Friday, April 17, 2009

C.R.A.N.K. Mob, Not So F.U.N. For Me Anymore

The Crowd

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.

Police Blockade Of Beverly Blvd

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.

Alex Thompson hundcuffed for walking accross the crosswalk on a red flashing hand

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.


casey!!! said...

nice thoughtful in-depth look at the problems with CRANK mob. I myself stopped going a couple of months ago because the rides became increasingly about LONG CONSTANT stops, and less about riding around. im a super casual biker, so when i do go out to a mass ride, i want to fucking ride! with such huge numbers turning out to these things, theres barely any way to control anything about them, much less rally the troops away from binge-drinking en masse from an entrenched dance party.

my reasons for stopping attending were relatively superficial, but i felt something was wrong. its sad to see that the problems are much deeper than what i saw.

time for gary to start a chapter.

tbartels said...

Thanks for finding the courage to post this, sounds like you made the right decision.

browne said...

It takes alot of courage to do critical commentary on your community and people who are your friends. But you know to me sometimes it has to be done, because the people who are so closed minded that they think the don't respect the mode of the bicycle as an alt mode of transport are going to always think that way, but you know to know that their is someone in the community that is willing to look at some things that might be wrong is a good thing.

To me if you can't critique yourself you can't critiquen anyone else. I remember when I wrote a post about homophobia in the black community it sat in draft for awhile, probably for the same reasons your post sat in draft, but right is right and wrong is wrong and some thing have to be said even if it makes some people uncomfortable or angry or gives assholes another link to prove they are "right".

That asshole isn't really right anyway they'll always find a reason.

Maybe you could start a ride Gary? Though that might be too much work, but an alternative. To me sometimes if you do something and you don't have a purpose it will make its own purpose. Sometimes you actively have to guide things.

It's kind of like having a party at your house and it doesn't have a structure and and end time or designated what you can or can not bring, it becomes free for all and it becomes not fun and the cops end up coming.

A ride with a purpose could be fun. And the purpose wouldn't even have to be that gigantic. It could be small like a Pay it Forward ride...maybe that's cheesy, but possibly.

But you know the ride is called crank mob, so it just became what it wanted to be. The power of words it an awesome thing.


Gary said...

Although I was highly skeptical I was talked into helping out with this past weekends CRANK Mob. Some of us who had been part of the ride for a long time, but had been burnt out on it or grown critical of it, were called up and asked to be part of a significantly stepped up effort to educate riders through friendly engagement before and during the ride. Volunteers were clearly marked with colored head bands to make us seem more official like, a technique used on a one off ride called 328 last month.

Meghan and I didn't want to do the ride, and did not stick around, but we did help out at the start, rolling up on our tandem and just going around and talking with the crowd along with others who volunteered to help "tame the beast" as one of this month's organizers called it. The combination of more engagement with riders and a route that tried to avoid some past points of conflict, seemed to produce a much more controlled ride from reports I have heard of how it went. We'll see how it goes in the future, maybe I was wrong, and if enough motivated people pull together CRANK Mob can be kept out of trouble and still be fun. Time will tell.

As for the suggestion of me starting my own ride, I'm a little too thinly spread with time to really tackle something like that right now. I'm pretty motivated to improve my fitness this racing season and see what my potential is, and what little time I have to my self between my full time job, occasional photography gig, and blogging, I am out squeezing training rides in when ever I can.

Timur said...

nice thoughts gary - very well put critique.

jericho1ne said...

We just need more people that care to get involved. Call them veteran riders, folks with common sense, or people just plain enthusiastic about directing Crank Mob into a more fun and less aggressive direction.

There's gotta be some sort of mathematical equation for crowd control. Maybe a ratio of one leader to 20 riders? Which is totally possible considering how many "veteran" riders we have. If more people take responsibility, it takes the weight off the organizers' shoulders. And these numbers are not far off from how many Safe Mob participants we had this month.

I have to admit, lately I feel more like a parent on Crank Mob, which isn't as fun. But, this April 09 Crank Mob I felt some of the magic coming back. Maybe I'm just a sucker for fireworks...

David said...

