Cycling’s Unstoppable Tour de Force, Critical Mass

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Critical Mass is a free cycling event usually held on the last Friday of every month. It’s part protest and part community creating fun. Participants have a set agreed time and location to meet at and then they go for a cycle around their chosen city. Critical Mass is now being attended in over 300 cities worldwide courting controversy, road rage and good times.

Originally called the commuter clot, the first event took place in San Francisco in 1992 when a dozen cyclists answered flyers they found on Market street. The ‘Frisco ride now gathers around 1,000 cyclists every month.

There are no leaders or hierarchy in the rides, so the route the cyclists take is often unplanned and decided by whoever is at the front of the crowd, occasionally someone will put a flyer out with a specific route, to make the ride more fun or sometimes for a greater purpose to highlight a cycling cause.

Massers as the regular attendees of Critical Mass sometimes call themselves are also cleverly in the know from a legal stand point. Although people describe them as protests, the massers themselves coin them as “celebrations of cycling” this way there is no need to give the police prior warning to know about their rides. They’re pretty smart, right?

Police in cities where Critical Mass is highly popular have caught on and often accompany or follow the riders. Recently police in Houston, Texas, have threatened that riders may have to start paying for the escort.

 

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I love the idea of going to a different city every last Friday of the month and hopping between the Critical Masses. They wouldn’t be hard to find these days, with most having their own facebook page. You could visit cities all over the world from Liverpool in England, Maputo in Mozambique, Bangalore, India and even Las Vegas in America

It would take you sixteen years to do every single Critical Mass in America alone.

Any bike is welcome, often the more inventive the better. Some people have mad contraptions and stilt bikes, some have trailers with generators and speakers that play tunes to accompany the ride. If you’re in the market for a bike at the moment then have a read of this 50 years of Bicycle design post and get straight into your first Critical Mass.

The riders have courted some controversy with local authorities and angry drivers. Cyclists blocking roads and running red lights are not only frustrating drivers because of the obvious hinderance, some are worried for their safety too.

Corking is a strategy that Critical Masses with larger numbers attempt, this is where the Massers block traffic with some bikes, and either ride through with the others or stop and raise their bikes in the air, delaying the traffic further. As you can imagine this winds up drivers to no end and sometimes results in violent outbursts of road rage.

But this is not the case with most Critical Masses. Most are fun, lively and communal and are received as a sort of spontaneous carnival passing through the town, I urge you to have a go and try some of the more exotic cycles around the world, you’ll make lifelong friends and have a great time.

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