How to create a Critical Mass

Don’t have a ride in your city? Then start one!

Critical Mass is many things to many people, and while many concepts expressed may evoke memories of past political protests, Critical Mass is above all a celebration, not a protest.

The Structure of Critical Mass

Critical Mass has no leaders. It’s an event, not an organisation. There is no national group that licenses local rides. In every city that has a ride, one or more cyclists just picked a day and time and started handing out fliers. If your city doesn’t have a ride, that’s what you’ll do. You don’t need anyone to authorise your ride. You just do it!

Xerocracy: Ideas are spread, routes shared, and consensus sought through the ubiquitous copy machines on every job or at copy shops in many neighbourhoods—a “xerocracy” in which anyone is free to make copies of their ideas and pass them around. Leaflets, flyers, stickers and magazines all circulate madly both before, during and after the ride, endering leaders unnecessary by ensuring that strategies and tactics are understood by as many people as posssible.


Critical Mass can be fun, but in and of itself doesn’t bring about much political change. The rides are more effective  then combined with more direct advocacy. If all you and your cohorts do is ride your bikes around once a month, don’tbe surprised when nothing changes. But Critical Mass does help build a local cycling community, the creation of hich can result in plenty of political activism.

Decide on a Recurring. Time, Day and Location

Your ride needs to happen at a consistent time and place each month so that people always know where and when it is. The last Friday of the month is traditional, but many groups have chosen other recurring days.A well-known public area, easily accessible to most bicyclists, where large numbers of people can congregate before the ride is perfect.

Follow the Legal Procedure?

This is always a question. When local police learn of your ride, they may insist that you get a permit, perhaps a parade permit. Don’t do it. But let them escort you, if they want. The point of Critical Mass is that biking is a right, not a privilege. Cars don’t need permits to ride on the streets, and neither should cyclists. They may threaten to arrest you if you ride without a permit. At that point you’ll need to consider whether you’re willing to get arrested to make your point. If you’re not, and you choose not to ride or choose to get the permit, then you’ve allowed them to “put cyclists in their place.” It’s not an easy choice for some. Some Critical Mass rides (in Austin, Texas) were told it needed a permit, refused to get one, and then suffered arrests of rid-ers. They went to court and either won their cases, or had them thrown out of court.

What Route to Take?

Most Critical Mass rides don’t have a set route—they go through the city centre randomly, with whoever happens to be in front leading the way. Of course, you can set a route if you want to, but don’t think that you have to. Some time it is better to have some proposals in advance and choose one just before you start. Don’t cycle the same route every month; it’s boring and the drivers and the police will know your plans.

Learn the Traffic Laws

If your ride draws any appreciable number of riders, you can expect attention from the police. Riders may or may not choose to follow the law, but you still need to know what the law is so you know whether or not you’re breaking it. Get a copy of your local traffic laws from your state and/or city offices or web sites. Most U.S. states require cyclists to obey all the same rules as cars (e.g. Stop signs and red lights). You’ll probably also be required to have a headlight after dark, to cycle in a line or there may be limits to how many bikes side by side you can ride. Some riders ignore laws that have no safety consequences (e.g., riding three abreast instead of two abreast).

Will You Block Traffic?

The most controversial aspect of Critical Mass is the extent to which it blocks traffic. Participants are fond of saying ‘We’re notblocking traffic, we are traffic!” Just because bikes are legitimate road users doesn’t mean they don’t slow down other road users, especially when they go out of their way to do so by taking up multiple lanes.

How many lanes should you take? We generally suggest leaving at least one lane open for cars. (So if you’re on a our-lane road, take no more than three lanes. But if you’re on a one-lane road, obviously you will take the whole lane.) Taking all the lanes, all the time, may be fun, but it certainly brings the heat down on you quicker. It also doesn’t win you any friends.

Are you doing Critical Mass to show drivers how much fun biking can be, or are you just trying to piss them off because it makes you feel good? Critical Mass riders can only answer these questions for themselves. Also remember that your local laws may have a say about that—though some riders choose to ignore them. Even if you decide that you don’t want to go overboard with taking lanes, understand that you can’t control everyone on the ride; some riders may want to take all the lanes all the time. If this is not the flavour you want for your ride, then make that clear in the flyers you make for the ride, and get other cyclists to apply gentle peer pressure when a few cyclists stray. Of course, if a lot of cyclists stray, then that’s the kind of ride they want, and that’s the kind of ride that will happen.

Confrontation with Motorists

Harassing car drivers doesn’t help anyone. You can assert your right to the road without being bad about it. Many cyclists make it a point to be friendly to motorists, such as smiling and waving, even smiling and waving back when motorists are honking and cursing at them. Some go even further, handing out flowers, holding signs saying “Sorry for the delay,” or passing out fliers apologising for the minimal once-a-month delay, and explaining why they ride. If you want to avoid confrontation with motorists, put something to that effect in the flyers you use to promote the rides.

Make Flyers and Promote the Ride

But the most important thing is to have a clear message and good ways of spreading it: leaflets, banners, talking on a megaphone…and try to make every ride different, so it doesn’t get boring.

The best advertising is flyers placed directly on bicycles; you know a cyclist is going to see it. Make several strips per page to save paper. (You can attach the flyers to the bike in many ways such as squeezing the brake lever to open it, slipping in the flyer, then releasing the brake lever—or you can thread the flyer between the brake and gearing cables on the top tube.) Hand them out to pedestrians who are staring at you, but take care to not scare them by cycling too fast around them. Also put up flyers at local bike shops. If your city has local bike media (like newsletters), don’t forget to inform them as well. Set up a simple web site and let people know about it.

Be Ready for the Media

If your ride is big enough to take the attention of the local media they will come; although it is better if you invite them. So, be prepared for them. Usually there are special people for talking to them, chosen in advance—the most informed ones, with good communication skills.

Be Prepared for…Police Intervention!

The police may or may not show up at your ride. (But if you consistently take every single traffic lane or harass drivers, then they almost certainly will.) If they show up, they may harrass you for breaking traffic laws, or they may harrass you even if you’re not breaking any laws. Your best defense against unreasonable police action is a video camera. Though in some cases, police have improperly confiscated cameras and tapes.)

Be Creative!

Critical Mass can be festive. Many riders wear costumes or decorate their bikes extravagantly. Try different themes such as music, games, face painting, circus acts, ballroom dancing. Light candles if evening. Use your imagination. Make the rides more fun.

Happy Riding!

- adapted from World Wide Critical Mass, Reach Out Publications and Scorcher

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