The “New” Critical Mass: Evolving, Not Dying

Photo : Mike Walley/Flickr
Photo : ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeywally/5026844495/in/set-72157625040238188/#/photos/mikeywally/5026844495/in/set-72157625040238188/lightbox/##Mike Walley/Flickr##

When I rolled up to Wilshire and Western at 7:00 P.M. last Friday, there were already close to 750 cyclists present, everyone was in a good mood, and there was still a half hour before the ride was even supposed to start.  Ridecards were being handed out urging cyclists to follow the rules of the road and work with the police.  People were laughing and talking.  The LAPD was present throughout the crowd but they were in a much more relaxed mood than when I rode the Mass last June.  Seargent David Krumer even cracked a joke that I should read the Internet more often after I mock asked Roadblock “Is this where the bicycle event starts?”

As more and more riders showed up, the crowd swelled.  The police were escorting bus riders on and off Metro buses to their destinations.  A trumpet player was serenading the crowd while CicLAvia volunteers passed out brochures for the big event on 10/10/10.  Stephen Box was shaking hands, dapper in a sports jacket.  Teenage latinas, were mixing with caucasian hipsters.   Lycra clad athletic riders, snapped pictures of a tricked out bike that had more lights than Dodger Stadium.  All races and age groups were represented and the gender split wasn’t quite even, but was closer to even than any other ride I’ve attended.  It was starting to get so noisy that when many of the rides unofficial leaders were standing on the bike lockers screaming for Alex Thompson; he couldn’t hear them.  He was standing about 150 yards away.

By the time the ride reached the Los Angeles State Park, after roughly thirteen miles of cycling through Korea Town, Downtown and North past Union Station; the mood was different.  Not angry.  Not dispirited.  But as a whole, Critical Mass seemed confused as to how they felt about what they had just experienced.  The mass had broken into a bunch of smaller rides because of Massers stopping for every red light that wasn’t corked.  Another issue was the number of tickets our ride partners handed out.  One veteran rider joked to me that “we probably set a record for tickets.”  On the other hand, when asked by Bikeside’s Rachel Stevenson if I had a good time, the answer was “yes.”  And that was the same answer she received from everyone standing near us at the time.  Not everyone was confused and strong feelings have spilled into contentious threads onto Facebook, Midnight Ridazz, and other social media.

But at this point, it’s hard to say exactly what the overall mood of the community is.  Talking to a dozen people after the ride and monitoring social media and message boards is hardly a way to paint a complete picture of how people feel.  The mood seems mixed, but I think more people have a good view of the “new” Critical Mass than a bad one.  Numbers don’t lie, and Critical Mass is becoming a huge phenomenon in Los Angeles.  I mean, how many Fridays are we going to see all those cops and a couple of news vans?  What kind of mainstream attention had Critical Mass achieved in past years?

But I had a different view of the ride than most.  Right at the start of the ride, a friend got a flat tire.  Carrying an extra tube, I stopped to help him and spent a lot of the first part of the ride trailing the mass.  Being that far behind, I saw a lot of riders being ticketed as I rode past.  A couple of times, I would even see them handcuffed, facing away from the cops.  When I asked the cops what they had done, they told me the riders ran red lights.  After that I kept my eyes open for handcuffs and noticed that dozens of riders were being ticketed and about a third were wearing handcuffs.

Massers complained that they couldn’t tell when they were supposed to keep rolling through red lights and when they weren’t.  While the LAPD did “cork” many intersections; if there wasn’t a cop in the middle, then riders were expected to stop.  That being said, I’ll admit that I rode through several red lights, mostly on smaller streets, that weren’t corked throughout the night and could easily have been one of the riders that was ticketed and handcuffed.  When you’re in the middle of a group of several hundred people, and the people in front of you aren’t stopping; you’re asking for trouble if you hit the brakes.  I’m sure several of those riders that were ticketed didn’t want to stop because they didn’t trust the people behind them to do the same.