Messy stuff. To be frank, I don't see a happy ending for this group. I think that you've made the right decision.

Anonymous said...

I dont see crank mob ending peacefully. After the one year anniversary things started to get complicated. We dont even do some of the activities anymore. Last crank mob the cops were blocking the streets. A lot of people got lost when they tried to go home. We need something new that is strict about safety precautions. To have lights, good brakes and to be grateful when people stop at the lights for us. I had fun while it lasted. Thanks to everyone that made it happen. To the ones that ruined it........... ya. I dont want to go there.
Thanks Gary for posting this.
-Nicole A.

Jenn said...

This past crank mob last Saturday was my first ride that large. I had heard nothing but good things about crank mob, so I decided to check it out. Even though I have nothing to compare with as you do, I saw most of the same things that you did.

There were too many riders that didn't have the common sense to look before they moved left or right. So much weaving in and out of people also causes chaos that is not good on a ride with so many people involved. This lack of street smarts was my biggest problem with the ride because I always had to fear that I was going to fall.

I also noticed, as someone said, that the stops are so insanely long. You go on a ride...intending to ride your bicycle...and end up hanging out drinking all night. When you finally get back into riding, it's time to stop again.

Although I had my problems with the ride, it was still fun and definitely an experience. I ended up leaving early, but definitely not because I was bored or tired (people were actually tired....from not riding...) but because I had something else I needed to do.

I think with enough steps in the right direction it could possibly get back to what it once was, but as long as the bicycle scene is the fad it's probably not going to dwindle in size at all.

Anonymous said...

I agree, after March I was discouraged and in April it seemed like a lot of people had given up. I didn't have the willpower to miss out in May and I am glad I went. The ride seems to finally be getting straightened out. It helps that there are no more stops at stores. This month we actually had the respect of the cops and I had a great time again!

Anonymous said...

After my 3rd CRANK MOB ride I came to the same conclusion. Too many people not caring about others. Let alone being rude to drivers, some bikers were rude to bikers riding like other riders were their competition and not caring if their fellow riders hit the ground because of their actions.

But I broke down and gave it another shot last night (7/25/09).

When I got to the Sawtelle starting point there were only about 50 riders. I was disappointed at first because there was a certain excitement about a large (but not too large crowd). But then I thought that this might be good because it would be more manageable.

Within a few blocks the group widened out to take up ALL the lanes of traffic. Most stayed in the right lane and people were yelling out "Stay Right" but there were about a dozen or so that just wanted to block the cars because they could. This caused cars to drive in the oncoming lanes of traffic, which was dangerous and could cause an accident which might involve a biker.

So instead of having people in cars thinking we were cool and wishing us well, we had people in cars very angry. Why on earth do we think we have the right to the whole road? 50 bikes can fit in one lane and still stay in a group. I kept yelling to let the cars have a lane, but it made no difference, they just stayed there blocking traffic or making cars shoot into oncoming traffic.

later, in one of the legs leaving Culver City headed west on Culver, the group had gotten a little smaller. There was a bike path that many were on, the right lane was wide open with fewer bikes, but still some were blocking the second lane. One driver came along and wanted to use the 2nd lane and bikes were blocking him. He honked and kept moving closer to the bikes.

One of the organizers went up to the side of the car in an aggressive motion like he was going to run into the side of the car or challenge the driver and the passenger threw a drink container at the biker and almost hit him in the head.

Now this is what convinced me not to ride again with CRANK MOB because I found myself rooting for the container to land right on the bikers head. Not very ZEN of me at all, but the few in CRANK MOB that are jerks are now becoming the organizers and somebody is going to get really hurt (or shot), but at a minimum, give riders a really bad rap. They are becoming more MOB and less CRANK

If anybody wants to start a group that can have fun and still be safe and respectful of others, including vehicle drivers, I'd love to play. But no more CRANK MOB for me.

Weff said...

Thanks for the insight. I wanted to bring this to my town but I can already see the prob's. Cops are great with us now, but their are some stupid things some do. So I'd rather keep our town peaceful and clean with respectful folks and just watch out for the passer-throughers. Be safe everybody.