BICYCLISTS JUST aren't making it easy for their advocates.

I mean, here I am, just two weeks after writing about the horrible, tragic death of a cyclist who was killed by a run-in with a motorcyclist up on Skyline, when news of San Francisco's latest Critical Mass bike ride hits the papers.

Seems that at the last Critical Mass gathering — a spontaneous bike ride meant to promote pedal power that has fallen on the last Friday of each month since the early'90s — some cyclists got a little out of hand and took their road rage out on a Redwood City family of four and three pre-teen friends. By the end of the skirmish, in which cyclists had pounded on the family's minivan and hurled a bike at its rear window because the minivan had purportedly tapped one of the cyclist's tires, the family was freaked out and looking at $5,300 damage to their car.

Share the land

What do you say to that? Woo-hoo? Score one for alternative modes of transportation? Score one in the name of sharing the road?

Well, no. Sharing the road is a two-way street, and though I admit a car versus a bike is not a fair match, entropic anarchy versus a wide-eyed, panicking family from Redwood City with a bunch of kids in the car isn't a fair match, either.

Pick your battles, bicyclists. That one was the wrong one.

In interest of full-disclosure, I am a bicyclist. When I lived in San Francisco, there was a time when I biked everywhere. Even to the grocery store, and if you haven't cycled up Webster and across the three-lane freeway that is Pine Street with five plastic bags hanging off your handle bars, you haven't lived.


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And I swear, some of those oncoming cars didn't want me to, either.

Tight squeeze

There was also one year not long ago when we lived in Marin and — gasp! — had one car. Cycling down some of Marin's picturesque windy two-lane roads to get to the Golden Gate Transit bus stop was marred only by the never-abating fear that the 6-inch berth the woman in her Lexus SUV had allowed me just wouldn't be enough.

So I have cyclist solidarity.

To a point.

But I'm not sure about

Critical Mass bike rides. They're not only in San Francisco, either. They're all over the world. There's one in Oakland, too, held on the first Friday of each month.

While Oakland's must be tamer than San Francisco's — because otherwise I'd have heard about it before last week when a reader invited me to it — I've seen enough of Critical Mass, San Francisco style, to know I don't want to be a part of it. I've seen the hopelessly clogged traffic, the angry motorists, the self-righteous cyclists. Once when Critical Mass took a detour down Haight Street, I saw a bunch of bicyclists lift a car and move it out of their way. Then I saw them raise their bikes over their heads and scream blood-curdling curses like 13th-century Scots taking it to their English oppressors.

I know a few bad eggs shouldn't ruin the whole carton, and not all Critical Mass-ers are a problem, but still. Critical Mass isn't so much a cause any more as it is an excuse. An excuse for some to thumb their noses at the laws of the road that we all need to abide by and to commit criminal acts against anyone with the gall to push a gas pedal.

And this is supposed to make me sympathetic to the bicyclists' plight because... why?

Call me Pollyanna, but I've always thought there had to be a better way for bicyclists to get their point across. Riding two and three abreast down a narrow back road and shaking a fist at a car who dares to pass — who has to pass because the cyclists are causing a backup behind them — is not it. Critical Mass, when it morphs from a rallying cry for alternative transportation into a scene from "Braveheart," isn't it either.

I mean, bicycling is great. It works for some people. But it doesn't work for everyone. Figuratively shoving a bike down an automobile driver's throat, or almost literally doing so, considering how that Redwood City family was treated, isn't a bicyclist's right. And it's not what Critical Mass was about when it first took to the streets in 1992.

So what do we do in the meantime? We share the road. But for heaven's sake — it goes both ways.

Contact Bay Area Living writer Candace Murphy at cmurphy@angnewspapers.com or (925) 416-4814.