Lost Etiquette, Growing Incoherence

August 31st, 2013 by ccarlsson



The white bike installed at 6th and Folsom, about 5:30 pm. The black car turning right is where the truck killed Amelie Le Moullac a week ago…


closeup on the sign.

closeup on the sign.

It’s not exactly a revelation to speak about how poorly we Critical Massers have managed to transmit our culture to the new generation(s) over the past decade and a half. Last night’s Aug. 30 2013 ride was a good case in point. Whoever got in front at the beginning didn’t do too badly in terms of pacing and direction, heading straight up Market Street (not so clever) and turning left at 5th Street as we wiggled towards 6th and Folsom. At 6th and Folsom many people wanted to stop and pay tribute to Amelie Le Moullac, but when I got there (I was about 80% back from the front) the ride had already sped by and headed east on Folsom. From then on it was a race, nobody at the front holding the pace to something reasonable, and the ride splintered repeatedly, finally just a few hundred making it all the way to Golden Gate Park. I myself had to sprint up 3rd Street after getting stuck at King when the back of the ride was blocked by cross traffic for the long light sequence there near the I-280 offramp, and it took a while to catch the ride. Many people behind me never made it.


Folsom passing 3rd Street, about 2/3 of the Mass already past.

How hard is it to remember to stop semi-often at the front and wait for folks to “mass up”? Circling, while annoying, can be a useful way to do this, but just stopping through a whole light change sequence can make all the difference for a fun, convivial, social ride.

Parents corner!... several folks who had kids along this month were suddenly all in th same area...

Parents corner!… several folks who had kids along this month were suddenly all in th same area…

Nearly everyone was aware of the tragic death of Amelie Le Moullac, run over when a truck turned into her at 7 in the morning. The following SFBC event, tarnished by the idiotic cop Sgt. Richard Ernst who deliberately blocked the bike lane with his cruiser and refused to move until the SFBC leaders would acknowledge that the woman caused her own death (!!), made many more folks aware.

It was an odd end of August anyway, what with the days-old rollout of the new SF Bikeshare program, which has not much to do with sharing, and a lot to do with overpriced, badly designed bicycles that seem designed to fail as a system (0nly 700 bikes for the whole Bay Area?!? $22 for three days of access?!? rising charges after  30 minutes?!? how about $3/day for full access?), and the closing of the Bay Bridge to connect the new eastern span to the island and toll plaza. And of course, tens of thousands are out of town at the Playa for Burning Man…

Selling is not sharing! Whether this program, Lyft or Uber, Airbnb, or what have you, these are neoliberal commodifications of the "Idea" of sharing, using the feel-good sensibility the concept legitimately creates to sell these awkward and inadequate part-time commodities... yuck!

Selling is not sharing! Whether this program, Lyft or Uber, Airbnb, or what have you, these are neoliberal commodifications of the “Idea” of sharing, using the feel-good sensibility the concept legitimately creates to sell these awkward and inadequate part-time commodities… yuck!

The mostly closed Bay Bridge overhead as we took a turn along the waterfront...

The mostly closed Bay Bridge overhead as we took a turn along the waterfront…


Coming out of the (sadly, inevitable) Broadway Tunnel we turned left on Polk...

Coming out of the (sadly, inevitable) Broadway Tunnel we turned left on Polk…

Generally, Critical Mass is an ongoing opportunity to do something quite different in our lives, but most months, and this one in particular, we collectively and unconsciously recreate a lot of what’s worst about our selfish, inconsiderate, boorish culture, everyone for themselves, and a shocking lack of empathy and solidarity in the execution of this whole event. People, we could do a LOT better, without even trying very hard… for starters, let’s remember to stick together in a mass, watch out for each other, help stragglers keep up, tell the racers to go off on their own if they’re so bent on going that fast, and don’t sheepishly follow along! Take responsibility for your own experience! and each other’s!

Racing down Folsom nearing the waterfront, the ride was already very scattered...

Racing down Folsom nearing the waterfront, the ride was already very scattered…

Later the folks who managed to stick together made it all the way along Geary to Divisadero and went south on Divis...

Later the folks who managed to stick together made it all the way along Geary to Divisadero and went south on Divis…


Bike lift on Masonic at Fell before we rolled into the park.

Bike lift on Masonic at Fell before we rolled into the park.


