A Rose By Another Name: San Jose’s Bike Party

crowd_6730.jpgA crowd assembles at the beginning of San Jose Bike Party, April 16, 2010.

Let’s just say right away that Critical Mass is a bike party, and the San Jose Bike Party has a lot more similarities to Critical Mass than differences. A half-dozen San Francisco and Berkeley Critical Mass veterans took a field trip to join the San Jose Bike Party on Friday night as it cruised through the heart of Silicon Valley. We piled onto a "Baby Bullet" Caltrain that got us into downtown Sunnyvale well before the 8 p.m. starting time. (Along the way we pondered how many cyclists it takes to make a Critical Mass and concluded that it takes enough to break into different factions that don’t like each other!)

After leaving the train, we soon came upon a couple with a big couch on a bike trailer, their two dogs occupying the seats of honor, and a sound system ready to pump some tunes from within. As we approached the gathering point, not really sure how to distinguish one intersection from another along the sprawling avenues of the South Bay, we were excited to see feeder rides streaming in from all directions, numbering anywhere from a dozen to nearly 100. Riders gathering in a big parking lot, hanging with friends, energy and anticipation rising.

By the time we got rolling there were over 1,000 riders, and possibly twice that many. Unlike San Francisco, there weren’t too many white hipsters in this ride. Most of the crowd was Latino and Asian youth on all manner of bikes from beaters to chrome low-riders, and a smaller number of "properly" garbed older white cyclists in yellow reflective clothing with helmets — classic bike nerds, in other words.

revelers_6742.jpgA lot of folks come in groups and hang together throughout the ride.

We talked about how different it felt in terms of the demographics of the riders, refreshing for us old-time San Francisco cyclists. And given the relatively short life of this ride, and the fact that it’s clearly growing fast, some of the most compelling reasons that we’ve remained enthusiastic Critical Mass riders for so many years were reaffirmed by the event. The hundreds of kids on this ride, ages 12-22, were all experiencing their environment in a new way. The material experience of a mass bike ride changes imaginations, changes how one conceives of urban (and in this case, surburban) space.

The origins of the Bike Party go back to a "get out the vote" ride in 2004, and then during the following year, individuals from the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and other cycling activists discussed with each other how to stimulate a larger South Bay ride. Some folks had been tending the flames of a fledgling Critical Mass, but it sputtered out during the dark, rainy winter. On their website they explain how the San Jose Bike Party got started:

"Many conversations among involved riders led to the common conclusion that a ride styled after San Francisco’s confrontational and controversial Critical Mass would not work well in the car-centric South Bay, but we never arrived at a full consensus of what a "San Jose Bike Party" should look like. All sat quiet and calm for a few years until a wonderful meeting of minds happened. In the summer of 2007, one of the original organizers of the 2004 and 2005 "Bike Party" Halloween rides met a new roommate who had helped organize a bike gang in San Diego and had ridden with LA’s "Midnite Ridazz." Together, they determined to re-start the San Jose Bike Party idea…"

They decided to start it at 8:30 p.m. on the third Friday of the month, well after work and dinner, to pick a theme for each ride, and to have planned routes. This is quite similar to our approach in the early years of San Francisco’s Critical Mass, except the starting time, which has always been at 6 here. The Bike Party has a tight coterie of volunteer organizers, and they appoint themselves and others to be "Birds." My main experience of them Friday night was the two or three times I had a yellow-vest clad monitor running past me flashing their bike light in people’s eyes, yelling "stop! stop!" at a red light.

The San Jose ride’s main difference from San Francisco’s, besides having a self-designated organizing group who maintains close contact with police, is that it tends to stop at most intersections, and when the light turns red, not very many cyclists are inclined to keep streaming through. This is in contrast to our approach in SF, which was always premised on maintaining a dense Mass to preserve maximum safety for cyclists.

In Sunnyvale and Mountain View, the ride was pushed into the right lane of three northbound lanes on El Camino Real, with many police squad cars and some motorcycles riding herd on the cyclists. We split ourselves into dozens of small clots of cyclists, usually 10-50 riders each, and it was increasingly difficult to catch up with the riders ahead. After almost an hour of this odd experience, we did some turning and twisting before being herded by organizers into a mid-point parking lot for a regrouping stop.

bump_n_beanery_6751.jpgBean Powered at the San Jose Bike Party, here at the regrouping stop.

