NOTE: I stopped updating this page around 2000, when I stopped riding in CM since many of the riders had become too confrontational for my tastes. The page remains for historical purposes. You can also read my commentary on how the Austin CM ride changed between 1993 and 2000.
Last Friday of
every month at 5:00pm
Meet at the UT West Mall
(Guadalupe between 22nd & 23rd)
dominant paradigm since Oct. '93
Looking for the video of the 9-28-01 ride in which a crazed Jeep driver ran over a cyclist and destroyed a Honda Civic? It's here.
Critical Mass is a monthly bicycle ride to celebrate cycling and to take back the streets. It began in San Francisco in 1992, and quickly spread to cities all over the world. Critical Mass appeared in Austin in October 1993. [more on the origin of Critical Mass]
We meet on the last Friday of every month (holiday or not, rain or shine) at 5:00pm on the UT West Mall where it meets Guadalupe (between 22nd & 23rd Streets). Participation varies a LOT. There have been as few as two riders and as many as 200. "Typical" is 50.
Everyone has their own reasons for riding on Critical Mass. Some see it as a protest of cars, others just like to go on a fun bike ride. After being menaced every day by cars, many of us find it exhilirating to ride with 50-100 other cyclists in a fun, supportive atmosphere. Critical Mass doesn't have any specific agenda or goals. While most of us would like to see an end to the car culture, Critical Mass doesn't have a specific plan to hasten that goal; it's just a bike ride. (Although many of us do work with other organizations that have specific plans for increasing cycling access.)
Most riders run stop signs and red lights on the ride (after making sure that it's safe to do so). Some riders obey all the rules, all the time. Many of us feel that the road rules were written with cars in mind and make little sense when applied to bicycles, especially 100 bicycles. (Try staying in one lane on a ride that large.) Requiring a bicycle to behave like a car is much like requiring a fish to behave like an accountant -- they're two totally different things. Other more enlightened parts of the world (including one state in the U.S.) allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs.
Many of us also have contempt for the law because it's applied unevenly to bicyclists and motorists. When Austin had a helmet law, bicyclists were thrown in jail left and right for not wearing helmets, while we've never heard of a motorist going to jail for not wearing a seatbelt. And while cyclists can easily get tickets for something as mundane as riding on the sidewalk, motorists who hit and kill or severely injure cyclists often get off scott-free. The law also provides extra rights for motorists at our expense, such as the right for cars to park in our bike lanes. With all this in mind, it's no wonder that many cyclists have little regard for a law that requires them to stop at a stop sign when there's no danger in their simply slowing down instead.
Many contend that bicycles can't block traffic because bicycles *are* traffic. In reality, it's obvious that if cyclists take up all the lanes of the road then cars (which could travel faster) can't get by. In any event, most CM rides leave at least one lane open for cars. Cars control ALL the streets, 24 hours a day, every day of the month. We only take SOME of the streets, for a COUPLE of hours, ONE day a month. People who complain about traffic blocking are basically saying that 99% control isn't enough for cars, they should have 100%. Taken in that light, who's *really* being greedy about road rights?
Police were a constant presence for about the first year of the Austin rides, and often made many unjustified arrests and issued lots of bogus tickets. (Most Critical Massers had their cases dismissed or won their cases in court.) Typically, dozens of motorcycle, car, and bike cops would be waiting at the meeting site before the ride started, and ride with the mass, looking for any excuse to issue tickets or make arrests (and inventing "infractions" when that didn't happen). After Critical Massers showed videotapes of out-of-control cops to the City Council in late 1994, the cops mysteriously stopped showing up to the rides. These days, cops only show up when CM'ers do something stupid like take up EVERY lane of traffic on a roadway for an extended period of time (at which point all the yuppies tie up the 911 system with their car phones). In general, if we leave at least one lane of traffic open for cars (even on a three-lane roadway), then we don't get hassled.
Nobody. There are no leaders. Anybody can ride, and whoever happens to be in the front of the mass usually determines the route. Riders are free to follow all traffic laws or break all the laws as they see fit, with each rider being responsible for his/her own actions. Riders can also try to convince fellow riders that they should take up all the lanes of traffic or that they *shouldn't* take up all the lanes of traffic.
It's random. Sometimes busy streets, sometimes peaceful streets. Whoever's in front usually determines where we go. Often someone suggests a special destination, such as the site where a cyclist got hit by a car, a bank that doesn't allow cyclists to use the drive-thru, or a street with bike lanes where we "ticket" cars parked in the bike lane (although it's legal for cars to park in bike lanes in Austin. Go figure.) In the summer months, the ride usually ends at a swimming hole, like Barton Springs, the spillway, or Sunken Gardens.
West Mall. The mass right before it leaves, circa 1993/94.
State Capitol. Critical Mass at the State Capitol, circa 1993/94.
A Tale of Two Trailers. This is Michael Bluejay before a CM ride with his Worksman trike, and his trailer built by fellow CM'er Dwight. For this ride, there's also a second trailer, made with bamboo by an unknown builder.
High Bike. Brendan Guilfoyle on a home-made high bike, just prior to a CM ride.
Longjohn. Brendan again, on a hauling bike built by Jeremy Rosen.
Here are articles from the heydey of Austin CM (1993-94).
Here's a letter we got from an Australian cop who rides CM in Sydney.