31 Responses to “Lost Etiquette, Growing Incoherence”

  1. the greasybear says:

    Agreed. I had been looking forward to yesterday’s ride, because I wanted to be part of a group ride that could honor Amelie LeMoullac’s life and also protest the SFPD’s anti-bike bias. Perhaps I put too much faith in Critical Mass’ consciousness and ability to retain an element of protest and relevancy. Clearly, there were some aggressive young athletes up front who came to CM with very different expectations and intentions.

    In any case, with every bad decision made by the speed racers up front, my disappointment grew. Even now, I’m actually bummed at how they squandered our strength in numbers. And I must admit I’m resentful at how they wasted such an amazing opportunity for us to speak collectively to one another, to the rest of the city, the police, and Amelie’s friends and family. What a wanton waste of every possibility CM contains.

    Dick move, bros.

  2. I was toward the front most of the time. I thought the pace was mellow (like 8 mph). We stopped multiple times. I wasn’t aware of leaving a large group behind. (When you’re in the middle, it’s hard to know how far ahead or behind the others are). I dropped out before GG park, but had a blast until then. As for boorish, really? Sorry, but I’m not feeling ya!

  3. Louis Cabeza says:

    It’s a different mentality. I have always viewed CM as a moving celebratory protest. Brilliant, fun civil disobedience. There are others who seem to view it more as a mellow pack ride. I don’t have anything against that idea, I just think the people who have a different idea of what CM is should be aware and follow their own muse.

  4. Tim Doyle says:

    I got down to the Start a little after 6:20pm and everyone had taken off. I went down Market St and couldn’t catch up. THERE IS NO MASS WITHOUT UNITY!

  5. Ayalanex says:

    It looks to me bikers just like vegans are an angry bunch and I’m both but It’s useless being angry.

  6. Tian says:

    I liked the ride. I just rode with it until the end. Guys were saying “we went 33 miles!” I was glad to participate. Thank you San Francisco!

    For sure your writeup helped remind me that fallen riders like Amelie Le Moullac need to be remembered. Adina mentioned the same thing at the start, the other half of being reminded for me.

  7. Andrew Boone says:

    The pace was 8 to 9 mph, according to my phone app. If you’re a slower rider, you should try to stay nearer to the front, to avoid getting dropped when something unexpected happens (a big hill, a gap forms and the ride gets split, etc.) This is true of all group bike rides, not just Critical Mass.

    I would certainly welcome riders in the front massing up at green lights more often. A strong leader who has that in mind is needed at the front in order for this to happen – it’s not easy to convince everyone else in the front to slow down. Go ride in the front sometime and try it yourself.

    Why not start another mass bike ride in San Francisco with a different ride style? That’s what Bike Party did.

  8. Ayalapinga says:

    San Francisco is been changing and not nescesarily to the better, could this be a factor? Just sayin

  9. Arthur Wallis says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this.

    Critical mass should move at a slow pace and the objective should be to KEEP COHESION. After two hours finding yourself with only a handful of riders because the whole thing got broken up is L-A-M-E and against the whole point of the thing.

    Ride down the street, it’s not a race. It’s a “March” on bikes. Enjoy the music, and the absolute joy of the road being entirely ruled by bicycles. When else can you pedal like a beach cruise down Haight street?

  10. Hi folks. Some pics from SF Critical Mass Aug 30 in my blog, and some more are coming: http://miikkajarvinen.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/sf-critical-mass-aug-13/

  11. david curiel serret says:

    That is why I stopped showing up. Too much testosterone driven front runners who leave people behind, and lack of unity and respect.
    CM was one of the things I loved the most about living in SF, but too many issues and the fact that the group always splits is very uncool.
    No fun.

  12. Todd Edelman says:

    I got “dropped” on the last CM I did, and since then have lost interest.

    The word “sharing” is definitely being abused, so for the sake of a better analysis let’s call bikeshare “individual public transport”, as opposed to “collective public transport” (usually referred to as “transit”) It really is that, even if privately-owned and managed…. and sponsored (and I have repeated criticized the bikewashing of Citigroup (example: http://greenideafactory.blogspot.de/2013/05/no-comment.html), but don’t get much of a reaction to this.

    So… why are bikes poorly-designed, Chris? Too heavy? Not enough cargo-capacity? Not interesting enough for the iPad generation? http://inhabitat.com/copenhagen-set-to-launch-worlds-most-high-tech-bike-sharing-program/copenhagen-cykel-dk-bike-share/

    Also, a scheme they will launch shortly allows people to pay in installments of about 10 dollars a month.