The organizers are anti-alcohol, but plenty of folks were nursing beers and flasks along the way. The folks with the Beaners wagon above had a cooler full of beers on their trailer. But no one was as inebriated as the drunk guy who spends each and every San Francisco Critical Mass bellowing at the top of his lungs.

Overall, the Bike Party captured a lot of the magic that Critical Mass does. I found it frustrating and self-defeating to not hold intersections long enough for larger groups of cyclists to pass through, but one of the characteristics of mass bike rides is how they each find their own comfort level and culture. At least a half dozen sound systems were on the ride, pumping funk, hip-hop and other popular tunes.

Given the participants in the ride, I doubt if the culture will remain the same for long. The youth culture in San Jose hasn’t established its own voice in the Bay Area and it seems like the Bike Party might be a place where it could erupt.

couch_6748.jpgThe couch on wheels!

During the mid-point regrouping stop, Jason Meggs, who was the first person to bring a rolling couch on Critical Mass (in Berkeley in the early 1990s) approached the folks with the rolling couch and their dogs. When he mentioned he was a long-time Critical Mass rider, the couch pedalers were visibly dismayed. I spoke to a dozen different cyclists while riding and most of them were curious about our Critical Mass and knew little about it. So even though the webmaster and (perhaps) the main organizers choose to characterize San Francisco Critical Mass as confrontational and controversial, parroting the distorted accounts that have been broadcast far and wide in the mass media, the San Jose Bike Party is clearly influenced by Critical Mass, in spite of deliberate attempts to distance the event from its more notorious predecessor.

Still, they have to make the same disclaimers about real or potential participants that we often make here in San Francisco: "At Bike Party, we welcome all riders. However, the atmosphere can be diverse and chaotic, much like a rock concert. There are people who act badly, as you might see at any large event like a concert at Shoreline. We strongly discourage inappropriate behavior… Still, no one can fully control someone else’s actions. Most people are generally respectful, friendly, and helpful."

Just like when we talk to the media and emphasize that they cannot get an interview until they come on a Critical Mass and experience it first-hand, the Bike Party describes itself this way: "We’re one-half political party, one-half street party — made up of all types of bicyclists and human-powered transportation advocates who celebrate and build community in a monthly ride that must be experienced to be understood."

Kindred spirits animate the ride. Describing it online they say:

Everything looks better from the seat of a bike. You can feel the wind on your face, the rhythm of the ground in your legs, you can feel your heart pumping, and the energy of your surroundings encompassing your body. On a bicycle, you can see the city, talk to strangers, escape the insulated bubbles of cars and feel free from the confines of cubicles. A bicycle is freedom, a bicycle is friendly, and a bicycle is life… Bicycling frees people from costly fees, stuffy cars, sedentary lifestyles, and dreadful commutes. Bike Party rides aim to teach riders the street skills and confidence they need to become daily riders on all kinds of roads.

We didn’t make the whole ride, but returned to the Caltrain station to catch the last train before it was over. We all agreed it was great fun to join a neighboring ride, and we welcome the San Jose Bike Party as a member of the Critical Mass family of rides. From the huge and nearly city-sponsored Critical Mass that happens twice annually in Budapest, Hungary, to the thousands-strong rides in cities from Vancouver, BC to Rome, Italy, to Sao Paolo, Brazil and San Francisco, every urban area reinvents the idea of mass bike rides for its own context and needs. Congrats to our southern neighbors for opening up a vital space for social transformation. San Jose and the South Bay are part of the worldwide bicycling renaissance. Check it out next month, May 21, 8 p.m.

  • Why distance yourself from Critical Mass? Im proud yet another world phenomenon has started here in the Bay Area. I dont like everything that goes on in SF (especially the flag burning, thats so 2005) but like they say, you cant pigeonhole a couple hundred riders based upon 10 drunk guys. I hope the SJ ride gathers mass and starts heading through the red lights, I cant imagine the jams created by that size of a crowd.

