Group Rides — Not Just for Scofflaws Anymore!

June 13th, 2010 by hughillustration

The Critical Manners crew on Larkin (photo by Hugh)

You know what’s interesting about our contemporary bike culture? All these proliferating group rides. It seems that Critical Mass no longer has a monopoly on the fantastic idea of riding somewhere on bikes together!

There’s the San Jose Bike Party, of course, and the brand new East Bay Bike Party. But there are also lots of smaller rides — numbering anywhere from 10-50 people — that meet on a regular or semi-regular basis to try variations on this tactic.

For example, there’s the super fun Butterlap. It meets every Wednesday at the Ferry Building at 6:30pm, and takes off along the Embarcadero before heading up to the Palace of Fine Arts and points beyond (it’s the same excellent route each time), before looping back to the Mission. A word of warning: don’t bring your tank-like 3-speed cruiser, like I did, or you will be sorry!

The Butterlap crew on Page Street (photo by Meli)

And this month saw the return of Critical Manners, the group bike ride that bills itself as a lawful, polite alternative to Critical Mass. Chris, Nio and I joined up with the other CM outside the library on Larkin, and a small group of about 15 of us rode together up through the Wiggle and into the park, stopping to visit the anti-Arco/BP protest at Fell & Diviz (also a new regular event, every Friday).

Critical Manners on the Wiggle (photo by Hugh)

The anti-BP/Arco Protest will be every Friday! (Photo by Hugh)

Along the way we stopped for most stop signs and all red lights, which was actually kind of a fun exercise for me. (However, I noticed that Chris was totally unable to get with the program, and continued to just blast right through every traffic stop he came to, as usual. Some people are just born scofflaws!*)

Hugh making friends as Critical Manners gathers (photo by Chris Carlsson)

It might surprise some people to hear that I enjoyed Critical Manners, since I am a loud and strident supporter of Critical Mass. But I did have a good time, and I met some nice people. Personally, I think there is room in San Francisco for all kinds of rides for all kinds of people. Critical Manners will definitely appeal to those who are uncomfortable with Critical Mass’s habit of running red lights and generally raising a ruckus — and for those people, Critical Manners is a great chance to experience a group ride!

If you’re curious, I totally suggest tagging along on the next one. The folks who were there were nice and friendly, and they seem committed to keeping their ride going. They’ll be meeting every 2nd Friday of the month at Larkin and Grove at 5:30 or 6.

That said, there is a crucial ingredient that I feel is missing on these smaller rides, and that is sociability! When you’re riding single file, and only occasionally two abreast — basically any time you’re not taking the whole lane — it’s pretty hard to have a conversation. You certainly can’t mingle and socialize easily. Both Butterlap and Critical Manners in my experience weren’t the intensely social experience that Critical Mass is. The experience is much closer to a normal day biking around town. Which is to say: more or less solitary, marginalized, and dangerous.

That is really the great thing about Critical Mass: we bring a transformation to the city. One day a month, you can ride through San Francisco streets without feeling like you are some sort of second-class traffic citizen! And you can explore the city in the company of hundreds of others, and have long conversations while you do it — all without fear of being run down or slammed by a car door. It’s this experience of a city transformed that only a really large ride, like Critical Mass or the San Jose Bike Party, can bring. And that transformation is what it’s really all about.

May a thousand rides bloom!

* Many people are outraged at bicyclists that ride the way Chris and I habitually do, treating stop signs as yield signs and most red lights as yellow lights. I can see their point. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone obeyed the law? I suggest that we start by insisting that those driving the most dangerous vehicles pay strict attention to the letter of the law — and that means obeying the speed limit at all times! This seemingly universal habit that car drivers have of completely ignoring speed limits is not only rude, corrupt, and evidence of a lack of respect for the police and the rule of law, it is also deadly! Speeding directly causes thousands of deaths and injuries each year. Once we have all or most motorists driving the speed limit, then we can turn our attention to the relatively minor problem of bicycle scofflaws.

