The Pack Mentality

Photo © Sacramento Bee

My local newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, published a cover story today about a popular training ride that takes place on Saturday mornings in the foothills east of Sacramento. The so-called “Coffee Republic” ride is a decades-old training ride for amateur racers that can attract as many as 80 or more participants. According to the article, the Coffee Republic ride is fast and loose, with unlawful riding a common occurrence within the group.

I’ve never ridden with the Coffee Republic group so I can’t comment on this ride in particular, but I did participate in what sound like similar rides back in the 80s and 90s. The article suggests that a pack mentality can encourage unsafe and discourteous riding, an idea that certainly mirrors my experience with some of the competitive club rides in which I participated.

“While pack mentality can be problematic in many social settings, cycling adds another layer of complexity: Drafting, or tucking behind other cyclists in a paceline to reduce wind resistance, enables inferior athletes to keep up with much faster ones, if only for a short time.

Just to be clear, a large majority of competitive cyclists are responsible road users and excellent ambassadors for bicycling, just as a majority of transportational bicyclists obey the rules of the road and treat their fellow road users with respect. The problem is the small number of bicyclists who flout traffic laws and behave as if they own the road, in the process creating unnecessary ill will and giving law abiding bicyclists a bad name.

Read the Sac Bee article

9 Responses to “The Pack Mentality”

  • mike says:

    the author should spend a day or too driving in morning and afternoon rush. clearly pack mentality couldn’t apply to the noble automobile, with inferior drivers in borderline safe equipment traveling at high speeds just feet away from other drivers of similar or lesser skill (not to mention other more vunerable users of the not so public right of way) – while texting, eating, and chatting. shame on those cyclists and their 20 pound vehicles out there wrecking and killing and maiming 42000 people a year. good on the sac bee for its cutting edge reporting!

  • Sharper says:

    I was disappointed by the article; there was a laundry list of rider behavior to choose from, with a strong suggestion that it was all “bad”, but no follow-on to mention that some of it was, in fact, perfectly legal and in fact desirable behavior from any members of traffic.

    I can’t and won’t defend running stop signals or exceeding speed limits, but based on the descriptions in the article, many of the lane changes and lane takeovers were perfectly okay — the CVC has a litany of exceptions to the general rule that bicyclists must stay to the right, preferably in the bike lane, any dozen of which might be in play at any time on this sort of ride.

    I was doubly disappointed since the writer, Blair Robertson, sounded very bike-friendly and bike-aware when he spoke with me earlier this year for an article he was writing about a bicyclist that was hit by a police car during Sacramento’s Critical Mass.

  • Steve Fuller says:

    We have a weekly ride like this around this area as well. I don’t mind the pace, or the taking over of a lane. I don’t like running stop signs and/or lights when there are other vehicles at the intersection.

  • Alan says:

    @Mike

    I understand your point. The problem is that the cards are terribly stacked against us already, with bias against bicyclists a common occurrence. It just pains me to see anyone undermining the progress we’re making by handing the anti-bicycling crowd free ammunition.

  • mike says:

    @Alan -

    I agree. I posted with a bit of cynicism. Comparing the coffee clutch ride with ‘normal’ bike commuters and utility cyclists is like comparing street rod and nascar racers with everyday drivers.

    We have a local ‘training’ ‘race’ ride that got all p-od and were posting to a local list when the police followed and crossed paths with them a few times and may have even given out warnings. These rides for our local clubs turn into unofficial races – with testosterone flowing even before folks get out of town – a section that is supposedly ‘neutral’. I argued on the list if they were living along the streets and each and every week throughout the summer on the same day at the same time a pack of motorcycles or cars came blowing by, taking up a lane or two, they’d be pissed too… a race is a race, and the pack mentality and ego and testosterone don’t help.

    What is sad is that the author didn’t make the distinction. Its like lumping the kids who mod up their Honda’s with rumble mufflers and drag around town with the guy in the veggie oil late late model Mercedes he bought at auction who sometimes drives to his job at an organic dairy. Racers aren’t cyclists when they are training or racing. Yes, you can work a good training ride into a commute – but imagine the outcry if this was legal in a car – imagine if those nascar stickers ‘I’m not speeding, I’m qualifying’ were true.