On Midnight Ridazz, Sgt. Krumer explained some of the confusion about how intersections were and weren’t corked.

Please allow me to explain. In the past, many riders have complained about our motors or cars zipping by you at high speeds in an effort to leapfrog to the next light in order to cork. Riders have suggested that it is dangerous and intimidating. We tried to avoid this but as a result we can not get to every intersection to cork. Additionally, we do not have sufficient officers to crok (sic) every light.

Since we can not cork all we are asking for riders to stop at all reds. This has the effect of splitting the ride into many smaller rides. Also it stretches the ride out over a larger area and increases the LACM footprint (not necessarily a bad thing if the goal is to be noticed).

Which brings us to our second issue.  The mass being broken up into several smaller masses and the debate on whether this “kills” Critical Mass.  Personally, I think Critical Mass is far from dead.  It seems every month brings record numbers of riders and I can’t think of any city that has as many uniformed police ride with the mass on bicycles. When I was trailing the mass early in the ride, I was getting my directions from a bike cop who was tasked with monitoring the tail of the ride.  We had a friendly chat as we raced down Venice Boulevard until I lost him after turning on to Union.

That being said, it was a weird experience as I rode with one of the mini-masses through the Downtown we actually formed a T with the main mass that was stopped at a red light.  I felt a little like Lance Armstrong as I happened to be at the front of that group and got a huge cheer as soon as we rode in sight of the larger mass.  I would guess that if “mini-masses” become the norm, than every ride will eventually be a little more organized and less confusion will ensue.

I found it odd that the police and red lights breaking Critical Mass into a group of mini-masses is the main controversy from Friday, at least as its breaking down on the Internet.  Especially because the “mini-mass” tactic was one some ride leaders were suggesting for the June mass after the LAPD first announced their intention of riding along.  This tactic was used somewhat successfully to deal with police harassment of the old Santa Monica Critical Mass in 2008.  To me, the main issue is the ticketing and the handcuffing.  I know it’s a familiar argument but how often do you see a driver handcuffed for running a red light?  How about pedestrians?

That being said, maybe I just happened to see a disproportionate amount of the ticketing.  Krumer broke down the police actions from Friday’s ride:

35 tickets
4 curfew violations
1 drinking in public
1 misdmeaner warrant arrest
1 arrest for felony vandalism on the police car when person being cited threw bike at car….I saw that one person disputed our account of what happened.

42 tickets, not all of which went to Critical Mass riders, for a ride with somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 participants doesn’t seem like that many. Let’s see if the official ticket count goes go up in the coming days.

Anyway, after our group left the Downtown we got split again and again.  At one point, I think we were riding through Boyle Heights, there were only about 120 riders.  None of which were the police riders.  For about twenty minutes if felt like it was 2008, and I was riding Critical Mass for the first time.  We even ran into a squad car that implored us to “ride the right.”  When a rider yelled back that we would ride to the right all the way to the doughnut shop; the cop replied that he would “meet your mom there.”  A “your mom” joke?  From the LAPD?  And yet, we all chuckled in spite of ourselves.

One riders route.  AlexdeCordoba/Flickr
One rider's route via gps. ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/20990388@N04/5023348753/##AlexdeCordoba/Flickr##

At around 9:40, just over two hours after the ride started, we stopped across the street from the Los Angeles Historic State Park.  Cyclists that were in the street were directed either on to the sidewalk or in to the park by the police and drivers were able to proceed with no real delay.  Here we saw another major difference from the traditional mass.  When the Mass is together, everyone stops and parties and eventually the mass rolled on.  On Friday, groups of somewhere between 20-200 rolled up and pulled over, or went into the park.  After about twenty minutes, two friends and I decided to head home.  Based on the small clusters of cyclists we say along our route, we weren’t the only ones.

