Twenty years ago, in 1992, a group of fifty riders struck out across the San Francisco (and disrupted traffic) in order to protest the lack of safe cycling routes and designated cycling lanes. Today, the city is still a dangerous place for cyclists and requires extreme vigilance, but it is now many times safer than it was in the early 90’s.

The ride has political roots and an anarchist reputation, but the 20th anniversary ride was pure celebration. Critical Mass began in San Francisco and has since spread to over three hundred locations, and cyclists from all over the world have participated. This was just a normal group ride but on a gigantic scale. All the stereotypes were on display – families on tandems, freestyle fixies, dentists on carbon road bikes, and mountain bike bros.

Friday traffic was San Francisco was brought to a complete halt on September 28th, 2012. Some drivers took it in stride and waved or filmed or cheered, while others were extremely irate. A few fights almost broke out, but fellow riders and passengers always intervened, and not a single arrest was made. The event has become a San Francisco institution and is accompanied by a police escort. The police chaperon the ride on motorcycles, cordon off some streets, and were even seen explaining the unique sight to fuming drivers.

Pictures after the break…

The ride began slowly as thousands of bikers gradually trickled out onto the waterfront.

This being San Francisco, the nudists were out in full force. This being San Francisco, it was cold enough that they all went home early.

Many cyclists took the alternate route and wore costumes – like this cow pirate.

The unique riders where surpassed by the even more unique bikes. Tall bikes, double decker tall bikes, and choppers where plentiful.

My favorite bike wasn’t the most unique traditionally, but no one else offered to serve me a mixed adult beverage.

In a sign of our times, the landscape was dominated by crummy fixies. Some with the narrow 700c wheels struggled with the frequent rail crossings and there where several low speed crashes.  Who hasn’t made that mistake at one point or another ?

Critical Mass doesn’t follow a designated path but passing through the Broadway tunnel is a long standing tradition. It seems some people took this opportunity to tag the walls.

As the ride eventually petered out after a solid fifteen miles, cyclists gathered in pockets of the city to celebrate. A large contingent stopped in the middle of 7th and Market and watched staged performance art, while others headed to Dolores Park to enjoy the recently renovated playground.

This was my first critical mass and it was a lot of fun. You can bet I’ll be there for the 25th anniversary! Happy Belated Birthday Critical Mass.

Do you think Critical Mass is good or bad for cycling ? Where any of you along for the ride Friday night or have you participated in the past? Let us know in the comments.






  1. I consider myself a bike enthusiast / competitive racer and this was the first public “protest” I’ve ever done. I rode in the November 2010 critical mass ride. It was a great experience, everyone (bicyclist) were really friendly… even the police! We complain about cars a lot, and having taken part in something like this meant a lot more for me than seeing cars with bumper stickers or cycling jerseys with the “give 3 feet” saying on it. But the bigger aspect is ever since I took part in critical mass, I’ve given a conscious effort to ask myself if the trip I’m about to take “is worth driving a car to” or can I just ride my bike. After participating in critical mass, it really helped me from going from someone that uses the bicycle for exercise to someone that uses the bicycle as a lifestyle in multiple ways. There’s a difference between a cyclist and a cyclist.

    I know it sounds like hippie talk, but it feels pretty good to ride most places even though I live in a rural area.

  2. I used to do the Critical Mass back in the day (Chicago). Not sure we accomplished anything except making people aware of cyclists packing the roads one friday night a every month… Still was fun though.

    Gotta love how that nudist rides with gloves on… Because, you know, he’s worried about chaffing on his palms.

  3. A bigger bunch of a**holes has never been assembled. Except maybe at an Occupy meeting. In fact I would say 95% would attend the same events. Just so we understand the caliber of folks being discussed.

  4. AWESOME! And even if it accomplishes little for bike advocacy(which i dont think is true), it sure feels nice to ride in the city and celebrate life on two wheels.

