Saturday, March 29, 2014

Critical Mass London 28/03/14 - my report

Critical Mass is an unofficial and 99% unplanned bike ride that happens in hundreds of cities around the world on the last Friday of every month. It's a bike ride that I've wanted to be a part of for a long time. 

My friend and fellow cycle adventurer Sam made it to the meet-up point under Waterloo bridge bang on time (6.30pm) only to be dissapointed by the fact that we appeared to be the only cyclists who had turned up. Two bikes doth not make a Critical Mass ride. 

We then figured out that we were under the wrong part of Waterloo bridge, a fact made clear to us when we made our wsy down to the river and found hundreds of cyclists getting into the party mood. It has been estimated that over 600 cyclists were in attendance. 

There were all kinds of bikes, a LOT of fixies and a lot of bikes decorated with fairy lights. Some folk took their bike upgrades to the extreme by adding surprisingly loud sound systems.

After what seemed like an age of standing around feeling a bit cold someone shouted something, everyone cheered and rang thier bells and we were on our way. Slowly. 

As we hit the first roundabout we found a big group of cyclists blocking the traffic from comming round the roundabout, giving safe passage to the hundreds and hundreds of cyclists spewing out of the side streets and into the city via Waterloo bridge. 

The first few miles of the ride were very stop-start. It appeared that collosall bottlenecks were forming at traffic lights, and then once the traffic lights did the job of stopping the opposing traffic large numbers of cyclists positioned themselves to block traffic once the lights changed back. This happened with side streets throughout the ride and on the whole was very good-natured, with the blockers genially chatting with bewildered and amused blockees. 

The whole ride was very high-spirited, lots of 'thank yous' being thrown to the vehicles our sheer mass were stopping from moving. I saw lots of laughing cabbies and waving laughing bus drivers. 

I was expecting to see a lot more aggro on the ride, but people just seemed to be really amused to see this raggle-taggle tidal wave of bikes forging a path through Central London like a massive bell-ringing  fun-plunger. 

The evening wasn't entirely incident free, and I only mention the incidents I saw in the interests of balance, not scintillation. As Sam and I passed through a junction we saw a black cab nudge forward and push a stationary cyclist off his bike (only stopping short of actually driving over his bike). Sam and I stopped to block the cab and were very quickly joined by many others. This sense of instant solidarity was evident too many times to mention, and each time the situation ended the same way - the blockers would politely thank the motorists for their patience and normal traffic would resume. 

There were quite a few pizza delivery mopeds trying to weave their way through traffic, which on the whole was fine. But I was saddened to see a Dominos scooter driver try and kick a cyclist off his bike before trying to veer into him. A large volume of cyclists stopped and surrounded the cyclist and moped driver, not to hassle him, but to protect him from the cyclist who wanted to have a unfriendly word. I did see the same cyclist yelling at a Pappa Johns moped dude later in the evening, so maybe he was just a dick.  The important thing was that as a collective the Critical Mass riders utterly refused to allow aggression from any fellow riders towards any other road users. If motorists looked frustrated they were thanked for thier patience and the situation was calmly dissappated. 

A lot of pedestrians called out to ask what was going on, 'why are all these people following me home?' was my stock answer. 

We took in a lot of the London sights and busiest roads, all with a feeling of total safety. There were parents cycling with thier children along Regents Street, something that ordinarily would perhaps be lunacy. There was a thirteen year old boy and his older sister skateboarding along the main road through Camden Lock. In fact there a lot of skaters. 

The ride ground to a halt at Trafalger Square. It was a great experience and I really look forward to riding Critical Mass again, hopefully quite soon. 


  1. Anonymous11:39 am

    Critical Mass were instrumental in many of the Reclaim The Streets activities I got involved in during the late 1990s. They helped to clear the streets of cars so that sound systems and RTS activists could move in and turn an otherwise busy, congested and polluted area of London into a family friendly social space with free entertainment and provide an opportunity (and prompt) for socio-political discourse between activists and the general public. RTS events grew from a few hundred taking part in East London after the Wandsworth bypass protests, to tens of thousands attending the Carnival Against Capitalism that brought the City of London to a standstill one Friday in 1999, and Seattle in November 1999. They then moved to Europe as protests against the G8, and Critical Mass was as important as ever in getting them going. Unfortunately anti-terror laws introduced after 9/11, the shooting dead of a black-bloc protester in Genoa and raids on organisers squats, (not to mention 'traditional' left wing groups like the SWP trying to jump on the bandwagon and set up their own version of RTS), put a lot of people off from getting involved and the momentum behind RTS dried up. I never personally took part in the actual Critical Mass part of these events myself, but did get involved in one in Ipswich many years ago. It's really good to hear that Critical Mass is still happening though. Thanks for the report.

  2. I had no idea that were ever Critical Mass rides here in Ipswich!