In 1992 some San Francisco cyclists met up on Market Street for the inaugural Critical Mass. Their group ride became a monthly event, and over time metamorphosed into a movement that spread around the world. Critical Mass is a celebration of pedal power, rediscovering urban areas, safety in numbers, and the social aspect of people from all walks mixing together on bikes. The monthly rides provide a regular reminder of clean transport alternatives, and challenges thought around access for bikes on city streets.
Many cyclists have experienced the feeling of being a second class citizen on the road, and much of the movement’s success has been in reminding people and municipalities of the importance of cycling as part of the city’s transport system DNA. Critical Mass has no formal agenda and is not an organization, however that hasn’t stopped its worldwide spread and appeal.
Unlike many European cities, Madrid does not have a strong culture of cycling. It's where Critical Mass, known locally as 'Bicicrítica', has been credited with breathing life into the city's “gray breath of traffic”, and has helped to develop a culture of cycling.
From Budapest to Beirut to Mexico City to Madrid, Critical Mass happens once a month in over 300 cities around the world. Beirut is a city with notorious traffic problems, where commuters can expect huge delays traveling by car. In this Middle Eastern city, Critical Mass has helped to raise the profile of cycling as a viable transport alternative, while also increasing acceptance of cyclists on the road.
Cycling as both a sport and a means of transport has been embraced in many places around the world, and more cities in the U.S. could benefit from acknowledging cyclists as part of their social fabric. As the benefits of this form of transport continue to capture hearts and minds around the globe, it's worth remembering that its potential to promote positive social change has been brought into sharp focus by a monthly international 'sport' started by a small San Francisco group; the founders of Critical Mass.