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NewsletterFM01.jpg (28151 bytes)London Critical Mass

What's It All About?

CM is an "organised coincidence" of hundreds of cyclists cycling together around the city for a while before departing on their own separate ways home. The attitude is friendly and laid-back and there is no formal organisation or route. We're just a bunch of people cycling around town. Conversations are struck up en route with pedestrians and car drivers as well as with other cyclists. Leaflets are handed out explaining what is going on.

CM works because it is big. The idea is to swamp the streets with cyclists so that nothing else gets through. That makes them safe, quiet, less polluted, and very unusual (in the UK). There are several themes:

  • it is a respite for city bikers from the daily ducking and weaving and staying alive and a chance to meet friends and catch up on a month's worth of news;
  • it illustrates how our cities are dominated by snarling motor traffic by excluding that traffic from areas for a few minutes and giving people a taste of what life could be like if we built our cities for people rather than around the needs of cars;
  • it is a chance to raise the profile of cycling and to demonstrate in the most practical manner that cycling is an ideal form of transport in cities. It momentarily breaks apart "car culture" and gets people thinking in new ways about sustainable transport.

Whatever their reasons for taking part in Critical Mass, everyone shares the same benefits: it is liberating, empowering, thought-provoking and a great deal of fun.

Who's In Charge?

No-one. Everyone. Whoever photocopies a map and persuades 500 people to follow them.

Who Takes Part?

Anyone. Everyone. You. You don't have to be a hardened eco-campaigner or someone with a grudge against cars. All you need is an open mind and a willingness to try something new and exciting. Oh, and a bike might be handy, too.

Holding up the traffic? - that's not for me.

The point is not specifically to hold up motor traffic - all "processions" block the streets. Motor traffic clogs the streets of our cities day in -day out. Critical Mass is about a bunch of cyclists joining that traffic for a couple of hours. That's all there is to it, yet some see it as a radical threat to the fabric of our society. If you're not sure whether you "approve", come along and see for yourself. You don't have to take part if you don't want to: no-one is going to drag you along. In fact they won't need to. You 'll be surrounded by all these other perfectly normal people and enthused by their vision. A few minutes into the ride, everything will become clear. It's one of those events whose attraction can be difficult to appreciate unless you've actually been on one.

DO NOT COMMIT ANY ACT OF AGGRESSION, EITHER VERBALLY OR PHYSICALLY.

Critical Mass is a peaceful action and people who like arguments, fighting, throwing bricks etc. are not welcome. Even if you do have a hang-up about cars, remember that other people on the mass are there to have a trouble-free and pleasant time so please behave yourself

USE YOUR COMMON SENSE.

If someone suggests we go down the motorway you ARE allowed to think, "that might not work". We're not lemmings.

Simple Rules for a Great Event

The back should keep up with and follow the front. Not the other way around. The front leads, the back follows.

Keep together in a tight bunch. Use the mass itself to block the road, not a thin back line. If cyclists at the back ride too slowly in a misguided attempt to block the roads to motor traffic, this allows yawning gaps to open up in the mass and motorists are tempted to break through the back line because they can see the road ahead is clear. Keep up and keep together. If you feel you're being kept back and can see the front disappearing into the distance, then overtake and catch up.

Large rides will break up. This will be due to police action or complicated traffic. If the ride splits, don't worry. It might take quite a while to regroup. The front portion should wait at the side of the road to let traffic caught in between out of the front or go into a holding pattern around a convenient square. The front portion should not just stop and block the road, or the back will never catch up because the traffic in between can't go anywhere.

Don't block traffic unnecessarily. Blocking occurs when a few cyclists hold up the traffic even though the road ahead is clear. Although there are times when this is useful, It can lead to confrontation With motorists. If, however, the road is full of bikes so that cars cannot get through, that's not blocking - that's traffic. If you do block, then think about it. Don't block cars so that they in turn block the progress of the mass.

People at the front are responsible!!! If you're at the front, you define the route; discuss the route with people around you and KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. Don't go too quickly: 4-6 mph is fine. Be aware of how spread out the mass is behind you. If the ride is becoming spread out, stop at the next junction and wait through a change of traffic lights for the back to catch up. Use density of numbers to negotiate a junction: don't take on a junction in one's or two's. Wait for cyclists to catch up and then take it by force at the right time.

Don't be a hero. Trying to block the road or junction all by yourself will get you arrested, run over, or both.

