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In his trips around the world to participate in Critical Mass rides, Carlsson has observed a five-year "golden age" before they "lose their magic" and become institutionalized rituals (San Francisco's Bike Party, incidentally, is not quite 3 years old).
Critical Mass has been running on inertia for far longer than it hasn't. If it weren't already a city custom, it's hard to imagine San Francisco's present-day demographic reacting to San Francisco's present-day cycling conditions and establishing one.
But Critical Mass hasn't stopped. Its riders don't stop to drink beer and dance; they don't stop for cars or pedestrians or the Pacific Ocean. When the Mass reached Ocean Beach, cyclists began aimlessly circling in the intersection of Great Highway and Fulton. The event has no set route and no finish line; riders drop out in bunches until just a few careen through the night. That day's 400-odd participants represent 5 to 10 percent of how many rode during Critical Mass' paradigm-shifting heyday, back when city policymakers couldn't help but pay attention.
A first-timer leaned over and asked a stranger when the ride would end. The dreadlocked young man's response encapsulated more than any one ride: "It's a lifestyle, yo. It never ends."