Bike Culture Through the Lens of Ted White

Many of you who read this blog will already have come across these films, but for those who haven’t- I’ve posted them here. It continues to surprise me the number of people I come across- especially in the UK- who think that Critical Mass is sort of this bike nazi movement- a group of radical cyclists with molotov cocktails in their bike bottle cages. The truth is that Critical Mass is a peaceful, participatory celebration that effectively questions the role of public space in cities. Most simply, it is a bunch of people getting together for a safe bicycle ride through the city. If that’s “radical” in the context of the norm that is the violent, toxic, and carbon-heavy transport system of today, I am proud to be called a radical.

Ted White has captured, perhaps better than any other filmmaker, the zeitgeist of the velorution that started in San Francisco in 1992, when Critical Mass was born to the world. In fact, the term (as it applies to bicycles) was coined by George Bliss in the film Return of the Scorcher (the first one below). Referring to cyclists waiting at a junction in China:

“the cyclists would….wait….until they had enough numbers to force their way through the cars and make them stop.”

Return of the Scorcher 1992 Ted White

Unfortunately, since this footage was taken in China, the country has of course gone in the opposite direction, following the west into ill-fated car dependence, forsaking the simple liberation that the bicycle offered so many Chinese for so long in favour of an obsession with automobility and a self-destructive petrol habit.

We are Traffic, the second film, takes a critical look at the Critical Mass phenomenon that started in San Francisco in 1992, and has spread to hundreds of cities worldwide. Great interviews with luminaries of the SF bicycle movement: Beth Verdekal, Chris Carlsson, Joel Pomerantz, Dave Snyder, and others. There is a great analysis of the 1997 “bicycle riot” in San Francisco, and the dreams, philosophy, and excitement that characterize the  rides.

Thanks to Jon Winston and his excellent Bikescape blog and podcast for pointing out that these classics from the San Francisco bicycle movement are now online.

We are Traffic 1999 Ted White

Critical Mass rides typically happen the last Friday of the month starting at 6pm.   In London, meet at the south end of Waterloo Bridge by the Film Institute.   In San Francisco, it starts from Justin Hermann Plaza at the foot of Market St.   In Bristol, it starts at the Fountains in the Centre.   If you don’t live in one of these cities, check here for your local ride.

One response to “Bike Culture Through the Lens of Ted White

  1. Traffic 1999 reminds me of the anti-war rallies if the 60s. The cops have an “us against them” mentality and think they have to control the masses. Don’t let them. It is un-american.

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