In my opinion, the LAPD as a whole are trying to “do right” by Critical Mass and encourage and allow it.  Part of it is trust developed with Sgt. Krumer, who has helped cyclists access LAPD resources on issues beyond group rides, and part of it is from talking to officers from along the ride.  That being said, watching a somewhat large group of police officers handing out tickets seemingly at random to cyclists, and watching those cyclists in handcuffs, is going to drain away enthusiasm for the police presence.  I’m not condemning the LAPD, after all this was just their fourth attempt at finding a way to ride with, not break up, one of the largest free and open events the city experiences every month.  Also, I didn’t talk to every group of officers handing out tickets so I don’t want to sound as though I’m an expert on every traffic infraction.  I’m just speaking based on my experience, my reaction, and the reactions to the people biking around me.

That being said, the biggest question that’s left is how much influence should the police have on how Critical Mass is conducted.  Believe it or not, the cycling world is watching what’s going on with Los Angeles Critical Mass, so the decisions made by riders will reverberate outside the Southland.  Krumer posted some suggestions on Midnight Ridazz to make the ride work better from where he sits.  Those suggestions are:

My suugestions mirror Aktive’s to some degree. Develop a route. With a route you can avoid bad street selection, plan your stops in places where you can refill (and confirm they are open) and have a significantly smaller contingent of officers pre-deploy and possiibly cork your ride consistantly as we move along.

There are some who say that LACM traditionally has no leader and no route. While tradition can be a good thing, tradition itself is no reason to hold on to a practice that does not serve (and in fact hinders) the greater efforts to promote cycling and call awareness to cyclists in the City.

As we head in to the fall, when ridership numbers for Critical Mass traditionally dip; this is the question that riders are going to have to answer:  How much order can a ride have and still be Critical Mass?

  • Critical Mass in LA is going to turn into the night time analogue to CicLAvia. It’s either that or it’s going to get crushed by heavy handed policing and chaotic actions by those in the riding community.

  • patrick

    Why would I want to take a bicycle ride that is being “monitored” by perhaps 100 LAPD officers? On Friday night it was near impossible to tell if an intersection was being corked by LAPD or not.

    I try never to break the law when riding or driving, but sometimes my interpretation/perception of safe driving or riding can differ from a policeman’s. For that reason, I avoid routes where I know the police are exercising “maximum enforcement.”

    If inconsistent procedures and enforcement by LAPD is the new direction, then LACM should return to its roots.

  • You’d want to take a ride being monitored by 100 LAPD officers because your entire family was out for an evening ride in their own city. You’d want monitoring because a bunch of stupid hooligans on the ride use numbers to mask their tagging, theft from local businesses, and general acts of aggressive lawlessness. You’d want an escorted ride because it legitimizes the idea of bikes using our streets and shows that the state supports cycling.

  • There is an idiotic myopia that has gripped many long-time Critical Mass riders. The idea of Critical Mass, I believe, was to allow cycling to become a legitimate form of transportation, to provoke a change in the way bicycling is perceived.

    Now that mainstream society is trying to find a way to legitimize cycling, a way to bring the act into the fold of normal life, you guys are whining like a bunch of spoiled children.

    Having a night-time CicLAvia once a month is an immense thing. It may not be the Critical Mass of yesteryear, but we don’t live in yesteryear – we live now. Right now, the mayor of LA, the chief of police, and numerous politicians are lined up in support of cycling. Right now, tens of millions are set to flood into bike projects and infrastructure. People are looking around for solutions to global warming, a fragile non-productive, sprawl-based economy on the brink of collapse; they’re looking around and saying, “What can we do differently?”

    Fortunately, because of all of us in the cycling scene, they’re asnwering their questions with, “I guess I can ride a bike to get around.” This changes a lot of things.

    For us, it means that our rides will take on a more humdrum establishment tone with police monitoring, etc. This is what legitimacy brings.

    Wake up, the change you’ve all been working on is happening before your eyes.

    Going out for a wild romp on your bikes with a crew of friends is not going to go away – but doing it with 1,500 people at rush hour on a Friday evening is a non-starter in this new era.

