Direct Action vs. Shouting in somebody’s face
There’s a difference between Direct Action (politically motivated activity undertaken to achieve political goals outside of normal social and political channels) and shouting in somebody’s face.
The things that Gandhi and Martin Luther King did can be classified as direct action. But so can firebombing SUV dealerships.
There’s also this thing called shouting in somebody’s face. For example, yelling about sin and fire and brimstone and the bible during Gay Pride. Or harassing Christmas shoppers. Or slashing the tires of somebody’s SUV without realizing that the person bikes to work and burns less gas than you. But we remember Martin Luther King Jr. not only because he caused a lot of trouble, but also because the world was changed because of the trouble he caused. Without effectiveness, you are just wasting your time, shouting in somebody’s face.
Like Critical Mass. See, in theory, Critical Mass ought to be a fun bunch of people showing that you can commute just as effectively as drivers. But, at least in San Francisco, it’s just a bunch of ass-clowns. And if you hurt any number of my favorite San Francisco residents while they are commuting via public transit because you have to ride on the sidewalk to show how macho you are, you are not my bicyclist brother and I wish nothing more than you get the world’s worst saddle sore the next day.
Now, take for example Bike Party. What’s the message? PARTY! It’s a bunch of people out to have real fun in the streets of South Bay. And it’s got organizers and an obligation to not only be a fun event that gets people out riding, but also something that’s not going to piss people off.
I heartily approve of the changes they’ve made. At first, they took no position on corking intersections and breezing through lights. But when you’ve got over a thousand people all making noise riding on a defined course, there’s no need. We all sit at the red light, make some noise, and then quickly rejoin the people who made it through the light. When you are an effective event, you don’t worry about losing momentum.
Similarly, there were a bunch of people who, given that the starting point was always the same place, wouldn’t bother reading the website. Word of the event was passed and the message was lost such that it became an event where people would ride rudely, drink a lot, and cause trouble. This was a problem even after we had more BIRDs to conspicuously model the correct behavior. So effort was made to discard those folks by changing the starting point and restricting access to the course.
Beach Blanket Bike Along
So, how did the ride go? Pretty smoothly. The ride started near the Children’s Discovery Museum and went past a bunch of Santa Clara Silicon Valley offices, by the airport, and back through San Jose.
I got an early start on the bike party festivities by riding from work in Sunnyvale to the starting location. I did it at around 20 mph most of the way on gravel trails till I flatted near the airport and had to replace my tube. I was very glad that I had thought ahead of time to take the extra tubes and CO2 inflator from my long-ride trunk bag and put them in my panniers.
Before we started out, San Jose Taiko was there with their drums. Walt’s Cycle was there selling lights and spares (Of all of the bike stores in the area, they are the one I would expect to see there… it’s nothing bad about them, just the vibe of the place matches) and handing out discount coupons that doubled as reflective slap-on bands. Apparently Psycho Donuts was there, too, but I didn’t see them.
I was struck by just how wonderful and diverse the community really is. There were art bikes, burners, fixie riders, road riders, BMX riders, mountain bikers, commute cyclists, recumbents, cruisers, kids in kidbacks, older folks with gray beards. We had people in bikinis, wearing pool toys, enough tropical print shirts that my friends had problems spotting which guy in a tropical print shirt with a helmet on was the correct guy. We reflected the social makeup of the area.
The ride went smoothly. For the most part, the wide cluster of riders, most of which are not accustomed to riding in a pack, managed to go fairly smoothly. The big problem is, and my friend Reese blamed the basic geometry of the bike on this, the cruiser bikes tend to weave at low speeds. I think it was a little smoother than the last time, but I might have been going with a different crowd.
Since a lot of riders are only occasional fun riders, whenever somebody flatted, generally you’d see a cluster of people helping out.
At the end, everybody stayed around SJSU for a while. Some of the BMX riders started doing stunts.
But the “We’re out to have fun, not make a political statement” thing works. People stood out to watch everybody breeze by. We rode past a Mexican place and the Mariachi band popped out to the street to play for us and give us high-fives. The passenger of a car driving down the highway leaned out of the car and yelled “BIKE PARTY!” at us while they drove by. Thing is, if we keep our community Bike Party as a positive, friendly, fun event, it’s an asset to the area. The organizers are doing the best they can, and I greatly respect them for it. The police departments were out in force, but they didn’t write nearly as many tickets as they could have, given how many riders didn’t have lights or even reflectors.
So, yes, Bike Party reached new levels of smooth and fun. The Organizers and the increasing army of BIRD and BIRD sympathizers were able to keep people totally in line. The news folks were trying to write their “Bike Party will turn lawless like Critical Mass” stories, but the group was simply too well run and the ride too smooth for that to stick.