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.