  • patrick

    I filmed the entire ride. I did not see any “stupid hooligans on the ride (who) use numbers to mask their tagging, theft from local businesses, and general acts of aggressive lawlessness.” Had I seen that, I would have applauded the LAPD’s behavior.

    I saw mostly young adults who were trying to have a good time enjoying the freedom of riding with a diverse group of Angelinos and experiencing the city in a way that a car will not allow.

    Do we really want create such an airtight security and safety dynamic that all options for testing conventions and free expression are precluded?

  • I don’t always agree with Ubrayj, but in this case he’s right.

    Having the police monitor a bicycling event should be no different than having a police presence at a peace rally, a tea-party protest, a gay rights celebration or any other politically-charged event.

    Their job is to protect the participants from counter-protesters, agitators inside and outside the group, disturbances, problems — and let’s not fool ourselves into saying there have never been problems or troublemakers at these events.

    Troublemakers show up at political rallies, and if bicycle activists don’t want the L.A. Times to focus on the troublemakers, they should embrace the LAPD (so to speak).

    These bike rides are somewhat different from most political events, as the 30/10 rally or immigrant marches usually only cover a few blocks, which can be easily blocked off and controlled. Obviously a different approach has to be applied, but overall the principle is the same.

  • Kent Strumpell

    Seems to me that what is developing with CM and LAPD is extraordinary. I share Ubrayj’s observations about the significance of what is evolving and I’m inspired by the vision he sees of families doing the ride and regular folks deciding to give bike travel a try. This truly has been our dream. We are witnessing real change, but it has to be nurtured so the dynamic doesn’t flip back to a confrontational place.

    The persistent ticketing is troubling, but hopefully the questionable citations are just growing pains as everyone figures out how to get along.

  • Sgt. David Krumer

    Hi Patrick,

    You indicatated:

    “I filmed the entire ride. I did not see any ‘stupid hooligans on the ride (who) use numbers to mask their tagging, theft from local businesses, and general acts of aggressive lawlessness.'”

    I submit that the LAPD’s presence discouraged that element from showing up, or acting up. If we were not there than I think you may have seen some of the things discussed. Before the LAPD started riding with LACM, seeing people drinking and “smoking” was commonplace. That has not been the case for awhile now. Additionally LACM is growing. I believe that it is in part because the LAPD’s presence encourages people to come out. In short LAPD riding increases the “good” rider participation level and decreases the “bad.”

  • Joseph E

    Well, I would never have considered participating before, due to the unregulated nature of the rides and the erratic past responses by the police. But now, if it’s really going so well, I’m considering taking my kid to do it sometime.

    I just wish I could know the route in advance. My wife would probably hesitate to ride around Center City East or Pico / Union, but riding around Koreatown, Park Mile, Hollywood and Downtown would be great.

    Is there any reason the route has to be spontaneous? Could someone pick a route in advance, so local business and residents could participate (or at least be forewarned)? Then it really would be a monthly CicLAvia.

  • Doug

    If we’re throwing away tradition, who cares what the original purpose for critical mass is? When I go on that ride, I don’t think “gosh it’s so nice to be out with my 200 closest friends” (I’m in Boston). I think “how many boundaries can I push with my 200 closest friends”? I remember the number of times that month that I was cut off, honked at, yelled at, and threatened for exercising my right to use the road. I see the enormous empowerment of being given adequate space on the road and by corking an intersection as a vision for what biking could be like.

    When over 1000 people go out on the road to risk ticketing, maybe you’d expect better conditions than having a mayor who apologizes for having his arm broken. You can see the ride as a celebration of the progress biking has made, but just think of the other 29 or 30 days a month when you fear for your life.

  • Ubrayj hits many nails right on the head in such short order, it’s like he’s playing Whack A Mole and racking up a High Score. I second everything he said, and agree with his vision of the future — LACM morphing into a nighttime cicLAvia.

