Critical Mass (CM) Ride

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Tails from the Trails

Critical Mass
Critical Mass (CM) Ride
October 25, 2002 Downtown Toronto

by TheLoneRider

Critical MassWhat is Critical Mass (CM)?

The first time I came across the concept of a critical mass ride was through an article from a mountain bike mag (I forget which). It is said that in Italy, where pedestrian crossing signs are not common, a cyclist alone would not dare cross the street against flowing traffic. He waits until more cyclists gather. It comes to a point where there are enough cyclists waiting to cross. Collectively, they reach a critical mass - enough numbers to cross the street and halt the motoring traffic in so doing.

Apparently, it has now evolved into a global movement with big cities hosting monthly or annual celebration of the event. Cyclists use the event to increase public (motorists particularly) awareness on issues they face. Collectively on a CM, they have a voice that's audible and they have a presence that can be seen and felt.

Toronto CM

There is a monthly CM in Toronto that happens on the last Friday of every month. Everybody is enjoined to participate. All that's needed is a bicycle and maybe a night light during the colder months when it gets dark early. It starts at 6PM at the courier-haven restaurant, Temperance Soceity Breadspreads Bar on the Yonge/Temperance intersection.

This is my first participation. I didn't know what to make of it at first. I wasn't even sure if I agree on the idea of a critical mass effecting positive changes. But knowing it's about a guy on 2 wheels riding on a city street is enough to perk my curiosity. I don't just ride the trails with my mountain bike. I also use my road bike to commute to work and to run my errands. My bike is my primary transportation. So this protest movement is about me and the next guy on a bike as well.

Today, it's special. With the coming halloween, a lot of them were in costumes. It was a cold evening, which accounts for a low turnout...about 50 cyclists + 1 unicyclist who played the recorder as we rode along. I understand that on warm summer days, a CM can reach close to the 200 mark. So off we went taking the entire lane on a very leisurely (actually, the pace was slower than leisurely) pace, ringing our bells and waving to people who were giving us the thumbs up. Not surprisingly, the motorists behind the pack are not very happy. An occasional horn would honk but relatively, there was a good deal of tolerance.

The Defiant cop

A highlight of the ride was chancing on a motorcycle cop handing out $20 summons to 2 cyclists (not part of the CM) for biking on the sidewalk. Just what are the odds of that happening on a CM? We all stopped and gathered around the cop and the 2 cyclists, probing the whys of the incident. The cop was defiant and unyielding in giving the hapless 2 souls a break despite our pleads. The leader of the pack made an announcement to "pass the hat" and raise the needed fine to help out the 2 cyclists. I was not alone in digging in to my pocket for whatever change I had left. In the meantime, the cop demanded we all move our bikes and clear the street. None of us moved and he called in for backup. I was getting nervous myself. Will this turn out to be a clash between cops and cyclists? It didn't come to that. We resumed our ride before the back up arrived. I can just imagine the astonishment and bewilderment of the 2 cyclists. There they were, being issued a summons and suddenly a support group of 50 cyclists are behind them pleading with the cop and passing the hat. Wow...that was a moment.

We proceeded to ride the major and minor city roads while managing to engage in small conversations. It was interesting to hear their stories.


Mountain bike, road bike, urban assault bike, downhiller, cross-country rider, many names and categories when it really boils down to only one thing: a rider on two wheels lookin out for the other guy. As cyclists, we're all cut from the same cloth. That's what its all about.

-- TheLoneRider


For more info about the Toronto CM, you can visit the following sites:

Reader Comments:

Darren of (October 27, 2002)
I like your article but have a few comments. First, you have added a new twist on the origins the Italians being given credit for CM...the Italian origin is valid, it is just that I have never heard of it before... it makes sense. No one can really lay claim to it. In contemproary terms San Francisco has celebrated continuous for 10 years and CM seems to have spread from there. There are several other rides pointed to the start of CM in Europe and Latin America but they never seemed to continue on a regular basis. I think why the San Francisco ride took hold was because of the internet and well San Francisco's hippie spirit. There were several similar type rides started in Great Britain and Mexico as early as 1974.
CM is a celebration rather than a protest. Protests, essentially conflicts, serve only the needs of the media. By celebrating it brings people together into community rather than away from it... you point that out yourself. You had converstaions with people along the way.