A Critical Mass: bicycling as a social movement and the importance of working together

If you ride your bike, you are part of an important social movement.  Regardless of your level of involvement in any organized effort, this movement would be impossible without your participation.  We, as people who ride bikes, are the only ones who will look out for the interests of bicycling as a viable form of transportation.  Most people who drive everywhere never give bicycling a second thought, and I’m not holding my breath for politicians lobbied by oil and car companies to take proactive steps.  Therefore, bicyclists working together and agreeing at least on the very basics (bikes = good) is essential.

Melissa rides her bike

The issue is on my mind this Friday morning because of great efforts that our friend Melissa has taken to create positive change in her suburban town of Auroral, Illinois – and the subsequent blowback she’s received from a sport cycling club and vehicular cyclists.  Melissa is not some political strategist, she’s a woman who rides her bike, feels that the roads should be much safer and is doing something about it.

There will be an organized ride in Aurora on Sunday afternoon that Melissa and others have publicized as a critical mass ride, Aurora’s first.  This ride has already garnered much attention, including an article in the town’s newspaper and a follow-up article today.  Both articles are pretty positive about the event and bicycles.  Unfortunately, the response from subsections of the bicycling community has not been as positive.

First, she received a message from a certain suburban cycling club, stating that they would never participate in or support an event that carried the Critical Mass name and did not follow all traffic laws.  They also suggested she get a permit from the city of Aurora – a permit to ride bikes in the street.  Then, in the follow-up article a vehicular cyclist is featured to give an argument against bike lanes.

“It’s not that Klenke doesn’t support better access for bikes, but he says, “Lanes don’t address education, training and attitude for cyclists and motorists to coexist. They’re a feel-good panacea that likely worsen the problems instead.” He referred me to the book “Effective Cycling” by John Forester, who, according to Klenke, “cites studies that suggest bike lanes lead to increased car-bike accidents and are inherently destructive to traffic management.”

On top of this, there are the typical mean-spirited comments at the end of the article from drivers about bicyclists.

I understand where anti-Critical Mass cyclists are coming from.  The event can create hostility in drivers and sometimes, with a big enough crowd, lead to unruly behavior.  However, the ride on Sunday will be a group of cyclists exercising their right to the road in a lawful manner – nothing more, nothing less.  If the ride were not called “Critical Mass,” would anyone have paid attention?  Would the newspaper have written two articles about the ride before it even took place?  A critical mass is an appropriate description for the purpose of the ride.

I understand where vehicular cyclists are coming from.  Bicyclists should be empowered to ride in the street with the rest of traffic.  But bicycling will never become a widespread mode of transportation in America without bicycling infrastructure.  Vehicular cycling may work for a very small minority, but telling a parent toting kids or an elderly woman to get out in the street and fend for herself will not work.  I feel even more strongly about this after visiting France and seeing the bicycling infrastructure – and people on bikes – in every city.

People who ride bikes – and people who want to ride bikes but do not feel that the roads are safe enough – have to work together for change.  Debates within the bicycling community are both important and inevitable, but there comes a point where rifts stall progress and play into the hands of those already-powerful groups working to maintain the status quo.

So I have a simple request.  Could we all in the “bicycling community” agree that people riding bikes lawfully down the street in the hopes that others will note their presence is a Good Thing?  Otherwise we are stalling our important social movement.

Sunday.  2 p.m.  West Aurora High School.  I’ll be there.

{If you would like to thank the writer of today’s column, Deena Sherman, for bringing attention to this issue, you can reach her at deenasherman@att.net.}

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50 thoughts on “A Critical Mass: bicycling as a social movement and the importance of working together

  1. Spencer says:

    I wholeheartedly agree about finding some basic common ground as cyclists. Bikes are a good thing. Why do so many children ride bikes? Because it’s fun! Maybe we should all remember that a little, regardless of what role the bicycle plays in our life now.
    Also, the term ‘critical mass’ does come with a lot of baggage, and it’s often negative. For me Critical Mass was instrumental in connecting me with other cyclists when I first began riding, but any ride under any name can do that.
    I’d be there Sunday to enjoy the ride if I could.
    best of luck

  2. Tom says:

    Some transportation cycling advocates in my community organized a “Critical Manners” ride. Cyclists of all skill levels took to the streets but obeyed traffic laws.
    The idea of Critical Manners came about because neither the racer-type sport riders nor the Critical Mass types were attempting to respectfully coexist with cars and pedestrians when they held group rides.