    And as others have noted, something like a nighttime cicLAvia will be a great family event that people will flock to. The effects this will have on little kids cannot be overestimated. Seriously. Little kids riding on the streets with their families, on bikes properly illuminated… it will beat the Electric Light Parade’s pants off for excitement and will make little kids into confident street cyclists, at very little cost or hassle.

  • Doug, your position makes no sense. Critical Mass is about “pushing boundaries” when those boundaries impede a cyclist from using the road lawfully. There are a great many social mores not worth including in that list of “boundaries” – riding against oncoming traffic, flooding convenience stores, looting liquor aisles, etc.

    How does a cooperative LAPD presence hurt the normalizing of bicycling?

    From what you’ve written, it seems as though you’d like to keep bicycling a fringe activity.

    Speaking only for myself, I’d like cycling to become so wrote, so quotidian, normal, and dare I say it boring, that we don’t need to protest. Normalizing Critical Mass, bringing its activist community together to coordinate and influence elections and politics in the city, is essential to changing our daily bike rides.

  • Spokker

    “I see the enormous empowerment of being given adequate space on the road and by corking an intersection as a vision for what biking could be like.”

    How would this work in real life? If cycling as a commuting option were mainnstream, wouldn’t there also be other cyclists who want to go in a different direction?

    I would like to see Critical Mass ride during rush hour and see what happens.

  • Spokker

    In the photo that accompanies the article, how would a driver get around the cyclists? As someone who gives cyclists adequate space in real life, would they move over to the right so I could pass in the far left lane? I don’t care if cyclists take up an entire lane. I can merge just fine. But what if happen if I were a driver and I came up behind where this photo was taken?

    There’s also a guy in the center two-way lane. If I recall correctly, you’re only supposed to be in there for a few hundred feet. Do people ride in the center lane perpetually on these rides?

  • Spokker

    For example, is this your vision of an efficient transportation system?

    “how wrong i was! not only was i sitting at a red and going the same direction as the bikes but they got in front of my car when the light turned green and would not let me pass. they purposely corked the only car on the rode and when i honked my horn they began hitting my car windows.”

    In this situation I would be very afraid and attempt to get away, possibly hurting someone in the process of defending myself.

  • Doug

    First point. At no point in history have the police represented a force of change. By having police on the ride, it is simply a visual symbol that the status quo of cycling as a “lifestyle” is a legitimate outcome. Do 1000 cars on the street require a police escort? No, that’s 15 minutes of traffic on many roads. Do drivers get cuffed for running red lights, as others have pointed out?

    Second point. When Critical Mass becomes institutionalized, it can be marginalized. This is a fact of politics. You are placated, you can now be counted on to accept what is offered and politicians will move on to squeakier wheels.

    I think protest has its place with advocacy: it keeps the other side honest. So long as there are radicals out there with a rowdy critical mass ride, advocates look reasonable. Real discussion can be had about what those riders stand for.

    There is no question that a ride that brings people together and promotes the advocacy mission is good. However, just don’t call it critical mass. After all, if the mass is enforced by police threat and escort, what does that prove about bikers’ rights?

  • Doug

    OK guys, clearly some misunderstanding going on here. I’m not saying critical mass is how biking should be, i.e. taking over the roads for the group. Poor word choice. What I’m saying is taking over the road reminds me of what it feels like to not be worrying about my life and getting some respect on the road, the way a 4000 pound car does.

  • 328

    Changes to Critical Mass were long overdue. The cooperation between the bicycle community, local government officials and law enforcement is not without its critics, but it seems that the partnership has increased ridership at Critical Mass exponentially. The vast majority of the riders seem to be between the ages of 18-29 years old. You must ask yourself; what would these young people be doing if they weren’t riding their bicycles on a Friday night?
    Drinking, driving, and possibly injuring themselves and others.