The Police

Co-operate with the police. Do what they say. As long as you obey traffic rules and do not go out of your way to obstruct motor traffic or inflame motorists' passions, you will have no contact with the police. In some cases it will be appropriate to ignore traffic rules (e.g. red lights) in the interests of keeping the ride together and this will be clear in the individual situations. The basic mood should be one of ad-hoc co-operation throughout the ride. If the police block off a certain road then don't automatically assume that they are just exercising some imperial state fascism - there might be a good reason. Previous masses have been asked to stay away from some streets because of scheduled ambulance journeys, for example. Remember that they cannot talk to the person in charge because there is no-one, so sometimes they just have to act, and that might occasionally seem unreasonable. So what? There are lots of other streets to go down. We're not here to argue with or wind up the police, but if you like prison food, go right ahead - you're on your own.

Dealing with Motor Traffic

It is impossible to completely exclude motor traffic from the mass. For this reason it is important for participants to be fully aware of the traffic conditions around them. Motor vehicles will attempt to push into the mass as they turn left or right into its path. It is possible to minimise this by blocking off junctions with enough bikes before the mass arrives and as it passes through, although this is technically illegal and dangerous if not done with enough cyclists. It doesn't half help, though.

Talk to drivers. A quiet, friendly word with a driver waiting to turn into the path of the mass can often work wonders and contributes to the convivial atmosphere of the ride. If a motor vehicle gets trapped in the mass, its driver may get impatient. Try and convince the driver that he might as well wait it out and that barging through the mass is likely to end in tears. Point out that if he drives too closely or erratically, then that will be perceived as threatening behaviour, and the more he tries to force his way through, the more the cyclists in front will restrict him. For your part, be prepared to share the road with him.

The basic principle is to use overwhelming numbers. If the driver can see clear road ahead, then he will try to push through. If all he can see is bikes, then even a motorist will be content to wait it out.

Be helpful to some motorists. What?!! No, honestly. Motor traffic in the mass is a menace. If you can see an easy way to let a trapped motor vehicle out, then LET IT OUT. Be aware of the intentions of trapped drivers. They might just want to cross the path of the ride, in which case there is no harm in stopping, allowing them to cross, and then rejoining the people in front. If you're at the front and can see a vehicle wanting to turn out in front of you, then pause to let it escape rather than selfishly blocking its path and allowing it to become a threat to the cyclists behind. Remember: the point is not to victimise certain drivers -the mass itself does the blocking through sheer weight of numbers.

Some accidents and arguments will happen. CM is an emotionally charged event. Its message strikes to the heart of the way we live our lives and not everyone can cope with the enormity of it all. Motorists can become confused and upset and sometimes run into bikes in front of them, either accidentally due to lack of care and attention, or deliberately because they feel threatened and inferior. It must be stressed that these accidents are comparatively rare and when they do occur, they happen at low speed and with little or no bodily injury, although the bike is usually damaged. It must also be stressed that most of these crashes are predictable (and therefore avoidable) and the result of a minute or two's altercation between driver and cyclist. If you have a small ego, you'll be fine.

Don't wind up drivers. If you are goading a motorist by cycling in front of him when the road ahead is clear, you can expect him to become angry .Angry people become irrational and when they are in charge of a ton of motorised metal they run you over. Sad, but true.

Don't weave from side to side right in front of vehicles. Drivers cannot actually see the front of their vehicles and are likely to bump into you, wrecking your back wheel. Of course the driver should take more care but this is the real world, remember. If you get your wheel bent, how are you going to get home?

Avoiding trouble is easy. If you are aware of your surroundings within the mass and willing to let motor vehicles through where conditions allow, you will have no problems. If you act in a reasonable, non-threatening, non-abusive manner (i.e. normally), you will have no problems. Remember that CM is a large, general event and little arguments with irate car drivers are irrelevant to the overall message. It is also a happy, friendly event, so arguments should be avoided.

If you are the victim of a crash or violence from a motorist, you will find many cyclists willing to be witnesses and within a minute or so a police officer will be on the scene. Take a deep breath, stay calm and try not to be over-awed by the situation. Get names and addresses from several witnesses and make a note of the police officer's name or number for future reference. Remember that the motorist will have his own story, and the preconceptions of society (cars are OK and can be driven whenever, wherever and however) are on his side. Getting compensation for your broken bike will be very difficult. Probably impossible. It's simply better not to get involved in the first place.

It is common for the police officer to refuse to deal with the matter until the crowd has dispersed, so when it looks like the situation is being dealt with, it's best for everyone not directly involved to rejoin the ride.

Don't Forget to Enjoy Yourself!

All this might sound a bit complicated, but it's not: it's just common sense. Relax, take it easy and have a great time!

 

Cycling - good for you, good for Croydon

Last updated 24 November 2002