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A small, yet re-energized Critical Mass

Posted by on January 28th, 2008 at 9:29 am

Critical Mass January 08-7.jpg
Friday’s Critical Mass in downtown Portland.
More photos here
(Photos © Jonathan Maus)

Around 60 Portlanders remembered Critical Mass last Friday. While that number may seem low, it was the biggest turnout the ride has seen in many months.

After seeing signs of a resurgence, I showed up to Friday’s ride (for the first time in over a year) to see how it would go.

We met under the Burnside Bridge and, with no cops in sight, the mood was vintage Critical Mass. I chatted with friends, met a few new ones, and passed out Bike Bulletins (thanks Carl).

Critical Mass January 08-4.jpg

Just before the ride began, we were treated to a human pyramid, a feat of acrobatics that seemed to set the tone of the night.

As we rolled out (still sans cops), the folks at the front of the pack led us on a random, looping excursion through downtown. Shouts of “Happy Friday” rang out along with our bike bells and the mood was mellow.

With about 60 or so riders, we had enough of a mass to roll through stop signs and stop lights without too much trouble. Folks stepped up and corked intersections when necessary, and there were no problems with downtown traffic.

I pulled off a bit early, but heard later that the ride swung up to the Convention Center, site of the just-opened Portland Auto Show. A text message from someone still on the ride confirmed that Critical Mass had morphed into a mobile dance party at the entrance of the Auto Show (see photo below).

Banner displayed by riders who gathered at the entrance to the Portland Auto Show and danced the night away.
(Photo by Mark Wheatly)

Friday’s ride will likely be considered a success: Good vibes were spread, bikers came together, there were no tickets issued and no car/bike incidents that I am aware of.

But, with just 60 people on a Critical Mass that was supposed to be a re-birth of the once huge ride, it seems fair to think that many Portlanders have moved on to other ways of showing that “bikes are traffic”.

For a few more photos, check out my photo gallery.

NOTE: At BikePortland, we love your comments. We love them so much that we devote many hours every week to read them and make sure they are productive, inclusive, and supportive. That doesn't mean you can't disagree with someone. It means you must do it with tact and respect. If you see an inconsiderate or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan and Michael

  • Just Me January 28, 2008 at 9:49 am

    I dont think running through stop signs and red lights is a positive way to show bikes are traffic. If bikes want to be considered traffic they are subject to the laws of the road. I think its because of actions like these that many people dont want to show up for critical mass. A blatant disregard for traffic laws wont help our cause.
    If an impromptu parade of cars decided to have critical mass would we be ok with them blowing stop signs, corking intersections and running red lights?

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  • Carl January 28, 2008 at 10:12 am

    \”If an impromptu parade of cars decided to have critical mass would we be ok with them blowing stop signs, corking intersections and running red lights?\”

    Been downtown at rush hour recently?

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  • Chuck January 28, 2008 at 10:18 am

    people don\’t ignore cars. people ignore bikes. sometimes you\’ve got to just step up and make yourself as obnoxiously obvious as possible in order to be noticed. yes, even sometimes with 60 friends with you.

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  • Just Me January 28, 2008 at 10:26 am

    why dont you just join the hundreds of people everyday that commute through the city of Portland daily? They are gaining consistent, substantial notoriety.
    This just keeps going back to the same idea… if you want equal rights and respect, you cant go out scoffing the law. lets stop complaining about car drivers that break the law while we do the same.

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  • Paul S January 28, 2008 at 10:31 am

    I was in Budapest during a \’mass in 2005 … it was mind blowing. We stood at an intersection for over an hour, must\’ve been 20 or 30 thousand riders. This was on the \”international car-free day\” but friends told us when the weather\’s good the \”regular\” mass would hit 5 digits.

    Imagine having 4 or 5 spontaneous Bridge Pedals a year.

    As for CM PDX: eh, I\’m just too old and mellow for that kind of friction. Life\’s too short to go out of my way looking to piss people off.

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  • felix January 28, 2008 at 10:49 am

    One of the best things about this ride is that ITS NOT MANDATORY! I find it sad that some many people what to tell other people when and where and how to ride. If people want to ride in the mass so be it. If they run lights and signs and get tickets thats on them. Quit trying to self police the \”bike culture\”. Not everyone has your or my view of the world!

