Enjoying the City’s Geography

June 4th, 2013 by ccarlsson

Haven’t made use of this blog for a while, but after the ride last Friday night, I thought it would be a good moment to recognize the beautiful evening we had, and to make some remarks about routes, repetition, and opportunity…

Riding down Marina Boulevard towards the Wave Organ on a perfect evening, May 31, 2013.

Riding down Marina Boulevard towards the Wave Organ on a perfect evening, May 31, 2013.

San Francisco’s Critical Mass is, as Hugh put it some months ago, an untended garden. Overgrown with “weeds”, a possibly beautiful, flourishing experience seems to be languishing in an untended corner, lacking nourishment, TLC, and imaginative play. Instead, month after month the ride takes off, and before long we’re doing the same old thing AGAIN, whether it’s circling Union Square, heading into the Broadway Tunnel, or going down to the ballpark to get stuck among thousands of fans heading to a game. Maybe this repetition comes from the great resistance to any aforethought or planning, that no one ever shows up with a proposed route or destination that might highlight parts of the City that are not often blessed with a Critical Mass ride-through? Or maybe it’s because people who don’t really know the City well keep finding themselves in front making predictable decisions about where to go based on their limited experience of San Francisco? Or maybe it’s because those who DO surge to the front think the point of the ride is to stick to the most predictable and traffic-heavy thoroughfares because the reputation of Critical Mass is to fuck up traffic? and somehow that’s what we’re all supposed to go along with?

Rolling down Lombard after refusing to make a third pass through the Broadway tunnel!

Rolling down Lombard after refusing to make a third pass through the Broadway tunnel!

I don’t know why San Francisco’s Critical Mass gets so stuck in the rut of doing the same things over and over. I’m sure part of it is that we always have a lot of new riders every month, many from out of town, who are excited to do some of the things that long-timers like me are completely sick of. I don’t generally get involved with the front of the ride these days, preferring to follow whoever is up there, wherever they want to go. But once in a while, like this past Friday May 31, I just can’t stand it. This time we went up Market, turned west on Geary, straight out (thankfully skipping the circling of Union Square) to Polk, north on Polk to Broadway and the inevitable vortex of the Tunnel sucked us in, then everyone turned around and went back to the west through the tunnel, and when I got back to the Larkin Street end of the tunnel I couldn’t believe that people were turning back for a third pass! So a friend encouraged me to pull the ride away, and I did my best and voila! We ended up going up Russian Hill and down Lombard, followed by a nice ride to the north and west to get to the Wave Organ, one of our all-time favorite end points.

Longer view of the descent on Lombard.

Longer view of the descent on Lombard.

Heading northwest on Columbus nearing Fisherman's Wharf.

Heading northwest on Columbus nearing Fisherman’s Wharf.


The 2nd anniversary t-shirt was worn in honor of the passing of our friend Greg Williamson...

The 2nd anniversary t-shirt was worn in honor of the passing of our friend Greg Williamson…


As usual, kids are along for the ride too...

As usual, kids are along for the ride too…

So I don’t know if pre-planning routes is the solution… it’s damn hard to get folks to go along with any suggested route these days. Spontaneous direction from people who know the City well usually does well, but it’s rare that experienced City dwellers go to the front and take that kind of responsibility… It’s a missed opportunity in my opinion–not just in terms of a better Critical Mass experience, but also in terms of expanding and extending the logic of reinhabiting public space, using our unique geography in ways that challenge ourselves as cyclists, but also challenge us to go outside of our familiar zones, see parts of the City we don’t normally see, and meet the huge population of San Franciscans who still think the private car is the only way to get around.

It’s also important to remember that the way we interact with people does leave a lasting impression. If you are taunting and yelling at people, no big surprise, they think you’re an asshole, and basically they’re right! I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to patiently explain to people that most Critical Mass riders are cool, that most people have a really great experience of the event, and that the few idiots who pound on postal vans or car hoods are just that, rare idiots. I don’t think we have to answer for every fool who joins the ride, since this society is overrun with fools and you can find them everywhere, from bars and restaurants to every kind of vehicle and public event… still, what makes Critical Mass special, fun, challenging, and a great ongoing experiment in self-management and self-teaching, is our ability to interact with each other in motion, to solve problems, to create an atmosphere that is attractive and welcoming and invitational to those we pass by…

Everyone comes to Critical Mass!

Everyone comes to Critical Mass!

Riding on the breakwater behind teh St. Francis Yacht Club to get to the Wave Organ.

Riding on the breakwater behind teh St. Francis Yacht Club to get to the Wave Organ.