  • the greasybear

    I like the later start time and more organized routing–smoother sailing for all involved. San Francisco could benefit from its own Bike Party ride, no?

  • Nick

    What’s interesting is that now any group ride in SF is automatically dubbed “Critical Mass?” by gawkers. Remember the Christmas Lights ride last December? One rider with a sense of humor reassured some drivers, “Not to worry folks, it’s Sunday.”

    I’d like to see a Bike Party in SF, but like parallel transit routes, there is a sense that any new ride simply duplicates existing service. So it would seem we’re stuck with Critical Mass.

  • A

    As someone close to the original organizers, and has been at Bike Party events when there were 25 people to the current 1K-3K people/month, I can speak to the stopping at reds. Attempts were tried at corking, but the focus of Bike Party is not to disrupt the community, but share and show the joy of bicycle riding. By having a mass ride that obeys (as much as possible) the laws of the road, they have effectively reduced the amount of hate and confrontation that Critical Mass often receives. Both rides have their benefits, they have their similarities, and both will always get grief from a frustrated driver or two.

  • We debated the stopping at red lights issue for a long time.
    This is why we did it: (its on the website)
    Originally San Jose Bike Party stayed mute on the idea of red lights. However, after careful consideration, we decided it is important to stop at red lights because:

    1. It Protects the Ride!

    The number one complaint from the community against Bike Party is that we often run red lights. Don’t give the city, angry residents, or anyone a reason to try to shut the ride down.

    2. It Avoids Tickets and Avoids Wrecks!

    We don’t want anyone to get hit by a car or have to pay a $300 ticket for running a red light. Be safe and save your money by stopping.

    3. It Models Bicycle Community!

    As bicycle riders, we need drivers to respect our rights to share the road. However, in order to get respect, we must also give respect. As such a large visible group, we need to show drivers and fellow riders how to share the road by stopping at red lights.

    4. It Gives More Time to Party!

    While stopping at a light, say hello to your neighbors, make a friend, and dance on the street! There is no reason to be in such a rush when it just means more time to party!

    -The volunteer organizer from San Diego. (PS I live in SF now)

  • Alan

    Looks like a lot of fun. Did you stop for redlights and stopsigns? Did you get a permit? Obey the traffic laws?
    If so, cool. If not, why not?

  • mike

    I am a occasional southbay to SF commuter who has witnessed from an office and on two occasions found myself stuck in the rush hour traffic jam created by Critical Mass. On the first occasion I WITNESSED a CM’er riding thru a red light encounter a car stuck in the intersection, he put his foot out and kicked/broke the side mirror right off the car, it hung from wires, the woman too terrified to even get out of her car. Did people boo him and chastise him? – no they cheered him on. He was a hero. On my second occasion I had my car pounded on and kicked. I was in a lane of traffic in the financial district NOT moving as the mass of bike riders approached from behind and passed us.

    All groups have their bad eggs. But I hear far more negative about Critical Mass than I do about SJ Bike Party.

    I am a participant in San Jose Bike Party. By, starting later at night, stopping at red lights, staying right when on multilane streets and treating cars with respect – we earn respect and show that the road can be shared, we don’t piss off drivers and we have fun. We do have volunteers who work to self-police and encourage everyone to boo and hiss at any bad behavior, from drinking, to littering, to running red lights. Peer pressure works. Yes we have our problems – but we don’t encourage bad behavior or cheer it on. IF someone is seen vandalizing or creating problems our cell phones come out and we get the police involved.

    So please do not lump Bike Party in with Critical Mass – they are very different groups.

  • Nio

    Cool SJBP started with a “get out the vote” ride in 2004. SJBP definitely has a unique peninsula flavor complimenting SFCM. moments before the ride began this asian guy in his late 20s or early 30s, in full road kit and helmet, busts out poplocking to the Bump n’ Beaners hiphop… and the crowd went nuts! Awesome!

    On red lights, SJBP is adapted to an environment of looong suburban blocks, 4 land thoroughfares where motorists drive up to 50mph, and the location always changes. Under those circumstances it makes sense to stop. Just as it doesn’t make sense in SF’s short blocks, congestion, and fast lights.