    Critical Mass itself has had its critics. The lawlessness, the confrontations between cars and bicyclists and the general mayhem. It was always a black eye and a bone of contention for the legitimate bicyclists who wanted to promote and pursue an environmentally-friendly and healthy alternative to driving an automobile.

    If Los Angeles, the car capitol of the world, can create a new paradigm for Critical Mass, one that is safe, enjoyable, promotes bicycling, yet respects the laws of the road, then that model could be duplicated across the country.

    It’s a bold move, and bicyclists across the nation are watching us. Imagine changing the bicycling paradigm in Los Angeles. Cyclists everywhere will say, “If Los Angeles can do it, we can do it too.” We brought the world the car culture, maybe we can make amends by bringing them a new bicycle culture.

  • Several responses.

    First, I agree with Seargent Krumer on everything he said.

    Second, I don’t think we should think of Critical Mass as a CicLAvia. CicLAvia, and the open street festivals around the world that are similar in nature and style, aren’t just about bicycles. Critical Mass and CicLAvia are certainly companions in the quest for Livable Streets, but they’re not the same thing and we shouldn’t lump them together.

    Joseph E., The reason for the spontaneous route is because CM is making the statement that bikes belong on any and all streets. A set route implies that we’re a parade of some sort, and that’s not what Critical Mass is about.

    I’m not against having nighttime CicLAvias or rides catering to large groups of night riders and family rides. In fact, it would be awesome. But something such as that, aimed at having families out and feeling comfortable should be more organized than CM, and is something the LAPD should try and do on their own OR maybe CICLE or LACBC will give it a try.

    Spokker. While I’m not 100% certain this is true in every situation on Friday, I didn’t see cars getting surrounded and hit on their way I didn’t see cyclists not letting cars passed. I think those days are in the past. At the very least, incidents such as the ones you describe were the exception on Friday.

    328. While I agree CM has critics, it has in every city; I have to point you to comments made at the 2009 Bike Summit when speakers from NYC and Portland both said Critical Mass was instrumental in bringing change to those cities.

  • In a City where most cyclists have had a negative experience with law enforcement and where most motorists have had a negative experience with cyclists, LAPD participation in CM is monumental! LAPD on the ride sends a message to every motorist that cyclists are traffic and their attitudes are changing how cyclists view law enforcement every mile that they are there. For those that are seeking a “fringe” activity I recognize that it is hard to do that in front of moms and cops, but all are welcome regardless of age (curfew aside), color or size of bicycle, or how many teeth your chain ring has. Like punk rock, graffiti art, or any other underground scene it all eventually goes mainstream. As pedal power rises in popularity, those that have been through it can share their stories with the growing bicycle army. I kind of like that.

  • glad LAPD is out ticketing those very dangerous cyclists while letting stop-sign and red-light running cars continue to break the law with impunity.

  • I think it’s fascinating that LAPD presence and publicity has upped the visibility of these rides… generating many more riders… which makes them more impactful – for better and for worse. I had a great time on Friday night’s 2000-strong ride. My understanding is that before the LAPD showed up, we only got about 300-500 riders.

    A concern I have is that the corking was inconsistent – some interesections the police corked, and some they didn’t – so sometimes cars would edge dangerously into the mass. If they police are going to cork and to tell cyclists not to, then they should do it consistently, and should give citations to drivers that endanger cyclists.

  • PIO

    I can see one positive evolution of this relationship turning into something to the effect of what Parisians have done with their street skating scene on Friday nights with thousands of participants and police escorted.
    http://www.pari-roller.com/index.php?p=101

  • borfo

    A positive relationship with the LAPD is beneficial to the future success of LA Critical Mass. I encourage the people who step up in the leadership aspects of the ride to continue to pursue an evolution for the ride to remain dynamic and safe for the riders. I agree that pursuance open communication about following the rules and representing a positive image of cycling in LA are the key issues we need to continually maintain for this event to not degrade.

    I want to see more families and people of age feel inspired to get out and ride the city.