  3. The vehicular cycling outcry happens everywhere, I think, before some actual bike infrastructure gets built. The thing is, if you even casually look at places with a “vehicular cycling and nothing else” mentality vs. places with some actual bike infrastructure, the differences are plain to see – the VC cities have few cyclists, and those that are out are the hardcore folks. Places with actual infrastructure have larger numbers *and* more variety. It just seems like historically, the evidence is not on the VC side, yet the backlash always happens.

    Around here, the VC backlash died off a while ago, and now that we’re actually putting lanes and routes down on the pavement, there’s almost none of it to be heard. Our first “road diet,” the neighborhood main street down here south of downtown FW where we removed two car lanes and reconfigured the street with bike lanes, has been a great success, with noticeably more bikes on the street and the blossoming of a legitimate bike culture headquartered in the southside.

    Over in Dallas, their “bike plan” was run for many years by a hardcore VC proponent, and the Dallas bike scene has been even less notable than ours in Fort Worth. Now, they’re finally putting together a real on-street bike transportation plan with lanes and other features.

    On the Critical Mass side of things, the name definitely carries baggage, but there’s plenty of things you can do to lessen it and make the event cheerful and fun. Our own CM ride obeys traffic laws, though if the group is large and there’s a few stragglers coming through a light as it turns red, there’s people to “cork” the lanes to let everybody through. The “corkers” carry large, friendly signs thanking drivers for their patience as well as reflective vests and decorations on their bikes. Thus far, we’ve had nothing but good responses from drivers.

    (I sort of think that huge group rides are such a novelty around here that people assume it’s a parade of some kind.)

    • Melissa S. says:

      Hey Kevin,
      Let’s hope that things simmer down here a bit so we can get some solutions.
      Also, thanks for the tips. We’re going to put balloons on our bikes and at least one sign that says Critical Mass on it. But I’d never thought to have Thank You signs. We do plan on following traffic and I didn’t imagine we would get split up. But now this thing is getting big, we may have to get those thank you signs to prevent us from breaking up and having someone left alone to fend for themselves.

    • bongobike says:

      Kevin, I think it’s a chicken-and-egg question. Which came first? You seem to suggest that the infrastructure caused the high cyclist numbers, but would they have built the infrastructure if there weren’t already large numbers of cyclists? Maybe VC eventually leads to the infrastructure.

      • bongobike says:

        BTW, I can’t stand critical mass. I’ve alwayst thought that if you are trying to get people on your side, you don’t start by pissing the off.

      • Doohickie says:


        A huge number of cyclists is not required to get bicycle infrastructure. One of the first bike lanes in town was established through the efforts of a single cyclist. Numbers help, but advocates can be just as effective working one-on-one with decision makers. Working both angles just speeds things up. Critical Mass rides merely demonstrate that there is an emerging constituency. One of the councilmen from the city has actually ridden with us (a social group ride, not an actual CM ride, although there isn’t a huge difference between the two here).

    • Doohickie says:

      I did my first CM ride Friday. In general I am a fairly law-abiding vehicular-ish cyclist (but not hardcore about it). I was a little bit concerned about attracting the wrong kind of attention and maybe getting a ticket or something, but the ride was accepted without comment by the local law enforcement types.

      CM can be confrontational or it can be cooperational. In Fort Worth it is the latter; corkers smile and wave and hold up “Thank you!” signs. You can raise awareness for a cause without being a pain in the butt. I was surprised by how many parents participated with their kids (child seats, trail-a-bikes and even on their own bikes).

      A very small cadre (maybe 5 or 6 for maybe 60 cyclists total on the ride) led the group and took care of corking duties to get the group through the intersections without interruption. Looking at the people who were waiting, Kevin is right- the drivers were primarily bemused and not angry at all.

      Make it fun and people will have fun.

      As for trying to get buy-in from local bike clubs: I say if they don’t want to participate, there should be no hard feelings. I belong to such a club and while they advocate for bike facilities through more established channels, they don’t want to be involved with anything that might be controversial. They have their reasons for not participating; respect them.

      However, if facebook and twitter are used to promote the ride, individuals from local clubs may participate based on what they see online. Word gets around. There were at least two of us from my club that were in the CM crowd.

      Kevin is right though: On Magnolia (the road diet street he referred to), you see a lot of cyclists of all stripes. While eating dinner there on a weeknight, I counted about 4 dozen cyclists that drove by the restaurant window over roughly an hour’s time (that was just our side of the street; I didn’t really pay attention to the far side).

