Whatever Happened to Critical Mass in Portland

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A Post-Critical Mass Portland: Living in a Post-Revolutionary Bicycle Age from Joe Biel on Vimeo.

What does it mean that Portland, one of the best North American cities for cycling, has virtually no Critical Mass? Is it no longer relevant in the evolution of cyclists or has the police crackdown just been so successful? What are the new goals of cyclists?

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  • Anonymous July 27, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    The reality is that Critical Mass is a masturbatory, attention-whoring, disgraceful event and most Portland bicyclists are better than that.

    No one who really understands Critical Mass misses it. I am sure those who feel nostalgia for it can find other less self-centered methods to express their antisocial tendencies.

  • VanCM Blogger September 23, 2009 at 7:41 am

    This is a really great topic. The anonymous comment above points to the ingrained victim mentality that serious organising of CM faces from within it’s own community. The reality is that we are talking about a bike ride. How can merely riding together be “masturbatory, attention-whoring, disgraceful…self-centered… antisocial”??? Seriously!

    The other issue is that people take this polarised victim mentality and then invert it, get angry, and do stupid things. Riding bikes together aka Critical Mass is NOT about agression against drivers, running red lights, using force or threats to cow other people.

    Both of those mindsets are not really in opposition but part of the same black and white picture that has fundamental problems imagining the city as a place where bicycles FUNDAMENTALLY fit into the public (rather than the margins of it aka the gutter)

    As a CM veteran in Vancouver, where CM is known for being friendly and sucessful, I have a lot of opinions on Portland. This is because I went to the Bikesummer 2002 CM ride, which was reported at the time and maybe still is the biggest ride CM in Portland. And that ride was a real mixed bag. Police pepper sprayed children. There were great parts and there terrible parts.

    The biggest problem was that the cyclists before the ride were already divided and conquered. They had set up 2 rides in opposition to each other (amazing that we should ride against each other rather than for the many changes we desperately need) One was called Critical Manners. The Manners ride was called off at the last minute because the organisers realised it was an open invitation to the police to criminalise the non-Manners ride, as well as not actually improving the manners of anyone. But it was too late. The organisers should have done their new Manners event on a different day so that even if the idea was meant to compete the events literally did not.

    All of this theory/history makes the question start to seem daunting. So let’s get back to the practical.

    Based on my observation, the simple mechanics of the ride need to change in Portland so that people can “get it.” The difference I suggest may seem subtle or trivial but in reality it is the difference between a ride at odds with the city and the ride that the city yearns to have.

    Riding in CM is simple. You stick together and that’s most of it. This was not happening in Aug02. What happened there was that people would not cork to help keep the group together. Not being generous and looking out for each other is a big problem if you expect many people to stick together. What people did was to avoid corking in the middle of the mass (where you should cork) because police might ticket them. Then, at the front people would cork the cars before the mass was even there, they were blowing red lights just for the sake of it because the police hadn’t caught up. Not only were the politics of this technique bad – the method simply fucks up the group ride dynamic.

    -Stop at red lights and stop signs!
    -When the mass comes through intersections it keeps going, for the safety and courtesy of all. That means corking cars even when the signal changes. We are a big biking bus: if the light changes and the bus it is not all through we stay together – this is not breaking the law, this is common sense.

    OK, simple. And the rest is all talking to each other instead of behind/at each other and generally supporting other cyclists.

    We need car-free cities if we ever hope to survive. We do not NEED cars in cities. We are not all misfits/freaks/victims just because we ride a bike. We are the lucky ones who have escaped inCARceration and we are kindly trying to help set free those around us. People are people, cars are wrong. People in cars need to be treated with respect and courtesy as much or more than cyclists (because cyclists are already lucky and stronger) but part of that is letting the driver know that driving is wrong.

    take care and take the lane!

    We are strong in one another.

  • VanCM Blogger September 23, 2009 at 7:44 am

    For example, look at how the naked ride is run. I don’t know cuz I only went to the first one that I started. But I hear that it doesn’t have the same problems with police, not the Us vs Them problems. It’s really not so complicated but if you want to get into it, you can.

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