Critical Mass: Good for Cycling or Bad PR?

There’s been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere lately about the merits of Critical Mass, the long-running, monthly group ride that has taken hold in cities around the world since its debut in San Francisco nearly 20 years ago.

In many cities, Critical Mass has been a powerful force for building a community of cyclists. But the stop-light-running and assorted infractions often associated with Critical Mass have led some bike advocates to conclude that the rides give cyclists a bad name. In response, some have tried to meld the appeal of group rides with a purposefully courteous riding style.

Chicago's Critical Mass has come under fire from a sensationalist author. Photo: Grid Chicago

This ongoing debate within the cycling community took a turn toward the sensational in Chicago recently. It looks like the guy wagging his finger this time has his own interests at heart more than those of cyclists, according to Dottie at Network blog Let’s Go Ride a Bike:

This week, some guy who wants to sell his book on “urban cycling” wrote a highly inflammatory post against Critical Mass, using the horrifying photo of a car driver crashing into (and killing members of) a group of cyclists in Mexico with the caption, “When is something like this going to happen in Chicago thanks to Critical Mass?”  The text of his post is as bad, with gems like this: “Critical Massholes are to fundamentalist terrorists what Islam is to cycling.”  That does not even make sense, but you get the idea. His book cover is equally awful, a yellow and black graphic of a bicyclist plunging over a car.

I am very tuned in to Chicago’s bicycling scene, but I had never heard of this guy or his blog until today.  I’m not buying what he’s selling and I won’t link to his site from here, but apparently his distasteful publicity stunt is working, because he also got the attention of the press.

Earlier today, Chicago Tonight, a local PBS/WTTW news show that I watch nightly, had a discussion about Critical Mass, featuring this guy, along with Gin Kilgore, a Mass participant and creator of Bike Winter and all-around awesome woman, and Ethan Spotts of Active Trans. Host Phil Ponce did a great job moderating.  Overall, I thought the segment was a positive piece for Critical Mass.

Meanwhile, over at Grid Chicago, there’s a lively discussion going on about the pros and cons of Critical Mass.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington explains a new app that lets ordinary people rent out parking spaces to the public. And suburban interests in Charlottesville, Virginia, block calls to delay progress on the regrettable Western Bypass until environmental review is complete, according to Charlottesville Tomorrow.