      I personally don’t feel a compelling need for more bike lanes in town; I can get around pretty good the way things are. But I also understand that not everyone wants to herd cars while riding their bike and I can see the benefit of infrastructure for those people. Improvements may, on a case by case basis, help me or hinder me, but no worries, I’ll adjust.

      I enjoy hanging out with fellow cyclists; I don’t worry about their politics. We just have fun.

  4. Stephen says:

    I work for local government as a planner, and I’ve been working on bicycle and pedestrian facilities planning, design, and implementation issues on and off locally for more than a decade. I remember very well getting slammed personally and professionally a number of years ago by John Forester himself in an online forum, and this was even after I bought his book. That and a few other online run-ins with several of his disciples pretty much did in the VC argument for me.

    Yes, we need education and enforcement. Duh. But we need facilities too, especially for people who aren’t childless, middle-aged male expert cyclists with chips on their shoulders. (And yes, they need to be well-designed and implemented. Duh.) I live in a city with 60,000 college students. They are usually terrified to ride in traffic, and among those who do ride in traffic, we lose about 2-3 a year from the lack of proper, connected facilities. Children can’t ride to school because they don’t have bike paths or protected lanes, and so they grow up to become drivers. Or they ride sidewalks all the time, which is truly statistically risky.

    The infrastructure question is pretty much settled. Pedestrians need sidewalks; cars get the finest of roads; why shouldn’t cyclists get bike lanes, wide shoulders, paths, sharrows, and other facilities? The word critical should be applied to the facilities that are needed to coax non-expert cyclists onto their bicycles so they can integrate into traffic and into the society at large, and change the culture. Properly designed, connected facilities increase bicycle usage and safety, and are essential to change the perception of the bicycle from a toy to a simple utility. The numbers back that up, and Forester’s thesis is outdated and outmoded. Any attempt to shut down bike lanes in areas that don’t have them and need them should be critically analyzed and not accepted blindly.

    Yes, calling it CM was probably a bad idea. We have a local CM, and it just annoys a lot of people, including me. I understand the impulse to raise hell, but over the long run you get a lot more out of the system through principled, persistent, and polite activism, including Melissa’s ride, than just riding through the streets in a screaming mob.

    • Derek says:

      Well said! I completely agree re: VC. It seems to me that we’ve had >50 years of the infrastructure conducive to vehicular cycling and where has that gotten us in terms of ride share? It’s clearly not working! I encourage others to read Jeff Mapes’ book ‘Pedaling Revolution’ for what I would consider a reasonable exploration of the bicycle infrastructure pros and cons.

  5. I love this post. I love the discussion about bicycles coexisting with cars. I was one of those grumpy drivers that thought cyclists should keep up with traffic or get off the damn road but now that I ride my bike, I can see the other side. Finding a solution to make both parties happy I think is the only right thing to do. Forcing people to ride with traffic is dangerous for the cyclist and irritating to the driver. Only good things can come from bringing awareness as long as it’s not done with a demanding in-your-face tone. Good luck with the ride. :)

  6. cycler says:

    Good luck with the ride Melissa- sorry there are so many people lining up to give you a hard time about it.
    I love the comment above about big thank you signs for the corkers. I’ve done CM in Boston once (kind of by accident-they kind of engulfed me as I was going along). It is exhilerating to be in a big group like that, but I do have some issues with the tone and attitude of the ride, and how it presents the bicycle community to outsiders.

    Outside of the name, I think that the argument for better facilities does have to be made, and I hope that it will be a self-reinforcing virtuous circle. More riders-more-infrastructure-more riders-more infrastructure etc…

  7. Eli says:

    Effective Cycling was published in 1984! Much of it is simply no longer applicable, and the fact that VC-only advocates are still trotting it out suggests to me that they just haven’t realized their argument is losing ground.

    Check out this wonderful post at shareable.net for a more up-to-date look at bicycle infrastructure planning: http://shareable.net/blog/bicycling-as-a-way-of-life

    More and more studies are showing it time after time: more bike lanes, bike paths, and bike facilities mean more people on bicycles. Period.

  8. Julie says:

    Hi Dottie,

    I discovered your blog about two months ago and have been reading and delighting ever since. It certainly opened up a whole new world for me in terms of what riding a bike can mean, and how we can think about and create bike culture and community.