  13. Patrick says:

    The Bay Area Bike Share is going the route that cities such as Washington DC and Montreal took, by starting with a smaller fleet and then growing over time, as opposed to NY or Chicago who had a large corporate buy in from the beginning (expect future funds to come from advertising). That being said, bike share programs are not cheap and that’s mostly because of the people they are going for, they are aiming at the professional class. Which good, let them have their bikes for a half mile, it may in theory drive down the demand for used bikes and make them more affordable for the people who need them. This is only a guess though, who knows how this will affect the bike economy and bike culture.

  14. the greasybear says:

    It’s not about miles per hour. When we literally lose “critical mass”–when the ride is split in three within half an hour–then the people at the front are going too fast.

    So tell me–did the front of the pack blast through 6th and Folsom at full speed because they are literally unconscious of what’s going on within the larger bicycling community and the city at large, or because they know but just don’t care?

  15. They stopped and waited at 6th and Folsom for a while. Was not aware that there was a large group struggling to reach that location and moving slowly.

  16. TheSchwinn says:

    Dear Critical Mass,

    I’m sorry I’m so yoked.


    The Guy in Front

  17. setty says:

    Hi, I just started going on your monthly group rides and they are ok but a bit slow! Only 8-9 mph! But that’s ok, I will use my influence to make them better! Maybe soon you guys can learn to really ride and we can become the world’s biggest peloton! Imagine a 2,000-man paceline! And no, that’s not sexist language, because if a chick can’t keep up, I don’t want to ride with her! I didn’t realize there were people in the world who can’t go 33 miles at 9 mph! What lazy slackers! That’s ok, I’ll get them in shape! With the app on my bike!

  18. Jym Dyer says:

    • I was late coming over from Oakland, I figured because BART was delayed due to heavier demand, and there was nobody there when I arrived. So I headed straight to 6th & Folsom, meeting up with some friends. We paid our respects at Amelie’s ghostbike, but never met up with the rest of the ride. It was disappointing.

    Last month, at least, we managed to ride on Polk Street, where a group of people hostile to bikes have scuttled some infrastructure improvements. Someone brilliantly brought along a soundbike playing an appropriate Gary Numan song, and I was lucky enough to catch it all on my helmetcam: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V44YCkFipmA

    Kudos and blessings to those who made Amelie’s ghostbike. You did better than the ride did, this month. R.I.P. Amelie.

  19. Jym Dyer says:

    • Oh, one other factor, maybe it was harder to maintain density because so many people were at Burning Man? Perhaps August rides are pretty light in general, but we don’t notice because we don’t have something so important to commemorate.

    Speaking of incoherence, next month Critical Mass will reach legal drinking age.

  20. Todd Edelman says:

    Alta Planning’s CEO in response to allegations of bad labor practices (Alta Planning is the parent of Alta Bike Share, which operates the new system in SF and the Peninsula): http://bit.ly/12GvfVA.

  21. the greasybear says:

    Jym, I’m sad to report that soundsystem you filmed is offline indefinitely.

  22. IdRatherBikeParty says:

    I find it ironic that you use ‘etiquette’ at all to describe anything to do with Critical Mass. If your whole night is based on throwing all road etiquette out the window, how the hell can you expect a standard way of behaving?

    I did a CM ride once, first and last. While I loved the party atmosphere, I didn’t care for the “don’t give a flying f*** about anyone else on the road” attitude. I actually respect the road and the people on it. You want more people to be courteous towards cyclists? Show the same on the road. I know cops can be a-holes towards cyclists, but when it’s their jobs to enforce rules and when there are way too many cyclists flaunting their disregard for the rules of the road on a daily basis, it’s not hard to understand why. Clogging up traffic once a month doesn’t help, either. If you want respect, you have to give some, too.

  23. nikkita says:

    hello massers, thank for showing up but there is a lot of whining here

    first, CM is leaderless, has always been

    second, the riders always split up, some people take the hills, some don’t, some stay until the end, some don’t

    third, about the speed, the rides are probably always at about 8 mph or else you have to stop all the time and put your foot on the ground, and usually at CM we don’t stop

    btw, about young riders with testosterone, i am a 61 yrs old female and i spent most of the ride in front

    i totally enjoyed this ride, it was a grand tour of the city and one the best i have had with CM.

    thank you Deep for the great music, your are the best

    best sign: “SFPD need to put Ernst on bicycle patrol”

    next week is the Bike Party where we stop and drink and dance, and i will be there too

  24. Sound Guy says:

    I was the front up until about the 6th and Folsom turn. MY pace was no more than 2-3mph. I tried to get people to circle up, but there was a group that decided to just blow through the intersection and head back towards Embarcadero. Then we took a route behind the ballpark on a sidewalk/bikepath.

