I Don’t Get Critical Mass

Critical Mass is supposedly about promoting bicycle rights and safety in cities. I have to say that until I started biking to work and conversing with others who do the same, I had never heard of it.

It’s a biking inside story.

I have to think that’s the way critical mass feels to muggles. They don’t get the message. More likely, they get pissed that the cyclists are blowing lights and they can’t get to their groceries, doctors appointment, or home from work to make dinner for their family.

Critical Mass Bicycle ride image
Critical Mass is about riding together in solidarity. Side effect of this kind of mass is that traffic laws are secondary to staying in a riding mass

Here’s a couple pompous don’ts from their list of do’s and dont’s. Don’t

  • pick fights with motorists, even (especially) if they’re itching for one
  • imagine that you are morally superior just cuz you’re on a bicycle (you’ll be in a car again soon enough)

Granted there are other more laudable items on the list, but these two struck me as a bit pretentious, that cyclists are taking more than what they are owed while on a Critical Mass ride.

Don’t forget that cars have people in them. People with places to be. By riding massed up, blocking traffic and running red lights, cyclists are already violating these two don’ts:

  • By challenging others rights to the road they are picking a fight in a way. At least, they are taking a confrontational stance.
  • Imagining they are superior and have some claim to the right of way.

I think it’s fantastic to raise awareness of bicycle rights and bicycle safety on roadways. It’s a difficult topic because there’s a fine line between being activist and militant. I struggle to name effective solutions, but prefer education where possible. Ultimately the organic growth of biking will make it a more common and accepted (therefore safer) practice.

For me, Critical Mass is a non-starter. By riding in a big mass and disobeying stop signs and traffic lights the wrong message will be received, no matter what message you’re trying to send. How can muggles not see this as confirmation of their stereotype that cyclists don’t belong in traffic?

I know how livid I would feel if a huge line of pedestrians decided to gum up the intersection I was sitting at while on my way home from work.

11 thoughts on “I Don’t Get Critical Mass

  1. I’m trying to figure out how I actually feel about critical mass. I have always been against the way it is “run” (red lights, taking up 2-4 lanes), but have always supported what it stood for.

    The problem with critical mass is that it attracts more anti-car people than it does pro-bike people.

    I still have mixed feelings on whether I feel sympathetic towards motorists stuck behind this. I’m tired of motorists whining about losing a lane for bikes or having to share the road and this attitude seems to be growing more and more. But at the same time I don’t want to be one of those people who lumps all motorists as one. It drives me nuts when people do it with bikes.
    Many motorists are perfectly willing to share the road or even give up a lane for bikes.

    I personally never have and probably never will participate in a critical mass event, though I do wonder what roll CM has played in Vancouver’s ever growing bike network. Vancouver seems to draw the largest number in Canada, though also seem to have an equally large anti-bike attitude growing.

    Critical Manners is something I would consider supporting. It’s pretty well the same as critical mass, except the cyclists remain in the bike lane (or in the right most lane), stop at red lights and obey all traffic laws.
    I do wonder if Critical Manners is actually effective. Most people have never even heard of it.

    Critical Mass is defiantly one of those issues that seems to divide cyclists, that’s for sure.

  2. I rode in one critical mass ride here in Waterloo, and was appealed by the attitude of most of the cyclists, and the confrontational approach they took. It was good to see all the cyclist out on the road but it is time to try the Critical Manners approach and make allies not enemies!

    1. I’ve never actually attended one. But I couldn’t see it going down any other way. Even if some are altruistic, someone else is going to attend for the wrong reason.

      These aren’t the people I want to have representing me. That’s for sure.

  3. Critical Mass is somewhat new to St. Catharines (maybe about a year or two old). Our largest was about 30 or so people who hit out downtown streets.
    Apparently they only attract about 10 people now and it makes no media attention.

    Here is my biggest issue with CM for this city…The vast majority of St. Catharines motorists are quite courteous around bikes. For whatever reasons (safety, uncertainty, courteous, respect) it’s very rare to have someone pass closely or being inconsiderate around bikes…
    I would hate to have motorists change this attitude all because of a handful of people riding in CM.

  4. I have also felt very conflicted about it. so I decided to try one out. Went to one a month ago. I wrote about the experience here: http://averagejoecyclist.com/?p=739

    I am STILL not sure what I think about it. But it was not as bad as the Press makes it out to be. And one thing I noticed is that no cars were delayed for longer than about one light change. So I do think the fury sometimes directed towards CM has more to do with anti-cyclist sentiment than any real inconvenience caused.

  5. I attended one Critical Mass ride in Waterloo, and it was far too confrontational and us vs. them for my tastes. If cycling is to be for everyone, then it has to be for the people in those cars as well. Most people cannot be accurately characterized by a fixed mode of transportation.

  6. I’ve only cycled in 1 critical mass ride a long time ago in Vancouver. In Toronto I never participated in one, though I was involved in cycling advocacy there also. I haven’t lived in a home with a car for past quarter century. So my lifestyle truly is car-free.

    I understand the expression of solidarity. But just think there are many other ways to change people’s transport habits over time.

    One is better off having and creating exciting over cycling events and celebration stations lik Vancouver has done to promote cycling…last December.

  7. Critical Mass in San Diego has become a monthly Terrorist event. I am an avid cyclist. I commute, ride for fun and off road, weekly. I am on the roads on my bike at least 6 times a week. I had heard horrible things from Cabbie friends of mine and seen a motorist politeness deterioration toward cyclist due to this event, but had never seen them up close before. I was downtown San Diego about to cross a main intersection on Broadway and they came. They didn’t stop for the light or anything else. After standing waiting for the horde to pass, I finally tried to cross during a break of bikes and was hit by a cyclist. I couldn’t believe how much it hurt. And the cyclist did not stop. No wonder the motorist in this town hate cyclists, when they have to deal with these terrorists once a month. I think this event should be outlawed, before they do any more damage to real cyclists.

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