July 29, 2008

The Antidote

There were a couple incidents at the latest Critical Mass rides in a few major cities. Unpleasant altercations with a motorist in Seattle and with a (horrible, by the looks of it) police officer in New York (watch the video). Of course there are two sides to the stories, and as you can imagine in these cases both sides claim the other started it.

If you're not aware, Critical Mass is a group of "bicyclists" who meet the last Friday evening of every month and ride through the city completely blocking traffic and generally disrupting motorists as much as possible. I think the idea initially was to protest how bicycle unfriendly many cities are, but it seems to have degenerated into lets go get rowdy and piss people off.

I hate Critical Mass.

Why? I ride my bike every day on city streets. I obey laws. I signal turns. I am courteous to automobile drivers, pedestrians, and other bicyclists. I respect them and I hope they will respect me also. Critical Mass riders antagonize drivers one day a month, and then I ride on the same streets as those drivers every other day of the month. Am I one of the rude, disrespectful Critical Mass riders? No. But motorists don't know that. It's very easy to stereotype and think all bicyclists are the same (just as it is to think all motorists are the same).

A funny thing happened last November when I was in California on a business trip. I was riding around San Francisco on a friday evening when I came up to the back of a group of 20 or so bicyclists on Market St. At a stop light one of them looked over at me and noticed my Dahon Helios XL and turned to his friend and said "Hey look, this guy's got a Helios." Anyway we started talking and apparently he had the same bike. I asked what was going on and he informed me I had stumbled upon a Critical Manners ride. They described it as the antidote to Critical Mass. This group has the same basic mission as Critical Mass (to demonstrate the need for more bicycle friendly cities), but they obey traffic laws and are generally nice to people. The ride is organized by the San Francisco Bike Coalition. I rode with them a few blocks until I reached my destination. It was a good time.

We'd probably all be a better off with a little more manners and a little less mass.

3 comments:

Melissa said...

maybe you could start a critical manners ride here in champaign-urbana.

Anonymous said...

GREAT IDEA, MELISSA. I TOTALLY AGREE!

MSCHO

Scott said...

Critical Manners? Kinda defeats the whole point of Critical Mass, but maybe that's the goal. As someone who frequently rides in Critical Masses, I can say that I've never gotten into a conflict with a motorist during the ride. I have yelled at motorists though just riding day to day in Chicago. During the mass, most people seem to have fun and most motorists seem to wait patiently and sometimes toot their horns enthusiastically. Like everything though, it only takes a couple of assholes to cause trouble. You get the over-aggressive bikers that start to cork a car and then the driver becomes irate and starts screaming and revving his engine like he's going to hit people and then, trouble.