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  • SkidMark January 28, 2008 at 11:06 am

    I have been on Car and Motorcycle Club Runs where in order to keep the group together intersections were corked and lights were run. I think it is always safer to keep a procession intact, especially of two wheeled vehicles. A car can get in the middle, and them quickly be overwhelmed by who to ay attention to, the bikes alongside them behind them or in front of them, next thing you know they rear-end the bike in front of them. I\’ve been on more than one motorcycle run where this has happened, and at least one CM. Considering I have been on less then 10 CMs and it has hapened once or twice, tells me that it is likely dangerous for a car to be in the midst of bikes.

    I mean, what are we talking about, a minute out of your life to watch a group of vehicles go by. If it were led by a cop you would not question it and not be angry about it. I don\’t why courtesy has to be dependent on state approval.

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  • Ayleen January 28, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Historically speaking, 60 people in January is not small. The smallest ride I was ever on was six on a rainy, cold winter night in 2002, at a time when summer numbers swelled into the hundreds.

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  • Elly Blue January 28, 2008 at 11:16 am

    It\’s funny, on the CMs I\’ve been on, I\’ve hardly ever seen anyone be angry about having to wait a minute to drive or walk across the street. 99% of people encountering the ride perpindicularly are excited to see a big, festive parade of happy people going by. It\’s fun to see, makes you feel like you\’re part of something.

    The majority of people who get annoyed do so because they\’re stuck *behind* the ride — which is seriously mitigated by corking to keep the ride together. A corked ride can go 10-15 mph, whereas a ride that has to stop and regroup at every light usually goes at a walking pace, less than 5mph.

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  • Joe January 28, 2008 at 11:49 am

    long live mass rides they can be for a good cause. open minds,open people!

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  • Anonymous January 28, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    There\’s never a good excuse to break the law. If you don\’t like the law, work to get it changed – and I don\’t mean by breaking it.

    If you want to complain about cars running stop signs and red lights, then you really ought to stop doing it.

    I don\’t like it when bikes or cars run lights or signs, or when pedestrians cross against the light.

    When I am in my car, I don\’t run lights or signs. I don\’t bike, but if I did, I would not run lights or signs. And I don\’t cross against the light as a ped.

    I can\’t believe that the community can\’t see the blatant hypocrisy of this type of behavior.

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  • Anonymous January 28, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Furthermore, Jonathan, I am dissapointed in you for condoning this ride. Your willingness to participate suggests you approve of this behavior. You, who in November, wrote an article about what happened when you reminded a fellow cyclist \”Hey, that\’s a stop light buddy\”.

    What has changed since then?

    Please understand I\’m not asking this to be a meanie, but I feel like it\’s a valid question.

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  • sysfail January 28, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks for everyone who brought the fun!! See you all on the streets.

    Corking is much better than stopping/regrouping every block, for both parties.

    Also just riding up Grand before CM we had to take a side street because the cars turned it into a parking lot for 10 plus blocks.

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  • Ayleen January 28, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    It\’s hard to see frustrated drivers when they\’re behind you.

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  • la January 28, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    a good critical mass is a great way to share the bike love.

    it\’s been my belief for quite some time that the best way to create change is others is to celebrate your own choices. noone wants to join the ranks of the downtrodden.

    but a group of happy healthy cyclists? looks like fun!

    the critical mass wasn\’t to run lights and stop signs. we\’d stop, firm up, and ride off again. in the case of a light changing when we were halfway through, someone\’d cork — but only until the last cyclist rejoined the group. then, with a smile, a wave and a \”happy friday\” regular traffic would resume. one cyclist running a light can put themselves in serious danger, but a group trying to stay together is far more visible. this same tactic is used in bike moves and midnight mystery rides.

    and we have to remember… the majority of laws are in place to protect and serve, but not all are in favor of the people. think about it. make your own choices.

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  • Agent Bunny G January 28, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    There\’s never a good excuse to break the law. If you don\’t like the law, work to get it changed – and I don\’t mean by breaking it.

    Really? Is that so? What about the civil rights movement? Union movements? The gay rights movement? Um, any big social movement that has made significant changes in our culture? They pretty much all broke the law sometimes.