    One position we take for this ride is to ride in the street to show we are traffic.

    This is when the pace took off, some how the front was already back up to market and if there were people slowing down and circling up it was not for any length of time. When the mass gets spread out like this it becomes dangerous for the riders in the rear. They have to chance that cars won’t try and go through an intersection. Doing this is hard and slows them down even more.

    Like others have said this is not a race, enjoy the ride.

  25. God_rides_a_bike says:

    The pace of the ride did seem a little bit faster than the pace from last summer’s CM rides. It would be great to have some different leadership up front at times. The racers really aren’t built mentally or physically to lead a CM type ride. It would be great if they pulled over once in a while, let the ride go by and then raced back up to the front only to pull over again. But common, when is that ever going to happen?

    That being said the guy with a giant speaker on a tricycle (Sound Guy?) made it to the beach and caught up with everyone. If a guy with a heavy tricycle can keep up I feel like the vast majority of everyone else should be able to keep up too. I mean this is a group of people who love bikes right?

    CM is leaderless, and will take on different forms. I think this phase of racers leading the ride will pass. Don’t let it kill the ride! Don’t let it kill your joy! Hold on to your joy, that’s why you are on a bike!!

  26. David says:

    I did the whole ride and noticed the cops ‘herding’ us more than usual this time. SOmetimes I’d just poke along next to Deep in the left lane just to slow down the cop that was trying to herd me faster.

    If you care enough to post here, put a poster on the back of your bike with your message, ‘Circle occasionally to keep the mass together’, ‘mass up at intersections’, or whatever you want people to do.

  27. Conrad says:

    Let me just say that I am all for protests and I have never minded the CM groups. I read the above article and was struck by these comments:

    “we collectively and unconsciously recreate a lot of what’s worst about our selfish, inconsiderate, boorish culture, everyone for themselves, and a shocking lack of empathy…”

    I hope some of you actually read and reflect on my experience coming into the city during the last ride. Where was I going? To UCSF where my wife was waiting with my 3 year old son who was being admitted for complications to his recent cancer treatment. I was stuck for an extended period on Van Ness. On my way to the front of the left turn lane I sincerely asked 3 different riders to please assist me in making what would have been an easy u-turn that would have caused little to no disruption in your activities. In each case, I advised these individuals that my son was in the hospital and to please help me through. When I reached the front someone blocked my vehicle. I got out to try to talk to them and they rode off before I could even tell them my situation. At that point, another one of your riders started threatening me saying “go ahead and try it, see what happens.” I was attempting to explain why I needed help to pass and it was automatically assumed that i was going to be hostile. When I would get back in the van he would quickly return to block my u-turn and I would get out to try to talk to him and he would bolt away.

    While I understand that your protests have humanitarian motives including the negligent and tragic deaths of innocent riders like Amelie Le Moullac your riders should also be aware that there maybe people in vehicles trying to respond to their own tragedies. The level of inhumane treatment I experienced from your riders left me staring into a packed street with a bunch of animals standing in the middle of the road with bikes raised above their heads pretending to stand on a podium of moral behavior that was clearly inconsistent with what was happening to me. I have never felt such inconsiderate, unemphatic and inhumane treatment as I did from the members of your group. I will take every opportunity to share my experience with as many people as I can so that people don’t confuse the message you claim to endorse which is to stand for humane and fair treatment with how you actually act. Unfortunately, I know a few members don’t define a group but that is why a leaderless organization may not be the best way to create solidarity and enforce basic rules for how to run a protest that is consistent with your message. I will NEVER ride with a CM organization and I am a college professor so I will take every attempt I have to paint your organization for what it really is. An excuse for a group of people to act without regarding for public laws and basic human rights.

  28. Eric M says:

    Re: Sharing or “Sharing”

    I’m in Chicago, where we launched Divvy, the Chicago equivalent of BABS, in June. Between my partner and I, we own five working bikes plus three fixer-uppers that we are slowly renovating. But I am still a Divvy annual member and I still use it on a regular basis.


    When I go to work, I store my primary bike in the office for security and protection from the elements, but getting it in and out of the office takes a little time. So I use Divvy to run home from the office sometimes when I don’t want to haul my bike through security at my office building. I use Divvy to expand my circle of lunch options or run errands during lunch.

    Sometimes at night, I use Divvy to ride to meet friends for drinks, safely knowing I’ll be taking a cab home because I know I’ll get goaded into one too many beers to safely ride.

