Argument #3 Against Critical Mass: You’re Angry!

April 28th, 2010 by hughillustration

Ride Daily Poster by Beth Verdekal

Poster design by Beth Verdekal


This week I am taking what I consider the 6 best and most common arguments against Critical Mass, and giving them each a fair answer — one per day.

Today’s argument: “Critical Mass is Angry!” Thanks for reading and commenting!

3. Critical Mass is not a celebration of bikes or bike culture. It is an angry, confrontational event designed to purposefully delay and anger motorists, to punish drivers for the crime of being in a car on a Friday night.

This observation is usually based on anecdotal evidence, or on news reports that presented our ride in a bad light. Therefore, I would like to reply with an anecdote of my own.

I have been riding on Critical Mass since it began, and I know hundreds of people who take part in the ride, some regularly and some sporadically. Over the years I have had conversations with thousands of Critical Mass participants. In all that time, out of all those people, I have rarely encountered anyone whose purpose or intent was to delay or anger motorists.

Most people you encounter on Critical Mass are out to enjoy a safe and social ride through San Francisco, one of the greatest cities in the world. They ride to meet people, to explore the city they love, and to demonstrate to others and to themselves how much better the city would be if more people got around on bikes. Most of them are serious cyclists that ride their bikes to their jobs or to school. And — just like most people in this society organized around motorized traffic — Critical Mass participants are at least occasional motorists. All of us have friends and family who drive.

You may still believe that the real purpose of Critical Mass is to confront and antagonize others. If that is true, then where is the evidence? Where are the online discussions and websites promoting this supposedly dominant value of Critical Mass? Where are the flyers circulated to instill this value in participants?

I challenge you to bring me evidence backing up your belief. Meanwhile, I can show you dozens of flyers and online discussions saying the exact opposite — texts with the specific purpose of reminding Critical Mass participants that motorists are not the enemy and that blaming them is counterproductive and stupid.

Typically, people that have a low opinion of Critical Mass change their minds after they have ridden with us. When you bring your bike down to Justin Herman Plaza and meet people, talk to them while you ride through the streets together (in complete safety, for once!), you may find that you have a different perspective. You may see that we aren’t perfect, and we may have strange ideas about how to change the world, but we aren’t monsters. For the most part we want what you want: a city that is safe, open to everyone, and fun to explore. Why not join us and see for yourself?

Here’s the rest of the series:
Argument 6: You Don’t Stop for Red Lights
Argument 5: You’ll Spark a Backlash!
Argument 4: Delaying Others is Rude!
Argument 3: You’re Angry!
Argument 2: I Saw An Incident!
Argument 1: Critical Mass Doesn’t Change Anything!

6 Responses to “Argument #3 Against Critical Mass: You’re Angry!”

  1. Thomas says:

    With due respect, your arguments and observations have all been anecdotal so far as well. To dismiss the anti-CM argument as such is to dismiss your own.

    Personally I’d love to see some real numbers and data coming from either side. I’d love to see a per capita comparison of laws broken by motorists and bicyclists respectively. Both sides always seem to scream at each other that the other one is always breaking laws. And each side seems to lump all of the other side in with those of their direct experience.

  2. Thomas says:

    Good series so far non-the-less. Still, I think there’s a vacuum of effective framing between “sides”.

  3. Darren says:

    Thomas let’s say for a minute that stats showed that cyclists broke more laws than motorists. How would this be relevant? What tolerance would one use when determinig if a law was broken or not? If I stand outside my house and watch traffic almost every car passing by is in violation of the speed limit. Though most of them by a few kms an hour. In addition almost every car that goes through the intersection does not much better than a rolling stop. There is hole in my hedge where six weeks ago a car going three times the speed limit went through it ejecting a passenger to her death.

    Comparing these violations seems rather petty and unproductive. I dislike these comparisons of who is worst cause it does nothing to move the discussion forward.