  • Sgt. David Krumer

    Hello Peter Smith,

    Motor vehicles receive the lions share of all citations issued.

  • me

    Just a naive question from some European guy:

    What’s the purpose of handcuffing cyclists? I guess they can’t put them in jail for running a red light. So what happens to these cyclists? Do they let them go after a while (and continue riding)? Or do they take them to the station?

    Here in Vienna/Austria there aren’t really any problems with the police (and there is a criticalmass with several hundreds of riders each month). The worst that happened was that once (on one of the first rides years ago) some tickets were issued for amounts of some tens of Euros, these tickets were then retracted some months later.

    But now the cooperation with the police is really good. There’s usually one single police car at the end of the criticalmass, taking care that no cars are overtaking us, and some police guys riding on biycles within the criticalmass (and helping with the corking).

  • Sgt. David Krumer

    Handcuffing continues to be an item that comes up in discussions. The dynamic between motorist/officer and cyclist/officer is different and thus it is treated differently.

    During a traffic stop the officer attempts to control the actions of the violator to minimize the danger to himself and to the violator. A motorist is essentially in a box with the car acting as a control device. The motorist is confined 10-15 feet away and thus the officer has time to react to the motorists actions. (By the time the motorist opens the door, gets out, and covers the distance to the officer).

    A cyclist stands a few feet away from an officer and has a bike which can potentially be used as a weapon (officers in bike school are actually shown tactics where the bikes can be used as weapons in close proximity). The cyclist is completely unrestrained, potentailly armed, and in close proximity to the officer. An officer may feel more threatened by a cyclist who is confrontational than a motorist.

    That being said, a cyclist who is stopped can not automatically be handcuffed. The officer must be able to clearly articulate his reasoning for doing so. It would be inappropriate to handcuff a cyclist merely for being a cyclist. The most significant factor in a determination of whether someone should be handcuffed is the persons actions and demeanor.

    Officers are given discreation and we hope that the discreation is exercised prudently.

    It is my hope that my answer gives you the police perspective and helps you understand the reasoning behind our actions.

  • Al

    A bicycle is a more dangerous weapon than a car!? A cyclist is more likely to be armed?

    A motorist is confined in a box… at the wheel of a machine that is easily capable of killing people.

    Now I’m curious. How do you use a bicycle as a weapon? If you’re on it, you can’t really do much apart from pedal away. If you dismount, I guess you can… throw it? Seems awkward at best. It’s unwieldy, not particularly heavy for its size, and I can’t imagine how you’d grip it if you wanted to swing it. It’s too unstable to ram into something like a shopping cart. I suppose you could try riding full-speed into someone, but you’re more likely to hurt yourself than your target, and you need time and distance to get up to speed.

    I could see a bicycle being used as a shield if you hold it between yourself and an attacker.

    Oh well.

  • Patrick, I saw dozens of people acting like hooligans, weaving in and out of the crowd at really high speed while a lot of newbies wobbled about trying to find their way. One wrong move, and a ticket would have been the least of anyone’s worries. Counting on luck to protect yourself from your actions is one thing; counting on luck to protect others from your actions is just brattiness, pure and simple.

    The only statement that hogging the whole road, plus the opposing lane, makes, is that cyclists can be just as obnoxious as SUV drivers, with the same sentiment of entitlement elevating them over others. Riding a bike doesn’t make one holy; a prick is still a prick even on two wheels. Don’t emulate that which you oppose.

    A non-hierarachical entity as CM originally claimed to be is wholly dependent on mutual respect. I thought one goal was to get drivers to get the fuck out of their cars and join us–but who wants to join a passel of brats?

    As for bikes as weapons: a driver in a car with the cop beside him can only drive away. A cyclist two feet from a cop can turn, lift, and jam a pedal in your neck in half an instant. People have fought off mountain lions with their bikes.

