Author Archive


September 16th, 2012 by ccarlsson

Both submissions to Shift Happens!: Critical Mass at 20 from Rome—from the Network of People’s Bike Kitchens of Rome and by Rotafixa—speak from the difficulties of confronting the seemingly fixed car culture in that city of world wonders. To add to the wonders, they’ve inserted Critical Mass into the mix.  And Marco Pierfranceschi, in “Critical Mass Meets Italian Cycle Touring” recounts how applying a Critical Mass style of organizing to Italian Cycle Touring transformed it and increased the participation and fun immensely (no excerpt of this piece included, sorry!).

“Let’s take back Rome!: Critical Mass, Ciemmona and CiclOfficine Popolari in Rome” gives us a look at the origins of the People’s Bike Kitchens:

Before 2002 [when Critical Mass Rome began], bicycles in Rome were found only in basements and garages, and as decorative objects. Urban cyclists were rare animals: poor, unlucky, unimaginable relatives of the sport cyclist, the kind only normally seen on Sundays on Roman boulevards.

In this urban landscape, with an average of one car per inhabitant, Critical Mass Rome reclaimed the right to be part of traffic and to go beyond that. To be effective in pushing people to use the bike everyday, it was necessary to create support centers aimed at giving information on the use and maintenance of the bicycle in an unfriendly city like Rome. This meant also creating a social space where people could teach each other how to repair bikes used as means of transportation, by sharing mechanical knowledge.

In 2003 to fulfill this need, two “bike kitchens” were created inside two squatted social centers. …The bike kitchens immediately produced a new political voice in Rome, critiquing transportation models based on the dictatorship of automobiles. These groups used the bike on a daily basis as a form of direct action. A new political subject appeared in Roman demonstrations and social movement spaces: the biker activist—always with one pant leg rolled up and one down, and black grease on her/his hands.

Social centers started organizing events with the bicycle as a lifestyle theme. The bike kitchens became places where everyone could learn and contribute her/his capabilities, whether using the welder or becoming metal parts fetishists. The first monster bikes were created including two-story bikes, recumbents, long johns, rickshaws, and carts. The explosion of creativity took place on a foundation of everyday bicycling, leading to the formation of a community of cyclists and mechanics. It started to spread like wildfire, shaping a new kind of political awareness. The community centered around this daily struggle—but also with a monthly celebration in the Critical Mass ride—became more participatory, fun, and effective. Soon two bike kitchens were insufficient to satisfy the growing demand to learn to fix, disassemble, grease, polish, and improve bikes. In 2004, some Don Quixote mechanics opened another kitchen in the social center Angelo Mai next to the Coliseum. Rome, by then, had bike kitchens covering all the main areas, providing a self-made infrastructure for urban bikers’ safety and service, making cyclists more aware of their presence and strength in numbers.

Rotafixa muses about “Political Critical Mass in Rome”:

Critical Mass in Rome created a new way of acting politically. In less than a decade, it taught us to resist the hegemonic politics that have dominated Italy for decades. With Critical Mass we (re)discovered a way to relate to the world around us, and rediscovered the point of connection among all human beings. We even became reacquainted with the key to what makes us human, things like the opposable thumb, nomadism, communication, and an ability to connect the individual and the collective. Our species has these qualities, which are especially effective if used together.

During the last few decades we haven’t been living well. We depend too much on cars, and those who want to move by other means are struggling, especially bicyclists. Critical Mass emerged out of this need, establishing that roads are not just for motorists, but are actually much better without cars.

Not know where the Critical Mass rides go has a deeper resonance; humans don’t know where our species is going either! Supporting each other, sharing an intention, joining something we have only heard of, perhaps going because your beloved mentioned the idea to you. This “thing” called Critical Mass embodies many different motivations. it is so refreshing to become part of a community of people you don’t know, and find that group acting together effectively. In Critical Mass we share an intention to engage in the simple act of riding bicycles through the city streets, once a month. These meetings nourish a dream some of us cultivate in solitude: What if we were a really huge mass of bikers? The dream comes true in Critical Mass.

São Paulo has also had to fight against an über car-centric attitude in that city.  Read about what the bicycle movement has done to break through, and how one individual’s move toward autonomy came through Critical Mass and biking in our next installment!

We just sent off books today to all who have ordered them online!  Buy one from us and get your very own copy soon too!

Milan Night and Day!

September 9th, 2012 by ccarlsson

Hi SFO, here Milano. We are proud to tell you that we are never tired….and after the synchronical critical mass with the one in San Francisco (that as said before will be a group of about 30 to 50 people and will not gather families) we will meet in a huge critical mass (hundreds???? we hope) for everybody, Saturday afternoon at 15:00 from piazza Graziano Predielis (ex piazza Mercanti).