    I did notice motorcycle police stopped motor traffic at several intersections to ALLOW the ride to pass through in large groups. Seems the police recognize that sometimes it’s better for all to alter traffic rules to maintain grouping and segregate riders from motorists.

  • Thanks Chris – This is a heartwarming post to be sure, especially from yourself! I only wish I could have met you when you were down for our ride!

    I’m one of those original two mentioned above since 2004, and I can say that SF’s Critical Mass and others (I rode DC’s when I lived there) were a big inspiration to start SJ Bike Party – I’d even say that SJ Bike Party is an idea that owes its life to Critical Mass.

    How much we “distance ourselves” from Critical Mass has long been an active topic among Bike Party volunteers – as much as I personally disagree, public sentiment in the driving-centric South Bay is pretty heavily skewed against SF’s rides. We realized a different approach was needed down here and felt that we should avoid the baggage of the CM title as much as possible. I find myself often now fighting the reverse fight, trying to explain to people who love Bike Party but look down on CM that we’re not so different. You’ve pointed out that my choice of “confrontational and controversial” is probably not productive to this point, so I’ll be looking for alternate phrasing there. : )

    On strategy: both stopping at reds (rather than corking) and promoting a sober ride are tactics we’ve added in with considerable effort as Bike Party has grown. There’s a delicate balance between preservation of the ride and preservation of a vibrant youth bike culture, and we’ve probably come down on the former side at least at the moment. The relentless attendance of 1000s of riders (our current peak was 4,000 in October ’09) seems to indicate we have room to spare, and drunkenness and reckless riding was previously threatening to tear the ride apart.

    Volunteers are more open than this article would suggest (“tight coterie”): want-to-be BIRDs pretty much just need to show up to a meeting, training, or test ride (though we don’t always have nice patches), and the “spoke” volunteers that make up our “hub” organizing team are drawn from the most active volunteers among the ride generally. I suspect in practice this isn’t far off from CM’s pattern, except that we’re generally open about it.

    Altogether, I’m glad you’ve highlighted the parts about us that we’re most proud of and which are most central to our vision: The community and diversity of Bike Party riders. Yes, we could roll faster by corking, but we don’t need to recruit the folks who are already feeling bold and confident – it’s the novices who are still learning the rules of the road who we want to bring out and encourage. We could be hipper and edgier, but those kids are already on bikes, thanks much to SJ Fixed (who are themselves an entertaining and diverse crowd) – it’s the rest of the town, of all incomes, colors, and languages, that we need to get on the road if we’re going to transform our city.

    Let’s pedal together to a better tomorrow!

  • I am a Bike Party volunteer and I would like to say that I appreciate the attention that Bike Party has got from Critical Mass riders in recent months. SFCriticalMass.org has done a few good posts on us, and I think that this one is good, too. I am glad that folks from SF and Berkeley have come down to see what we’re all about.

    I have never ridden in Critical Mass so I will reserve judgement for a day when I do try it out. What I will saw is that I fully stand behind what Bike Party is all about and would not want to change a thing about it, other than purging the unfortunate bad behavior that occurs from time to time.

    As we grow in number (5,000+ this summer is my guess), I only hope that our way of sharing the road and following traffic laws becomes stronger and more visible. There’s nothing like seeing hundreds of people on bikes respectfully stopped at a traffic light. We do piss off a few drivers, unfortunately, but that is more because they either don’t understand the law or they don’t like bicycles. I think that running red lights on busy South Bay roads would further the gap between bicyclists and motorists and run contrary to our mission of creating community and promoting safety.

    As far as organizing goes, we have so much going on during the weeks between rides that it helps shape the community we are creating and helps it grow by creating continuity and giving people a place to belong. It’s something that San Jose has needed for awhile and I only see it getting bigger and stronger.

    I’ve been wanting to check out CM for awhile just to see what’s all about, though catching the train from SJ on time is a bit difficult (you start so early!). I do think it’s best to reserve judgement, however I really think the ethics of San Jose Bike Party should be the model for all riding communities, whether well established or newly forming. Could you imagine the possibilities of a San Francisco Bike Party? You guys could ride across the Golden Gate bridge and into Sausilito as a way to bring attention to their illegal “bikes in a single file” signs they recently installed.

