Can SF Learn from the San Jose Bike Party? Yes!

January 16th, 2010 by hughillustration

Our San Francisco Critical Mass delegation at the San Jose Bike Party

Some San Jose locals before the ride

A few months back, when we first started this blog, we got several comments from readers repeating the common criticism that Critical Mass does not stop for red lights. “The San Jose Bike Party stops for lights,” they said โ€” and they noted that San Jose also tries to minimize inconvenience for motorists by not taking all lanes where possible. If San Jose can do this, why can’t SF?

This piqued my curiosity. I have always argued that a ride of this size can’t stop for red lights without creating even more disruption to other traffic, and that by staying together as a mass, our ride was moving quicker and safer than otherwise. Had the San Jose folks found a solution to this problem?

Checking out their very professional website, I learned that San Jose is no small ride — they claim 3 thousand riders — and that they are amazingly organized: they have pre-planned routes, regular meetings, and dozens of volunteers.

Last night, I took the CalTrain down there with Joel, Keeeth, Nellie and Nio to do a little investigation. Our report back: It was awesome! I came away with a real respect for the love and care and serious work these folks put into their event. The vibe from riders and motorists was overwhelmingly positive. (Joel has some longer notes you should read if you’re curious.)

But while San Francisco’s ride could really use some of that positive, celebratory energy (especially lately), there really is no way the San Jose model could apply. Why? Because San Jose is a totally different city! Their streets are wider, so that the ride can often allow cars to take a lane. Their blocks are longer (way longer), allowing the entire ride to wait together for a red light. And the traffic is so light that there is way less pressure and anger from delayed motorists.

There was one element of the ride that I found disturbing, and that is that each nice person I met in San Jose was under the impression that Critical Mass is an “angry protest,” bent on making life miserable for motorists and “sticking it to the drivers.” They said that their ride was different because it was a “celebration!”

That is really depressing for me, learning what a bad image problem Critical Mass has. For the record, as someone who has ridden on Critical Mass since the beginning and has been making flyers and helping out that entire time: Critical Mass is a celebration, not a protest. We are not out to ruin anybody’s night, not deliberately trying to delay anyone, and we are not out to punish motorists! We have almost two decades worth of flyers that have said that over and over again.

Anyone curious about this question ought to take a good look at the fantastic film Critical Mass: We Are Traffic by Ted White (you can watch the whole thing online). Or pick up a copy of Chris Carlsson’s edited collection, Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration. Both will give you a good picture of what we’re really all about.

In any case, if you enjoy Critical Mass, I guarantee you will dig the San Jose Bike Party. It takes place on the 3rd Friday of every month. You should go down there and check it out for yourself!

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10 Responses to “Can SF Learn from the San Jose Bike Party? Yes!”

  1. meligrosa says:

    thats awesome, ive been wanting to go for many months, and many of my peeps in sanjo do it often. you raise good points and I am glad that is more and more of active people on bikes that are not turned on by all the shenanigans that are often associated with the CM events.

    Recently, while chatting with a fellow blogger from NYC, he expressed how much he was turned off by the way the critical mass experiences were pretty much done with in NY by sadly experiencing only a few dozens of people show up b.c bikers get tickets, have to confront cops and all that. sigh

    at any rate, I enjoyed this post lots and makes me wanna ride more often in SJ. cant beat the beautiful weather and mellow peeps either ๐Ÿ˜€

    happy new year hughe &crew ๐Ÿ˜€
    cheers /meli

  2. routescouter says:


    I’m glad that you and Joel took CalTrain to join us. Too bad you didn’t join us for the “pre-ride” though, we had 35-45+ on each of two pre-rides (6:45 and 7:15pm). Our ride start and end location changes monthly so we may not have/need pre-rides from dt SJ, but we have them from other parts of the city to the respective starting point that month.

    Each ride we try to improve, and I’m sure after Friday night we have 5-10 things that need to be corrected and worked on… so we’ll focus on 1-3 of these and modify the Feb route to minimize issues as well.

    Please look on the SJ Bike Party website and Facebook pages for information. Hope to see more and more riders from SF, East Bay, etc.

    From my interactions, that reaction to CM is a common one in the south bay and if people don’t like a rider’s behavior we do get called CM as well. From the public and from some of the police as well. Many of whom don’t get what we’re trying to do here either.

    Thanks again and ride on!

