Critical Mass 15 Years Later

Update: SFGate/Chronicle wrote a fairly balanced article about CM:15. “The Question”, an unscientific survey on the sidebar, made me laugh.

Ten years a month ago, I arrived to San Francisco with two suit cases and no plan. Sort of knew one person I met in Italy two years earlier, and had done a small bit of AOL browsing online. I found SRL videos, Chicken John devivals, and BLF billboard jams. Only after I arrived did I discover that Burning Man was based in San Francisco, and was shocked to see that I was in the City the very week of the event. Flipping through that week’s Bay Guardian back in late August 1997, I made an even larger discovery: Critical Mass. The month before, Mayor Willie Brown had decided to try to control the five-year-old, ad hoc bike ride home, and arrested about 200 bicyclists in the process. So things where tense in San Francisco my first Friday ever in the whole state.

Amazed that something like Critical Mass even existed, I showed up to Justin Herman Plaza with a camera full of black and white film and a big grin. I didn’t have a bike, but what I saw inspired me to get my old mountain bike shipped to me as soon as possible. With helicopters flying overhead, hundreds and hundreds of cyclists filled the plaza. I got flyers, stickers, offers to drink beer, and walked through the jubilant crowd as they left for the ride. With the SFPD all over the place, the atmosphere was more like a party than a protest.

My photos didn’t really capture the memory like I had hoped. But that was OK, because I had monthly opportunities to try to relive that child-like experience. I always feel 11 again whenever I ride my bicycle as an adult, so to go to an event where I ride with thousands of people who feel 11 again becomes a shared joy to treasure. Once my bike arrived, I slowly warmed up to the idea of competing with cars as traffic. I started out on the sidewalks and only hit the pavement after almost giving an elderly man a heart attack from riding up on him too fast. I quickly found a job and worked a crazy shift for a year that didn’t allow me to ride the Mass much. But they laid me off, so in 1999 I became a Mass regular.

Bike Summer in 1999 was full of great rides, nice people from around the world, and gave me the experience of riding down Lombard and Vermont’s crocked streets. In 2000, I went to the opening celebration of the Valencia Street bike lanes and remember that some of the shop-owners where upset about losing the lane. Now, I see dozens of bikes in my ‘hood, and know that more and more people are picking it up. In 2002, the 10th Anniversary ride was quite an experience. I think everyone I knew was in that ride. Working hard at CELLspace at that time, the place closed down so everyone could participate in that huge ride.

So, tomorrow is the 15th Anniversary Critical Mass ride. I don’t think it’ll hit 50,000 like the Critical Mass ride in Budapest did this past April, but I hope that the party goes down in a HUGE way tomorrow. This weekend already looks like a full one. What better way to commute home from work than by bike with thousands of your best friends.

See you there?