    Cyclists everywhere should feel a sense of solidarity and I do appreciate the gestures extended from riders about Bike Party. I think we have something really special happening in San Jose and I volunteer because it’s something I believe in.

  • Nio

    @ Mike – SF is just a much denser urban environment. Given equal “bad apples” per capita, conflicts will still occur more often in a denser environ. That’s true for CM or any crowd dynamic, from parades to tailgate parties to bars @ 2am.

    When I’ve seen motorist/cyclist conflicts, most ppl are shocked but don’t know how it started, not going to jump into a conflict or exacerbate it and potentially start a mob brawl. Most riders are just riding along. It’s only a few who cheer.

    You can’t take the city out of the city or resent it, because where do a lot of people work and go for entertainment? SF. Exactly because of the urban density.

  • route scouter

    Chris – I’m so glad you guys came down, but next you come down (or we come up) we need to let each other know!

    I agree that everything gets painted with a broad brush, but there are some anti-driver biking anarchists in SFCM just as there are (to a lesser extent?) in SJBP and that we all need to have as much fun as possible while still sharing the road. Any thuggery in SJBP is hopefully booed down promptly.

    As Amber mentioned there’s a lot of benefits that can be had by being more laid back and stopping at red lights, etc. The biggest is mutual respect of motorists and bikers alike.

    A key (unique) aspect of last Friday’s “Uniform Ride” is that there was such a strong police presence. This is the exception, not the rule. There is usually almost NO police interaction whatsoever on our rides. The “BIRDs” are the self policing force that is used to attempt to model (in a fun & edgy?) way the “how we ride” mantra that is key to SJBP.

    If the BIRD you saw flashed a light in your eyes to get everyone to stop, it’s hard to argue with that, especially if it worked. LOL

    Looking forward to seeing SFCMers down in SJBP any time!

  • slammin211s

    This was a first time ride for me and i look forward to hitting this every time i am able, unfortunatley after a little over 2 months in the south bay im forced to move back home to the north bay due to the economy

    anyhow, im mainly a mountain biker, and i cant stand critical mass with all the car hatred and the way peoples cars get vandalized … the bike party isnt as much about asserting “bike rights” as it is about having a rolling street party, having fun, and meeting new people.

    The real thing i loved about this ride is you see the hardcore bikers and you see people riding bmx’s and yard sale clunkers with squeaking chains and everyones having a great time …. sure a few people will throw back some beers, but with as much police involvement as there is now the people who would be inclined to get fall down drunk (myself included) tone it back and just have one per hour or so.

    And im another in favor of stopping at reds …. i think part of that is the reason so many people stuck in their cars or standing in their yards were cheering us on!

  • joe

    You said:

    “Given the participants in the ride, I doubt if the culture will remain the same for long. The youth culture in San Jose hasn’t established its own voice in the Bay Area and it seems like the Bike Party might be a place where it could erupt.”

    WOW! What is that comment above based on?
    We shouldn’t be labeling anybody, but open to all!
    Differences should be celebrated, not denigrated.

  • Amber, Ryan, Nick, and Route Scouter,
    Have you guys talked about reaching out (already reached out?) to the San Jose DOT and City Council to engage them with this burgeoning ride? Have you talked about ways this can be a political force for change at the bureaucracy?

    To that end, one of the people who first raved to me about the SJBP was Hans Larsen, the Acting Director of the SJ DOT. I think you already have a fan in high places and you could probably leverage that for some really good changes on the street (Council Member Liccardo is also quite supportive of the SJ Bike Plan). The new face of the DOT there is trying to get some good bike projects going, but I get the sense they don’t have enough allies at the community meetings to start to break through the old suburban mentality, even in their ranks.



