The debates about the growth and changing nature of C.R.A.N.K. Mob, the highly popular West Side social night ride, have been going on in the forums for quite sometime. I've been going to the ride since it's earlier days, posting numerous photo sets and having loads of fun along the way, but I have seen some things change, and not for the better. I largely kept my nose out of the debates and nay saying, and was hoping that what I perceived as a negative element growing within the ride might lose interest and go away or be discouraged by stepped up efforts of some to self police the ride. Unfortunately as was confirmed to me last month, the ass holes vastly out number the riders who give a damn, and I don't know if any amount of scolding or leading by example can really do enough about it.
This post is not meant to slight the people behind C.R.A.N.K. Mob, organizers who are all friends of mine, they are so good at throwing fun rides, they are almost too good. Which is what attracts so many to the ride the first place, things like live bands, chalk drawing, wild costumes, great music and unexpected antics of hilarity. They also go more out of the way to promote safety than many other social rides, with efforts like Safe Mob, a crew of people who promote safety and hand out spoke cards only to those who deserve it, among other ideas that have been tried, but originally weren't necessary to keep the peace in earlier times. The problem is with the new type of riders showing up in mass, ones who don't care about anything, about common decency, common sense, respect for any one and especially authority, and certainly not the safety of their fellow riders let alone them selves.
Many of these new riders, all they care about is using the group as a cover to inflate their egos and think they are king of the world as long as mommy isn't looking. A few even use the group as a cover to try and shoplift, though they are liable to get tackled by riders who do care as we saw last month. Not to mention many of these new kids can barely handle riding their bikes, and when I see kids I really do mean kids, a lot of these new riders are really young. I was unsettled upon riding to one of the meeting points last month, and some kids on bikes asked if I was going to C.R.A.N.K. Mob, and I paused for a moment thinking to myself, these kids don't look like they have finished puberty, wtf! These kids could care less about the repercussions of their actions as it reflects on cycling. Cycling is something they are doing because it is the in thing now, and in the context of group riding a way to make them self feel superior. Three months from now maybe it will be skateboards again who knows, but those of us who still ride bikes will have to live with what ever fall out comes out of the growing conflict C.R.A.N.K. Mob has been creating with communities and law enforcement.
I miss the days when I could be chill and have fun on C.R.A.N.K. Mob, but now I feel as though attending means being baby sitter and being there to document police confrontations instead of photographing good times. It used to be there would be a handful of newbies, curious souls excited by the prospect of a rolling party. I would chat with them and give them tips about group riding and cycling in general. Now the newbies come in swarms of little gangs and they think they know everything already. Enough to even mock far more experienced riders by shouting things like only posers ride fixed gear bikes with brakes, of course in a shrill and not yet finished with puberty voice. What used to be thanking motorists waiting patiently at intersections and cross streets for the ride to pass, has turned into kids shouting obscenities and flipping off random people. This is not fun anymore, and it's attracting the wrong kind of attention and creating the wrong kind of vibe. Some totally cool, friendly creative people still come, they have always been part of the ride, and the reason I kept coming as long as I did, but they are getting out numbered.
I've never witnessed such a massive police response to a group bike ride before as I did on C.R.A.N.K. Mob last month. While I wholly disagree with police violating proper protocol in their handling of the situation, bogus tickets and such, which I documented (creating my biggest spike of traffic on flickr ever), I cannot entirely blame them for doing something, anything, to respond to the mess. I cannot help but very seriously fear the possibility of some worst case scenario of a 16 year old kid riding intoxicated against traffic and getting killed, and the fall out such a tragedy would have. Always part of the appeal to big groups rides to me was the idea of safety in numbers. However, when the ride gets spread apart either by fixie kids driving the pace, or people hijacking the group in multiple directions, and dumb asses playing chicken in the wrong way traffic lanes, things could end in a very, very bad way.
Meghan already vowed to stop attending a month earlier after stopping to help a rider with a concussion, who was abandoned by her friends. I can't blame her after such a frustrating experience that has become far too common place on the ride. I clung on to the hope it could get better a little longer, and I always would do what I can to lead by example with my own riding, and frequent calling out to others, but increasingly no one listens.
On the last ride, just before the police blockade, an emergency vehicle was trying to get through, a scenario nay sayers of mass riding in general often envision as a problem. I always viewed this as a non issue since it's easy for everyone to shuffle over and get on the sidewalk, bikes are highly portable, and it was never a problem on other rides I had been on. That night however, after getting on to the sidewalk and seeing most people were just peddling there in the middle of the street blocking an emergency vehicle with sirens blaring, I started yelling at people to get over, and some others yelled as well. Sadly dozens and dozens of self absorbed ass holes continued to block the path of the emergency vehicle. This is utterly wrong, unacceptable, and no doubt played a part in the seriousness of the police response.
Some riders took the police response, which included bogus tickets and excessive harassment of random riders, some of whom were behaving perfectly legally, out of context and made this into a us versus them issue. Making it into an issue of we were just out for a ride, why all this big bully police response for a bike ride? Well it wasn't just a bike ride, it was a moving disaster zone.
C.R.A.N.K. Mob rolls again this Saturday, and I know there will be creative efforts to curb the problems and keep the F.U.N., but I doubt more than ever that anything can "fix" what the ride has become. I really do hope for the best, I'm eternally optimistic by default, but the ride as it stands now, I simply cannot attend or be involved with, and it takes a lot to shatter my hopes. It stresses me out to no end now, and it used to be my highlight of the month, it used to be the only party worth going to. I still remember the good times, but good things don't always last forever. I really think the best thing that could happen to C.R.A.N.K. Mob would be for it to die, just go away, and start from scratch. Do over, hit the reset button, game over, float away ephemeral like the dust of the asphalt chalk that so colorfully decorated where we had been if only for a day or two.
This post sat in my draft box for weeks, I really did not want to hit the publish button, but I felt that I could not in good conscience hold on to this. Some of the criticisms have been expressed in buried endless forum threads by various people, but it does not hold the same weight as a public blog post by someone known in the community. If the cycling culture in Los Angeles is to thrive, we have to be critical of more than just motorists, politicians, and the police, we have to be critical of our selves when necessary. Sharing the road is a two way street.
P.S. To the organizers, I'm sorry I had to go out like this, but I felt it had to be done. This is in no way meant to be personally directed, the outcome of rides has as much if not more to do with who shows up than who is doing the planning. I always had nothing for praise for C.R.A.N.K. Mob on this blog in the past, but I can't turn a blind eye to what has been going wrong lately any more. The forum discussions have always had a mix of the good and the bad sides, but the various blogs have generally reflected a rosier view and omitted many of the less desirable details. For those of us writing about bicycle issues, for our words to be taken seriously by those outside our own cliques, we have to tell the whole story.