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Why do people have a problem with bikes?

The San Francisco Bay Guardian: Why do people have a problem with bikes?

09.26.12

Steven T. Jones

I've always been perplexed at all negativity that gets directed at bicyclists in general, and those who ride on Critical Mass in particular. The people from around the world that I've met this week as I worked on our cover story about the 20th anniversary of Critical Mass have been some of the nicest and most positive and life-affirming people I've met in a long time, the exact opposite of the sometimes-voiced stereotype that they're entitled or angry.

So I was interested to read a pair of dueling online posts this week analyzing why motorists and other non-cyclists feel such disproportionate and inexplicable anger and resentment toward a whole class of people who have made a transportation choice that helps everyone, reducing traffic congestion and transit costs while helping protect the environment and reduce dependence on oil.

Their answers range from the affect heuristic, which is the idea that emotional triggers like seeing a cyclist almost get splattered affect our perceptions far more than our reason, to the resentment many drivers feel about being stuck in traffic while cyclists zip past them and just the basic sense of how foreign and strange cycling seems to many who don't do it.

Some of those arguments ring more true to me than others, but I think the entire discussion is a fascinating one to have in the days leading up to this Friday's 20th anniversary Critical Mass ride, which will feature a rainbow of nationalities, ideologies, ethnic and class backgrounds, and other traits – their only real commonality being an affinity for bikes.

“I just really like to ride. It's a meditative thing for me. All my epiphanies come to me on a bike,” Alix Avelen, a 25-year-old woman who just moved to San Francisco from Toronto, bike touring the final leg from Vancouver starting in July, told me during Sunday's Art Bike/Freak Bike Ride, part of the CM20 celebration.

It was her very first Critical Mass, although she's been a regular urban cyclist for the last six years, and she believes that it's important to have events, communities, and cultural happenings that promote cycling: “It just makes sense in cities.”

“We're going to end up riding bikes because oil is getting more expensive and the streets are becoming more crowded,” rRez, a San Francisco native and longtime supporter of the city's cycling community, told me on that ride. “Things are changing partly because we want them to change and partly because the old world is not sustainable.”

We can continue to cling to the old ways in the face of evidence that neither local roads nor our taxed planet can accommodate an indefinitely growing number of cars. Or we can encourage more people to try riding bikes, and give us the infrastructure we need to do it safely, rather than seeing us as a hostile force trying to take over your roads.

Even grungy looking anarchists like Justin Hood of the Black Label Bike Club offer surprisingly clear-eyed assessments of the role of bikes and Critical Mass. “The point of Critical Mas is just to go out and ride your bike. It's not supposed to be about confronting drivers and smashing cars,” Hood said, admitting that there are times and places for such aggressive resistance, just not during this ride. “The point of Critical Mass is that if there's enough of us, we are traffic. And this Critical Mass coming up is going to be gigantic!”

Or if you'd rather talk than ride, there are some opportunities for that this week as well, including the Shift Happens: Critical Mass at 20 book release party and discussion at 5:45 this afternoon at the Main Library; and the International Critical Mass Symposium from 5-8pm on Saturday at the California Institute of Integral Studies.