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Critical Mass, San Diego

June 27, 2009

Critical Mass San Diego at Balboa Park

I have biked with Critical Mass the last two months here in San Diego. As is typical, the San Diego event takes place the last Friday of every month. At 7 PM cyclists rally in front of the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center. Or if you like, the more commonly recognized location is at “the big fountain in Balboa Park”. The cyclists depart at 8 PM. At which time they spill out onto the streets of San Diego. The last two months that I have attended Critical Mass there were around 500 cyclists present.

What is Critical Mass? It is a somewhat controversial, sometimes hated and mostly wonderfully entertaining gathering of bicyclists that assemble once a month for a night ride. Wikipedia does a good job of explaining it in detail.

From Wikipedia

Critical Mass is a bicycling event typically held on the last Friday of every month in over 300 cities around the world.[1] While the ride was originally founded in _1992 in San Francisco with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to cyclists,[2] the leaderless structure of Critical Mass makes it impossible to assign it any one specific goal. In fact, the purpose of Critical Mass is not formalized beyond the direct action of meeting at a set location and time and traveling as a group through city or town streets on bikes.

Critical Mass participants represent a wide cross section of society. There are 70 year old cycling enthusiasts, 16 year old punks, 30 something professionals, occasionally parents with their children and even some who look as though they Recumbent bicycle at Critical Mass San Diegomight be homeless. The bicycles present are equally varied. There are hybrids, racing bikes, mountain bikes, beach cruisers, gearless stunt bikes, recumbent bikes, and even a fellow with a stainless steel kitchen sink and LED banner welded to the back bicycle.

The diversity is remarkable, but I am most amazed by the people with gearless bikes that participate. The ride is generally over 20 miles and runs up and down San Diego’s canyons and hills. I can not imagine braving the ride without gears. Talk about a work out! There are a surprising number of kids on tiny stunt bikes. Even with no gears these kids somehow manage to maintain speed at the front of the pack even when going up hills.

_

Critical Mass has a tendency to piss off motorists. Bicyclists commonly block intersections and clog traffic. At first I thought this was unnecessary and mean spirited until I witnessed what happens when the cyclists do not take control at intersections and block lanes of traffic. Drivers, when afforded the opportunity, consistently behave erratically and dangerously. The safest course of action is the cyclists to “cork” intersections to allow riders safe passage.

Do not get me wrong, there are a few assholes who ride with Critical Mass. This handful seem to mostly be interested in getting drunk or high and causing a little harmless mayhem. However, the preponderance of participants are like me, which is to say solely interested in having a safe and fun bike ride through the gorgeous city of San Diego. Indeed, I can report from my experience that the largest Critical Mass in Mission Valley Mallpercentage of assholes are irate motorists. Being briefly inconvenienced by having to wait for as much as ten minutes for the cyclists to pass some motorists become enraged. I have personally witnessed several incidents of motorists being drunk, and occasionally physically violent or dangerously aggressive with their vehicles. These are the real assholes and are very much interested in causing a little not-so-harmless mayhem.

In San Diego Critical Mass receives a police escort. The San Diego Police Department is remarkably friendly and helpful. They tend to attempt to guide the riders through the city’s least trafficked areas; however this often realizes little success. The will police commonly “cork” intersections for riders. If cyclists are blocking an intersection (or circling as it is commonly referred to in San Diego) the police, when they arrive, move into the center to ensure safety.

_I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both my Critical Mass rides. I tune into the deadpod and cycle (mostly) safely for an invigorating 20+ miles. My first ride I met an interesting environmental attorney in his late 50s. The ride yesterday I showed up with Damien, my co-worker, about 10 minutes before take off and he and I had a blast. If you have a bike, regardless the quality or style, show up for Critical Mass. Not everyone bikes the entire 20 miles as many drop off in the Gas Lamp or Ocean Beach to imbibe. Biking with Critical Mass has to be the safest way to bike San Diego at night and guarantees a fresh view of San Diego even for the seasoned downtown cyclist.

Other Posts: July Critical Mass Ride

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15 Comments
  1. Wanted to share a little film of SD's critical mass on Halloween this year.


