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: June 26th, 2020, 5:30pm, at Justin Herman Plaza (foot of Market Street).

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)

20th B-day Comments!

September 29th, 2012 by admin

Photo by Mona Caron

Last night’s ride was fantastic! Many thousands of people experienced a joyful ride through the city to celebrate 20 years of safe, social bicycle riding in San Francisco on the last Friday of each month.

Some comments via Facebook and our blog:

Josh Wilson:

Thank you, everyone here and everyone on the street, for everything you did to facilitate the glorious bicycle blossoming in San Francisco last night. It’s like the years fell away and everything was and is alive again with possibility. Something happened over the past decade that deadened a sense of the possible and a sense of hope. After last night, it feels like there’s a quickening, something new sprouting. It feels like this is not just an anniversary but the birth of something new. Something we will remember in another 20 years. Maybe so. I hope so. Thank you for re-awakening this sense of the possible.

Eric Anderson:

It is difficult for me to overstate the importance of the Critical Mass movement to my life, which is probably why last night’s 20th anniversary ride was such an emotional moment for me. This movement has given me my career, many lifelong friends, my health, my sanity, hope, joy and damn near my life. Last night I got to see some of the same people I met for the first time in 1999 during my first visit to SF from Chicago. Yeah, it makes me feel old, but it also grants a sense of time – of adventures shared, work happily (and yes sometimes not so happily) done and many accomplishments both personal and professional. Part of a life worth living, to be sure. Happy Birthday SFCM and CCM! — withSuz Po and 16 others.


This caused me to miss my 3 year old daughters birthday dinner. Thanks.


I drive because it’s a 2+ hour each way by public transit, and ends up costing more than it does to drive. I do have to drive across downtown to get to where I can get on the freeway to get home. I work in SF because that’s where the jobs are, I live in a suburb because I can not afford to live in SF.

Anyways, I love critical mass, and think that public gatherings are a great thing (swing by the Burning Man building on 7th/market, there’s a block party there too tonight!). Love bike riders (wish BART would allow them on the train during rush hour as then I may be able to take public transit). Biking has improved the quality of life in the Bay Area, and if anything, a shift to biking makes traffic even less congested and easier for those who have no choice but to drive. And a happier city means merchants do better too!

Both sides will have disrespectful people who hate the other. Cars who hate bikes, bikes who hate cars. I’ve seen video of bikes being thrown through car windows at CM, but I know that is the exception, not the rule. Thankfully, no car has plowed through and killed any bikers, and hopefully never will.

Thanks for posting where it’ll end. Now that I know it’ll end towards Dolores, I can hang out near work and get some dinner or something for an hour, and I should have no problem driving down the Emarcadero around 7pm!

Have a great ride tonight! One of these days, I may get to join on a ride!


Tonight We Ride!

September 28th, 2012 by Russel

20 Years of Critical Mass! See you down by the Ferry Building…
hearing rumors of people costuming up for tonight’s ride.
Be colorful and be CHILL….

For the Out-of-SF CM Riders, the Welcome Center (518 Valencia) is open today 1 to 4:30pm
This is the last day for the Welcome Center, so stop by and meet everybody before the Interstellar ride!

Justin Herman Plaza (foot of Market Street)
20th Anniversary Interstellar Critical Mass Ride

with special Kidical Mass contingent, parents, children, kids of all ages: meet at Justin Herman Plaza near fountain, plan is to ride with the main ride and then peel off to Dolores Park by 7 or a little after (less than an hour of riding)…)

A Girl and Her Bike  (an FB female cyclists Group) is hosting a women’s ride contingent as apart of the main Critical Mass ride: Girls Roll DEEP

Bikes on Film:  Vintage Bicycle Film Festival, Oddball Films (275 Capp Street), Doors 8/Starts 8:30, $10 (This is a Benefit for Neighbors Developing Divisadero)

Great editorial in SF Examiner!

September 27th, 2012 by LisaRuth

Read about the power of cycling in the event that has its birthday tomorrow. And come out to join thousands (?) of cyclists—around the world—celebrating on Friday at 5:30 PM at Justin Herman Plaza!