    Get in touch with me if you’d like more information:
    matthew (at) sf.streetsblog.org

  • Diane

    SJ Bike Party is fun, not confrontational or out to prove anything. I think you define SJBP in terms of what you can understand. I don’t think you really get SJBP. It’s much different than critical mass. It’s a fun 17-22 mile ride different each month with a theme; younger and more diverse ages and ethnicities (Like, welcome to Silicon Valley, dude, this is who we are, Dawg!); and minimal baggage and attitude. The April ride was unusual because there were so many police due to the ride taking place in Sunnyvale, Mt View and Palo Alto. More police means more sober riders so usually there’s way more wooping it up when we start and end in San Jose. Stopping at the red lights is about respecting cars and their drivers and one of the elements that makes SJBP NOT like critical mass. I hope more SF’ers will come down and visit and see how we do it South Bay style. It’s our own thing. Thanks for the props.

  • corri

    The April ride was the first where I’ve seen SOOOOO many police. Usually SJ and surrounding cities don’t offer heavy enforcement. it was nice to have the extra help though because some riders forget the basic rules, and some drivers get really angry and want to run us over! There were a lot less riders than usual (for a warm night) due to the far start point. A lot of SJSU riders were turned off by that. It did, however, deter most of the partiers from joining…and probably kept the ride cleaner than usual.
    I like that SJBP is about riding and taking over the street in a more respectful manner. There’s not need to get mad at people in cars just because we’re mobbing through the streets. i noticed that a lot of the teen riders felt that mentality and did kick cars passing by while yelling profanities. Not really the message we’re sending. It’s hard to get everyone to do their part, pick up their cans, and respect those on the streets. But, I think SJBP riders have done a pretty good job about spreading the message. Can’t wait til next month!!!!

  • We in the South Bay love Bike Party–and it is interesting to read an article that perceives it through such a San Fransisco / Critical Mass centered lens. I do agree with the other comments–there are pretty definite differences in terms of the culture of the two rides.

    @ Matthew Roth – Yep, a big part of SVBC’s interaction early on with SJBP was to try and get the City more engaged with the monthly ride. Several council members and countless city staff love the ride and proudly advertise their participation. They can’t offer any “official” support due to the City’s budget constraints–because any official support would entail permit fees, cops, insurance, etc. Talk about bureaucracy!

    At the May 15 open streets ViaVelo, the City of San Jose is welcoming rides organized by SJBP… meaning that the movement is really having an effect on city departments, including DOT.

  • Jo

    It must be hard hearing all the buzz about how CM should be more like SJBP, especially since Critical Mass paved the way for mass bike rides.

    Bike Party wouldn’t work in San Fran, the cities are structured very differently. The South Bay has sprawling lanes and the expert route planners pick streets where we can take over the right lane and let traffic pass. The lights are epically long and are used to create those blocks of 50 or so riders allowing cars to get in and out of the ride. Not possible in S.F. your lights are way more efficient and have compact streets.

    The riders are different as well.
    There are many a novice rider that had no idea that they could bike 20-30 miles in one go. I have heard many stories of how bike party riders are now bike commuters. We have been slowly getting drivers out of their cars on Friday evenings and onto their bikes. We lured them by showing how fun it could be.

    I should hope that just the way Critical Mass inspired the people in San Jose to model their own ride to suit their city, we can get other cities to ride in mass.

  • papa G

    SJ is way better than SF rides SF done @ wrong time SJ is done later poeple aren’t in a rush to get home @ 8:00 like they are @ 6:00 p.m.

  • this one time, at critical mass, i saw this one crazy drunken anarchist jump off his bike and start screaming at some little old lady just because she got scared and stopped her car. then he told her to get out of the car, and after she did, the crazy drunken anarchist flipped her car upside down, and then crushed it, and ate it. and then he burped without excusing himself. so rude.

    that is why i don’t like San Francisco Critical Mass.


    on a less sardonic note, the righteousness of some SJBP supporters makes Prius-driving San Franciscans seem like George Bush Republicans. WOW! WOW!