    The author should be smart enough and should have researched enough to talk about a particular type of rider – in this case go faster guys and gals who are out for ‘training’. There’s a spectrum from utility>commuting>touring>recreation>training>racing.

    From where I sit (and I do long randonneuring and self supported ‘sport’ rides) – the racer guys and gals deserve what they get in terms of bad press. Clean it up, keep it legal, be a good and courteous road user… and smile and wave once in awhile. If you are following the letter of the law – great – but sometimes we should be following the ‘spirit’ of the law to be good ambassadors – and I’m all for civil disobedience and agitation – but I’d rather have a mass of utility and touring and commuting cyclists out there on a Tuesday night riding to a concert or event and getting some bad press than the racer crowd. The former seems simply ‘more’ human to me in the eyes of other road users.

    It is hard to blame the author – car headedness permeates most people’s lives to the point where they don’t think about consequences or other road users. It is sad that as a ‘journalist’ they couldn’t step outside of this mentality. I am reminded of this each and every time I walk about our neighborhood – why does a light take so long to change when I press the button? Here I am, in the elements, cold and wet – and I’m made to wait for the folks in the heated, entertainment filled, comfortable, dry car that with the flip of a toe can be moving along 5-10-20 times faster than I can walk?

    We need to flip perceptions – and that includes folks who think that to ride a bike you need a ton of gear, be in incredible shape, and dress like a spandexed insect billboard alien. We certainly don’t emulate Indy and motorsports drivers (with our dress – our behaviors are another matter) when we drive to school or work…

    -Mike

  • Alan says:

    @Mike

    Good stuff Mike.

    On intersection control timing, there’s also the issue of lights that are so short there’s no possible way to get through the intersection on a bike before it turns red. This is commonplace in our city and is extremely dangerous. Like you said, “car-headedness” is rampant in the U.S.

  • brad says:

    When I lived in Concord, Massachusetts in the 1980s, there was a pack of cyclists who used to take over one of the main roads on Sunday mornings. They took up the entire outbound lane from Concord toward Carlisle on a fairly narrow winding road, so a long line of cars was typically stuck behind them because the road was too bendy for anyone to risk passing them and ending up in a head-on collision with a car coming the other way. It led to a lot of beeping horns, one-fingered salutes from the bicyclists, and probably a lot of repressed road rage. It definitely gave a lot of the local residents a bad image of cyclists, and I always felt a little on edge riding my bike there, especially on Sundays. I used to help lead organized bike rides, and we enforced a strict single-file pattern, or at most people could ride double but the sweep rider (usually me) had a mirror and would shout “car back” to get the people ahead to drop back to single file. That worked well.

  • Stephen says:

    I think that if you look at this phenomena from a more evolutionary viewpoint, it might also make it easier to see all sides. Clearly, the cyclists ride in packs to be competitive, but also for survival. They perceive that if they abide strictly by the rules of the road (e.g., single-file, stop at lights, etc.), not only is that not competitive, but it may not increase their safety. (Many MTB and competitive road cyclists are not as comfortable cycling in road traffic as their utility/commuter cohorts are, and many of them simply don’t know how to ride safely in traffic.) The combination of competitiveness and the need for survival makes them bunch up and blow through traffic control devices, and it’s unlikely that any finger-wagging from anyone will change that significantly.

    This doesn’t make their behavior “right,” but it makes sense to me. I say let them be. As long as they have a right to be on public roads, and as long as the Long War continues between drivers and everyone else on American roadways. I don’t condone their behavior, but I very much agree that the average driver is hardly in any position to criticize packs of competitive weekend cyclists. They just want to ride and survive.

  • brad says:

    In principle I have nothing against packs either, but if they are riding as a cohesive unit they should maintain a group sense of courtesy and respect for others on the road. For example when a heavy loaded truck is driving slowly and traffic is piled up behind it, the driver usually takes the opportunity to pull out occasionally onto the shoulder to let people pass. Bike packs should do the same thing: maybe every 7 or 8 minutes they should switch to single file so they aren’t taking up the entire lane, and then once the traffic clears behind them they can take up the lane again. If more packs did that it wouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately the mentality you see more often is “we have the right to the road so we’re going to hijack it for ourselves.”

 
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