Critical Mass is a monthly bicycle ride to celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists’ right to the road.
The idea started in San Francisco in September 1992 and quickly spread to cities all over the world.
The Origin of Critical Mass
The first Critical Mass ride was in September 1992 in San Francisco. There were 48 people. The ride increased in size by about 75% each month so that by the time 1993 came about, Critical Mass had almost 500 riders and was becoming well known among bicyclers in the city–although city officials still hadn’t registered its existence. A couple months after that people in other cities started noticing and began other Masses. Also in 1993, San Francisco police and Mayor Frank Jordan noticed us and struggled with how to deal with us. It took until June 1997, when Critical Mass was almost 5 years old, for the “new” mayor, Willie Brown, to make any special note of us: He proved he had no idea what we were about when he made comments that motivated the big July 1997 ride and police riot.
- by Joel Pomerantz, 10-31-98
The Story Behind the Name
The name “Critical Mass” is taken from Ted White’s 1992 documentary film about bicycling, “Return of the Scorcher”. In the film, George Bliss describes a typical scene in China, where cyclists often cannot cross intersections because there is automobile cross-trafic and no traffic lights. Slowly, more and more cyclists amass waiting to cross the road, and when there is a sufficient number of them — a critical mass, as Bliss called it — they are able to all move together with the force of their numbers to make cross traffic yield while they cross the road.
What’s the philosophy? What is the ride like? How many people attend?
Critical Mass has a very different flavor from city to city; there’s a big variety in size, respect of traffic laws (or lack thereof), interaction with motorists, and intervention by police. So if you want to know more about Critical Mass, you’ll really need to find out what your local ride is like.
Here are ten general steps to start a Critical Mass ride:
1. Understand the structure of Critical Mass.
2. Put it into perspective.
3. Decide on a recurring time, day, & starting location.
4. Don’t get a permit.
5. What route to take.
6. Learn the Traffic Laws, will you block traffic?
7. Confrontation with motorists> be friendly!
8. Make fliers and promote the ride.
9. Be prepared for police intervention.
10. Get creative.
Critical Mass can be fun, but in and of itself, Critical Mass doesn’t change anything. CM is effective only when combined with real advocacy — such as lobbying local and state governments for bike lanes and progressive legislation. Get involved!
Visit the Critical Mass Database to learn of and be inspired by all of the rides happening around the world!