Holding such a ride is something that Rob, Rob and I have thought about individually for a while. But it took an evening ride into town from a very dull meeting, followed by a well-received Facebook post to get us speaking to each other about the idea.
Critical Mass, the Wiki-definition:
Critical Mass is a bicycling event typically held on the last Friday of every month in over 300 cities around the world. The ride was originally founded in 1992 in San Francisco with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to cyclists. In fact, the purpose of Critical Mass is not usually formalized beyond the direct action of meeting at a set location and time and traveling as a group through city or town streets on bikes. Although for some bigger scale events like the one in Budapest, Hungary there is an activist group formed around it, organizing the rides and communicating the desires and problems of the cyclists to the city council.
In the early stages, we kicked around the different ideas and agendas we each had and I'm sure that the end result benefited from our very different approaches and aims. Our estimates of what would constitute success varied too. From the face-saving: 'as long as it's not just us three...' through to the wildly optimistic 'I reckon we could get 40'!
So after more chatting in pubs, planning rides, a hundred tweets, 500 facebook invites, a fall-out, a make-up, photoshopping, rubbish printers, good advice and unwanted meddling, the night was upon us.
Rob M, Gosia and I arrived outside Curve about half an hour before the meeting time. It looked exactly what it was; a large, empty expanse of expensive paving slabs. And no cyclists.
But then, the special bit started to happen. One by one, two by two, people started arriving. And many of them were people we didn't know! Within minutes we were past 'just us three' and by ten to six we were double our bravest estimate. This was actually going to happen...
There were smurfs, warewolves and skeletons, aged from 15 to 65, riding folders, fixies, cruisers and a cargo-bike. All smiling, laughing and chatting away about what might follow.
John Coster from Citizen's Eye was there with his camera and caught some of the pre-amble...
After a few ground rules were set, we were off onto the city's streets. The first mile was always going to be the most challenging and the first road junction (between Charles Street and London Road), the most busy. It was the first test of how the motorists were going to react to our convoy...
A bigger surprise to me, even than the numbers of people that came was the response we got. Drivers were patient and gave smiles and waves. No hint of aggression. The only thing that came close to an 'incident' was caused by a driver who just didn't know what to do when confronted with so many happy, smiling cyclists. You could see panic on their face...
The turning onto Queen's Road was the first time that things didn't go quite to plan. We were turning off a minor road and onto a busier one. This meant that the traffic light stayed green for only a few seconds, allowing only 10 or so riders through at a time. The decision made itself that we were going to ignore the lights and get the group through in one lovely lump. Critical Mass had been reached!
We'd worried during our planning that the ride through Viccy Park might be a bit boring for people. For me, and many of the riders I spoke to during and since, it was the best part. The string of blinky, red lights and the sound of 100 bicycle bells strung-out along the bike path was a delight.
Next, we rode back into the city centre. Our plan had been to ride the pedestrianised roads around the clock-tower, but a continental market that appeared the previous day put paid to that. Instead we went on a lap of the lanes around the market. Narrow streets echoed the sounds of bells, horns and people having fun!
But before long, we were at the Criterion pub and the ride was over.
It is safe to say that the ride was a success beyond what any of us could have hoped for.
We got 100 people to ride their bikes on the city streets on a busy Friday night. Hopefully some of them will now feel more confident to ride on our city's streets in the future.
We got respect from the drivers around us. We had nothing but support from them and the pedestrians we saw on our way.
I like to think that some of those drivers will give a little bit more room next time. Or they'll wait for those couple of seconds before overtaking, thinking of the cyclist's safety. And while they smiled and waved when a 5foot wide pumpkin riding a bike was blocking their path, I hope they'll do the same if that person is in lycra and hi-viz.
When I finally got home on Friday night, I drank my whisky with a very satisfied feeling that I'm sure Rob and Rob and everyone else that helped with the planning and promotion of the night shared.
Thanks to Mikey for the pictures. Thanks to Ted for the Facebook crunching. Thanks to Anna, Eliene and Mat for help with the route. Thanks to Roger and Andy for the prizes. Thanks to Richard, Steve and EVERYONE who helped out.
And thanks mostly to every single rider that rode with us on Friday. See you next month for MASS'Tache...
The pictures are here.
The Facebook group is here.
*I know there were some rides organised ten years ago or so, but having heard about their determination to cause antagonism, and the fact that they were held in the mornings and tiny laps around a small circuit - they weren't critical mass rides.