    The cops are being increasingly mellow in regard to CM. This is a huge change for LA, huge. We have contacts with the LAPD with Krumer and others, and they seem to be making sincere efforts to help CM reach its goals. Instead of just whining that they won’t let us trash supermarkets or ride drunk, why don’t we help both them and us adjust to each other and create this new, better world cyclists keep talking about?

    Real anarchism is not about unbounded self-indulgence; it’s about developing a social consensus involving all parties–true (and often messy, yeah) democracy. That means evolving to include everybody, if it can be done. LAPD is actually trying to work with us. If we can keep it going, help direct it (instead of just oppose and obstruct, like the Party of No up in DC), it will bring the Bicycle Millennium all that much the closer.

  • graciela.

    I totally agree with Ubrayj’s comments. I think the police are making the ride better in the sense that it’s safer which will encourage families and other adults to come out. And maybe some of you didn’t see any hoods but I certainly did. When we left the park, some guy with a mask broke a car’s driver side mirror. He knocked the whole thing off. There were no cops around in that group so I’m sure others did things if an officer wasn’t around.

    But overall, I generally felt safer on this past LACM and felt the mood was more law abiding. I also happen to ride the whole way with plenty of cops on bikes in my little group and they were corking for us. But if they told us to stop, then we did. It wasn’t that confusing.

    Having the police on the ride does legitimize it for the motorists who may think we are doing something wrong. When we were on Santa Monica, I saw a motorist get out of his car and get into a confrontation with an officer for “condoning” our mass bike riding. The officer made it clear to the guy that we were allowed and within our rights. What would that road rage driver do if the police wasn’t around? Yes, I think the cops had a hand in where the ride went and to break up the large mass but I also think they got us some driver respect. At least in the sense that I didn’t see a driver try to run us down or muscle into a mass just to get through a light.

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LAPD Tackle Cyclists at Friday’s Critical Mass

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Photo from of cyclists going through Second Street Tunnel via LACM’s twitter feed. Bike discussion sites have been abuzz since last Friday with news that things got ugly when Los Angeles Critical Mass breezed onto Los Angeles Street and ran into an LAPD Squad Car facing against traffic with its lights flashing.  According to eye […]

Throwback Thursday: Santa Monica Critical Mass

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For those that don’t know, Critical Mass is a monthly bike ride that takes place on the 4th Friday of the month. The purpose of the ride is to gather so many cyclists that drivers can’t ignore them, buzz them or harass them. This both created a safe place for cycling and made a statement […]

Previewing Friday’s (Rainy?) Critical Mass

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This Friday at 7:30 P.M. riders and their police escort will pedal out of the Wilshire/Western starting point for the next chapter in the “new” Critical Mass.  Ever since the LAPD was caught on tape violently “policing” Critical Mass in May, police bicycle riders (and some using motorized vehicles) have joined the Mass to help […]

A reckless rider pleads guilty to assault with a deadly weapon. But does that say more about the city that charged him than the cyclists that ride there?

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Yes, bike riders are subject to the same laws drivers are. Maybe Santa Monica police and prosecutors wanted to send that message loud and clear. Maybe they wanted to make an example of one reckless cyclist so other bicyclists would straighten up and ride right. But to do it, they slapped a reckless, red light […]

Critical Mass Rides West, More Problems with “Escort”

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(editor’s note: Nope, I wasn’t there this month.  This is all second-hand reporting.  Alex de Cordoba did attend the mass and offers a report on the ride and thoughts on how it can move forward at The Engaged Observer. – DN) Last Friday saw the fifth installment of the Los Angeles Critical Mass/ LAPD rides.  […]

A Brief History of San Francisco Critical Mass

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(I figured some of you would enjoy this.  Originally posted as "A Lost Decade for San Francisco’s Critical Mass?" at SF Streetsblog – DN) Critical Mass rolls down Lombard Street, July 2007. Photo by Chris Carlsson Well, no. We’ve had a great run in the 2000s. Averaging between 750 and 3000 riders on any given […]