    I am 35, and bought and rode my first bike in 25 years in May. I live in NYC, and I love the public transit system here but I wanted something that would be practical and quick for short trips to places like the gym or restaurants too close for public trans but too far to walk. When I began thinking about getting a bike, I had no idea what I needed. I knew I didn’t really want a mountain bike, and I didn’t identify with the spandex crowd. I also didn’t want to sink $600+ into a new bike when I wasn’t sure if riding was something that would prove right for me. I began calling and visiting local bike shops, and was very intimidated and put-off by the arrogance of the employees – mostly male- who informed me that they didn’t deal with “beaters” (which is apparently what I wanted) and I should turn my attention to craigslist. Also, at 5’11 and 225 lbs, I am a plus-sized girl, and one “helpful” employee told me that because of my size I really shouldn’t buy a bike from a regular store – that my weight would break spokes and crush the frame of a regular bike. (!) After about 7 of these interactions, I felt completely stupid and deterred.

    I started to doing research on the internet, but many of the blogs and message boards I read seemed to cater to serious speed-riders with discussions centered around a kind of bike and biking that I knew wasn’t right for me. I really just wanted something simple that I could ride in an upright position – I knew I didn’t want to be hunched over the handlebars. Someone on a message board eventually told me to look at vintage cruisers, saying they had steel frames to support my weight, and would let me ride in an upright position.

    I watched craigslist and ended up with a 1968 vintage Schwinn Heavi-Duti Cruiser. I bought the heaviest, most tank of a bike I could find thinking that it would be the only bike that could accommodate a rider like me – big, a girl, inexperienced.

    The first time I rode my new bike (named Mary) I was in HEAVEN. It completely revolutionized the way I think about transportation, and it was FUN. It felt free, and loose, and joyous. I have actually grown to love Mary for that very reason – for opening me up to cycling, but I have realized she isn’t practical for me if I’m going to make the switch to bicycle commuting as my primary form of transportation. I’ve realized I need something with at least 3 gears for hills and longer distances, and something built for cargo and day to day commuting. I have my eye on an OMA!

    All of this is to say, I had never heard the term “Vehicular Cyclist” until I read your post today. I did an internet search, and came up with a blog (vehicularcyclist.com) that I visited to read and learn.

    It was very off-putting. It was the same kind of arrogance and condescending behavior that made me believe I could never be a bicyclist when I first started looking. It linked to many articles condemning bike lanes as “pacifiers for the insecure rider.” It was extremely anti-helmet, going so far as to say riders who wear helmets were putting all riders in danger. I was blown away by the critical, judgmental tone, especially since it was all couched in language claiming to be about promoting more ridership.

    As I result, I thought I would delurk today and just tell you how much I value and appreciate your blog. I read it every day, along with Change Your Life, Ride A Bicycle and Lovely Bicycle, both of which I found through your links to other bike blogs maintained by women.

    I think that bicycling is personal – I think helmets are personal and how you ride is personal. I think anything that gets a rider on the road is great, and the cooperative, welcoming, gentle tone of your posts are fantastic! I love that your blog is so positive and focuses on the joy of riding without feeling the need to micromanage or regulate how anyone else integrates a bicycle into their lives. It has completely turned me on to riding and also finding a bicycle community to socialize with, and also completely opened me to the possibility that ANYONE can not just ride a bike, but make the switch to biking as primary transportation.

    For that, I’m so grateful, and will continue to read and pimp your blog to everyone I know!

    • sara says:

      Yay, Julie AND Mary. Had to give a shout-out because I lurvvvvved this comment. Julie–I’m a big girl too. Riding every day here in New Haven.

    • Anne Hawley says:

      Julie, your story is so much like mine that it was a joy and validation to read. I’m 20 years older than you, so my experience in bike shops was everything you describe PLUS little-old-ladyism (though I’m not little!).

      And yet the joy of getting on a bike for the first time in 40 years outweighed all of that. I wound up with a just-okay bike at first, but soon upgraded to a 61 cm Dutch Workcycles Omafiets. She is a fantastic bike, big enough for me, totally up to my weight, and absolutely everything I want in a bike. I hope you can make the move soon. I commute and run errands on her daily here in Portland, and she’s a real joy.

      Thanks for your great story.

    • Trisha says:

      Julie, thanks so much for this comment, it made my day. :) Glad you and Mary are out enjoying yourselves, and best of luck finding bike #2. Once you fall in love with cycling one is never enough.

