An event that takes place in cities around the world, Critical Mass is a celebration of cycling that has been attributed to many causes. Regardless of the cause of the Critical Mass rides, though, the rides put tons of cyclists into the streets of whatever city that a given ride is taking place in. These bicycle rides are emblematic of a cycling culture that refuses to take a back seat to motorists or other entities that run counter to their causes.
Critical Mass is a series of bicycle rides that take place in cities across the world, where cyclists hit the roads in massive quantities. While they are out there, they are able to get a message across about the importance of being aware of cyclists. It is obviously much easier for people to be aware of cyclists when there are tons of them in the roads as opposed to just one or two, but the message that it is important to be mindful of others while on the road is one that is vital no matter where you are.
The first modern day Critical Mass ride took place in 1992 in San Francisco, with a small group of Critical Mass riders, who were not originally known by that name. The first version of the modern Critical Mass was known as the Commute Clot, where the influx of bicycle enthusiasts thought of their presence in the road as similar to that of a blood clot in the human body. While there were not enough riders at this point to block traffic the way that a blood clot would block blood flow in the body, the sentiment was there.
It was not until a documentary was viewed by the Commute Clot riders about cycling culture in other countries that the name Critical Mass was created. The inspiration behind the name was the fact that cyclists and motorists would take turns passing through intersections once one side had enough people waiting to move along to where they reached a critical mass.
The reasoning behind Critical Mass rides have been widely debated throughout the history of the rides. Some have said that they have been done as an act of protest, while others mention that their reason for existing is to shine a light on the rights of cyclists and pedestrians in the cities that the rides are taking place in. No matter what the context of the rides, though, they are meant to make sure that cyclists are recognized as valuable members of their communities.
It is generally known that worldwide Critical Mass rides are used as an act of activism, rather than an act of protest, with the cause behind that activism meant to assert that riders have as much of a right to the road as their counterparts in cars. The bicycle rides featuring mass quantities of riders are meant to make drivers feel what cyclists feel every day by being outnumbered on the streets. Some may question the ethics of such a tactic, as well as its ability to change the perspectives of motorists, it can be effective in some cases.
Also, there are plenty of riders who take part in the Critical Mass rides just to get out and ride their bikes with friends while making additional friends in the process. To many riders, these frequent events are a great chance to get in some physical activity with a number of like-minded individuals. This does not carry the same edge that many people perceive the Critical Mass rides to have, but is another very valid reason that many riders have for getting involved.
The power of Critical Mass rides have spread well beyond the confines of San Francisco after the genesis of these rides in the 1990s. Since then, these impactful rides have been staged all over the world, where riders can demonstrate the importance of awareness for pedestrians and cyclists no matter where they are. Six continents stage these Critical Mass rides, with every continent but Antarctica holding them throughout each year in many cities around the globe.
These rides are extremely common in North America and Europe, as well as South America and Asia. Meanwhile, Africa sees Critical Mass rides happen in countries such as South Africa and Morocco, while Australia also holds rides for the cause. All four continents see a large number of countries and cities put these rides on, which is great for advancing the cause of the cyclist. This worldwide Critical Mass initiative requires a great deal of Critical Mass resources, but all of these cities are able to hold their events.
Unlike a large number of cycling events that take place around the world, Critical Mass does not require an extensive amount of organization or planning for things to take place. Outside of when the rides are taking place and where they will be going, these events are based on a very small amount of organizing and planning. This allows the riders and organizers to enjoy the ride, without being bogged down in too much planning, and without having to do too much work to make them happen.
Instead of organizations that have a structure with people at the top who dictate things to the rest of their members, there is a decentralized approach to Critical Mass riders. Rides are planned out by people who are at the front of the line, or by a vote prior to the ride. Either way, there is nobody to dictate what routes will be taken on by those in attendance, which is more fitting for the ethos of Critical Mass than having an authoritarian approach.
While there are some positives to the Critical Mass rides, there are also some controversies that have arisen from the idea that have made some cast a negative eye toward the practice as a whole. Some have alleged that Critical Mass is only trying to block traffic, and that they are just trying to cause headaches for the communities that they are taking place in.
One of the big sources of controversy surrounding Critical Mass is the fact that they employ a practice called corking. Corking is the act of blocking a road or passageway, which prevents cars from getting through. This allows the cyclists of Critical Mass rides to move through those areas without being impeded by cars or anything else. While this is great for the riders, it is horrible for those who wish to use the road as normally intended, and has caused a great deal of derision when it comes to Critical Mass events.
At times, it has been said that those types of actions by groups such as Critical Mass are actively harming the cause for the rights of cyclists while on the road. This may be true to an extent, as making roads impassable and otherwise inconveniencing motorists is not a way to make sure that people are going to be sympathetic to any cause.
As a result of some of the controversies that have arisen from the Critical Mass riders at times, including the blocking of roads and other issues that have arisen, there have been groups that have formed to rehabilitate the image of these rides and to help improve the images of cyclists once again. One such group is called Critical Manners, which functions largely the same way as Critical Mass, only with a stated goal of riding in large quantities while making sure to follow the rules of the road to avoid any negative experiences. These riders make sure to signal turns and wait until they are supposed to ride before moving, following proper etiquette while still possessing the large numbers that make Critical Mass effective.
While this is not the official website of Critical Mass, it is important to talk about Critical Mass and the impact that their bike rides have on the communities around them. These rides serve as an opportunity to talk about the very important subject of the rights of cyclists and pedestrians while on the road, as both of those entities and motorists have a duty to share the road with one another at different times, in order to make the road a safer and more harmonious place together.