Critical Mass – July 30th

Critical Mass. What exactly is it?

Celebrated in over 300 cities, Critical Mass is a leaderless group ride with no planned route. Typically Critical Mass is held the last Friday of the month. A few years ago Windsor had Critical Mass rides, and apparently they are starting again – I was handed a flyer for the next Critical Mass while at the Downtown Farmer’s Market. The ride will start at 8pm at Atkinson Skate Park on University Avenue West on Friday July 30th.

Critical Mass dates back to the early 90s in San Francisco. Called “Commute Clot” for the first ride, they changed the name to “Critical Mass”, and had 100 riders by their 4th ride. They now average around 1000 participants and rides have spread to over 325 cities around the world. Budapest holds 2 Critical Mass rides a year, with close to 80,000 massers at one of the rides.

The rides have often been perceived as protest activities, but participants sometimes describe them as a “celebration”, “grassroots reclamation of public space” or simply a “fun community ride” instead. Because there is no planned route, participants in some cities have practiced a technique called “corking” in order to block the intersections and keep the group together. This tactic has sometimes lead to hostility between riders and motorists, as well as to violence and arrests. San Francisco, the birthplace of Critical Mass has since come up with “Critical Manners” rides, where participants are expected to obey all traffic laws, such as signaling and stopping at red lights. Organizers of the Windsor ride have indicated that it is not going to be a political protest, and I am interested to see how it turns out.

9 thoughts on “Critical Mass – July 30th”

    1. Yup, 8pm, but then it is also a Friday night. Still might be too late for those that tow their children in trailers though 😉

  1. Aren’t these things traditionally scheduled for “rush hour” – for maximum impact on motorist traffic? Perhaps the organizers decided to roll a few hours later to be courteous and avoid purposing the ride mainly as a nuisance, as some communities sometimes lean toward? Vicky, I’d love to ride along with you guys on this. We’d have at least an hour or so of light and could break off at dusk if you felt uncomfortable. Plus we’ll have the safety of riding in numbers which always helps.

  2. Hmm, eight o clock is awfully late for one of these.

    There’s a distinction to be made between not setting up a ride as a political action, and deliberately taking steps to prevent it from being a political action. This ride, by making it so late that it can’t inconvenience motorists, seems to be taking the latter approach.

    One of the things I’ve always liked about the Mass is that it doesn’t have a deliberate program of action, which in a fractious cycling community is a source of strength. People can show up because they want to reclaim the roads, have fun, raise awareness, screw with cars, or all of the above – or none of the above. It’s a temporary space that permits people with different viewpoints to participate.

    By setting up a Mass so late, the organizers have basically said that they don’t want to block traffic, and they’re not particularly concerned if anyone sees them there. I probably wouldn’t go myself if I were in town right now.

    1. Personally, I wouldn’t go to a Mass where I thought that people would be trying to block traffic. In my opinion, the purpose of Critical Mass is to show people that we are traffic, not to block traffic or irritate motorists. Even in cities such as San Francisco and Vancouver, there has been a move towards not “screwing with cars” – asking people not to ride in opposing traffic lanes, not to confront motorists, and even starting Critical Manners rides instead. I have lived in Vancouver when there were some very large Masses, and the public reaction to them blocking traffic on purpose was quite negative. I think we need to do more in Windsor to get the public on our side.

      1. Very well said, Steve. Antagonizing motorists only sets back the cycling agenda even further. For those who already hate cyclists, said behavior only reinforces their belief set that revolves around the notion that cyclists are a nuisance. For those who are on side with the cyclists already it gives them reason to join the already large anti-cyclist mindset. Cyclists need to make more friends/allies, period.

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