There is a saying about beer, coffee, and whiskey: If you want it to be any good, make it in small batches.
Biking is kind of the same. On the one hand there are huge, mass-produced group rides, like the one on New Year’s Day that attracts hundreds of riders and takes a mostly flat, 100-mile, tailwind gallop down the coast. People ask me every year if I’m doing it, and they would get the same response if they were to ask me whether or not I’m planning to perform my own dental implant surgery.
The New Year’s Ride goes very fast, according to reports. You can apparently be sucked along at 30 mph for huge segments of the ride, and the massive turnout means that there are a lot of riders who enjoy four hours of getting sucked. I’m sure there is a fitness component in there somewhere, because the people at the front are flogging it and there are probably a bunch of people absolutely pinned just sitting in. But for most of the riders, I doubt this is so much a workout as it is a chance to go really fast without having to do much work while surrounded by hundreds of other cyclists.
Oh, and when the group hits a light changing from green to yellow to red, they all roll through at full speed.
And of course there are at least some riders doing the ride in FDM, Full Delusion Mode. I saw one wanker on Facebag post that you should do the ride if you’ve “ever wanted to know what it’s like to ride a stage in the Tour.” It says a lot about your level of ignorance if you think a 4-hour pedal with a tailwind on a flat highway with 400 idiots of vastly varying ability has anything remotely in common with the Tour, or even with a local SoCal Pro/1/2 crit.
So everything was going fine as the mob rushed through red stop lights and poured through miles and miles of areas where there are pedestrian crosswalks, an unbroken torrent of fast moving bikes with riders pinned at their physical and mental and bike skill limits, each rider carrying a whopping mass + velocity that, if it hit you while you were walking, was going to hurt you badly.
Up to now this whole thing is a poster child for every person who has ever said that cyclists are lawbreakers who endanger other road users. This isn’t about running a stop sign at 6:00 AM when there is no one else on the road. This isn’t about running a red light on the NPR where there are no pedestrians anywhere.
This is about a mob of riders turning the streets into a shooting gallery for anyone unfortunate enough to be on foot. When the crazies in Palos Verdes Estates rail and complain about the Donut Ride, this is the bogeyman they’re trying to pin us all with: Big ride takes over the street, breaks the law, and really hurts someone.
And it doesn’t do any good to point to all the motorists who do exactly that to cyclists day in and day out and get away with it, because it’s just like your mom told you: Two wrongs don’t make a right. Moreover, when you’re making a Bikes May Use Full Lane argument based on safety for vulnerable road users, and your mob is using the full lane in a way that endangers other vulnerable road users, you look like a real piece of shit.
[This section has been updated] But back to the story: Before the huge ride came through, a cyclist on a different ride, in front of the New Year’s Ride, hit a pedestrian, went down, and both were hurt. While the emergency vehicles were trying to reach the rider and the pedestrian, the main New Year’s Day mob was coming through, but many cyclists chose to run the light and jump in front of the fire trucks and ambulance, thereby blocking them from attending to the emergency. Re-read that. Not one cyclist or two cyclists. MANY CYCLISTS. A few riders, i.e. decent, normal people, had stopped and were trying to hold back the bike traffic so the paramedics could reach the two casualties.
Is this even real? People jumping in front of an ambulance to stay with a fast peloton? A person’s life mattering less than not getting dropped by a mob ride? Are you fucking kidding me?
The answer of course is “No.” This is completely believable behavior because I’ve been racing and riding for decades and have seen countless bad falls where the group simply keeps riding. “Sucks to be you” is often the motto, and although there are times I’ve kept riding when I’ve seen a crash and other people are stopping to help, I can’t begin to fathom what’s going on when riders actually interfere with rescue operations, or heighten risk to the rescuers by sprinting in front of them and blocking their ingress.
Okay, just kidding. I can completely fathom it. Mobs, whether they’re on bikes, on foot, in motorcycle gangs, or at Trump rallies, behave the same. People use large numbers as cover for their own bad acts for the same reason that people are Internet trolls and stalkers: Anonymity. Bicyclists don’t have some Good Samaritan gene that makes them nobler than the carholes who harass and kill them in PV Estates and elsewhere. In fact, pedestrians on the beach paths will tell you that large groups of cyclists behave with exactly the same arrogance and disregard for the safety of vulnerable road users that cyclists complain about vis-a-vis cagers.
The nicest people in the world will behave like complete bastards when they think no one knows it’s them. Anonymity is the ultimate empowerment for cowardice and bad acts, and this is a classic example.
In any event, score one for the anti-cyclist crowd. If this kind of mob behavior is what we can expect when huge numbers of cyclists get together, then retributive, unfair, and illegal responses from cagers is what we’re going to get. More accurately, people who already hate cyclists and who have no intention of respecting our safety will use incidents like these to justify their own bad acts. You may not like it and you may think it’s unfair when a motorist tries to kill you, but ask yourself how much sympathy you’re going to get from the family of the poor guy who went out for a New Year’s Day walk along the beach and wound up in the ICU, and his treatment was delayed by a bunch of cyclists who “didn’t want to get dropped.”
Which brings me back to my point, which is that the bigger things get, the worse they get. Several hundred riders going pell-mell through stop lights and pedestrian crosswalks in heavily congested areas, or big groups of cyclists barreling full bore down beach paths also used by pedestrians is dangerous and it’s wrong.
Small groups where there’s a ride leader, an understanding about how the ride is going to be conducted, attention to the safety of others, and responsibility for taking charge when things go wrong are the only way that cyclists can rationally advocate for better behavior by motorists and for better protection by law enforcement. To cry about those who’ve been victimized and then turn around and obstruct aid to an injured pedestrian because you were “trying to keep up” is the worst kind of hypocrisy. Worse, it gives drivers a rationale to pay no attention to cyclists, even when the cyclist is obeying the law, riding in a small group and endangering no one, and it gives law enforcement a reason to continue to unfairly enforce traffic laws against cyclists while ignoring the more frequent and deadly transgressions of drivers.
Do I think you can ride fast and safely and legally in groups on public roads? Yes. Do I think you can do it in an unsanctioned, unpermitted, break-all-the-rules, devil-take-the-hindmost mob that prevents injured vulnerable road users from getting emergency assistance?
No, I don’t.
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