    WOW! What is that comment above based on?
    We shouldn’t be labeling anybody, but open to all!
    Differences should be celebrated, not denigrated.

    relax, “dawg” — my guess is that the comment comes from, oh, decades of knowledge of living in, participating in, and creating and studying social movements in and around the Bay Area and around the world, but that’s just a guess. besides — how the comment could be seen as a derogatory remark, or ‘label’, is beyond me.

    young people rule! Cool SJBP Young People, please save us from the SJBP Righteousness Brigade!


    props to the author of this post for helping to organize mass bike rides before most SJBP participants (and probably organizers) were even born.

    i should note – the author of this post has advocated for a more ‘tame’/lawful/whatever, if not less confrontational, critical mass. i disagree with that direction/strategy, but it’s interesting and ironic to see the hate from SJBP people directed at critical mass and one of its original riders.

    and maybe the SJBP will be proven right — maybe the path to success lies not in Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance, but in nonviolent acquiescence instead? Matthew Roth has reached out — let’s see if San Jose peeps are able to ‘nice’ their way to real bicycle infrastructure, if that is even the goal — I suspect it is not.

    i hope the authorities in the South Bay continue to allow y’all to ride. if not, you’re always welcome to ride with us in SF. ;-D

    and let’s see if we can raise the San Jose cycling mode share up above 0.5% before we bash critical mass as being ineffective or counterproductive or whatever, yeah?

    as for the dogs on the couch, _that_ is totally excellent! woof woof!

  • joe

    @peter smith – huh?
    i am laid back, just asked a question. i wasn’t expressing “righteousness” or anything else. your hella funny “holier than thou” comments are masked in sarcasm. you might want to look in the mirror with those comments if you meant it for real. after reading your comments i’m reminded of rodney king: “can’t we all just get along?”

  • Howard Williams

    As Amber and others note, the issue of red lights is an important one. As a longtime SF Critical Masstodon, I think the time has come for us in SF to take a tip from SJ and readdress this. In addition to Amber’s 4 good points there are other reasons for stopping at red lights.
    First it’s only fair to pedestrians. It’s been pointed out that when one oppressed group finally advances, they often oppress somebody else. We cyclists in the SF Masses have done this to pedestrians and it’s really not necessary. When the Mass does adjust for walkers, it’s not disrupted or even delayed.
    2nd, with power comes responsibility. Responsibility need not be the antithesis of fun. In fact it can coexist with it as SJ Bike Party proves. And conducting ourselves responsibly will enhance our power. Yes I want cycling to have more power than driving.
    3rd, it will make things easier for bike messengers and other cyclists. Many messengers report harassment by police or motorists in the days following a Mass in SF, especially a confrontational one. Stopping at red lights won’t guarantee an end to such harassment but it could decrease it for cyclists who are on the front lines every day.

  • scott

    Not so sure that stopping at lights will make things better Howard. When it was done as a protest ages ago it made things a lot worse, which was no surprise.

    Bottom line is 2 different rides that fit the personality of the 2 very different cities. Could we try an 8pm start? Most would still show up earlier even if it “officially” started at 8.

  • I like to say that the difference between the rides is that in San Franscisco we take over the street. In San Jose we take over the right lane. I’ve ridden both rides many times. One thing San Jose does way better than San Francisco is spread the joy. When bike party goes by everybody on the sidewalk gets into waving and yelling “BIKE PARTY!” with the rest of us. After critical mass goes by the cars snarl into action once they get a chance. A completely different vibe.

    When I got involved with bike party I’d been to many critical masses. I’d heard stories about how leadership was stomped on, which is why critical mass is leaderless. I’ve been watching the leadership of bike party, and they haven’t been stomped on yet. I’m wondering if the times have changed or if Santa Clara County is just a mythical place where we can all get along. Time will tell…

    By the way. Last fall I did the Halloween critical mass ride and took these pictures:


    A week or two before that I went to the Dia de Las Muertes bike party:


    As you can see, both events were excellent, but San Francisco cost me a wheel (somebody didn’t like my corking) and bike party just gave me a good time. Your mileage may vary.

  • “couch pedaler”

    As the aforementioned “couch pedaler” I just wanted to mention two things after reading this article . . . 1) I did not have this conversation with Jason Meggs 2) I’ve been going to SF Critical Mass since 1997, huge fan, although I tend to enjoy SJs bike party more these days, esp since the red light stop policy went into effect. Maybe Jason was talking to my co-pilot . . . or the Collies . . . ?


  • andrew

    Sounds like the Bike Party people are not jerks, which is a welcome change from Critical Mass. San Jose 1, San Francisco 0.