  2. SDFISH permalink

    Im with nasdf, I was going fishing at Ocean Beach Pier and I was driving down sunset cliffs blvd. There is an island divider between the oncoming traffic and my traffic. The damned bicyclists were in both lanes, riding over the grass island. Some SOB kicked my car. I'm so pissed with this event….. I want to bring my paintball gun shoot these a-holes that are in the wrong lane… Especially the ones with the balls to drive into traffic coming at them, not with them… I wear to gawd… If it werent for the chance of getting arrested, I would shoot one of those fools with my paintball gun on sunset especially if they're riding towards me in the WRONG lane…

  3. nasdf permalink

    critical mass can fuck itself. If I was 15 I'd hide in the bushes and peg you fuckers with eggs. I hope you get taken out by some cars. The streets are built for cars and not bikes. Obey the traffic rules and you won't have issues. The dumb ass police help you out when they should be throwing your ass in jail.

  4. Mark permalink

    I personally cannot stand Critical Mass.
    I love how if someone has a “cause” then they think they have the “right” to disrupt other people’s lives.
    Listen, I have a bike – and so does my wife. I recycle, I bike when I can. I consider myself a "good person" when it comes to the environment. But forcing YOUR view on someone else will never get you the support of the true "masses".

    Here's a little scenario for you. And if you were one of the yahoos for the June SD critical mass, then I was the guy on the corner of Laurel and 5th telling you what a bunch of D-bags you are.

    My wife is pregnant now and her doctor said she shouldnt ride a bike now so she doesnt. So we go out to dinner IN OUR CAR because that is the only way to get there, and on the way back we are trapped by a bunch of Critical Mass tools. Now i dont know if you know what happens to pregnant women if they drink ANYTHING, but they pretty much have to go to the bathroom all the time. But, hey, you have your little “cause” so I guess my wife will just have to sit there in complete discomfort while you A-holes block intersections.
    I got out of my car and made it a point to personally flip off every biker that passed me while yelling at them and calling them any foul name I could think of.
    My wife was literally CRYING in the car because she was so uncomfortable. What is she supposed to do, swat in the street?
    What if she was going into Labor for gods sake? What is WRONG with you people?

    Critical Mass = a bunch of misguided tools. You do yourselves a disservice and do nothing to help your cause.

    Bikers nowadays seem to think the world owes them something on normal days, let along CM rides. You want to have the same “rights” as cars, but none of the responsibilities.
    It is perfectly acceptable to take up half the road and go below the speed limit because your silly legs cant get you any faster because “you have the same RIGHTS as cars” supposedly – yet you will RELIGIOUSLY drive right through a stop sign with just a glance to the left and the right.

    What a bunch of hypocrites.

  5. Damien permalink

    I have to agree with you, it was awesome. Here are my videos and pictures – http://www.flickr.com/photos/damienhowley/sets/72

    Damien

  6. I appreciate the unique experience that Critical Mass delivers. My first experience was flagging down a pedicab on Broadway in Downtown, and suddenly got surrounded, and high-fived, a bunch of riders as they zipped by. It was fun and entertaining, and pretty cool riding in the back of a pedicab while the sometimes chaotic Critical Mass enveloped me.

    I do understand some of the motorists getting upset at having to wait as lights are green, police are halting traffic, and they have someplace to be, especially when they can't move, have no choice but to *wait*.

    However, keep in mind the "soul" purpose of Critical Mass: to point out that cycling is usually perceived as 2nd rate to cars, even pedestrians, and that attitude is silly when considering how much time a car saves in traveling. People do not appreciate anything anymore, and giving up a few minutes to let cyclists make a point while you chill in your car (listening to your radio with your air conditioning blowing, for most of you) is the exact focus of Critical Mass.

    Besides, if you're not aware of and plan around Critical Mass… you soon will be the next time you experience the swarming of the cyclists that create a very rarely experienced joy, that you too can take part in if you let go of the perceived convenience that automobile transportation provides, and some of you deem yourself worthy of.

    Everything's Amazing, Nobody's Happy: http://is.gd/1gNIm

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