Q: What is Critical Mass?

A: Critical Mass is a monthly mass bicycle ride that takes place on the last Friday of each month in cities around the world. It was started here in San Francisco in 1992 by cyclists and activists who wanted to increase the visibility of bicyclists and reclaim public space by making social use of the streets on a regular basis.

Q: Is anyone in charge of Critical Mass? Are you?

A: No to both questions. Critical Mass largely organizes itself, since all it requires is a regular start time and place. Whoever shows up at the ride is in charge, and decisions about routes are made spontaneously. Everyone is invited to Critical Mass, and everyone is free to contribute their energy and ideas to the mix. There is no organizing committee or organization behind the phenomenon of Critical Mass.

That said, there are individuals who over the years have contributed ideas about tactics, strategy, routes, planning, etc. to the ride. We are some of those individuals. We care about Critical Mass and many of us have been involved since the beginning. But we do not claim any special status, and there are many people and many diverse ideas that have made Critical Mass what it is.

Q: Is this the official SF Critical Mass web page?

A: Nope. This is only one, there may be others. If you are a Critical Mass enthusiast, we encourage you to start your own Critical Mass blog or website!

Q: How can I get involved?

A: Show up! The San Francisco Critical Mass meets on the last Friday of each month at 5:30pm at Pee Wee Herman Plaza at the foot of Market Street. Beyond that, if you have ideas to share you are invited to participate in Critical Mass’s flourishing Xerocracy, in which everyone is invited to make flyers, stickers, zines or other printed material to share their ideas.

Q: What are the other cities that have Critical Mass rides?

A: Currently there are approximately 300 cities around the world with active Critical Mass rides. The website critical-mass.info does a good job of documenting these rides.

Q: Is Critical Mass anti-motorist?

A: That would be stupid, since all Critical Mass participants either drive cars at least occasionally or have friends and family who drive out of necessity in our car-oriented society. Our loose group of friends and Critical Mass afficionados has long promoted an understanding of the social forces that drive people into cars. We know that attacking people for their personal choices won’t do a thing to change the way our society is organized. That’s why we ride in Critical Mass and engage in other forms of social activism — to change the way life is organized. We aim to build a social movement that is as broad-based and inclusive as possible.

Q: I saw a Critical Mass participant act like a jerk. Is he representative of the ride?

A: We don’t think so. Any public event will have some bad behavior. We oppose anti-social behavior of all kinds, and when we see bicyclists harassing motorists or picking fights we confront them. We promote an open approach that invites motorists to join us and does not assume the worst about people we don’t know. We have also circulated dozens of flyers over the years criticizing bad behavior, with some success. You can see some of those flyers on our archive.

Q: I am an unstable, unhappy person who is looking for someone to blame for the empty hole in my life. Can I use you as a target for all my pent up fear, aggression and resentments?

A: We can’t control what you do, but why not hold your fire for a moment. Consider this: even people with whom you strongly disagree may in fact be nice people, and you may find that on other subjects you agree or have common ground. We’d like it if you would give us the benefit of the doubt.

Our loose group and the vast majority of Critical Mass participants are nice people who want to make positive change in our society. We have some unconventional ideas and some unorthodox tactics, but we are not your enemy. If you approach us with an open demeanor and polite language, we promise to offer you the same. We might end up learning from each other!

Q: I tried to post a comment on your site, but it was rejected. What about free speech?

A: Our comments are moderated, which means there may be a delay. We are happy to host dissenting views that are expressed in polite, non-inflammatory terms. But if your comment is deemed inappropriate, we will not publish it for you. You are free to start your own blog where you can say whatever you please, and we encourage you to do so!

Q: I am a journalist and I want a quote for my article.

A: There is a longstanding tradition on Critical Mass of not talking to journalists until they have come along on the ride. Join us at Critical Mass and introduce yourself in person and we will be happy to talk to you. Alternatively, you can find plenty of material on our blog and our archive that you can pull from.

Q: I see a photo or artwork on your site I would like to use for my blog/book/project/etc.

A: All the images and text on our blog are in the copyright of the author/artist/photographer, but are available under a Creative Commons Non-commercial Attribution license. This means you are free to make personal use of the item so long as you provide credit in the form of a link back to our site, but are prohibited from making commercial products like t-shirts or coffee mugs or advertisements without asking permission first. Editorial use even on for-profit websites is OK.