You’re a Mass-hole!

Navigating Dayton on two wheels

By Emma Jarman

Photo: The next Courteous Mass ride will take place Nov. 7 beginning at 5:30 p.m.; photo: property of Courteous Mass

Back in 2009, a small group of people in Dayton, spearheaded by Matt Lindsay from the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, came together to form Courteous Mass (CM). We can’t talk about Courteous Mass, though, without a little bit of background, and that takes us back to San Francisco, California in the early 1990s.

Courteous Mass is the small-town flower child of a group called Critical Mass: a collection of people on bikes, riding through the streets together. Critical Mass aimed to show the aggressive motorists of San Francisco that cyclists are part of traffic and, contrary to popular belief, they belong there. Most Critical Massers were fun and polite. But today some Critical Mass groups still attract aggressive riders who overcompensate for their motorless two-wheelers by attempting to claim the streets for themselves. These riders have been dubbed “Critical Mass-holes.” They cut off cars, block streets, yell at motorists and pedestrians, and generally tarnish the reputation of the Critical Mass movement. Courteous Mass grew out of Critical Mass as a result of the desire to be, well, more courteous.

“We believe that yelling and aggressive riding won’t help the dialogue between cyclists and everybody else,” said Uli Fiedler of Courteous Mass Dayton. “We think it is in everybody’s best interest to understand the people they encounter on the streets.”

Having taken the handlebars from Lindsay, Fiedler, Brandi Thompson and Katie Norris are the current organizers of Courteous Mass Dayton. To be clear, Fiedler emphasized, Courteous Mass is not a club. It is a “loose gathering” of cyclists of all ages and ability levels.

“When the weather allows it, we draw a crowd big enough to make it tough to count,” Fiedler said.

Anyone is welcome to join a Courteous Mass ride, and they can do so each first Friday of every month. There is no age limit and no experience level required, aside from being able to ride a bike. Because of this, there is no stereotypical CM rider.

“That would be so boring,” Fiedler said. “We get to see people from all demographics on our rides. Last year, we had three generations of one family on recumbent bikes (the ones where you basically sit like on a chair, instead of a bike). They even dressed up in costumes that fit the particular month (red, white and blue in July; farmers in August).”

During the October ride, which typically ends at the Midwest Outdoor Experience, a few riders loaded up their bikes with camping gear and stayed.

And, though the weather outside is rapidly approaching frightful, the benefits of cycling vastly outweigh the whip of an autumn wind through one’s outer layers.

“Everyone at Courteous Mass is just excited to go out, discover the city by bike,” Fiedler said. “You can see so much more when you’re not forced to stare at the license plate of the car in front of you. On a bike, if you see something interesting, you can stop and take a closer look.”

The City of Dayton has done its part to ensure this personal experience is available to residents. Back in 2010, Dayton joined Columbus, Ohio as the only other official Bicycle Friendly Community in the state recognized by the League of American Bicyclists. Groups like Courteous Mass add stock value to the bike-friendliness of Dayton, but, admittedly, there is additional work to be done.

“[We] try to reach out and educate cyclists,” Fiedler said, “[but] the second thing is to educate motorists. Let them know that we are not just allowed, but supposed to be in the street.”

Fiedler admitted the city has done a lot to address cyclist/motorist relations, including evaluating whether a street is amenable to bike lanes every time it is resurfaced – hence the bike lanes down Brown Street at the University of Dayton campus. The city also openly supports CM, which returns the favor by showcasing different areas and amenities of the city on each ride.

“‘I didn’t know we had this in Dayton’ is a sentence we hear a lot,” Fiedler said. “We want to give people the opportunity to ride in the streets while providing safety in numbers. We have wonderful trails, but the trails often don’t go to places of interest. They don’t pass your house, your office or any stores. If you want to run an errand by bike, you have to get into the street.”

CM is doing its part to not only encourage Dayton to get out and cycle, but to educate both cyclists and motorists. Fiedler admitted many simply do not know the rules, which can lead to tension on the roads. For instance, in the city of Dayton, anyone over the age of 13 years is not legally allowed to ride a bike on the sidewalk – you must be in the street. That can be daunting to a young rider and, unfortunately, some confrontation often comes with the territory.

“If you ride long enough, someone will yell at you,” Fiedler noted. But hopping in on one of CM’s monthly group rides is an excellent way for locals to assimilate themselves into life on the actual open road.

“We have a lot of regular riders, but no one is snooty,” she continued. “[Also], we try not to break up. The slowest rider picks the pace; we don’t want anyone left behind.”

The next Courteous Mass ride will be on Friday, Nov. 7. Riders will meet at Fifth Third Field at 220 N. Patterson Blvd. in Dayton at 5:30 p.m. This month will feature a special route through downtown to highlight local stores for Small Business Saturday. For more information, please visit their website at, follow them on Facebook or email

Reach DCP freelance writer Emma Jarman at

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Emma Jarman


  1. Great things are happening! | Courteous Mass Dayton - November 15, 2014

    […] Emma Jarman of Dayton City Paper contacted us to learn more about what we do for our community. You can read the entire article here: […]

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