What is Critical Mass?
Critical Mass is an event that began in San Francisco in
the early 1990s and has since spread to hundreds of cities around the
world. It usually occurs monthly (sometimes weekly). as bicyclists
spontaneously come together to ride the ordinarily car-clogged streets
of their cities. Critical Mass focuses on the rights of bicyclists
and the rights of pedestrians on our own streets. It also brings
attention to the deteriorating quality of life -- starting with the
toxic levels of air and noise pollution -- that cars create for
It is a leaderless ride, free and open to all, where bicyclists
take to the streets to promote bicycling as the best means of urban
Bicyclists are just as much traffic and have just as much right to
be on the roads and travel at their own speed as anyone else. Having
said that, TIME'S UP! recommends all road users obey all New York
City traffic laws, especially one-way street restrictions and
traffic lights. Remember, the respect we seek as cyclists must be
matched by our respect for the rights of other people, including
pedestrians and drivers.
Critical Mass is a bike ride, not an organization, and no two riders
participate for exactly the same reason. "What is Critical Mass?" is
a question that has as many answers as participants. The only real
way to answer the question is to join the ride yourself. So what are
you waiting for?
Critical Mass FAQ
(For New York City)
Q. How long is the ride?
A. It lasts for one to two hours, finishing either where we started
or at an event, such as a party. In distance, it's usually not more
than ten miles, through well-travelled city streets. Rides tend to
be longer in the summer and shorter in the winter.
Q. Where does the ride go?
A. Rides go wherever the mood of the ride brings them. There is no
set route, so the people at the front tend to decide by consensus
where the next turn will be.
Q. Do I need a special bike for the Critical Mass Ride?
A. No. Any bike will do. People use ten speeds, BMX bikes, tandems,
fold-ups, cruisers, and all manners of bicycles. It's often fun going
just to see the different types of bicycles you'll see!
Here's a flyer that tries to explain
What's Going On
(PDF Format). You can print it up and
hand it out to people!
Q. Can I go on the ride with rollerblades?
A. Yes, many people do. We would recommend that you are quite
competent though, as the pace is medium, and there are lots of other
riders to contend with. And you might want to bring a flashlight with
you to watch the road surface.
Q. Are lights and a helmet required for the Critical Mass Ride?
A. Lights are required by law after dark on streets in New York.
Helmets are not mandatory after age 14, though if you're older and not
completely comfortable riding your bicycle, especially in a crowd of
other bicycles, you might wish to wear one.
Q. Is Critical Mass a protest?
A. Short answer: It's not a protest, it's a pro-bike celebration.
Long answer: There are as many reasons to ride as there are riders.
Some may want to protest, others may want to demonstrate, and others
may want to celebrate. It is certainly an expressive event, but it's
quite different from protests.
Q. Is the Critical Mass Ride illegal?
A. We have the same right to the road as cars do. Think of it
as rush hour on bicycles.
Q. What about running red lights?
A. Bicycles are traffic, and as such they have the same right to be
on the road -- and travel at their own speed -- as other road users.
We believe it follows that bicyclists also have the same
responsibility as other road users to comply with the traffic laws,
including observing such basic requirements as one-way street
restrictions and traffic lights.
Q. Does Critical Mass block traffic?
A. We're not blocking traffic, we are traffic. So many
bicycles riding together, while a beautiful sight to see, might
seem to slow some automobile traffic down to human levels. The
actual impact is negligible, according to
Q. Does Critical Mass delay emergency vehicles?
A. Quite the opposite. A street full of bicycles can clear the
way much faster than a street full of cars. We part like the
Red Sea for ambulances and fire engines.
Q. Does TIME'S UP! organize Critical Mass?
A. No. As an international movement, Critical Mass is bigger than,
and independent of, TIME'S UP! TIME'S UP! does not lead or control
New York's Critical Mass. What we do is promote Critical Mass
(which is typical for local groups in Critical Mass cities), getting
the word out with fliers, web listings, banners, props, special
bikes, etc. On occasion we suggest theme rides (such as an Earth
Day theme for the April Mass) and throw after-parties. TIME'S UP!
is also there documenting both the positive and negative aspects of
Q. Who leads Critical Mass?
You do! Everyone's a leader. Usually you lead with your
Q. Is the Critical Mass Ride all year around?
A. Yes it is.
Other Critical Mass Rides
- From San Francisco, www.critical-mass.org has lists of rides worldwide,
and links to other resources, such as how to start your own Critical
- Based in Austin Texas, Michael Bluejay's
Worldwide Critical Mass Hub.