Critical Critical Mass
story filed by:
onionbag blogger
Saturday 29 October, 2005

Still we rideAnd so onto the moment of truth for Critical Mass. To ride or not to ride? What do you think...? You may remember that random individual cyclists who just happened to be underneath Waterloo Bridge at 6:30 on the last Friday of last month were met with bully boy intimidation from the Met Police. Threats were made of mass arrest unless the non-existent Critical Mass organisation submitted a proposed route for a non-existent ride in advance.

Confused? Not as confusing as working in the Home Office I bet.

The police view is that cyclists on their way home on a Friday evening pose some sort of terrorist threat. They have to be stopped. Now I really am peddling scared. I escape the tube because of the terrorist (and Met Police) threat, and now I find that I have become the threat myself. Shite! Scary times indeed.

It was all a load of bollocks. And bollocks to them all.

The cops copped out

I found myself underneath Waterloo Bridge at 6:30 on Friday evening. I had spent a pleasant afternoon cycling along the Thames path and stopped off at the NFT cafe for a drink before the commute home. It seems that I wasn't alone in enjoying the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in London with hundreds of other cyclists also taking in the wonderful view from Waterloo Bridge.

But the name Critical Mass sticks. Much like the name Knobber Bobbies on Bikes, who I suspect had different motives than to make the most of cycling in the city as the weekend got underway. If they want to call it Critical Mass then so be it. I think of myself as the traffic.

Moving, gotta keep moving.

Mainstream Knobber Media Whore interest also assembled underneath Waterloo Bridge on Friday evening. What's the plural? A Stink of Knobber Media Whores? I could tell they were Knobber Media Whores because they liked the sound of their own voices. Nice of you to turn up guys, but WHAT exactly is the news story here? Would you hold the front page news for reports of a stream of cars crossing Waterloo Bridge? Cyclists have gathered here for eleven years and so why the sudden interest? The story IS cycling. That's all you need to know.

After all the bullying and intimidation, the cops copped out. The threats turned out to be the best recruitment drive Critical Mass has ever had - cheers fellas. And so rather than a medium three figure number of riders, on Friday we celebrated cycling with over 1,000 peddling participants.

After a few false starts (much like the plan for an integrated transport system in London), the Mass (oh, you know) did a lap of the Imax roundabout and then headed North over Waterloo Bridge. This was always going to be a SLOW ride. You don't find 1,000 plus cyclists on Le Tour and so we had to take our time.

The Bobbies on Bikes looked incredibly sheepish. They had gambled big time and fucked up in equal measures.

Your 'demonstration' is illegal.

Cue knobber mainstream media whore interest and the biggest ever turn out for Critical Mass.

Oh, now we're running a bit scared and we'll look rather silly in front of Mr Tony if we arrest 1,000 cyclists right on his Westminster patch.

And so the Bobbies were incredibly low in numbers, knowing that they were onto a loser. The net effect was a crawl around the capital and congestion levels from the Petrol Heads that would never have happened if the Bobbies hadn't been such knobbers in the first place.

And we ventured into Parliament Square (scoundrels!) as well.

I asked THREE coppers 'how many people does it take for a gathering to be deemed to be a demo?' The first offered the courteous 'no comment,' the second said 'ask my Inspector' and the third told me to 'piss off.'

Charming. And here's me thinking that when you have a question, the best person to ask is a policeman.

The problem with the Bobbies on Bikes (apart from their threats and mass paranoia) is that they actually make the Mass become something it previously wasn't. I was encouraged to light jump throughout the ride by the boys in blue, running the risk of cutting down pedestrians in the process. One of the coppers then jumped a red and a pedestrian, not realising that it was an officer of the law, took issue and berated him. When noticing the Bobbie's badge, Mr Man on the Street then sided with the cop and demanded that we all be arrested on masse for jumping the lights.

Here we go again...

I politely pointed out to Mr Pedestrian that if this was the case, shouldn't all Petrol Heads also be arrested by the police as they clearly ALL flout the law by using their mobiles behind the wheel.

The light jumping copper then told me to 'shut it' for fear that 'I might start a fight.'

'I'm certainly not going to hit him Officer - where's the threat in dialogue?'

Tellingly he didn't reply.

After cycling down The Strand we then took in The Mall and a bit of a blast of God Save the Queen outside Brenda's gaff. The flag was flying, but I bet the inbreds care about Critical Mass as much as I give a flying fuck about their family.

I followed the Samba rhythm (on bikes!) through SW1, and then picked up the smell of some dirty drum 'n bass through St James.

And then we parked our bikes up on the lawn and raised two fingers and two wheels of defiance up to the Westminster knobbers. Parliament Square was what it was all about. The bully boy threats were made to keep us away from here. But we pissed on the police's parade and took the Square anyway. We left it as we found it, which was nice for the Friday Night Skate crowd who we passed on the way up Whitehall.

So where does this all leave Critical Mass? Same as it ever was. The numbers might drop off next month but STILL WE RIDE.

The Establishment view Critical Mass as a political group. There is no political dogma here. The only requirement is that you bring a bike. My space is threatened by Knobber Petrol Heads when I cycle alone. I feel intimidated. Cycling en masse works. The magic is to create an unpredictable space with unpredictable consequences. Back to the bus queue if you want to be a Bus Stop Johnny.

It's easier to say what Critical Mass ISN'T rather than what it is. You make of it what you want, and hopefully develop something new and creative as well.

The implication of the police presence is that we are incapable of creating our own safe streets. The best bit of policing I have seen on Critical Mass has been self-policing. Red light jumpers or pavement peddlers - yes they do exist, much like twats who still talk on their mobiles behind the wheel - have been policed in the past by fellow cyclists, encouraged to understand that it's all about space and sharing it.

Once the free space has been experienced on a Mass ride, you can't take this away. It is a feeling that you want to help to recreate, helping to make cycling in London a lot safer.

Critical Mass: Ride daily, celebrate monthly.

See you next month.

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