Last Friday night, under the Beaumont Tower on the Michigan State University campus, nearly 100 bicyclists gathered for a “critical mass” bike ride.
A trailer attached to the back of one of the bikes carried a yellow sign that read, “Same roads, same rights, same rules.”
As the bikers took off for their ride, they took up much of the road — that would be the critical mass — showing motorists their strength in numbers. At one point, five cars were backed up behind the bikers. Some honked horns, perhaps as a show of support, and one car tried to push through the group.
But the bikers had gathered at MSU not for fun, but in response to an opinion column written by MSU senior Zack Colman that appeared in the April 8 edition of The State News. The column urged bikers to ride sidewalks, out of the way of cars, lest they face being run down by the author’s car.
“Black 2001 Saturn SC2. That’s the car I drive — and if you’re a bicyclist on the road but not in a bike path and you see my car, I hope you’re wearing a helmet, because I might run you over,” Colman wrote. “Maybe not intentionally.”
In “Bicyclists need to stay on the sidewalk,” Colman urges that the university ordinance dealing with bikes be revised to allow bicyclists to ride on sidewalks. He also asserted that bicycles on the roads are a hazard to drivers since many pedal pushers allegedly don’t use the proper hand signals or obey traffic laws. He described a situation on campus in which he was forced into a leftturn-only lane because a biker was occupying the right lane.
“Instead, I had to speed ahead and veer away from the fast-approaching rear end of the car in front of me, just barely making it into the right lane,” he wrote. “Some will say I could be more patient on the road. But roads are for cars, not bicyclists.”
The column caused outrage among many in the biking community across the country. Friday’s critical mass was the second such event over the last two weeks. Lance Armstrong even posted a link to a blog making fun of Colman on his Twitter page.
Colman wouldn’t respond to requests for comment on his column, saying that it was “in the past.” (Further, Kristen Daum, editor-in-chief of The State News, would not comment.)
Jane Briggs-Bunting, head of MSU’s journalism program, couldn’t comment because she said she was unfamiliar with the column.
According to interviews Colman gave to other media outlets, the column was an attempt at satire. He said that people had been bothering him about the piece since it was published and that he even received a death threat.
On April 13, Scott Myers, a copy editor at The State News, published a rebuttal to Colman titled, “Bicyclists need to stay on the road.”
“White 2009 Motobecane Fantom Cross Uno. That’s the bike I ride — and if you’re a motorist on the road and plan on running me over, I hope you have a good lawyer, because I might sue you,” Myers wrote. “Intentionally.”
Myers, who did not respond to a request for an interview, takes the opposite tact, arguing that keeping bikes on the roads protects both pedestrians and bikers. He flatly rejects the notion that bikes are a threat to motorists.
“I also am particularly confused by the implication that a bike on the roadway poses some sort of threat or hazard to drivers,” he wrote. “Am I to understand that a person riding a 20-pound bike is somehow threatening to a driver caged up in thousands of pounds of steel?”