  3. well duh says:

    Well duh. Of course CM is an angry protest. The self righteousness CM has obscures anything fun. The San Jose people just want to ride bikes and enjoy their time out together. You guys are always giving the finger to people (literally) and when people have called out individual people in CM who’ve done some truly horrid things (like when that woman was attacked) you all circle the righteous bikes and call the victim a bad person.

    Sorry if your image is bad, but that’s because, well, some of you people can be real assholes, and sorry, but the bad apples spoil the barrel. Clearly San Jose folks still value positive energy and enjoy it immensely. Sucks to be you.

  4. Thanks for your comments! I really think people should ride with us to see what it’s all about before they judge us. I guarantee you Mr. Well Duh has not done this, but has formed his impressions based on what he has heard in the media. His comments are mean-spirited (and self righteous), but I published them for him anyway just to encourage debate.

  5. ericRynne says:

    I read your blog and at the end you talk about how you are disturbed that people have the wrong impression about what you are about. As someone in marketing, one of your titles to an article is labeled “Critical Mass: Bicyclingโ€™s Defiant Celebration”. The defenition of DEFIANT is the act of doing something defiantly is to do it even though you have been told not to. To be Disobedient or Disregardful is to be defiant. I think what you are doing is great, but you might want to be more carfeul about how you title your articles, events, etc.

    Thank you,

  6. Amber says:

    Unfortunately critical mass has a bad reputations in the minds of the masses, especially in the bay area. The news portrays it as a bunch of crazy bicyclists out to destroy cars. I find myself explaining to people why the riders run red lights and that any violent episodes were rare and probably provoked by an aggressive driver. It is really hard to break other people’s stereotype of the event.

    SJ Bike Party loves critical mass but the planners actually wanted to avoid the image and label because it comes with such negative connotations. Unfortunately even our own riders believe the stereotype.

  7. Peter Smith says:

    i did the SJBP this last time around. it was funnish and interesting, but i bailed after the first few minutes — just wasn’t my thing waiting around at red lights constantly. to each their own.

    in any case, i’d be happy to have SF try to do a SFBP one time — that is, obey all the red lights. it might, at long last, get the drivers off our backs. we’d back up traffic in every direction for miles.

    and the idea that bikers would leave a passing lane for cars is obscene. the whole idea of critmass, for me, is to not be terrorized by cars for a couple of hours a month — is that too much to ask?

    and why don’t cars leave a lane for me when i’m riding my bike?

    all that said, i didn’t see anyone at the SJBP leave a lane for cars. saw a lot of people running red lights, tho most did stop.

    let’s do it once — SFBP. it’ll be a glorious disaster, and i can’t wait! ๐Ÿ˜€

  8. Peter Smith says:

    adding, for all the hippie-lovejoy-happiness that SJBP may enjoy, the real question is, will it translate into bicycle infrastructure? so far, it has not.

    that’s what i’m after with critmass — a better future. and that, to me, means challenging authority, conventional wisdom, etc. So, critmass must be confrontational. if there was ever a movement that achieved its goals by _not_ being confrontational, i’d like to know about it.

    and maybe the purpose of SJBP is just to ‘build community’ instead of ‘challenge the exclusive access to the roads that cars claim’ — if so, comparing CritMass to SJBP is like comparing a civil rights demonstration in the old South to a jogger staying to the right on the Embarcadero so a bicycle rider can pass — apples and oranges.

    as for hoping that car drivers will really really like bike people just because a bunch of people ride their bikes around on the 3rd Friday of every night — i don’t believe it will work. you never know — kill ’em with kindness — lord knows it’s been a struggle in SF and everywhere else, whether CrtiMass has been present or not — maybe the SJBP tactic will work better (again, assuming being allowing to ride one’s bike on the streets of SJ is an actual goal of the group/ride, and if it is, it is not stated on the website).

  9. Peter Smith says:

    p.s. SJBP gets some positive press. or not.

  10. ramona w says:

    i rode critical mass in september 10 for the first time in years and years. i was really stressed out during the ride for a few reasons 1. so many riders that there was no flow. it was kind of like a slow motion los angeles freeway, a cacophony of stop and go and full speed ahead. 2. really stupid riders including cyclists and motorcycle cops 3. multiple cars driving trough the mass!!!!!!! so ugly and unsafe. I don:t want to be around that kind of tension, ever. CM was partially exciting and fun, but not enough to overlook the stress. Not my kind of ride. +(