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11 Responses to “Group Rides — Not Just for Scofflaws Anymore!”

  1. nio says:

    Butter Lap is awesome! au contraire Hugh, it’s quite sociable at rest stops, during the ride esp through GGP, some breathless conversations up hills, and at Benders. i’ve met swell folks on BLap. btw huge props for riding it on your 60lb dutch! bring a roadie and ride butter more often!

    Folks @ Critical Manners seemed nice and i’d recommend that as one alternative. riding up the wiggle and thru GGP is always nice and the weather was great. since this is the first Manners in a while (i think?) the smaller size made it less social, as does single or double file riding, but it will presumably grow as it gains in popularity.

    however, it’s prolly not to my taste overall. i expected to follow the stops 100% which would have been tedious, but predictable. instead i found the stops a bit arbitrary. =| contrary to courteous intentions, i thought we confused and prolly annoyed motorists in a couple situations; other bikers as well. for example, in the wiggle we made a right turn at a stop sign, from bike lane to bike lane, no peds. as i usually ride that’s a caution but no-stopper which seems practical to me. we stopped, waited to regroup, and attempted to yield to motorists also stopped. the motorists all yielded to us and appeared confused. eventually we turned and cleared the intersection. if i ride Manners again, i’d like to bring that up and get their thoughts on it.

    but yea, overall happy to see different kinds of rides, they’re all good, different strokes for different folks.


  2. Wanton says:

    Oh so funny, scofflaws, running red lights and stop signs. Until you kill yourself or someone else, either by forcing a car to brake and skid, or you hit a pedestrian… I swear, as a pedestrian I have been disrespected by cyclists as much as cars. You know, if a pedestrian is in the crosswalk you are supposed to stop, right?

    Thank god for critical manners as a step in the right direction. Now maybe all we need to do is license all bicyclists.

  3. Wanton: I bet that when you drive, you habitually drive over the speed limit. If you think that this infraction is less serious than my habit of rolling (cautiously) through stop signs, than you are deluding yourself. The number of injuries and fatalities caused by car drivers speeding dwarfs the number of injuries caused by bicycle scofflaws. Your anger is misplaced.

  4. David says:

    Thanks for the kind words Hugh, it was fun riding with you all. If we can get enough people on future rides, the plan is to definitely take the lane. We’re looking forward to getting the kinks worked out as we get back in the flow of riding Critical Manners! I’ll be out of town at the end of this month for Critical Mass but hope to see you all at July’s Critical Mass and Critical Manners.

  5. Reama says:

    Hugh – you make good points and I’ll take them to heart. It’s been 2+ years since the last ride and it seems a lot has changed in SF! I’d like to invite you to join us again in a few months after I’ve had some time to iron out the kinks. I definitely think we should take the lane a lot more like a courteous, orderly mass. I also think the ride would benefit if I posted a planned route on the website so people could join/regroup at different points.

    I’m into the idea of some themed, fun rides, too. Hell, I just love riding my bike. That’s what it’s all about.

  6. Yay themes! I love that idea. The SF Bike Party does this to great effect. Thanks, and good luck, I’ll catch your ride again soon!

  7. Ansgar says:

    Hi Hugh, hi erveryone!
    I’ve followed some of your red light discussions during the last few months. It might be interesting for you that §27 of the StVO (the German traffic regulations) gives a group of more than 15 bicycles the right to be regarded as a single vehicle. In particular this means that if lights turn red mid-mass the rest of group has to continue in order to not break any traffic rule. What are we? Yes, Germans:-)

    Here is a link to §27:
    The technical term for a group of more than 15 riders is “geschlossener Verband” which means “closed formation”.

    Keep on massing

  8. Fascinating! Thanks, Ansgar, I’ll do a quick post on this subject.

  9. nio says:

    wow! finally some common sense. yea hugh that’s gotta be blogged.

  10. Ryan says:

    San Jose Bike Party is tonight, if you’re looking for something fun to do.

  11. Peter Smith says:

    looks like San Jose Bike Party could be over next week:

    so much for ideological purity.