Many motorists still detest Critical Mass. Even as a cyclist, I am not fond of the Critical Mass logo with a fist running between two wheels. I'm all for vigorous debate but I don't think slamming your fist on somebody's hood, or running cyclists over, is the way to do that. Fortunately, I think a lot of cyclists and motorists, at least in San Francisco, have now come to the same conclusion.
A lot of this may just stem from the event's age. Almost everyone in town now has heard of Critical Mass so they enjoy it if they love it, avoid it if they don't, or know it will be over soon either way. Also, cyclists seem a lot better at not giving or taking the antagonistic bait.
Warm Weather, Warm People
Still Pushing Boundaries
Cyclists still exercised plenty of free will on the ride. We literally rode circles in the middle of Market and VanNess without warning. The course is never pre-defined. Folks decide at each stopping point what is going to happen next. This week that included attempts to cross both the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges. A half dozen CHPs and SFPDs at each on ramp put a damper on that plan.
That didn't stop us from overtaking every intersection and street between bridges. It also didn't stop some cyclists from expressing themselves beyond simply taking over the street. The ride contained no less than 6 nudists, 3 DJs, 1 bubblist, and lots of weed.
The only hassle the DJs endure is getting 30+ pounds of batteries, cargo bike, and speakers up San Francisco hills. For that, and the awesome music, they are treated like heroes on the ride. It's great having more than one so you can sample many grooves that range from funk to country and western.
Conflict from Within
Perhaps this is a symptom of cycling's recent success. It has never been more popular in the U.S. with major cycling initiatives underway in most major coastal cities. That's just the circumstance when balkanizing tendencies can erupt. The helmet debate is dividing cyclists just when this marginalized population can hardly afford it. Fortunately, the anti-bubble noise was balanced out by cooler heads who just wanted to ride in peace. I hope the helmet debate will resolve before it damages adoption of cycling in general.
Crossing intersections, or riding wheelies down the middle of the Broadway tunnel, without fear of oncoming cars, police, or most bystanders puts one in a mood that is hard to describe. It makes you feel incredibly relaxed and welcome. It also erases a lot of work and personal stress.
Channel the Passion
Many cities in Europe have already achieved this. They have permanent and pervasive cycling infrastructures and cultures. This looks increasingly possible in American cities like Portland, San Francisco, New York, and even Los Angeles but it's nowhere near certain in these places and far less so in many others.
A rare but narrow window is now open for cycling but it may close soon. Places like Omaha have introduced new cycling initiatives but they are enduring fierce skepticism. Unprecedented numbers of Americans are fed up with the physical, environmental and economic havoc wreaked from cars and oil. However, the electric car may soon mitigate the public's distaste for cars by appearing to remove smog and CO2 from the equation. This may distract everyone from the other benefits of cycling. Given all this, cyclists need to act now to build and spread the momentum cycling currently enjoys.