    It blows my mind that people even drive cars in the city. If this makes you angry you probably need to take a deep breath and have alittle patience. The inability of drivers to deal with having to take 15 seconds longer to get somewhere puts the lives/safety of cyclists at risk everyday. I think thats the point with critical mass.

  5. “It seems some people took this opportunity to tag the walls” of the Broadway Tunnel. Terrific. That’ll really boost cycling’s image among the general public. Thanks, Critical Mass, for 25 years of making us all look like a**holes.

  6. I’ve been riding longer than the majority of these a-holes have been alive and yet I had my company’s work truck vandalized (beer bottles thrown) while blocked/stopped at an intersection on my way home on a Friday night.

    $600 worth of broken windshield and scratched paint so these drunken d0uche’s can make a point, They make all cyclist look like massive jerks.

  7. I like the unique identity and good vibe from Critical Mass. The message of bicycle advocacy and encouraging politicians to create more bike lanes and improve road conditions is a noble thing that Critical Mass is known for. I am glad that such a wonderful event occurs every month in all the major cities worldwide to remind everyone to share the road and promote bicycling as a fantastic mode of transportation.

    Two thumbs up for Critical Mass!

  8. I’m very sceptical that the persons who participate in “critical mass’ events are the same persons, or in touch with, or sensitive to, or even aware of, the large number of advocacy groups in various cities that actually engage public officials towards building more bike lanes and other cycling friendly infrastructures.

    I suppose different cities may have different vibes but my own experience with critical mass quickly showed me that I don’t want anything at all to do with them.
    The “tagging the walls” part of this story is very representative of the general outlook I witnessed myself among critical mass participants. The one quote I remember well was, “lets go out and fuck with traffic!!”. (vs, “lets go out and BE traffic”)

    I’m with a few of the other posters above. This is just rudderless angst with little redeeming value if any.

  9. The overall majority, like 99% of the people at Critical Mass are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. It’s a shame that those that don’t support Critical Mass and the good it stands for pick out one bad individual out of the millions do Critical Mass riders as their basis of why bicycling advocacy is wrong.

    Critical Mass riders are your brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends. They are people too.

  10. Charles Arnold – 10/01/12 – 11:49pm

    “It seems some people took this opportunity to tag the walls” of the Broadway Tunnel. Terrific. That’ll really boost cycling’s image among the general public. Thanks, Critical Mass, for 25 years of making us all look like a**holes.

    The “tagging” that is shown is wiping by hand which is CLEANING away the exhaust grime that is on the walls of the tunnel. The walls are black with exhaust fumes that it’s easy to make a message and draw images of bikes on the walls.

  11. ahole on bike meet ahole txtng in his car. some sorta modern evolutionary cocktail? what’s that popular phrase? …wait for it….

  12. my wife and I were actually honeymooning in SF, and got to witness this the 2nd to last night of our trip – it was truly incredible. While I didn’t witness any of the vandalism or near-fighting that took place (a few bad apples that ruined the bunch, I’m sure…) what I did see was everyone from suit-clad businessmen to the grungiest of hipsters to entire families with kids all pedaling and smiling. It was the most unifying event I think I’ve ever seen. I was surprised to learn the next day that not even 3% or SFers commute by bike despite there being an amazing infrastructure of bike lanes and racks. After driving a rental car through downtown the entire week, I sure as hell wouldn’t drive to work there, but riding would also be a challenge – There seemed to be a decent tolerance of bikers, but still enough jerk motorists on the road to make riding there unpredictable. I hope the core message of critical mass starts to shine through events like these, as they currently seem to generate more anger than enthusiasm from outsiders.

  13. Let me use some of the above poster’s logic:



    Sound infantile?

    OK, then, stop lumping all critical mass riders together and just go ride all by yourself with a big frown.
    I promise I won’t judge you.

  14. Critical Mass riders are a bunch of idiots. They don’t care about making a point, they want to ruin your day. Running them over would be doing the world a favor.

  15. MIke B – what are you even doing on Bike rumor making a comment like that? do you ride a bike? if so, I hope your wish does not come true and you get flattened….or do I?

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