Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why I hate Critical Mass

Critical Mass has frustrated me for a long time. On the last Friday of every month I watch hordes of bicyclists ride through the city streets in numbers so vast as to block traffic for miles. While the initial concept is brilliant and the message is commendable, the participants are totally sabotaging their own message, and this is the reason I've always refused to participate.

As I stand on the sidelines each month and watch as cyclists ride by, flipping us off and doing wheelies, passive aggressively wishing us a happy Friday, I just want to hang my head. Never do I see anyone passing out fliers, or chanting or even hollering anything with the phrase "critical mass" or "bicycle awareness."

I listen like a fly on a wall to the bystanders and folks stuck in traffic, and NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE HELL YOU'RE DOING. I hear people say things like "this must be some kind of club." Or "is this a parade?"

After they've all passed and traffic resumes its normal patterns people aren't left with the thought "Wow, there are a lot of bicyclists in the city. I should be more careful to watch for them and share the road." Nonono. Instead we all think, "Wow bicyclists sure are a pompous and rude group. If I had my way I'd run a couple of them over."

Honestly, how difficult would it be to pass out quarter page fliers explaining the movement, asking drivers to be more aware of cyclists, explain some bicycle laws, state some statistics on bike accidents.... Want me to put that together for you? Because I could. Really easily. Anyone could.

Now, I'm sure there are a handful we didn't see, but of the hundreds of people riding down Division street last night we saw ONE man toward the end of the ride, leaning into car windows to thank people for their patience & offering them baked goods. ?? Whatever. At least it was something.

It just frustrates me to no end that people have created this massive and powerful movement - A way to capture the attention of almost an entire city and broadcast what I think is a VERY important message, and they continue to squander this opportunity each and every month. And in multiple cities, apparently.

My point is that there needs to be more of an effort to communicate. You've got our attention. Now what? Have you forgotten what you're riding for, or do you just care more about causing a scene? To me it's a blatant example of the way Americans have forgotten how to effectively demonstrate because we've been so passive and/or contented for so long.

This really really bums me out. I hope someone can step in and redirect it before it's too late.

Which brings me to this, which I think is kind of excellent: Critical Manners


  1. Totally. I'm glad there are so many people interested in biking. I walk across Milwaukee Ave at Grand/Halsted on my way to work and there are almost as many bikes as cars some days. I still see drivers of cars act confused as to why the bikes are allowed in the street almost every day. I don't think Critical Mass helps in any way other than as an expression of solidarity for bike riders and a reminder for those of us in the know to plan on traveling on foot on the last Friday of every month.

  2. But I do love the way bicyclists have made milwaukee ave during rush hour such a thoroughfare. Talk about safety in numbers. That's the only route on which I might feel even a little safe.

  3. Critical mass has turned into nothing more than a mob event and does more harm to cycling than good.

    Way to create a divisive "Us vs. Them" mentality, guys. Good for you.

  4. Anonymous7:28 PM

    i agree with your blog. i was wondering if you had gone on the ride since you posted the blog and passed out info. i bet if you started, others would join you.

  5. Nope. I'm actually not a cyclist and probably never will be.

    I'm just disappointed that people who supposedly care about something would continue to sabotage their own cause.