Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Critical mass: 20 years celebrating bicycle rides

Bicycles do not block traffic: we are traffic. With this idea in mind, on 25 September 1992 about fifty cyclists in San Francisco (US) rode around this town to claim the use of bicycles. This idea came up after watching Ted White’s documentary film The Return of the Scorcher, describing traffic in some towns in China, where cyclists are not respected, so they wait until there are some more cyclists at a traffic light to cross large avenue as a single vehicle.
In the field of sociology, the expression critical mass is used to classify a sufficient number of people to make any phenomenon possible. This idea comes from the field of physics, and this group of cyclists from San Francisco adopted it to call their cycling event. The idea is quite simple: a bunch of cyclist meets once a month to ride around their town all together. As simple as that: it is not a demonstration, the area is not closed to traffic, so there is no argument between cyclists and drivers or cyclists and police officers. The point is making people get used to seeing bicycles around, because bicycles are part of the city traffic and they deserve the same respect as the rest of vehicles. It is a peaceful, celebratory event, often involving the whole family. 
This phenomenon soon spread around. In the following year, more than one thousand cyclists took part in San Francisco rides, and at present this event is celebrated in about 400 towns worldwide. If you want to know where and when the next cycling event is, check this web site.
Last month it was the twentieth anniversary of the first critical mass, but it became a real “critical mass” not so long ago. More and more people take part in these cycling meetings (be them regular or sporadic cyclists) because they understand that riding is not just a game for kids or a weekend hobby, but an alternative vehicle which is healthier, cheaper and more respectful with the environment than any other means of transport.
Ride your bicycle every day, and celebrate it once a month!

  1. The documentary film The Return of the Scorcher: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gF-ddhcnT-s
  2. What “critical mass” means:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_mass_%28sociodynamics%29
  3. When and where the next ride is: http://criticalmass.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_rides


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