Monday, October 12, 2009

Missing the point

As much as I love cycling one thing has consistently troubled me. As I've become more competitive, I've started cycling less for anything other than training. Three years ago I rode everywhere so that it made sense to sell my truck. Later that year, as I went on deployment, Lauren and I sold our car too. We hadn't been using it and decided we had the car-free thing figured out. When we moved back to Texas we caved and bought a car and then another truck.

We're back where we started and I'm actually driving every day, for one thing or another. This post is more than a confession; I actually have a point. I was reading on the TXBRA.org forums (Texas Bicycle Racing Association) today where someone had posted a lament on Critical Mass.
Nasty rumor that theres going to be one of those "critical mass" anarchy bike rides this week, in San Antonio. Given the events of the past week, I REALLY DON"T THINK THAT IS A GOOD IDEA!! We cyclists are getting enough grief from the locals and the roads are treacherous enough without doing one of those "Lets go out and REALLY piss them off" things. Do what you want, but IMHO it's a really bad move!!!
What upsets me most about this attitude is that besides grossly misunderstanding the point of Critical Mass in the first place, many of my fellow racers don't see CM participants as fellow cyclists. Then more posts antagonistic to CM:
There is a good chance that people who were once on the side of being friendly to cyclist will start to stray to the dark side.
And then, from one of Texas Racing's more prominent race promoters:
A critical mass ride ... in the style of political guerilla war doesn't edear us to the very group we want to accept our rights. The overwhelming majority of voters are drivers while only a few of us are both drivers and bicyclists ... to enrage the majority of drivers that we're trying to make tolerant is not a good idea.

While we have the right to the road, today ... we only have it with the permission of the driving majority ... all that can change in an instant ...
The fear that our rights could be taken away "in an instant" if we don't appease the motoring majority (of which we're a part anyway, a voting part), is such a baseless and irrational fear. I pity a man that participates in such an encompassing activity with such a second-class-citizen attitude. The idea that cyclists use roads with the permission of the driving majority is to assign cyclists a status beneath that of citizen, to not recognize that motorists and cyclist are both, in fact, citizens, and only subsets of the same citizenry.

Another racer posted this misinterpretation of Critical Mass:
To associate Critical Mass with any sort of advocacy of cycling rights is to say that the Rodney King riots were about encouraging jogging -- as many of them wore Nike shoes. They are nothing but a bunch of jackasses.
To not see another cyclist as a fellow cyclist, as one who faces the same obstacles, baffles me. And then I began to realize that this is not a debate between cyclists and motorists in which racers are falling on the wrong side. This is merely part of the larger debate on consumption.

Critical Mass doesn't necessarily protest anything as much as it stirs up discourse, kicking over the rocks we hide our opinions under. Racing encourages consumption. We want the lightest bike, which is the latest bike, the latest materials in the latest colors. Bicycle manufacturers have adopted the automotive industry practice of assigning their product model years, so that bicycles now expire. Racing bicycles are built with performance far more prominently considered than practicality; with materials that can't be repaired; in configurations that can't be reasonably shipped; with proprietary and easily broken components. Racing bicycles are being built under the principle of planned obsolescence. To many racers, a bicycle isn't a vehicle for transportation, it isn't an artwork; a bicycle is now gear, a piece of equipment, like shoulder pads or a racquet.

So, my fellow racers aren't seeing Critical Mass riders as fellow cyclists, but rather as enemies to the paradigm of GM bailouts, war for oil, ever bigger shopping malls, rights for the corporation, outsourcing, pre-emptive strikes in our national interest, nationalism and eternal US hegemony.