In 1992, two dozen bicyclists gathered in San Francisco for a ride they called "Commute Clot." Its purpose was to raise motorists' awareness of bicyclists and demonstrate that they, too, should be respected on the roadways.
The name later changed to "Critical Mass," a term from the documentary Return of the Scorcher. It refers to the large numbers of motorists and bicyclists in China who traverse intersections without signals. The traffic congests to the point of "critical mass," and the mass then passes through the intersection as one.
By the fourth Critical Mass ride in San Francisco, there were 100 participants. The number continued to grow, and today, similar rides, though not always called Critical Mass, occur all over the world, some with up to 1,000 participants, in more than 325 cities. The rides are generally held on the last Friday of the month.
Memphis is one of those cities. Or at least, it's trying to be. There is no formal event leader or organizer, though there is a blog for the event at memphiscriticalmassblogspot.com, where information on Memphis ride times and locations can be found.
Midtown Bike Company's general manager Daniel Duckworth has participated in a few of the Memphis Critical Mass rides. "They've been as small as 15 [bicyclists] to as many as twice that or more," Duckworth says. "I imagine it will be growing."
In bigger cities, the rides have been perceived as protests, with police intervention a common occurrence. Duckworth says Critical Mass riders in Memphis tend to avoid major streets and try not to block traffic. "You're more noticeable when there's a group out there, but we try to conduct things in a manner of courtesy," he says.
Critical Mass Bike Ride, Friday, August 29th, at 6 p.m., starting in Overton Park.