  4. Marc says:

    Hugh,
    Me again. Mr. CriticalMassSucks.com.
    If you dont think the true intent of Critical Mass is to anger or antagonize, then why would you reply to the comment one of your follower made (pasted below) with. “Best comment ever” right here on your own site? It can be found in your “Is Critical Mass Bad or Good for Biking” thread.

    jbtiv says:
    May 26, 2010 at 5:31 pm
    “Critical Mass would be good for biking if motherfuckers really took it to the next level of the game and critically massed across the motherfuckin Bay Bridge and taught the Bay Area establishmentinati that they ain’t playin and we ain’t scared and we ARE here to “anger” motherfuckin “motorists” motherfucker. ‘Cause that’s where the mass needs to get critical. On the motherfuckin Bay Bridge. Why can’t a motherfucker ride his bike on that? I can navigate the fuck out of the motherfuckin S-Curve on TWO wheels without slowing down for an instant motherfucker. Feel me.”

    hughillustration says:
    May 26, 2010 at 6:49 pm
    Best comment ever.

  5. The comment was obviously an over-the-top response to the rest of the thread, and I took it as highly ironic (though I don’t know the commenter and can’t be certain). Dead giveaways that the tone is humorous and not serious: the use of the ridiculous word “establishmentinati” and the reference to the S-Curve — meaning the curve on the Bay Bridge which motorists are having a difficult time navigating. For the record, no I do not think we are about angering or antagonizing anyone. If you’re ever in San Francisco on the last Friday, you should try riding with us for a few blocks and see for yourself.

  6. Marc says:

    Hmmm, well if you say so. It sounded like the dude was pretty serious to me, but whatever.
    A nut-job? Yeah. But a serious nut-job.

    I appreciate your invitation but will never ride with Critical Mass unless two changes occur.
    Those changes would be:
    - Get a permit from the city (which would result in alleviating many of the issues I have with critical mass including public notification, security issues, and clean-up)
    - Obey traffic signals (unless the permit is a “parade permit” which allows for blocking of streets legally.

    If the “event” followed the rules of any other “event” that exists then I would gladly ride along (as long as it was… well, let’s just use the word “civil.”)

    As a counter, I invite anyone who regularly rides with CM to one month NOT ride with them and place yourself in a position to be a spectator. In your ride you see those immediately around you. Not sure if this is possible at SF, but its pretty easy here in SanDiego. They start at the fountain in Balboa Park and there are only a few ways to go from there.
    Someone on the side of the road gets to see each and every person. Literally. Every last person. A much better position to be if you want to get the “big picture”.

    I must offer that perhaps CM rides are different in their respective cities and perhaps SanFran has a much better behaved ride. San Diego’s is atrocious. Having said that, even if you are as polite as a tea-totalling nun making crumpets for the pope, the very fact that you are effectively trapping people by doing an illegal act means I cannot condone it.

    What I have yet to hear from anyone on this site, or anywhere else for that matter is, Why do you do it? Why do you ride with Critical Mass? What are you hoping to achieve? You know it’s illegal, you know it disrupts the city, you know occasionally violence occurs – yet still you do it. Those against it such as myself must offer reasons why they are against it of course. Those for it should not JUST try (unsuccessfully in my opinion) to offer counters to those arguments, but they should first and foremost offer a reason for their participation.

    It has been implied that since my website does not allow feedback I somehow am dodging “discussion.” As I mentioned before I simply do not have the time to respond to every yahoo so I purposely created a monologue, not a dialogue. I do, however have the time to occasionally pop on here (you are the one that needs to maintain this, not me). As you have seen so far, I have no problems discussing any of my positions in tiring detail.

    Let’s hear what folks think they are achieving and why they think it is okay to try to reach this goal through such disruptive behavior. If folks want a discussion – that is the real one that should be taking place – and the only one that really matters.

    Don’t worry I will still go through all the arguments and give my feedback. I think you can see where I am coming from by now though. There is (in my opinion) NO good argument on the side of CM that justifies it.

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