We will be a river and we will be able to stop the traffic, as we did for the critical mass protest for Cop9, Cop 15, the summer swimsuit critical mass, the guerrilla gardennig critical mass, every winter for San Lazzaro…

Even the usual Thursday evening mass will celebrate the 20 years! So we will have three day of celebrations….we really never have enough!

This is just to let you know that in case someone of you wants to try exotical experiences, or need to fly away from San Francisco for puzzling reasons, he will find a home here in Milano…..

Shift Happens! Critical Mass at 20

July 16th, 2012 by ccarlsson

Shift Happens! Critical Mass at 20 is a new book published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Critical Mass, which falls this September 28, two decades after the event started in San Francisco and spread around the world.

"Shift Happens! Critical Mass at 20" cover

Pre-order a copy here.

Here are some excerpts from the introductory essay that I wrote called “Ruminations of an Accidental Diplomat”:

Realizing that 20th anniversary of Critical Mass was less than a year away, late last year we put out an international call for thoughtful analyses. We wanted to go deeper and further than the 10th anniversary book had done. Shift Happens! is the result, and we are extremely happy with the quality and breadth of the writing we received. Several dozen contributors and a wide range of experiences across the Critical Mass world fill these pages, where the original concept is still recognizable but has also mutated and shifted over time and space in fascinating ways…

Critical Mass was born 20 years ago among dozens of people in San Francisco and has reproduced itself in over 350 cities around the world thanks to the diligent efforts of countless thousands across the planet. Often just a few people start riding together and it attracts others to join, gaining momentum steadily until it bursts onto a city’s political and social landscape. Moreover, the concept of riding together en masse is open-ended enough that people have adapted it in many ways during the past decades, from altering the structure of formal recreational riding to using “Critical Mass-style” rides to bring attention to a wide range of political campaigns and issues.

And as we learn from some of the essays in this new collection, mass bike rides weren’t invented in 1992. They took place in different parts of the world years before we started in San Francisco, notably in Bilbao, Spain and Helsinki, Finland where our writers describe earlier rides. Chinese cities were full of bicycles as primary transportation for decades; observing traffic patterns in 1991 Shanghai from a hotel window, New Yorker George Bliss described how bicycles would pile up at the side of a flow of traffic until they reached “critical mass” and broke through to create their own traffic stream—this is where our name came from. Not far from where I lived as a boy in North Oakland, early ecological activists staged an annual mass bike ride called “Smog-Free Locomotion Day” on Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue from 1969-71. In the deep social genes of San Francisco itself, mass bike rides of 5,000-8,000 cyclists jammed muddy, rutted streets a century earlier, in 1896, to demand “Good Roads” and asphalt (unknowingly setting the stage for the next vehicle of speed, convenience, and personal freedom that soon followed: the automobile). My mother was born and raised in Copenhagen where I visited as a small boy and then again in 1977 as a young adult—the sensible organization of public streets with space dedicated to bicycle transit was self-evidently preferable to the freeways and rigid, car-dominated street grids of my California childhood. (more…)

Brazilian Bicyclists On the Move!

March 6th, 2012 by ccarlsson

Just back from a great visit to Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo. In Porto Alegre I was a guest of the First World Bike Forum there and wrote about it over on my blog.

Here’s a video of the biggest ever Critical Mass in Porto Alegre that took place on the evening of Friday Feb. 24, 2012:


Massa Crítica do Fórum Mundial da Bicicleta 2012 from Rodrigo Langeani on Vimeo.

I went to Sao Paulo and visited friends there, and had the pleasure of visiting the Praça do Ciclista on Avenida Paulista, the original starting point for Sao Paulo’s Massa Critica or Bicicletada, meeting up with dozens of local cyclists, and riding to Mano Na Roda, the local equivalent of our Bike Kitchen.

More Love, Less Motors (cars)--graffiti on the ground at Praça do Ciclista.

Everyone gathered for a group shot...

Off we went on a fun ride through town, here on Paulista amidst the usual traffic madness.

The local Bike Kitchen.

While we partied, some folks fixed bikes!

Staging a bike ride through the streets for TV Globo.

I gave a bicycling interview to TV Globo and they said they’d air it on Friday at the noon national newscast, but the lead story was the morning’s tragedy: another woman cyclist crushed by a bus on Avenida Paulista. As it turns out, four other cyclists were killed on Brazilian roads the same day. Bicyclists across the country were finally pushed over the edge. Over 1,500 cyclists showed up in pouring rain to stage a massive die-in last Friday night at the spot where the woman was killed. Today, March 6, mass rides were held in many Brazilian cities, and in Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil by far, thousands of cyclists jammed the main street and demonstrated in front of the municipal government offices too.

March 6, 2012, Avenida Paulista full of cyclists...

Brazilian cyclists are at a climactic moment. Solidarity and love to everyone down there, condolences to the loved ones lost—all too many…