At Critical Mass last Friday, no one got beat up, a relief to the hundreds of riders who rode from the Embarcadero to North Beach to the Mission, then dispersed.

But at least one guy may have deserved to be. He grabbed a standing woman’s butt through her pants, in plain view of a dozen bicyclists. In disgust, she yelled, “really?! really?!” but the assault went unpunished, the offender rode on past Polk Street disappearing into crowd of cyclists all indifferent or unaware of what just happened in their informal peloton.

Bicyclists who usually ride in fear of getting run over, on Friday, seemed to feel a strength in their ever-growing numbers, tearing down Market Street and splitting up rivers of honking vehicles that ceded them the passage. Respecting the wheeling mob scene as a political protest, the cops guard the rear but they don’t interfere.

After nearly 17 years of monthly Critical Mass rides around the city, the sense of personal liberation is so strong, there’s mounting talk of when the herd will climb an on ramp to the freeway to finally storm the Bay Bridge, a regular participant told me.

For a minority of bikers, however, the experience frees an ugly beast. For these bicyclists, the anarchy of the situation seems to provide a carte blanche to reject all forms of repression. A woman’s right not to be groped falls, perhaps, into the same system of oppressive rules as stop signs and red lights. Common sense tells us that’s wrong. And yet the pedaling community surrounding the man neither said nor did anything.

Then there was the subtler collective decision – collective because the group has no leader – to repeatedly loop the Financial District. Bikers and bankers, juxtaposed in a high-pressure situation near Union Square, become mortal enemies, in part perhaps because both groups are always racing along intersecting perpendicular routes.

My dad, who was riding somewhere in the middle of the pack and loving every minute of it, decided by the second or third loop, he was ready to for a change of scenery – to somewhere a little less hostile.

Calling out the butt-grabber may not have been any one person’s responsibility, just as no single individual caused the group to loop on enemy turf. But when spontaneous collective decisions are being made at every street corner, with hundreds, sometimes thousands in tow, Critical Mass must do everything in its power to avoid being branded, as one driver in a pickup yelled, “Critical Ass.”

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