What is Critical Mass

Critical Mass is a monthly bicycle ride to celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists' right to the road. Critical Mass has no leaders, and no central organization licenses rides. Radical and yet simple message of CM claims: "we're not delaying traffic: we ARE the traffic!"

Some people come along to Critical Mass in support of fewer cars, more public transport and less pollution.

Others ride for improved health and to promote safety for cyclists.

Others turn out to demonstrate that cyclists are a part of the traffic mix entitled to specific paths and planning.

And everyone comes on Critical Mass to have fun.

Roads that are daunting and dangerous for a cyclist to navigate alone become safer to ride within "the Mass". The ride gives cyclists a taste of the safety and pleasure that could be an everyday experience, if a comprehensive bicycle path network existed.

Critical Mass aims to promote cycling and demonstrate there is an alternative to contemporary society's dependence on cars, fossil fuels and more roads. Bicycles are the most energy-efficient mode of transport - 4 times less energy intensive than walking.

History

The name "Critical Mass" has been taken from Ted White's 1992 documentary film about bicycling, "Return of the Scorcher". In the film, George Bliss describes a scene in China, where cyclists cannot cross intersections because of automobile cross-traffic and no stoplights. Slowly, more and more cyclists amass waiting to cross the road, and when there is a sufficient number of them - a critical mass, as Bliss called it - they are able to all move together with the force of their numbers to make traffic yield while they cross the road.

The first Critical Mass ride happened in September 1992 in San Francisco. There were 48 people. Soon later Frisco CM grew in numbers and the idea quickly spread to cities all over the world.

Now, similar grass-roots bicycle demonstrations happen in around 230 cities, mostly in Europe and North America but also in Israel, Japan, India, South Africa and Latin America. The most crowded Critical Mass known to me happened in New York in August 2004 with 5000-person ride whose theme was to protest the upcoming Republican Party National Convention. In Poland - more or less regularly - CM take place in 20 towns as of January 2005.

Warsaw flavour

Warsaw Critical Mass is the largest event of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe. Number of participants range from 100 to 2366 (May 2008) and is growing every year.

First CM in Warsaw happened in May 1998. It sprung from bicycle demonstrations organised by Green Federation since 1994.

Since September 2002 the CM is pedaling frequently, starting last Friday of every month at 6 pm at the Zygmunt's Column. Right after 6 pm there is somebody speaking to the crowd, contests and fun are on the way. Bicycle lights are assembled and sold to make up for demonstration's expenses.

There is mp3 music, drums, trumpets and whatever whoever envisions.

Quite a lot of businesses are giving discounts to CM riders through special gift certificate (known in local language as 'szprychowka') that you can obtain for 5 PLN (1,2 EU). Another sponsor printed over a hundred good size yellow flags, pride of Warsaw bike-cavalry. Most of them are kept locked in secret location because of terrorist threat.

In summer 2004 a tradition of night rides - from midnight to dawn - was established which is combining benefits of regular CM with fun of riding in the dark. A week or so before the mass special two-wheel squads are patrolling Warsaw putting up posters, sticking stickers (called 'vlepki' here) and handing out leaflets. Right before the mass in certain points of the city cyclists can meet and ride on together - radial rally, exactly what critical mass is all about.

Law and anarchy in Warsaw

As far as legal aspect of Warsaw Critical Mass, well, shit happened. Worth mentioning was brutal action of the police in June 2002, where people were beaten up, arrested, ticketed. Accidental cyclists and by-standers suffered too. On the other hand, a car trying to pass the mass may end up in the body shop. The same fate could meet vehicles parked on a bicycle lane. Warsaw Car Killers show no mercy...

After pacification 2002.06.21 cyclists and police started talking to prevent violence and assure some level of safety. A year of co-operation resulted in legalisation of Critical Mass with the local authorities. Police and smurfs are riding along. The group can not only ignore red stoplights, but also circle roundabout intersections clockwise like in freaking England.

Critical Mass Warsaw is coming out of the underground.

Future

Future belongs to us, so new ideas continue to emerge. Plans are bright:
- ongoing campaign to make mass bigger and known to everyone;
- human driven lit-up stage for performers, DJs or a band;
- reaching 10 000 participants after we all thought one thousand is actually scientifically critical mass;
- ???.

See also

Warsaw Critical Mass webpage (one of many): www.masa.waw.pl