A brief gathering and party ensued, until about a half hour later most people had headed off, some to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, most to have dinner or go home!

A brief gathering and party ensued, until about a half hour later most people had headed off, some to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, most to have dinner or go home!

Anyway, I had a great ride on Friday, and I hope we can keep it going this summer, extending ourselves into parts of town we don’t go to month after month, and not spending much time with the pointless circling around and tying up cars just for the hell of it… you wouldn’t like to be stuck in traffic, so there’s really no reason to go out of your way to delay anyone else either. Our presence is already a loud statement about many things, from the texture of urban life to the ecological/climate crisis, to oil wars and hyperdevelopment… people in cars are not the enemy! They might be our allies, but only if we figure out how to invite them to join us! Making our experience as deep and interesting and enjoyable as we can is our best approach, imho (ok, no so humble!)… (Chris Carlsson)

10 Responses to “Enjoying the City’s Geography”

  1. Rebecca says:

    I haven’t been on a ride in a while, but when I did, there were half a dozen or so doooodz who were “leading” the ride and ignoring everyone else. I and a few other people were yelling out places to go and they completely ignored everyone and only spoke to and acknowledged each other. They were generally just dicks and were yelling at and antagonizing drivers unnecessarily. This same thing happened on the 5 or 6 rides I attended, so I stopped going and just going and went to bike party instead. If you can get those “dooodz” to stop being themselves, then maybe some of us will come back and take a ride again!

  2. I’ve been saying this for years! Strangely, many of the people with this particular behavior believe they are “anti-authoritarian,” though as you point out they create a social dynamic that puts our community under the control of loud, aggressive males.

    But Critical Mass is what we make of it. You should bring a posse of friends one month and take the ride to some location you enjoy! A few of us directed the last ride to the Wave Organ in the Marina at sunset last Friday. It’s a tough project but certainly doable.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the acknowledgement. It’s pride month and it would be fun to have everyone ride through the Castro (always fun people) and then back down past Dolores and perhaps through the mission. Maybe I can get a bunch of queers to come this month and make the ride a little “gayer” (as in happy)! 😉

  4. John Rogers says:

    Yeah, I couldn’t believe people wanted to go through the damn tunnel a third time. Talk about lack of imagination. Congratulations to Chris and Hugh for getting things going in a different direction. I reluctantly rolled through again, but thankfully also ended up with a contingent heading West on the Embarcadero and eventually the GG Bridge. Next month I again will bring my cargo bike sound system and partner up with anybody with a more imaginative, more fun, and less antagonizing route.

  5. Greg Zepplin says:

    I thought CM was not allowed to go on the GG bridge. I have been riding SF CM as often as I can for over 3 years now & not had the opportunity to ride the bridge. Looks like the cops shut us out every time we get close, but always enjoy the ride nearby along the coast & catch the sunset at Ocean Beach. Very sorry I missed this last one. I have a blast every time I go, no matter where. I love SF C-Mass !!!

  6. Chris, The World Naked Bike Ride has a interesting route planned for Saturday, June 8. It includes a southern traverse of the Embarcadero then u-turn to Fisherman’s Wharf and Aquatic Park, out to the Marina then back Lombard where it eventually does that fun descent on the Lombard curves, then an encore thru the Wharf and then thru North Beach, with a celebratory lap in Washington Park. It then returns to Embarcadero via Broadway then to Market and the Wiggle up to Haight Street. Then its out to Ocean Beach. From this point it does something I’ve never seen CM do in my years of rides; it goes down the Great Highway to the Zoo, then up Sloat to Portola, Market and finally the Castro. A lot of familiar CM sites but some new ones that might be fun to do on CM

  7. Guest says:

    Goddamnit, I can’t believe I missed l Lombard for a damn third pass.

    I shouted at these damn tunnel freaks for Lombard but these guys at the front wouldnt give.

  8. Alan says:

    Ok gals and guys; For the coming ride, I’ll try to get the ride down lombard (again) and to a slower pace. I really just hate the guys up front that are always trying to push hard at some crazy pace that isnt friendly to casual riders.

    I feel sorry for all the people behind me and really hate that this ride simply drops everyone after 30 minutes of starting because of the pace.

  9. Guest2 says:

    I think if a few did a xerocracy like when we did twin peaks. And the xerocracy said ‘follow the leaders with ___ poles on their bikes’ and the leaders had tall fiberglass poles on their bikes that are easy to see and follow, it’d be easier to keep the mass following the people that made the effort to plan and the testosterone brigade wouldn’t be able to hijack the mass.