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 28th, 2018, 5:30pm, at Justin Herman Plaza (foot of Market Street).

Sweet Bike to the Beach Video

November 24th, 2009 by hughillustration

Awesome video by Mike Matas (via Meli’s Bikes and the City blog)! Reminds me of the warm weather that has only just ended.

SFPD Hopes To Meet “Leaders” of Critical Mass

November 23rd, 2009 by hughillustration

SFAppeal has a big headline at the moment: “Has SFPD Tracked Down The “Leaders” Of Critical Mass?” I got all excited when I heard that, since I’ve always wanted to meet a genuine “leader” of my favorite leaderless phenomenon.

But I was disappointed yet again when I learned that the SFPD hasn’t “tracked down” anyone:

SFPD Deputy Chief John Murphy reclaimed the mic to respond, saying that “that’s been brought to my attention, so I’ve been working on that also…specifically. it’s the Critical Mass event that’s the most troubling of all events, when the group goes out en masse. But I’m hoping to meet with the group leaders and basically convey to the group leaders the concerns of the people that get stuck in traffic.”

Deputy Chief Murphy clearly says that he is “hoping to meet” with someone — not that he has anyone in mind. Well, hope springs eternal, but I think the Deputy Chief will wait a long time before he finds anyone to talk to. In case anyone needs reminding, Critical Mass organizes itself when thousands of people show up each month at Justin Herman Plaza to ride home together. Decisions about route have been made spontaneously by the people at the front of the ride for years now, and there simply is no one in charge of this genuinely leaderless event.

But if Murphy is determined to find someone to talk to, we recommend that he bring his bicycle down to Justin Herman on the last Friday of the month and ask for “Spartacus.” That ought to do the trick!

Video of the Budapest Critical Mass

November 18th, 2009 by hughillustration

Here’s some video of the Budapest Critical Mass ride that Joel wrote about last week. One of these years I will make it over there to see it for myself!

Optimism is Hard Work: An Ex-Masser Speaks Out

November 18th, 2009 by hughillustration

This post was sent to me by a friend who no longer rides on Critical Mass:

Critical Mass is at its best an expression of optimism. It’s exuberant. It’s inclusive to riders and non-riders. It’s fun, it’s raucous, it’s irrepressible, it’s uplifting. We aren’t waiting for later, we are making the world we want to live in, right there in front of everyone, snd all kinds of people want to live in that world with us.

But optimism, like rational thought, diversity, real food, relationships, and everything else worth cultivating, takes work. Few people have done the work of Critical Mass over the last few years. No one wants to do the work anymore, and I think the sheer numbers of new Massers have made it a daunting, if not near-impossible task.

I started going to Critical Mass in 1992. I stopped going a few years ago, for a couple of reasons. I’ve always enjoyed the political marketplace of Justin Herman Plaza before the ride and drinking beer in the park after the ride more than the ride itself. Eventually the ride itself became so unenjoyable – never stopping, repeating routes, unnecessarily clogging intersections, and so on – that I stopped going altogether.

In the 1990’s, I usually made a flyer to pass out each month. I spent a good deal of effort explaining the concept of breaking large rides into more easily managed mini-masses, exhorting us to wait at stoplights, to keep our groups together. I advocated meeting up at a destination to hang out afterwards rather than trying to keep a large group together all night.

I noticed that only when dedicated people flyered and spoke to riders consistently for several months did our efforts make any difference. Passing out a flyer alone is not enough, talking to people alone is not enough. Distracted people stick your flyer in their pocket and read only the next morning. New massers need to know that everyone is responsible for the ride, and talking face to face is the way to demonstrate this.

I often argued in the past that the destination was more important than the route, and I still believe this. If the ride is big enough, it’s much better to break up into small groups and just know that you’ll find your friends at the park afterwards (and yes, this worked perfectly without cell phones). Destinations can be far, like Sausalito, though I’ve always preferred the close-in ones, like the Palace of Fine Arts and Dolores or Precita Parks.

And finally, a word about technology. Yep. It’s an anti-fixie screed. Trying to mass up with a herd of fixie riders in the front is impossible, because fixie riders don’t want to lose their momentum. I do feel that the popularity of fixies degraded the quality of Critical Mass. We now have never-ending masses that are strung out to all ends of the City, because there is a group of relatively fast, constantly moving cyclists at the front of the ride.

There is no question Critical Massers should work to change the ride again. We need to help reduce conflict, reduce disruptions to MUNI, create destinations, increase the awareness of new riders about ways to ride enjoyably. We need to bring back the exuberance, and share it with pedestrians, MUNI riders, and motorists. Interestingly, awareness and public support for cyclists is probably higher than it’s ever been in the history of Critical Mass, and it seems to me that people are finally understanding why we ride together – and that us riding together for years
and years has indeed resulted in a number of positive changes. It would be a pity to waste real public goodwill with testosterone-poisoned conflict and tired, repetitive, confrontative rides.

It certainly will take several, perhaps tens or hundreds, of dedicated people working over several months to bring a change in the mass. Is it possible? Is Critical Mass is irretrievable?

– A.S.