Public Comment

Commentary: The False Courage of Bullies-on-Bicycles

By James K. Sayre
Friday May 18, 2007

Your May 15 front-page story, “Critical Mass Cyclists Confront Driver in Melee,” was an eye-opener. It seems that bicycling bullies-on-wheels, otherwise known as Critical Mass (or Critical Mob), has spread from San Francisco across the bay to Berkeley. This is not progress. There is a propensity of East Bay bicyclists to consider themselves as above the rules of the road and then ride through both stop signs and red lights. Now we have bullies-on-bicycles in group rides openly flaunting the rules of the road (for everyone else) and daring the local police or anyone else to stop them. They have the false courage of a mob. These folks seem to have a very large chip on their shoulder. Actually, bicycling bullies seem to have the same mind-set as the Bush crime family: ordinary rules and laws don’t apply to us: it’s our way on the highway… 

Part of their arrogance comes from the false notion that bicycles and their riders are somehow “non-polluting.” Let’s take a quick look at the raw materials that go into the manufacturing of a modern bicycle: the iron ore and the aluminum ore that has to be mined, smelted and refined into usable metal, which then has to be rolled, extruded, stamped or cast into parts for bicycle frames. Then there is the petroleum which has to be located, drilled and pumped out of the ground, shipped to a refinery where is converted into lubricating oils and greases for bicycles. More petroleum has to be converted into plastics for bicycle seats, cables, handlebar tapes, pumps and other accessories. Don’t forget the fabrics and leathers that are made into special bicycling gloves, hats, shirts, pants, socks and shoes. Then there are also the plantations of rubber trees that have to be planted, tended and the raw latex harvested, refined and extruded into bicycle tubes and tires. All of these products have to be transported by ship and truck, both of which burn diesel fuel. It takes many thousands of kilowatt hours to run bicycle assembly plants. So bicycles are definitely part of our modern industrial system. Admittedly, bicycles use much less energy and material than cars and SUVs, but don’t let anyone claim that bicycles are “pollution-free.” Also, militant bicyclists should bear in mind that not all of us are young, healthy, courageous and single enough to be able to depend on bicycles for local transportation and shopping expeditions. Some of us actually enjoy being able to drive out of town, to the ocean or into the Great Central Valley and up into the Sierras, in our cars… 

In the Critical Mass/Critical Mob incident which occurred at the end of March in San Francisco, many militant bicyclists surrounded a SUV driven by an out-of-town woman and began beating on the sides of the vehicle and finally trashed the rear window with a thrown bicycle (!). This terrorized the woman and her children. Heck of a job terrorizing, huh, Critical Mob… And in Berkeley, the Critical Mass/Critical Mob group recently got into a nasty confrontation with an elderly couple who were riding in their mini-van. It’s too bad that these bullies-on-bicycles can’t pick on folks their own size and age, instead of picking on women, children and old folks. 

The common thread uniting the Bush crime family gangsters and our local Critical Mass/Critical Mob bullies is their feeling that they are above the law, and above the rules and that it is OK to use threats and intimidation to achieve their goals. It would be far better for East Bay bicyclists to simply follow the rules of the road, which apply equally to them and motorized vehicles. They could also follow the lead of Critical Manners, a new bicycling group in San Francisco, who actually stop at stop signs, stop at red lights and yield to pedestrians during their group rides around town. Also, our local police should equally enforce all the traffic laws that apply to bicyclists and motorists. 


James K. Sayre is an Oakland resident.