Critical Mass January 1995!
The Freeway Stump Tour!

Next month, February 24th, it is once again the "ALL TIED UP IN TRAFFIC" ride: as you may recall from last year, weird ties are de rigueur, the more the merrier. Bring extras for those who don't remember! ALSO, don't fail to bring a portable radio or boombox so you can be part of the rolling media experiment we've dubbed "RADIO BICYCLETA," a low-power FM transmitter which will broadcast from the middle of Critical Mass as we roll along. As the spring progresses, think about multiple routes, with braided crossovers at various places in the city, or perhaps just splitting points where Critical Mass breaks into two or three and heads in different directions, perhaps to arrive a common destination... or other ideas?

It's amazing and wonderful that Critical Mass is still going, still fun, still meaningful, after nearly 30 months. But it is suffering some of the typical problems of an ongoing "thing," especially a "thing" with only informal structures and mysterious, largely anonymous instigators. Leaderlessness is a state I want to live in. Critical Mass has been and continues to be an interesting experiment in a large collective event with only the loosest central coordination (this newsletter, for one thing!). But much to my chagrin, more and more rides seem to find themselves being led by either the police or speeding young men who are more bent on hurrying along than cruising along conversing and enjoying the scene. The complementary problem is that pacing and routes are only re-established by vigorous (dare I say seriously obnoxious?) herding, cajoling, and browbeating on the part of a very few individuals, people who have taken on this thankless but apparently necessary role on too many occasions.

So how does a leaderless mass begin to find a more collective voice? How does a ride of over 1,200 riders make decisions and look out for each other? We've done pretty well on the fly, but the inexorable grind of habit and institutionalization this society imposes on everything is leading to the common split between the majority of relatively passive watchers and the tiny minority of activists who really keep it all together, anonymously or not. Of course, these ruminations probably don't matter so much to Critical Mass itself, since a pleasant monthly bike ride has already been more or less accepted by the city, and even if a bit chaotic, it can go on just like it has for some time yet.

Two important points to remember:

1) The police are not leading the ride and do not set the pace!

2) Holes open up in the middle and must be filled for safety. The front of the ride MUST STOP at least once a mile to let the middle and back catch up and regroup.

But how does the energy and community that has thrilled so many of us begin to tackle other issues, broader questions that underly our embrace of bicycling? The pace of urban life is more frenzied than ever. When a bike ride is the fastest way to get there, who can argue? But when it's not, and to rely on a bike requires an extra half hour, the real issue is from where shall we take that time? I say let it come from the workday. We could even start a campaign for the 6-hour day (at the same pay) for bicyclists, but of course many people don't have a consistent employer, or are self-employed, or whatever. So the link to shorter workdays has to be more generalized: Life in general needs to become more calm and focused on living well, as opposed to our frenzied attempts to find money, meaning and even love in the endless treadmill of working and shopping. By promoting bicycling we inevitably promote a different relationship to time and work. Now how do we begin to make that new relationship the obvious preference for more than ourselves? Critical Mass is an outstanding beginning, a rich launching pad for ... ?

(p.s. A HINT: this will have nothing to do with elections or politicians!)

— Chris Carlsson

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