    Have you ever heard the quote \”well behaved women rarely make history\”? The masters tools cannot dismantle the masters house. Critical Mass is about fun, but it\’s also about radical change. At least that\’s what I\’m going for. You want to follow the rules? Start your own ride.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) January 28, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    \”Furthermore, Jonathan, I am dissapointed in you for condoning this ride. Your willingness to participate suggests you approve of this behavior.\”….What has changed since then?\”

    Hi Anonymous,

    I went on the ride to experience Critical Mass in Portland, not to express my approval/disapproval of the ride. As someone who covers local bike news, I feel it\’s important to participate and report on events like this.

    I have mixed feelings about Critical Mass …. however, I am increasingly trying to not use BikePortland.org as a place to espouse my personal beliefs. Instead, I want to present the information in the main story and let the comments be a place where opinions can come out.

    That being said, even though I have strong feelings that Critical Mass may not the best way forward for the bike community in general, I stop short of coming out strongly against it. Everyone has a different way of advocating for change.

    It\’s a complicated issue for the bike community and I hope to write about it more in the future.

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  • Carl January 28, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Ayleen\’s absolutely right. CM can be a lot of fun but it\’s VERY easy not to notice its negative consequences. \”99% of people encountering the ride perpindicularly are excited to see a big, festive parade of happy people going by.\” I have a hard time buying that, Elly. If you\’ve ever answered phones or tabled for the BTA you\’d know that there\’s a steady stream of people (mainly motorists) who come up and gripe about CM, saying that it\’s counterproductive and should be stopped.

    There\’s this CM documentary called \”Still We Ride.\” I\’d like to do one called, \”Still They Ride,\” where participants are interviewed at the meet-up point and asked, \”what message does this ride convey?\” Then onlookers (in cars and on the sidewalks) would be interviewed during and immediately after the ride passed, asking the exact same question. I\’d put good money on there being a disconnect between what CMers think the ride is telling people and what onlookers actually think.

    Yeah, I went on Friday. Yeah it was fun. Yeah there were no cops or spats or harsh words…but I\’m still pretty conflicted about it and am sensitive to the fact that it just may be a counterproductive and selfish endeavor here in Portland. Houston? I\’d gladly run lights and hoot and holler, there. Same with Phoenix, Vegas, Detroit, Atlanta…places with hardly any bicyclists, places where you need to scream to be noticed. Places where CM is a valuable networking tool and public education campaign. Portland isn\’t one of those places. Cyclists are well connected here. People know there are cyclists on our streets.

    Jonathan was pretty objective on this ride. He wasn\’t yelling or carrying signs. He was just riding along, taking pictures and scoping out the scene. We both bailed out at the same time and I won\’t speak for him but I don\’t think anyone could say that he is a CM promoter based on our sidewalk conversation.

    I can\’t wait for Pedalpalooza. Then it IS true that 99% of the onlookers don\’t care about being held up by people (sometimes naked people) who are truly having fun.

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  • Dabby January 28, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    I can\’t wait for someone to clean up the PedalPalooza graffiti on the bike path just north of the I-5 bridge.

    It is called becoming part of the problem people.

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  • kg January 28, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Anon #11 and 12

    You say that you don\’t bike which is the same as saying you really don\’t know what your talking about. Why don\’t you try riding for a while then maybe you could see the value of what this ride is meant to accomplish.

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  • Tasha January 28, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Totally off topic, but bringing up Pedalpalooza made me sad, as I\’m going to be in Europe for most of it this year. But I hope to participate in the World Nakes Bike Ride there!

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  • Daniel (teknotus) January 28, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    I would like to say that most of the problems with people getting stuck behind the ride were avoided by turning on average every 4 blocks or so. If someone is stuck they are only stuck for around a minute, and a half. A squad car did show up once, and it was when the 4 block rule had been broken riding on Naito for 14 blocks or so. We reduced to one lane, and the problem went away. If whoever leads next time makes a religion of turning regularly the motorist frustration would mostly go away. I felt like there were pedestrian issues that need to be addressed too. My feelings about the ride were mixed. I love being in huge rides, but I don\’t like them to cause problems for other people. The ride made some non participants smile, and others angry, or strongly annoyed. I would say that it was a huge improvement over any previous CM ride I have observed since I moved to Portland, but it needs more work to become just a happy big ride that makes others want to get on a bike.