    It’s been really great, and the annual fee is been paid for several times over in saved taxi and transit fares. I probably use it 5-6 times per week on average, despite having a total of 5 working bikes in my 2-person household and a couple of fixer-uppers hung somewhere.

    When Divvy first launched, I was surprised that I found myself explaining the benefit mostly to bike riders who didn’t seem to grasp the functionality of the system since they had bikes. It seemed like I had to point out that people with cars still take taxis sometimes, or take transit sometimes, that even for bike owners, Divvy is really a great option for certain trips. I think people in Chicago are starting to realize that now, but it looks like some in San Francisco may still not quite grasp the purpose.

    I also recommend Divvy to most of my out-of-town visitors (I average about 2 unique visitors per week with my Airbnb business), and several have made good use of it. For visitors who are mostly being tourists, not having to mess with a lock, and being able to take one-way trips can make it really useful for seeing more of Chicago in a shorter period of time.

    As far as whether it should be called “sharing” when there is a fee involved, well, someone has to pay for buying the bikes and maintaining them. A standard fee is certainly a lot more fair than just letting people deal with the luck of the draw the way non-paid bike sharing has turned out in a lot of places.

    So don’t disparage BABS. Give it a shot. Think through how it can be used more like a taxi service than a primary vehicle, and how it helps more than just commuters.

  29. Rikki says:

    I was unaware that CM was a “leaderless” ride. This is completely crazy. It reminds me of the “leaderless” Occupy movement, which had no concise message and has now fizzled to nothing, when it could have been something great if it had any real direction.

    I ride with San Francisco Bike Party. There are organizers and leaders. It is always safe, fun and RESPECTFUL of others on the road, including cars. We look out for each other. We look out for cars. We stop at red lights. We don’t blocks intersections and make it impossible for others to pass (What if there’s an ambualnce or fire truck? Do you guys have any set rules for a situation like that, or do you just block the intersection while someone’s loved one dies of a heart attack?). This is not a bikes vs. cars argument. Yes, it would be lovely to live in a Utopia where everyone just rode bikes. I would totally live there. But that’s not reality. Cars and bikes must learn to be respectful of each other. We both have to abide by the same California Vehicle Code, after all.

    And to Conrad, I am so, so sorry that you were treated that way by riders. How you were treated just confirms every negative thing I’ve heard about Critical Mass. It is obnoxious and reinforces every negative sterotype about bicylists. Thanks for making it hard on the rest of us, you guys. Keep acting this way and you won’t see any positive change. Thank goodness for rides like SFBP and organizations like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition for crafting a positive message.

    In short, I will never ride with Critical Mass.

  30. Leaderless movements have been around for centuries, and they are quite effective at creating change. For one thing, they cannot be stopped by arresting or suing the leaders. Had Critical Mass had an official leadership when it began, these individuals would have been immediately sued for “blocking” traffic — and in that case, there would never have been any Bike Parties in the future.

    More importantly, the participants of leaderless movements are empowered in a way that the followers of leaders in a more conventional movement are not. The knowledge that you yourself are an agent of change, and not a simple cog in someone else’s machine is very powerful, and it will change your life. You should try it some time.

    As for the Occupy movement, you seem to imagine that it has disappeared and is some kind of failure. The opposite is true. The Occupy movement does not exist as it did two years ago, but all of the people who were involved have the knowledge I spoke of, the knowledge that they as individuals can create change by banding together, and don’t have to wait for some leaders to tell them what to do. They are right this very moment changing the world in their communities all over the world, and will probably continue to do so for the rest of their lives.

    Firetrucks and ambulances: we’ve written about this elsewhere on our site ad nauseum. The question is easily answered: we move the fuck out of the way, which we can do easily and quickly because we are bicyclists. There has never, in 20+ years of riding, been a problem in this regard. I wish people like you would stop raising this totally boring non-issue.

    I’m glad you like SFBP. I ride in it myself, and think it’s a wonderful spin on the Critical Mass idea. You seem to imagine there’s some big division there, which doesn’t exist, and if it did exist would be entirely irrelevant to the problem of social change around transportation.

    “This is not a cars vs. bike argument.” You have not read very many articles on our blog, have you?

    “We all have to abide by the California Vehicle Code.” What I do when I ride is ask myself: “How would Henry Thoreau ride?”

  31. Louis says:

    Bike riders in San Francisco are at an all-time low for etiquette. I have no respect for cyclists as they have shown none for pedestrians and autos.