Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Critical Mass

On the last Friday of the month in cities around the world, bicyclists congregate at a particular place and time and ride as a group throughout city streets.

In Minneapolis the herd of bicyclists numbers in the hundreds and they run red lights, block traffic, and generally cause confusion. In recent months, the bicyclists have been aided by police officers blocking off streets and escorting the riders through town.

No one is really sure why the bicyclists do what they do.

Some claim it is to raise awareness regarding the unfriendliness of motorists towards bicycle commuters. Some claim it’s an environmental thing.

No one really has a clue.

It is not civil disobedience. Civil disobedience has a point. Read Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Yes, the civil rights activists were breaking the law, but there was a REASON for it. In this case: no reason. Just a bunch of people on bicycles breaking the law.

As a person who rides her bike to work relatively often, I understand that drivers are awful. They ignore bikers, they don’t pay attention, they turn right on red and clip your back tire because they didn’t see you. Some of them actually have violent feelings about bikers and will shout unpleasant things out their windows as they whiz by you at 20 m.p.h. over the speed limit. Believe me, I’ve been there. I've deliberately laid down my bicycle to avoid getting hit by a driver that didn't see me and nearly hit me as he pulled into traffic.

But there are bikers that are stupid too. They, too, run red lights, don’t stop for traffic, and ignore laws.

I understand that it’s a pain to start and stop on a bicycle. I get that it’s a waste of energy and inefficient. But, hello, you’re on a bicycle, surrounded by cars. I think a little extra caution is warranted because if you screw up and get hit, you’re a stain on the pavement while the car just has a dented hood. Plus, it’s a lot easier to stop a 20 pound bicycle than it is to stop a one ton car. Why would you play a game of chicken you’re guaranteed to lose? The laws of physics are not going to bend just because the biker doesn’t want to stop and unclip her shoes from her pedals.*

This is why I cannot understand the Critical Mass ride and its tacit acceptance by the Minneapolis police – why is lawlessness in bikers accepted? Why are they allowed to behave in a manner that is foolish at best? Why are they doing what they're doing; what is the point? Best I can tell, they’re just out to cause problems.

*There are special shoes and pedals that allow a biker to attach her shoes to her pedals – this is far more efficient than normal platform style pedals and reduces fatigue because having the feet attached to the pedals allows a rider to pull as well as push the pedal, incorporating more muscle groups. The only downfall of the shoe/pedal combo is that it requires significantly more grace than traditional pedals. The rider must learn to “clip in” while keeping the bike in motion and must remember to unclip before coming to a stop, otherwise the bike falls over and the rider is unable to get up because her feet are stuck to the stupid pedals. If you ever want to see what this looks like, come bike riding with me because I fall over pretty darned often. I will unfailingly unclip my right foot and then try to put my left one down on the ground, which, because said left foot is still stuck to the pedal, results in a spectacular tumble. My left hip has a semi-permanent bruise from me landing on it so often.

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