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  • MLK January 28, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    \”Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that\”. Does CM produce more hate? Does CM produce more love?

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  • organic brian January 28, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Tasha I hope you\’ll be our Foreign Correspondent for European naked rides.

    Adding to Carl\’s comment #18: working tech jobs in the suburbs, any time I\’ve mentioned CM the reaction has been fairly uniformly coworkers recoiling in horror, if they knew what it is at all. They have had lots of invective and not much good to say, and this is often from first-hand interactions with the ride.

    I love the CM for its potential, which it manages to fulfill about one time in fifteen or so. There have been some great roving-party style Masses, with instruments, decorations, lots of flyers for after-events, and riders being conscious that they are not the only people on this planet.

    I like Dan\’s idea for frequent turns. Yay for squirrely CM rides.

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  • Evan January 28, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    I have to agree with a lot of the posts regarding the hypocrisy of running lights and stops signs. A poster above makes a comment about \”radical change\” and the need to break the rules. Fine and dandy. When you get what you want (everyone riding a bike in the city) are you going to feel the same way about stop signs and lights?

    Even when I ride as a cyclist I\’m fearful of causing an accident with another cyclist. Admittedly it will be less severe than if it was car-to-car or bike-to-car, but they are there for a reason.

    As far as I\’ve been told – CM has been about equal representation of bikes on the road, not about bike privilege. I dislike cars as much as the next person, but I\’m also realizing they\’re not magically going to dissappear and that we do have to work together.

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  • Garlynn -- undergroundscience.blogspot.com January 28, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    eh, I think the point is that there\’s no way an impromptu parade of cars could accomplish the same things that Critical Mass does on bicycles. The result would just be your normal, slow-moving rush-hour gridlock.

    Though, I must point out also, that all 60 bicyclists in last night\’s Critical Mass could fit on one Tri-Met bus, if they didn\’t have their bicycles with them (capacity of a Tri-Met bus at crush load has been proven to be about 100 people). ;-)

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  • Daniel (teknotus) January 28, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    re #26

    That Trimet bus would get those 60 people to their destination slower, do more damage to the roads, use more natural resources, and create more air pollution.

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  • Chuck January 28, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Just Me: My commute is down columbia blvd. near the airport. I\’m the only one I see on the road. I have to get in people\’s way sometimes to be noticed.

    Garlynn: I agree with daniel. more resources to get us where we need to go, plus no exercise. part of the reason I think we all ride bikes is the health benefits.

    I don\’t agree with some laws. Be it traffic laws, laws governing victimless crimes, drugs, whatever. there are some out there I do not want to follow. if I get caught and ticketed, so be it. I\’ll pay the fine, do the time, whatever. I\’ll do what I have to do to maintain my own beliefs.

    regardless of what laws were broken, the ride on friday was a lot of fun, and I saw one sour driver. one. that\’s it. everyone else was smiling and waving to us. so at this point, I\’d rather not be judged by people who weren\’t there.

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  • David January 28, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Is there a Critical Manners ride in PDX? Since we\’re considered the cycling mecca of the USA it seems like we would have one. I would really like to see a ride through Gresham, actually I think it would be cool if there was one that included four cites: Portland, Gresham, Fairview, and Troutdale! They are all really close together, just on my way to MHCC I ride into each of them, less than 7miles. IMO I think a ride through the said cites would be more productive, than down town PDX because I believe there\’s probably less people cycling in the area.

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  • David January 28, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    ……Also, there are some main streets in the area that NEED bike lanes. I was thinking of some routes for a Critical Manners ride, and it just so happens that some of these main streets would be on these routes. Maybe a ride would perhaps show the local government that we are displeased with this? The fact that they don\’t have bike lanes makes me think (IMO) that maybe cycling isn\’t being take serious enough in the area. In all honesty I\’m not sure how things are on the other side of of the city, but I\’m sure there are places with out BLs as well that need them. But maybe it would at least help fix things here? What do you think?