    • Dottie says:

      Julie, I’m going to echo Trisha and say thank you a hundred times over for this amazing comment. Hearing something like this is what keeps us going with this blog every day. You’re an inspiration and your story is one that I’m sure many people can identify with.

    • ksnurse says:

      Julie, you said that so well. and as Anne has already stated; spoke for many of us. I too just got back on a bike after 30 yrs. Being a gal, a plus size, and smack in the middle of Lance wannabe land; until recently the bike shops around here wouldn’t even talk to me about an appropriate ride. But thanks to this blog and CYLRAB, I got up the nerve to look again. At one LBS, the 70 yr old owner was willing to order a bike for me. So 3 months ago I took home a sa-weet Schwinn voyageur GS named Miss Pearl, and we have been having the time of our lives since. Ultimately I will look for additional bike as want to do some cyclo-camping and short tours but for now I’m having a blast riding to church, the store, the park etc. and in my regular wardrobe.

      My town is on the list of worst cities for cycling. We have bike lanes on less than 1% of the streets. They have upgraded all the bike/hike paths recently and I take those if they get me where I want to go. Otherwise I take the lane and follow the traffic laws. Melissa, I’m wishing you all the best on your ride and I will be anxious to hear what impact it has. Being a motorist at times also, I can understand some of the frustration with cyclists esp. those who feel the laws don’t apply to them. Lot’s of education is needed on both sides of the lane. Kudos to you for getting it started in your town.

  9. dave says:

    One of the things I’ve come to appreciate is the relative costs – classes are so much less expensive than infrastructure. So yes, good idea – classes could be offered to an entire community with the money needed for just one bike lane.

    But I’ve also come to appreciate the fact that a class can’t substitute for saddle time. And saddle time is when the lessons are worked out and the skills rehearsed and memorized. And that’s where the infrastructure comes in.

    Also, often the built environment is downright hostile to bicyclists and pedestrians. I am an experienced cyclist, an LCI and sometimes the advice I give is “don’t ride on that road.” No amount of rider skill or education will ameliorate the danger due to sight lines or other infrastructure impediments. Those situations need to be fixed.

    So communities need both things, IMHO. Oh, and second (or third or fifth?) on using Critical Manners next time. In both cases it’s kind of a tolerance issue. It’s not helpful to portray it as cyclists vs. cars, or VC vs. Bike Lanes, as enough people will already have that sort of knee-jerk reaction.

  10. sara says:

    I ride a cargo bike in the street with my kids. But they are getting older. And heavier. This morning, one of my sons asked if he could ride himself to school. Sadly, the answer is no. It is not the mileage that is the problem. He can handle it fine. It’s the total lack of infrastructure that means cycling for my sons = 1). either riding on one of our cargo bikes or 2). only for fun around the block or down in the park and never to actually get from one place to the other. Now I am all for riding just for fun. Yay! But it bums me out that my children cannot use their bikes for a form of transportation in my city.

    People ride on the sidewalks here often, which is against the law, and causes ire among pedestrians. I’ve come to understand that the ride on the sidewalks because they are afraid to ride with traffic. Even if statistics show the danger of riding on sidewalks vs. street, many folks just don’t feel safe on bikes on the streets. And that, too, is a huge bummer.

    • that is a bummer, sara. maybe you can ad a trailer bike. I think called a tag-a-long? It attaches to your regular bike to almost make a tandem and you could leave it locked up at school until you come back to pick him up.

      • sara says:

        Thanks, The Tiny Homestead. Actually, I’ve got twins (and a third son that my husband rides to his school) so a single tag-along doesn’t work for us. I looked into a Triple/Tandem but they aren’t really city bikes for everyday commuting. So we are on an awesome sturdy bike now– a Yuba Mundo– that both my older boys can fit on. However, it remains a bummer that even though they are capable riders on their own, our route to school is not safe enough to ride on their own, and we have no safer alternate route….

  11. Dick Rhodes says:

    L.G.G.R.A.B., Sept 24, 2010

    Good luck on your Ride Sunday and your effort and direction is applauded. I have been on many club rides in the past and can see their view but not with the strong attitude you mentioned in your posting. I ride the streets and roads rather than bike trails because of stop signs, walkers, strollers, etc; however, I like the idea of bike lanes regardless of who writes against them. They aren’t absolute safe areas. The cyclist still needs to ride ‘defensively’ and always will. Motorcycle riders know this. On toss-up situations, you go car, I will be right behind.
    May Sunday have good weather in Aurora.
    :-) Dick in Pekin

  12. Kyle says:

    The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition hosts a monthly ride called “Courteous Mass,” the second Friday of each month. We follow all the rules, and seek to include and educate all cyclists, especially novices.


