Things have changed a lot since I've been riding my bicycle through San Francisco. The SFBC was a nearly forgotten memory of the early 1970s' upsurge of bicycling advocacy when I started commuting here in 1978. In September 1992, when we started Critical Mass, the Bike Coalition was holding its meetings in a Chinese restaurant and still had no paid staff or even an office. The five-fold increase in daily bicycling in San Francisco, and the 3,000-plus paid members of the Coalition are eloquent testimony to the altered political landscape that we bicyclists have helped make in our city.
Bicycling is a social activity that connects us with each other and, crucially, with our own history (it is only in the past few years that we've rediscovered the thousands-strong cycling rallies of the 1890s). The fast friends made over the handlebars and in the war-like experiences we share surviving on the streets have led to the emergence of a real community—or a collection of real communities. These communities of "transit dissenters" are at the forefront of reclaiming urban life, of reinhabiting the city with a convivial and human-centered technology.
Critical Mass has spread around the world precisely because it is an idea that is already present in millions of people's daily lives. It's not hard to join together in organized coincidences of mass bicycling when it is such a short leap from daily commuting in relative isolation to the friendly and (often) politically charged sociability of a Critical Mass ride.
In a world that denies us meaningful participation in decisions over science and technology, bicycling is a direct and personal statement against oil wars and the Carmageddon that passes as "normal" life. We also (sometimes) short-circuit the propaganda machine when we are out in public, talking directly to each other, sharing our knowledge and histories. On our bicycles we live out in a small and partial way our idea of how much better life could be.
Bicycling is about turning wheels, and overturning a way of life. The Velorution will be revolutionary or it will be nothing.
Chris Carlsson is a recent recipient of the SFBC's Golden Wheel Award for being one of the main protagonists of the Critical Mass rides.