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Inaugural Critical Mass ride sees police confiscate around 40 bikes

"Long Beach, the most bicycle friendly city in America," says the inscription beneath a penny farthing sculpture outside the City Hall in the Californian town.

The absolute certainty of that proclamation makes it even harder to understand the treatment by the town's police of Long Beach's inaugural Critical Mass ride at the weekend.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram reports on how the local boys in blue stopped about 100 riders who were taking part in last Friday evening's event, gave most of them tickets for traffic offences and seized around 40 bikes.

Ronnie Sandlin, a promoter of the ride and one of the participants who received a ticket, said he is now collecting information from others riders to determine what offences are supposed to have been committed and exactly how many bikes have been confiscated.

Sandlin said people involved in the curtailed ride are planning to arrive en-masse to pick up the impounded bikes and that riders will also attend a Council meeting on November 9.

The Friday night ride, which had been publicised in advance, lasted only five minutes before the police intervened. Sandlin told the Press-Telegam that soon after they started riding, the riders saw police with flashing lights at a junction and assumed this was to allow them to carry on through.

"We thought they were facilitating us," Sandlin told the newspaper, adding that for a month and a half, his group had tried unsuccessfully to gain a permit for the ride. "Instead they pulled us all over and proceeded to give almost everyone a ticket,"

A spokeswoman for the local police department said the riders "blatantly disregarded other people's safety," did not obey traffic rules and ignored stop signals. Sandlin said all riders are given rules of the road before the ride and told to obey rules and share the road.

Apparently in a position to comment on the hundreds of similar rides that take place around the world, local Police Chief Jim McDonnell said that Critical Mass, "engages in dangerous conduct, violating every rule of the road and endangering the public."

When the riders were pulled over, Sandlin said, it was a mass of confusion as they received seemingly indiscriminate and contradictory citations.

Worst, riders said, was the seizure of bikes, which organisers claim are the only transportation for those riders.

"Our issue is what we consider this illegal seizure of our property," Sandlin said.
They also said the action is a big own-goal for a city that makes such grandiose claims about its bike-friendliness.

"It appears being bike friendly only applies to a limited part of the city," said June Kaeswith, one of the ride's organisers.