  13. I got a giggle from the mention of the suburban cycling club complaining that a Critical Mass ride won’t follow traffic laws. I haven’t ridden with a group of suburban road cyclists yet that doesn’t blow stop signs and “extend the green light” at controlled intersections. They do it in the interest of keeping the group together, and I suppose that’s okay most of the time — and I suppose the aforementioned club does it, too.

    I greatly prefer to ride on my own, specifically so I don’t have to worry about being part of group that makes bad/questionable decisions. I still hope to join Atlanta’s monthly Critical Mass ride at some point, just to see what it’s like. Meanwhile, I can put in 30-40 miles on my own with a couple stops for beer and have a fine time.

    Oh, and I greatly prefer to ride in bike lanes, even if they do make me weak. (Whaaa?? They’re just more relaxing!) And one more tweak for the ever-burning helmet argument: helmets are a must on group rides — because of all those bad decisions being made, you’re way more likely to crash when someone makes a mistake.

    • Stephen says:

      Oh, don’t get me started on our local bike club. Nothing will inflame a driver more than getting behind a pack of Lance Armstrong wannabes who won’t ride in single-file or who blow through traffic controls (and flip off anyone who calls them on it). Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

  14. “So I have a simple request. Could we all in the “bicycling community” agree that people riding bikes lawfully down the street in the hopes that others will note their presence is a Good Thing? Otherwise we are stalling our important social movement.”

    As much as I sympathise with your and Melissa’s dismay about the negative comments, I think the request you are making is not so simple.

    Critical Mass is not just “a critical mass” anymore, but a very specific movement. I would not associate myself with its name, because I agree neither with the traffic blocking techniques this ride employs (for which a Parade Permit *is*, legally speaking, necessary) nor with the hateful anti-motorist slogans they spew out.

    You say that if Melissa did not use the Critical Mass name, then the ride would not have gotten as much attention and publicity. Okay, fair enough. But then it seems only fair to accept the consequences of criticism that comes with affiliating oneself with that name and what it represents.

    Just my point of view, as a cyclist who does not drive a car, yet does not affiliate with the Critical Mass institution.

    • Dottie says:

      Note that I did not say could we all agree that blocking traffic and spewing hateful anti-motorist slogans is a good thing. If you don’t agree with the name of the ride, that is one thing, but creating disagreement where none exists is counter-productive.

      • Maybe I did not express myself clearly; I did not suggest you were agreeing with these tactics. Rather, I was explaining that the name “Critical Mass” has come to represent these tactics, and therefore it is bound to be met with a critical reaction – whether the organisers of a specific ride plan to use those tactics or not.

    • Bif says:

      Sounds to me like a newbie cycling-advocacy person didn’t understand the connotations of the words “critical mass”. Critical Mass is an anarchy approach to delivering the message. A tough sell in the Chicago suburbs, ha ha. Woops. It’s naïve to expect this slogan could be co-opted for suggesting some other organized and gentler cycling advocacy viewpoint or approach and not get blowback.

      It would also not surprise me that this blowback would come from not only anti-cycling types but also those who are also in favor of making the roads more safe and accessible for cycling and pedestrian modes of travel, but are concerned about the issue being made confused and/or more divisive by sloppy use of words and concepts. At least she didn’t call it a critical mass tea party. Who knows where that would have gone!?

      This confusion is probably a pretty good example of the state of American suburbs, in that when it comes to addressing alternatives to the automobile they don’t even know how to frame the issue or begin a discussion. We have a long way to go.

      • Curly Suze says:

        Without meaning to throw any gasoline on the fire .. the one-and-only time (so far) a motorist got hostile with me was when she’d just encountered a group of Lance Armstrong wannabe’s earlier on the same road. This was a simple 2-lane country road without much in the way of shoulders, and the riders in the group were sticking with a 2- or 3-abreast formation, which really hindered traffic.

        The Vancouver poster on this thread (PaddyAnne) said that you’ll catch more flies with honey. Can’t agree more with this. Any road user will appreciate the travel experience more when the other road users follow the rules and behave courteously.

