Posted on

Critical Mass – a phenomenon on two wheels

Critical Mass Hamburg 2012
Critical Mass Hamburg 2012

 

Some of you might have already heard about “Critical Mass” events. However, for those not in the know, they are an excellent way to join in with the cycling community in your town or city, and take back the roads from the backlog of cars that often prevents people from getting on their bikes more often.

Held on the last Friday of each month, Critical Mass now takes place in hundreds of cities all over the world. However, the event has humble beginnings- it started off in San Francisco in 1992, when a small group of cyclists sought to take back the streets from cars. Just a few dozen people showed up to what was then called “Commute Clot”, as it was intended to make a stand by reclaiming rush hour roads. Afterwards, they all retired to a local bike shop, where a documentary about how Chinese road users worked together, queueing up at intersections until one side had reached “critical mass”, when they would then move forward. From this inspiration, a whole new movement was born.

Critical Mass Budapest 2013
Critical Mass Budapest 2013

Just how big each Critical Mass event is depends on where it is held, and who turns up. Sometimes there isn’t really any organizational structure to things and it is more of a spontaneous event, and whoever takes part simply goes with the flow. But in other cases there are highly dedicated people who put a lot of work into organizing it. Some groups choose to plan a route beforehand, and pass out flyers to show riders where to go while others even put up a live GPS to track the current position of the mass. These more regular rides tend to be a lot smaller, with a dedicated group who frequently get together, but in major cities like Berlin (June 2016: 2800 riders) or London (May 2016: 1000+ riders) they are massive. In some places, such as Budapest, Hungary, there are just two Critical Masses per year- on Earth Day and International Car Free Day (April 22 and September 22 respectively) tens of thousands of people join in, making for quite a spectacle. These are great opportunities for people to join together, make new friends, and show the world just how powerful the cycling community can be.