  • Andrea

    I do Bike Party every month and it is noticable different than critical mass. Though we do stop at red lights, there is still a lot of chaos and drunk people, but thats okay! we just want bikers obeying rules on the road!

  • Though we do stop at red lights, there is still a lot of chaos and drunk people, but thats okay! we just want bikers obeying rules on the road!

    well in that case, it’s a good thing that drunken cycling is not against the rules.

    oh, wait…

  • Filamino

    @Jo. I disagree. CM did not pave the way for mass bike rides. They were already around, but didn’t get attention until it got violent and confrontational. If anything, it turned people against cycling. The “real” bicycling community outside of CM wanted to show that most bicyclists are law-abiding riders. That’s why more mass bike rides were seen after that. Many other reasons contributed to increased bicycling, but CM is still the black eye in the bicycling community.

    SF can’t have a Bike Party because of blah, blah blah. Bull. It’s because CM is made of people who want to get away with causing trouble. That’s the people difference. CM people flaunt their beers and then go crazy and get violent when anyone gets in their way. CM can get a police escort to follow the crowds and let them through intersections, but they don’t want it. They want to continue their confrontational violent agenda and bicycle “right” to screw everyone else.

    BTW, I live and work in SF and am a regular bicyclist who hates CM and wishes for a SJ Bike Party up here instead. It would make life much less tense and confrontational.

  • BTW, I live and work in SF and am a regular bicyclist who hates CM and wishes for a SJ Bike Party up here instead. It would make life much less tense and confrontational.

    for anyone who really wants a Bike Party up here in SF — there’s a really easy way to make that happen — start one.

    all things considered, the barriers to entry are pretty low, but it might actually require that you get off your laptop for a minute, leave the comfort of your mom’s basement, and, you know, do some real work for a change. i know it sounds daunting, but trust me, other folks have done it — you can too.

    just decide to do it. announce a date and time. try to round up some fellow volunteers. tell streetsblog and ask them to cover the formation of your group. tell them of your disdain for critical mass here and around the world, the people who started it, and all the people who ride in it. tell them the date and time. tell the local sfbike email list. tell the myriad blogs and organizations you can find in the streetsblog blogroll on the right side of the page. tell the chronicle. tell the guardian. tell the not-yet-declared-for-bankruptcy sf weekly. post it to your twitter account. get the required permits. start a blog. figure out the meeting/start location and route and post it. tweet the details. and see what happens. it’s not rocket science. you don’t have to sit around for the rest of your lives and cry about CM — it’s easy to trash CM and every other social movement on earth — but why not try something different and not pathetic for a change? you know, stop being a keyboard commando and actually try to _do_ something?

    oh, snap! :-O

  • In terms of a non-CM mass bike ride in SF, Critical Manners did exist for a while, didn’t it? Whatever happened to it? I think if an SF Bike Party were to be organized a lot of the cyclists from Critical Mass would probably attend it as well. Mass rides are fun.

  • rs

    @ peter smith. FYI, you don’t need permits for bike party. San Jose Bike Party rolls as traffic and therefore doesn’t require them.

  • drew

    Not that there’s anything wrong with Critical Mass, but I think SJ Bike Party is trying to distance itself because of some of the bad press CM got a few years ago. As well, we try to be better cyclists by choosing not to blow through lights. It was nice having police on certain parts of the route on this ride that were able to actually stop the traffic at a handful of lights to let the pack roll through together.

  • CM Rider

    I just did my 3rd CM ride this past Friday up in SF. Love the group ride, don’t care for the few percent that have the adversarial attitude. 3 passes by AT&T Park, really?! Way to show our love for pedestrians.
    Would love it if Critical Manners still happened. I wonder, if a group of the riders meeting for CM on the last Friday at Justin Herman Plaza were to, say, meet right by the Vaillancourt fountain, agree that we will stop for reds, not be disrespectful to the cars and peds, and just go on a fun ride.
    How would that be?
    I’d like to ride with 15-50 other riders with a good attitude. And I’ll bet there are 15-50 others at CM that would like to distance themselves from the rude vibe as well. Maybe it won’t work. But what’s the worst that would happen if a few of us tried it just this once?


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