Archive for July, 2011

July Split, Exploration vs. Repetition

July 29th, 2011 by ccarlsson

Some friends of this blog organized a “concept” ride for the Critical Mass here in San Francisco earlier this evening. A flyer was prepared and hundreds were distributed before the ride.

A lovely ride to Cayuga Park, park of mystery and amazing scupture!

As has been the case when passing out proposed routes over the past year or two, some folks get pretty hostile (weirdly, they usually look like they’re middle-aged guys, maybe over 50, who have some kind of self-righteousness that they *know* that Critical Mass *never* has any proposed routes!). But most folks I handed it to were eager for a good suggestion and excited to see a map.

Well the ride took off  before any of the co-conspirators could get “in front” so up Market it went. Who knows who decided to go, or to go *that* way (again!), but so it was. A bunch of us rushed to the front and managed to get it turning south on 4th Street. At 4th and Mission I made a bunch of noise and convinced the front to stop for a full light cycle (to allow everyone behind us to catch up and mass up again), after which I felt I’d done my part to make the plan happen.

Down 4th Street I jumped on to a bus platform and took these photos:

Southbound on 4th Street near Brannan, July 29, 2011, San Francisco.

Critical Mass San Francisco, July 2011.

A good time was had by all...

We rode across the 4th Street Bridge and when we tried to cross the empty baseball parking lots, a fair number of folks decided we were escaping the predictable patterns of past Critical Mass’s more than they could reasonably tolerate. Thus, they turned back and proceeded northward on 3rd Street, while those of committed to the route carried on southward on Terry Francois Blvd. Drama solved! Around 100-120 of us were going to Cayuga Park! That was plenty to have a good time, and enjoy a “real” Critical Mass experience.

For those who went back to the city center (and thanks for taking the cops with you, by the way), I hope you had a good time. I’m sure you went around Union Square, through the Broadway and Stockton Tunnels, circled up at Market and Van Ness, and eventually just melted away through attrition… Just like nearly every ride for the past few years! Geez! Some of us are bored to death with the predictability of that experience, and the empty posturing of those delusional few who actually believe they are being “more political” or “most radical” by pushing Critical Mass into endless traffic jams in the heart of the City (no, there is no “class war” between cars and bikes–they are inanimate objects!–nor is there one between motorists and cyclists, who are all workers of one sort or another at the end of the day). (more…)

20th Anniversary Critical Mass Book Project

July 6th, 2011 by ccarlsson

Deadline for Submissions: January 15, 2012

Please send your article proposals, drafts, flyers, photos, etc., to

From Chris Carlsson, Hugh D’Andrade, LisaRuth Elliott, and friends


The 20th anniversary of Critical Mass is coming in September 2012. The first-ever ride was in San Francisco in September 1992, so we’re inviting everyone from around the wide world of Critical Mass rides to come to San Francisco next September for a week-long festival to celebrate twenty years. During the week-long festival we hope to have daily group rides, film festival, art shows, discussions, music, and more. (Send us a message if you’re planning to come, and let us know how many people are planning to come from your city/country. And if you’re in the Bay Area and want to help plan the week, organize an event, coordinate food and entertainment, provide housing, etc., please contact us!)


In conjunction with this anniversary we also want to produce a new book of essays, cartoons, photographs, and documents, capturing the dynamic and powerful social movements that have emerged from, or embraced the Critical Mass phenomenon. To that end, this is an open solicitation for material for the book. Predictably we have no budget to pay anyone, but we hope to create a historically important volume documenting the emergent bicycle movement over the past two decades, and its relationship to Critical Mass. Any proceeds of sales of the book will go to funding events for the anniversary and after that, for ongoing Critical Mass-related printing and communications.


We’d love essays anywhere from 2000 to 8000 words, and we’re open to other kinds of materials too. We are especially interested in essays that go deeper into the larger political questions surrounding Critical Mass specifically, and the bicycle as a signifier and tool of a broader social transformation.


Please contact us to let us know if you’re going to write something, or if you have photos, flyers, or other material to contribute to this. Authors or groups published in the book will get a free copy, and if we’re lucky, we’ll find publishers in other languages to produce the book in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. If you have contacts with publishers in other languages, please do let us know.


Here are some questions to get you started, but feel free to query us with your own ideas of what you’d like to write:


1. Please describe the history of the Critical Mass experience in your city with the following questions as a guide:

When did it start? How many people participated in starting it? Did it come out of a pre-existing network or political association? Or did new friends come together to start it?

Give us the details of your ride:

where does it start from, when does it roll, how long has it been going? How often does it happen? Monthly?  How do you think your ride is unique vis a vis other rides you have heard of, or maybe personally experienced?


2. How does Critical Mass manage itself in your city? Do you have monitors and communications that are sustained by the same people month after month, or do new people emerge regularly to help produce a good experience? What kind of debates characterize your Critical Mass experience? Do people discuss and argue about the nature of the ride during the ride? Do you have xerocracy (printed documents circulating among the riders)? Do you have pre-planned routes or do you move around the city spontaneously? Do your rides split up into multiple rides sometimes? Tell us about the lived experience and the tensions within your ride, and related to other organized bike rides in your city (if any).


3. Can you describe stories of personal transformation that people have experienced as a result of riding in Critical Mass? Who rides in Critical Mass in your city? Has the population of your ride changed over time or is it the same as it has been since the beginning? What kind of future does the ride have in your city, in your estimation?


4. How would you characterize your city’s bicycling scene? Was it pretty big before Critical Mass? Did Critical Mass play a key role in expanding it? How does your city feel differently today than it did before Critical Mass started? Or does it feel different at all?


5. Are there formal bicycle advocacy groups in your city (or region)? How do they relate to Critical Mass? Do they support it and participate in it? Or are they hostile? What kinds of dynamics have taken place where you are?


6. Are there free food, gardening/farming, housing/squatting, free radio, hacker spaces, or other kinds of similar efforts cross-linked to Critical Mass in your city? What is the relationship of Critical Mass to other political and social initiatives in your city, if any? Can you write in depth about those relationships and how they have fed each other? What is the relationship in your city between formal and informal political groups?


7. Outsider journalists and writers often pose the question, “What has Critical Mass accomplished?” Our answer in SF as co-founders has generally been to emphasize that Critical Mass is an ongoing event, an ongoing seizure of public space by hundreds and thousands of cyclists, and is not an organization—nor even a coherent movement—with a specific agenda. So to speak of “accomplishments” is to frame it incorrectly. How do you respond to this question? Describe how you experience the meaning and coherence of the Critical Mass phenomenon in your city.


8. What kinds of journalism, blogs, writing, and/or art has emerged from the Critical Mass movement in your city?  Please submit some examples and tell us about them (can be weblinks, photos, artwork, books, zines, stickers, posters, etc.  If you are sending a url, please be specific about which page/blog/art you mean, and describe how it relates to Critical Mass, the ride).