      • Dottie says:

        Dear Bif,

        I absolutely understand your point. Using the “critical mass” name for this ride inevitably has consequences, given the baggage that the name carries.

        However, the type of patronizing and arrogant tone you used in presenting your argument is the reason that so many people, especially women, feel closed off from the typical biking advocacy circles. Let’s Go Ride a Bike is a place where everyone should feel free to discuss all sides of an issue without being demeaned or silenced.

        I apologize in advance if you feel that this response from me is unfair. I take my obligation to maintain this community as an open and friendly one seriously. Where I see a problem, I call it out.

  15. philippe says:

    Good luck with your ride.
    I can’t believe there’re still so many advocates for VC (including France) when it’s so obvious, from so many example around the world, than infrastructure is the key.

  16. PaddyAnne says:

    Best Wishes for a successful ride! I have recently returned to riding and earlier this year attended 2 CM here in Vancouver. They were fun, police escorted by bike and motorbike, but I still didn’t feel good at how some of the riders behaved, and that because the turnout was so huge, how the ride stretched out for huge distances – and kept traffic tied up for quite awhile.

    Our city is going through some growing pains – The City of Vancouver has been very pro-active in getting more biking lanes (separated and others “painted” lanes) and drivers and some business owners are having fits. Because I support the bike lanes (all types, lets just get more of them) I decided to support the efforts of the City by using the paths they have set aside for us, using bike lights, and obeying traffic laws, and by no longer participating in the CM rides. There is an old saying that goes something along the lines of “you catch more bees with honey than fire”. Having said that, before our present council was in office, CM did a lot to promote the fact that cyclists are road users too, and probably in some way, helped set the pace for the bike lanes we enjoy today.
    … but all of this is just words. Tonight, riding home, with bike lights, signals, hemet attired, 2 cars driven by young “studs” swerved into my path and then roared off. I only ride 4 blocks to get home from work, so you end up not knowing what to do to gain all fellow cyclists and bike riding respect.

  17. Dino says:

    Hi guys,

    My name is Dino and I am big into riding a bike. We do a week cycling in France every single year, however, I want to plan a ride cross America from cost to cost. I like to get in touch with some cyclists from the US who can help me map a safe and scenic routes, best places to stop etc.. I am aiming to build a website where I can encourage few riders to join me and this note is just a start :)

    Look forward to hearing from you guys


    • Dottie says:

      Hi Dino. Sounds awesome! If you email us some more details, we can post your request for assistance and see how the community here can help. LGRAB [at] letsgorideabike [dot] com.

  18. Robert Rowe says:

    When I lived in the suburbs of Philadelphia (far enough away that cycling wasn’t “the norm”), all I had was vehicular cycling. I had a large enough shoulder on my work commute to stay out of the 45mph traffic lanes (unless I had to merge to turn or pass a slower moving bike or pedestrian).
    Now that I’m living in Boulder, CO, which is a far more bike-friendly place in terms of infrastructure, I find myself taking advantage of the bike lanes, multi-use-paths, and bike-friendly-pedestrian crosswalks because it’s easier! Sure, I consider myself a very confident/competent vehicular cyclist, and make my lane choices depending on the situation and my route.
    I believe a Critical Mass like they do in San Francisco (with Police Officer support, traffic corking and such) should be supported provided that most traffic rules are followed.
    Good luck, and be safe!

  19. * says:

    Unfortunately the label ‘Critical Mass’ NOW carries with it jingoistic connotation because of the unsocialable (no …not yet ‘anti-social’) behaviour of some of the participants – including some of the earlier organizers who should have known better/been more discerning – in their unbridled exuberance and utterances, & excesses in public and on public roads.
    Sad, isn’t it?

  20. Green Bean says:

    Love the blog! We’ve given it an award over at The Green Phone Booth and appreciate the inspiration to explore life on two wheels.

  21. Beany says:

    I love riding CM. I disagree with many things it has come to embody (mainly attracting douchebags who want to wreck havoc)- but I love its core message – drawing attention to how unfriendly streets are to cyclists. As we all read LGRAB because we (presumably) love riding, the message put forth by CM is both critical and timely. Why should motorists get prime real estate so they can better shoot soot all over our faces?

    I’ve been reading study after study on what people want and it has consistently been bike infrastructure. As citizens we’re entitled to demand for what we want and public demonstrations have been working really well for many…I think centuries…to get what the public wants.