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  • D January 28, 2008 at 10:19 pm

    I don\’t see critical mass as a good way to get a more positive view of cyclists. There are ways to do it without the problems of critical mass. Myself I\’m all for working for cycling and our safety, and it starts with us all riding while following laws and using common sense.

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  • peejay January 28, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    RE: MLK at #18:

    That\’s a beautiful statement and one I agree with. Yet, the fact remains that when I offer love as an answer to hate, the hater still hates, and accuses me of hate.

    I have a stock response to those who flip me off: the peace sign. Their return reaction, even more anger, stems from the fact that they cannot believe I don\’t wish to respond in kind, which just pisses them off even more.

    We could have a critical manners ride, or something similar. Those who want to hate us will keep right on doing it, though.

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  • peejay January 28, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    And I fully support the safety argument for corking. Keepin\’ it together just makes sense.

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  • Espy January 29, 2008 at 1:55 am

    @Chuck #28
    I understand your point(\”I don\’t agree with some laws. Be it traffic laws, laws governing victimless crimes, drugs, whatever. there are some out there I do not want to follow. if I get caught and ticketed, so be it. I\’ll pay the fine, do the time, whatever. I\’ll do what I have to do to maintain my own beliefs.\”) but please do realize that puts you into the same class as this person http://www.katu.com/news/7872592.html. She couldn\’t be bothered with laws that protect us all as well. I realize on a bicycle you can\’t do as much damage but the attitude is the same.


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  • revphil January 29, 2008 at 8:25 am

    How many drivers who carefully obey traffic signals routinely break the speed limit?

    These kind of double standards are common in the car/bike dichotomy.

    I like to encourage people to take personal responsibility for their safety. Running a red light to stay with the pack may be safer than being left behind. Ultimately we all want to get where we are going. Telling people HOW to do that is rarely popular.

    This goes for Critical Mass as well as the people saying \”stop CM\”. Neither might be all that effective. But I hope people saying \”stop critical mass\” are at least having fun while posting. Otherwise, you don\’t even have that going for ya.

    On that fun topic: Gaylin, I think the record number of zoobombers on a single Max train was 88. 2nd run MiniBikeSummer 2004

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  • Ayleen January 29, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Is it just me being a grouchy old bike scene lady or does anyone else feel we\’ve heard all of these arguments – pro, con and conflicted – one million times before?

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) January 29, 2008 at 9:27 am

    RE: the \”Critical Manners\” idea.

    Check out this post (and the 53 comments) from August \’07:

    Would Critical Manners catch on in Portland?\”

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  • organic brian January 29, 2008 at 9:49 am

    \”Is there a Critical Manners ride in PDX?\”

    David, why don\’t you lead one? Elly led I think a couple or three Strictly Legal Rides, they were popular and fun. Search bikeportland.org and the Shift list archives (on lists.riseup.net) for \”strictly legal ride\” and you\’ll find all the info.

    Yeah, what Ayleen said… does this conversation have to repeat practically verbatim once every year? I\’d like to see new solutions that haven\’t been tried before, rather than the same old stalemate.

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  • Chuck January 29, 2008 at 12:05 pm


    I\’m not sure I quite understand what you mean. am I eventually going to end up riding my bike through a parade because I\’m upset the road is closed, and I\’m old and senile?

    well, maybe… but only because I want to be in the parade…

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  • Espy January 29, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    May I respectfully appologize, I reread your post and took it completely differently than I did last night.

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  • pol January 30, 2008 at 12:13 am

    Re Ayleen\’s posting about the preceeding arguments all being heard before. one argument i don\’t hear enough and it also answers somewhat another comment about when we one day are all riding bikes will we still be breaking the law?

    this point is that when we are one day all cycling we likely wont have so many bad rules like coming to a full stop at intersections and hill bottoms. we will flow gracefully and efficiently compared to the ridiculous system of traffic currently in place. and it will be much much safer and healthier.

    expecting a group of people to follow rules that discriminate and make their experience more difficult with no benefit to their wellbeing is bound to lead to those rules being ignored. as a cyclist i don\’t obey traffic lights and stop signs blindly. i stop and go as needed when safe for me and others. it makes my life as a cyclist easier and faster with no ill effect on others except for those bicycle martyrs who cringe at the BAD image we present.

    every bad thing i do on my bike i learned from cars

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