaltese falcon

Dave, you are in the right of this. Cussing don't make you any righter!

June 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Hayman

Well said Dave!

June 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlemmiwinks

Perhaps CM is different where you are to where I am. Here (Sydney, Australia) it is rare for CM to hold up traffic; the roads are usally so clogged that CM doesn't affect people's travel times one way or another. CM is polite and lawful here too. The only possible illegality is corking of intersections, which the local police support, and sometimes even perform when they attend CM on their bikes.

I don't see CM as a celebration - I see it as an opportunity to create a "critical mass" of cyclists so that cyclists dominate the working of the street in the way that cars usually do. It's a way to create a different street environment, at least temporarily.

June 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian

Dave, I'm with you. CM is counterproductive and should be denounced by cycling advocates in cities where it has devolved into anarchy. If there places where it is a useful and lawful protest, then fine. But self-police it and kick out the knuckleheads.

As to the cops, they have to make split second decisions for safety of the public at large. They should be given the benefit of the doubt until a proper investigation is complete. If the cop was in the wrong, then he should dealt with harshly. Bad cops should be weeded out of the force precisely because the public needs to have confidence that police are doing the right thing. Most Americans are spoiled rotten by the quality of our police. Most other places in the world police corruption is endemic (most of the developing world) or the police are a lot more aggressive (most everwhere else). Go mess with the Polizei in Germany and see what happens.

June 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B.

I normally read on google reader, but for this I had to come over and comment.

I agree with you 100%. everything we do affects someone's opinion of us as a group. some people are lost causes, but they could eventually be in the minority, if we don't piss off the rest of the people.

I live in Japan, and I guess that the problem here is the same as anywhere else: other vehicles don't see us as anything but jumped up pedestrians. they turn in front of us, pull out in front of us, and generally pretend that we're stationary, despite much lower speed limits than in the U.S.

much of the problem, as far as I can tell, is that there are so many casual riders on the road---people who just want to get someplace---who behave like pedestrians. they ride In the street, going the Wrong Way, for example.

Why should drivers give space to people like that?

as a group, we have to be worthy of the respect we're demanding.

June 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIra

Critical mass is just an excuse for people to behave poorly and attempt to make a social statement. I believe that it has very little to do with cycling and much more to do with people making social / ecological statements. I get it.. cars are bad.
I agree with Dave 100 percent. If it's really about cycling then why break laws, inconvenience as many people as possible, and give the rest of us lifelong "real" cyclists a bad name.
We need the real cyclists, those who love cycling for what it is, to stand up and denounce these idiots.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLance

From one Dave to another, good work. Whatever purpose or point Critical Mass may have had in the past is completely lost, at least here in San Diego. It's been buried by the drunken masses who show up to ride behind a pack of hipsters on a mission of revenge against all motorists. There is no protest, there is no message, and there is no peace. I've personally talked to every bike organization that will respond, the San Diego Bike Coalition, the SDPD and my local representatives. Not one of them can point to anything positive that CM brings to the city or to cycling.

After a string of cyclists hit and kicked my car when I was unlucky enough to get caught in the mass, I set out on a mission to figure out what it was all about. The more I dig, the more confuised and frustred I've gotten. I’ve talked to folks all over the country as well as one of the original riders in San Francisco. No one has been able to tell me what Critical Mass does, how it helps, or what they are trying to accomplish!! Here in San Diego they ride through the airport and tell tourists to “GO HOME!” They ride through expensive department stores and mock the customers. They not only take over the streets, but sidewalks, parks, and other locations where pedestrians are knocked out of the way. This has nothing to do with cyclist awareness, global warming, or educating motorists. It’s not a peaceful protest or a celebration. It has no purpose other than to prove that with large enough numbers any group can overpower law enforcement and run rampant on any city.

A few of us in San Diego are working to get law enforcement to tighten up on the ride in hops they can curb the violence and ultimately rid the city of this futile and destructive practice. Check out the site we just launched and please contribute where you can. I think this could be a useful resource for all people who wish to see Critical Mass ended in their city.


Cheers, and keep up the good work.

August 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave

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