What is Critical Mass?

Critical Mass is a mass bicycle ride that takes place on the last Friday of each month in cities around the world. Everyone is invited! No one is in charge! Bring your bike!

Next San Francisco Critical Mass: December 29th, 2017, 5:30pm, at Justin Herman Plaza (foot of Market Street).

Protest or Celebration? Or Something Deeper Still?

January 29th, 2011 by ccarlsson

As long as you have a bike to ride, you don’t have to buy anything to participate in Critical Mass, neither object nor service, nor an ideology beyond a desire to partake in public life on two wheels. When hundreds and thousands of cyclists seize the streets for a convivial and celebratory use of public space, many of the expectations and rules of modern capitalism are challenged. Individual behaviors escape the logic of buying and selling, if only for a few hours. Once in the street together, unexpected connections emerge, unplanned events occur, and serendipitous relationships begin. Unlike a trip to the mall or the market, the conversations are unburdened by the logic of transactions, of prices and measurements. It’s a free exchange among free people. The experience alters one’s sense of city life immediately, and more importantly, shifts our collective imaginations in ways we have only begun to learn about.

Critical Mass cyclists are among the most visible practitioners of a new kind of social conflict. The “assertive desertion” embodied in bicycling erodes the system of social exploitation organized through private car ownership and the oil industry. And by cycling in urban centers in the Empire, we join a growing movement around the world that is repudiating the social and economic models controlled by multinational capital and imposed on us without any form of democratic consent. This mass seizure of the streets by a swarming mob of bicyclists “without leaders” is precisely the kind of self-directing, networking logic that is transforming our economic lives and threatening the structure of government, business, and (as more imaginative military strategists are coming to understand) policing and war-making too.

Critical Mass has a new cousin in town: the San Francisco Bike Party (SFBP). The party-like qualities of Critical Mass have always been present, but the Bike Party model as developed in San Jose and other cities first involves an organizing (and monitoring) crew of volunteers who direct the fun. The first official SFBP happened a few weeks ago on January 7 and drew around 1000 riders on a bitterly cold night. It was a lot like Critical Mass in some ways—I enjoyed dozens of conversations with people I found myself next to in the ride, there were music machines, and friendly vibes from riders and passersby alike. We were dozens and hundreds of bicyclists filling the streets and displacing cars, just as we’d dreamed back in the first months of Critical Mass in 1992.

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Critical Mass & Radical Politics: A Forum

January 26th, 2011 by hughillustration

Painting by Mona Caron

On Tuesday, February 8th, there will be a forum to discuss the past, present and future of Critical Mass — and to discuss the many different visions for what the ride is and can be. It’ll be at Station 40 in SF. Everyone is invited to bring their ideas and hopes for Critical Mass!

Here’s the write up, and you can also sign up via Facebook. Hope you can come!

Critical Mass is a movement with no leaders or formal organization behind it. No one in charge — which is another way of saying “everyone is in charge!” There are as many ideas about what Critical Mass is as there are participants.

Given that fact, there are — and should be — competing visions of what Critical Mass is about. Is Critical Mass a protest whose purpose is to gum up motorized traffic and make things difficult for anyone in a car? Or is Critical Mass a celebration of bike culture that changes the rules of ordinary life by opening up public space to public participation? Should Critical Mass be led spontaneously by the loudest voices at the front of the ride? Or should it follow a route from time to time, as it did in its first few years? Is Critical Mass about staying downtown, where traffic is densest? Or can it also be about exploring other neighborhoods and vistas?

Come to this forum to discuss these and other competing visions of what Critical Mass is and can become. Bring your ideas, bring your open ears and minds.

Chris Carlsson, Hugh D’Andrade, and others will faciitate this conversation.

Tuesday, February 8 · 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Station 40
3030B 16th Street (at Mission), San Francisco

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Welcome, SF Bike Party!

January 4th, 2011 by Deep

The SF Bike Party test ride in December (photo by Meligrosa http://www.flickr.com/photos/meligrosa/)

We’re pretty excited to welcome a new monthly bike ride to town: San Francisco Bike Party! SFBP is modeled after the successful San Jose and East Bay Bike Parties and we look forward to more monthly bike fun.  The bike parties are designed to be different from Critical Mass in numerous ways: they’re highly organized with strictly planned routes and leaders and monitors, they stop at lights, and only take one lane… all the while focusing on the “party!”

San Francisco is a big city! There is room in a great bicycling town for multiple types of rides with different goals, attitudes, and practices. Welcome to SF, Bike Party — many of us will be coming along!

SF Bike Party website
SF Bike Party on Facebook
SF Bike Party on Twitter
SF Bike Party on Flickr

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Ruminations from the New Year’s Eve Ride

January 3rd, 2011 by ccarlsson

Riders take a whimsical detour through the parking lot at 16th and Bryant on New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, 2010.

After the New Year’s Eve Critical Mass in San Francisco, some of the veterans who helped start this blog, along with a few others, had some discussions online. We decided to excerpt this discussion as a retrospective on the last ride, and actually, taking it more broadly, a retrospective on the past couple of years. Kes had proposed a route about ten days ago to general enthusiasm and we prepared a xerocratic flyer (pdf) with the route on one side and a brief text on the other. People were generally enthusiastic at Peewee Herman Plaza when they got the flyer, but the proposed route was only followed as far as 8th and Harrison, after which the ride went back around to the center of the city. Here are some of the back-and-forth thoughts we had afterwards:

Hugh: Chris, Dave, ‘Deep and I rode the front and tried to keep it on the route, but there were many more people who wanted to do the usual. Union Square, blah blah blah. The usual “no route” crew was augmented by a large contingent of LA Midnite Riddaz who shared that agenda. (The folks on the tall bikes—glad they came out, but… Whatever.) Had a few interesting and friendly arguments with people who had the following familiar opinions:

* Critical Mass has to be downtown and on major traffic arteries
* Critical Mass has “never” had planned routes
* Critical Mass is a protest.
* It’s more “anarchist” if the people in front make the decisions

At this point, I am very discouraged about our ability to change this perception. I think that over the next year, we may see an exodus of people who are social riders with a party sensibility migrating to Bike Party, leaving the people who believe Critical Mass is a protest on the last Friday. I could be wrong, but from what I have seen, the Bike Party folks are very well organized, putting real time and energy into their ride, and have a good group dynamic.

Chris: Not surprised to read Hugh’s missive this a.m. He and I and Kes were talking throughout the ride yesterday and sharing a lot of disappointment with the turn of events. From the outset in Peewee Herman Plaza a lot of folks seemed happy about the planned route but a few folks were already grumbling that it was somehow “authoritarian” or evidence of “control freakness” to publish a proposed route. Two older guys in their 50s were adamantly against it on those grounds, and argued with me for a while. I tried to explain the notion was one of self-control, self-management, producing together an interesting relationship to San Francisco’s geography, but they really weren’t buying it. So they might have been among those who were anxious to break from the prescribed route. Certainly a number of young riders, whether those from LA or SF, or the anarchist-inspired, were articulate and insistent on their idea that Hugh summarized well in his four bullet points. Clearly, these notions are historically false, but they do summarize well a growing sentiment among people who show up…

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