    I’ve also read obsessively on the VC movement. And the core message is one that embodies a sense of entitlement (already mentioned above). Many of the initial and current VC proponents were racers. One of the best places to train is on the road where one can maintain fast speeds and make records. One can’t go 40 miles an hour on a bike on a bike path – it would be a nuisance to everybody. But then they conflated all cyclists’ needs and demean and diminish the non-racers needs and promote their own. Not very nice.

    And the crux of Forester’s anger against bike infrastructure is that he was personally insulted a very long time ago by someone who welded some sort of power whom JF respected, highly. So he has held a grudge – to this very day. If anything, he has taught me a valuable lesson – how to be a nice person and let bygones by bygones when I am 80.

    It is a real shame that Melissa had to bump up against these VCers so early in her advocacy efforts. I wish the best for her and hope that her first CM is a phenomenal success.

  22. Doohickie says:

    This has been one of the best posts on LGRAB in quite some time. Good discussion!

  23. Bif says:

    Beany, responding to several points in your comment:

    Of course most people say yes when they are asked if bike lanes are a good idea. Most people have little experience with cycling as transportation. Most people ride purely as recreation, and seldom at that. A surprising number of them also ride on the wrong side of the road. Bike lanes and paths sound like a great idea to most people. In some cases they are, sometimes they aren’t.

    People who are new to bicycle commuting love the idea of bike lanes and people who have been commuting for years are often less enthusiastic because bike lanes come with their own set of safety issues. I’m not against bike lanes, some of them I like very much, and I’m just saying it’s not the panacea. In the suburbs, bike paths tend to be roads to nowhere because that was the land nobody wanted and they could afford to get.

    Bike lanes and paved shoulders notoriously collect the detritus blown off roads by cars. Leaves, rocks, glass and other objects that can create dangerous situations. There’s less of that stuff out in the road. You may have to opt for the road to avoid this stuff and you may have make that move quickly.

    Statistically very few cyclists are hit by cars compared to the many accidents that occur from behind compared to accidents in intersections and where cars pull in front of cyclists from side roads and driveways (which has happened to me!). These are real life-and-death concerns for vehicular cyclists and bike lanes don’t solve these concerns.

    My comments here are more specific to the suburbs, cities are different. Suburban America is vast. Bike lanes and paths can’t be constructed everywhere. For most there won’t be a bike path waiting outside their front door. So if you are commuting or running errands in suburbia you will at times (perhaps most of the time) be a vehicular cyclist, regardless. It’s not an either/or argument. Its more a question of priorities and focus.

    You’re right that racers (but also road riders of all types including many commuters) are obsessed with the more vehicular cycling issues. All welcome a paved shoulder and decent pavement. Don’t know what you mean by “sense of entitlement”, but if you mean that we are legally entitled to be on the road in a safe environment just like any other vehicle, then you are right. Preservation of this right (nearly everywhere) has not been an accident; this took hard work by so-called vehicular cyclists. The Aurora CM ride was a group ride that took up a lane of traffic. Vehicular cycling. Promoters of vehicular cycling have worked to ensure you/they continue to have a right to do this, and without a parade permit. (though calling it CM may invoke special concerns, don’t know).

    You mentioned you’ve been reading lots of studies about the vehicular cycling movement. You probably picked up on that this has been going on for several decades and bottom line of the advocacy here is simply that bicycles can and do belong on the roads and streets. We have a right to be there, and to be granted a reasonable amount of space, and to not fear for our lives. The authorities also need to better enforce traffic rules on motor vehicles (and cyclists, to be fair). Bike lanes can be a nice thing but the concern of some is that promotion of bike lanes and paths as “the answer” lets selfish motorists and auto-friendly authorities off the hook and encourages forfeiture of our rights. It’s unfortunate that there are opposing views on this particular issue because in the grand scheme of things all transportation cyclists have more similar interests than not.

    I’m sorry but I think your characterization of Forester is really unfair. Sure he has become a bit of a curmudgeon in his old age, but in his better years Forester made some very good points about the problems with bike lanes. And there are problems. I often use bike lanes but there are times I stay out of them because they can be treacherous for reasons he has described. Forester wrote the book on riding a bike safely in traffic. He also focused on the need for cycling education for kids. Even if new bike lanes get built you will still spend a good part of your time negotiating traffic and intersections around town as a vehicular cyclist, so his safety program is worth a look.

    I’m sorry I have disagreed with you so much but there it is.

    Keep riding and be safe.

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