To the editor:

While Kristin Ostberg dutifully reports all the advantages of bicycles over cars (“Joy Riders,” 8/20/99), she never quite sees the necessity for a radical biking group like Critical Mass.

Let me suggest a political reason. Radical organizations extend the terms of the debate. They help cause change, if only by comparison with more moderate groups. I suspect that when the adversaries of Martin Luther King Jr. invited him to the negotiating table, it was (at least partly) because they’d rather deal with him than Malcolm X. When politicians or corporations request to meet with mainstream environmental groups, it’s because the e-groups are more limited in their demands than Earth First! Ditto for radical feminists in the women’s rights movement, labor activists versus moribund unions, those on the cutting edge of gay rights, etc.

It’s to the advantage of Ostberg’s unnamed “professional biking advocates” to have Critical Mass around. Critical Mass makes the agenda of organizations like the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation look very reasonable.

Mark Lawton

Lincoln Square