Critical Mass is a monthly bicycle ride to celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists' right to the road.That's a wonderfully idealistic view- and one that once really drew me to the group.
Up until this past Friday, when I rode my first Mass in at least 3-4 years, I had stayed away from the local CM rides. A few of my coworkers have ridden CM off and on for a while. This past Friday, one of them- Carol- asked to use one of the few Masi demo bikes left over from last year's Interbike demo to do the ride. It was this simple conversation with her that sparked an interest to finally go back and see just how CM has evolved/ changed in San Diego since the last time I rode.
Background; I rode a couple of the CM rides 3-4 years ago, back when the rides here were often only 25- 50 riders showing up. On one night, as was usually the case, several of the riders were drunk and belligerent. Coming to one intersection, this kid in front of me nearly hit a car because he was drunk and the car was partially in the intersection. He yelled at the driver and tossed a water bottle at him. The driver then sped up to us and jumped out of his car grabbing the kid and threatening to beat him to a pulp. At this point, I hopped off my bike to separate them- nearly getting punched by BOTH of them in the process. After getting them apart and talking the driver into leaving the scene as the kid continued to be an ass and the group of CM riders left us to ourselves, I got back on my bike and put CM behind me for good- until this past Friday night.
Please understand that I very much believe in the premise of CM- celebrating the bicycle as transportation and asserting our rights as cyclists to be on the road. As I have said for years, I agree with the message, just not the way it is normally conveyed. I know that the best way to create change is to be a part of the process and educate people, rather than walking away. But, I admit that I simply haven't had the desire to fight the people who are not willing to learn or listen. Some people just see CM as a form of semi-organized anarchy. Others see it as an excuse, or convenient cover, to just be obnoxious asses. Neither do any good to engender any kind of understanding or sympathy toward the cause of gaining and maintaining greater rights for cyclists. In fact, it usually has the opposite effect.
All that said, my curiosity and hope for change has been growing over the past few years as I've heard more and more comments about recent CM rides. I'm a starry-eyed Piscean dreamer, always willing to give something/ someone yet another chance. So, I came home from work on Friday and cooked dinner for my wife and daughter and ate with them before grabbing my bike and heading out the door to catch up with the Mass ride. I caught them just a couple blocks from my home and was shocked to see the number of riders- well into the 100's and I would speculate there were at least 400-500 riders out! Amazing to me. Better yet, there was a police escort of multiple squad cars stopping traffic and encouraging the Mass riders. I was shocked- to say the least. There were a few of the officers who were using their PA systems to talk to the group and point out things like the group breaking up and encouraging regrouping and good intersections to stop and wait for other riders- while stopping traffic. It was a far, far cry from the rides I had last done. I guess it proves less of a liability to be chaperon than try to pick up the pieces after the fact. Regardless, it was awesome to have the support of the San Diego police and I sincerely applaud them for the efforts and outreach.
The last rides I did, were largely small affairs with a few riders and centralized to the small downtown area of San Diego, but this ride meandered all over the place! We probably rode close to 30 miles! I was sorely unprepared for such a ride on the SoulVille SS I was riding fixed and wearing my "street clothes". What I saw this past Friday was an impressive change from years past. A friend of mine I saw toward the end of the ride was explaining that the month before saw closer to 1000 riders! Amazing- especially if you are familiar with San Diego's fractious cycling community.
As we rode through multiple neighborhoods and back through downtown and through the airport (where a crash occurred that sent one rider to the hospital unconscious and in an ambulance), the mood was overall very light. There were moms and dads with their kids, couples, groups of friends, rowdy punks and earnest activists desperately seeking change and awareness. It was everybody you can imagine on a bicycle- and they were getting along. I was very impressed by the overwhelming sense of "brotherhood" that existed among the majority of the crowd. There were BMX bikes, TONS of fixed gear/ singlespeed bikes, lots of mountain bikes and a large amount of regular, everyday bikes. I think I saw two or three people in lycra and only a few "race bikes". It was largely a crowd of ordinary bikes, trying to accomplish the extraordinary.
Some of the sweet, warm love-in feelings were dented and bruised by the large number of drunks riding in the group barely in control of their bikes and passing cans of beer or other drinks back and forth, along with the HUGE amount of people smoking enough weed to give Cheech Marin a contact high. I'm no prude, by any stretch of the imagination... trust me, but it hurts the attempt to educate when many of your "educators" are swerving across the road to puke in the bushes, pee behind parked cars or rolling joints in front of kids. There were numerous riders who were still there just to push the edges of anarchy (and the patience of the police), yelling at pedestrians and attempting to intimidate drivers. I didn't see any altercations and I didn't have to intervene at any point- though I likely would have left any of the idiots to fend for themselves.
I know this all sounds like the rants of disapproval of some middle-aged guy who simply doesn't understand. But... I DO understand and I still think the behavior is stupid and severely undermines the credibility of those who are legitimately trying to seek and create sustainable change. The voices of the folks who were thanking the patient drivers and pedestrians were certainly drowned out or forgotten when some beer-soaked stoner screamed at the curious onlookers trying to figure out what was happening. There were plenty of people who honked, clapped and cheered in support of the ride and I grinned from ear to ear waving to them in thanks... but was embarrassed by the buffoons yelling at onlookers or kicking cars. Those are the actions of a few, but those few still manage to leave the most lasting impressions.
I'm not naive enough to believe that a group like Critical Mass has the power or responsibility to prevent goobers from ruining their ride or steering the "message" off course. Nor am I such a stuffed shirt that I don't believe in having fun- I do believe in fun and like to have some myself... believe me. Yes, I know I should shut the hell up and put my big old mouth to work "fixing the problem" as I see it. But... you know, I just don't have the energy anymore. Work, marriage, bills, family... the desire to tilt at windmills is just diminished now. The core of the CM message is very real and important to me, but the fight is just not as strong- especially when the drunk stoner yelling at cars simply doesn't give a shit.
So I'm not sure if I'll be going back out on a Mass ride again any time soon. My heart is just as behind the message as it ever was, but I'm just not too sure I've gotten to that place where I'm comfortable with how the message is being delivered... on my behalf.
Maybe it's just me, but I have a hard time coming to terms with it all...
(PS- I love how the writer of the opening link on CM I reference finally gave up on the project due to the behavior of some other CM people... helps to illustrate the point of my own conflicted feelings.)