Critical Mass Feb 06–Why We Ride and Do’s and Don’ts!

Critical Mass rode again this past Friday… a much larger than usual ride, maybe 1,500 or more… got very spread out, at one point stretching from Stockton and Broadway all the way to the Cannery in Fisherman’s Wharf. I and Joel found ourselves in cell contact from front to back and managed to halt the ride for about 5 minutes, allowing most to catch up… wasn’t long though before we all split into multiple parts… I ended up in a group-let of about 75 that wound up to Cathedral Hill and went through the Whole Foods Parking lot, while another much larger group apparently made their way through the Moscone Center in South of Market… a lovely evening, great weather, great spirits… here’s the flyer I handed out, a rare re-emergence of Xerocracy, which I hope to see more of from others in the future!

Why We Ride

This is the 162nd consecutive month that San Francisco bicyclists have gathered to ride in Critical Mass. The world has certainly changed in thirteen and a half years, but the compelling reasons that draw us together every month are still very similar. In the earliest days of Critical Mass, riding together provided a euphoric alternative to the isolated danger most daily bicyclists face. These days San Francisco bicyclists are seldom alone on the road in the large north-eastern part of the city, from Bernal Heights and Twin Peaks to the bayshore. But we still live in an atomizing culture that seeks to reduce life to a series of cash transactions. Critical Mass exemplifies a rare and exuberant repudiation of that pecuniary logic, as it re-creates every month an authentic, open-ended, passionate, temporary community.

Community” a much abused word and concept” continues to animate and attract us. In our hyper-individuated lives, where we try to choose the terms of our existence, to wrest meaning from a banal world of shopping choices, pointless jobs and vacuous cultural commodities, coming together in Critical Mass continues to defy the prevailing limits of post-modern capitalism.

With news of rapidly melting ice sheets, widespread deforestation and crashing biodiversity, and other climate catastrophes, premonitions of tsunamis, earthquakes and floods overwhelm our individual coping abilities. Alone we cannot face disasters, and it doesn’t matter if they are “natural” or “unnatural.” Pandemic disease, rapid erosion of arable lands, overstretched water supplies and droughts; the sky really IS falling! Riding bicycles is not just a quiet statement against oil wars, it’s a practical demonstration of one component of a new way to live. Together in community, bicycling is one way we are beginning to re-engineer the nuts and bolts of our lives.

The human connections made during the hundreds of Critical Mass rides are both serendipitous and essential. Perhaps more important still is the practical experience gained of a mobile, self-managed, fluid and democratic social event. Our imaginations are permanently altered by riding in Critical Mass” not just ours but also the people who witness it. And we will need all our connections and imagination to make the necessary adjustments in urban living as the perfect storms of political and ecological breakdown beset us in the years to come.

A 1996 Critical Mass cyclist characterized that time as the “golden era” of bicycling. A decade later our bucolic rides remain a euphoric antidote to the steady diet of bad news, venal and corrupt business and government, and worsening ecological catastrophes. It’s important that we recognize the deeper implications of this euphoria too” we are learning while experimenting; we are inventing new ways to coexist; we are managing complex realities from below; we are reliably re-producing webs of human pleasure and conviviality. Ultimately Critical Mass is so much more than just a monthly bike ride.

Thanks for coming” talk to strangers!

” Chris Carlsson, February 24, 2006, San Francisco

Critical Mass Do’s and Don’t’s


Ң talk to stranger, bystanders, bus riders, motoristsӢ welcome people to join us next time

“¢ help cars stuck in mass to exit to the right

“¢ stop regularly if you’re in front (no matter how slowly you think you’re going, gaps are opening up behind you)

“¢ stop at red lights when in front to allow the rest of the ride to “mass up” behind.

“¢ keep going in dense packs through red lights to stick together and keep it safe for everyone.

“¢ fill gaps; Critical Mass depends on bicycle density to displace cars.

“¢ remember that pleasure and friendliness are more subversive than anger and blaming.


Ң race ahead to block cross traffic before the Mass has arrivedӢ ride into oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road

“¢ pick fights with motorists, even (especially) if they’re itching for one

“¢ fail to turn and twist through the city to make the ride more interesting

“¢ forget to smile and wave and talk to strangers!

“¢ imagine that you are morally superior just cuz you’re on a bicycle (you’ll be in a car again soon enough)

“¢ hesitate to tell other Massers what you think of their behavior, whether good or bad. Talk to each other!

“¢ forget” we are all responsible to make Critical Mass what we want it to be.

Somebody told me this was “too harsh” but what can I say? It’s just one person’s opinion… I encouraged a lot of people I handed this to to make their own next time… we’ll see…

5 comments to Critical Mass Feb 06–Why We Ride and Do’s and Don’ts!

  • molly

    yes, i like to bike. i like to bike in the sun. i like to bike and run. i can swim and bike. i can bike and then go for a hike. i can even bike all alone. but biking with others is so much more fun.

  • Rocco

    Here we go again…

    Gee, maybe if they “organize” they can get lucky and have bike lanes striped (more moral victories) and/or get some trees planted on the median of a street like San Jose Avenue. I hate to sound pessimistic, but these calls for organization make laugh because once you start “working with” city government or any other establishment, they engage you and use good old placation. “Hey we planted your twigs on San Jose Avenue, we striped a bike lane, now leave us along for a while!”

  • BobW

    addition for DON’t: hesitate to tell other Massers… without taking on an authoritarian or more righteous than thou attitude when doing so.

    Chris you rock. Thing is after riding for a few years, then stopping (testosterone brigade was making it less fun), then starting again, I was beginning to have several ideas about what it all meant. Then when looking around the web, I kept finding that you had put all these down into cohesive structures of ideas 10, 12 even 14 years ago. Whoa. It really got me psyched up again. I made a zine to pass out last year (well I did most of it, though someone else did the awesome artwork and a couple of articles) and was part of the movement that got Critical Mass really up and going in Ithaca, NY last year (96 riders in Sept).
    We have our first “promotional meeting” for 2006 tomorrow. In all the interviews I’ve seen of Chris (We Are Traffic, Still We Ride), and all of your stuff I’ve read, You DON’T come off as authoritative, morallizing or righteous. To me, you simply are Awesome!

  • yer host

    yeah, well I can hardly argue with you, can I? As it is, the ‘piece’ was put out as a flyer at SF’s CM last week… and as I handed it out, I did emphasize that it was ‘one person’s opinion’ and that they (the receivers) should all put something together and distribute it next month… so in my defense, I really did just say what it is for me *chriscarlsson*… there’s no one else behind it, after all! Thanks for kicking my ass, anyway!

  • yr lovin daughter

    a little didactic I think, daddo, i might be a little annoyed, but perhaps an annoyance that inspires a dialectic… I like the idea of 1) talking about the history you’ve witnessed of critical mass and cycling in the city, and 2)the do’s and don’ts – because some people really don’t get that stuff, and as a green rider in critical mass I’d like to know some of them. But some of the whole “this is the real significance of critical mass” sounds a little too much like “I am telling you the REAL meaning of what you are doing.” Always dangerous. and also if you abstract and emphasize the experience too much it loses some of its loveliness, for me at least. Why not just describe what the experience is for YOU *chriscarlsson*? i bet people would agree on their own!

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