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Critical Mass

Iain A. Boal and Chris Carlsson

Subject History
Social Movements » Collective Behaviour

Place World

Period 2000 - present
1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics ecology, equality, neoliberalism, revolution

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00424.x


Critical Mass is the name given to the modern phenomenon of self-organized, mass bike rides with a contrarian spirit. The history of cycling en masse stretches back to the late nineteenth century. In 1896 thousands of cyclists rode through San Francisco agitating for better roads; in Weimar Germany the workers' cycling association, Solidarity, was able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on wheels; in the early 1970s the new ecological sensibility prompted large rallies of cyclists with a green agenda in New York, Berlin, and elsewhere. The first Critical Mass ride took place in San Francisco in 1992 with just a few dozen cyclists. Within a year the number had reached a thousand, and since the mid-1990s the monthly “organized coincidence” attracts on occasion over 5,000 self-propelled celebrants – as much street theater as (semi)functional commute. The idea spread rapidly by word of mouth and later through the Internet. Critical Mass rides have been recorded in over 400 cities around the world, including Chicago, São Paulo, Milan, Budapest, Tokyo, Santiago, and Toronto. Critical Mass can be seen as a new kind of “assertive desertion” by city dwellers attempting to erode the domination of modern life by automobilism and the interlocking interests of big oil, real estate developers, and the immense auto-industrial complex. By taking back the streets – albeit temporarily ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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