I have never taken part in a critical mass cycling event but I have read a great deal about these events recently and have paid particular attention to those in London and other UK cities. I have read web pages about the London events and I have watched, several times over, some of the video clips of more recent events.
Apparently these events are not organised, not regulated or marshalled in any way and have no clear objective other than (I read somewhere) “to celebrate cycling and claim back the roads from motor traffic” or words to that effect, which is all so much puerile tosh.
To quote from the webpage of the Central London Critical Mass:
“Who are we and what are our aims?
“We are not sure, opinions seem to differ. There are probably as many aims of CM as there are participants. Each individual comes there with his or her own idea of what it’s about, and the sum of this makes up the Mass. We have no organisers and no planned routes.”
It reminds me of the preacher at the lunatic asylum who started his sermon to the inmates by posing the question “Why are we all here?” To which a voice from the back of the room piped up with the reply “Because we are not all there!”
Perhaps I have got it wrong but I assume that the majority of those who participate in these events imagine that they are somehow promoting the cause of cycling. No doubt I share their aspirations. Even so, I deplore their participation in these events.
You have only to look at videos of London events of recent years to see that they cause obstruction, delay and annoyance to other road users, which is hardly an intelligent way to win (as the current jargon has it) the hearts and minds of the wider public. Substantial numbers of cyclists among those taking part give the clearest possible impression of being a totally indisciplined and unruly rabble and there are numerous instances of illegal cycling behaviour. It all reinforces the already too widespread view of cyclists as having no respect for other road users, for the rules of the road or for anything else other than their own selfish agenda.
I have no doubt at all that there are many genuine, respectable and sincere cyclists on these rides who behave as well as can be expected given the scale and nature of the events – but as in any large gathering you will also find the usual suspects, the great unwashed disaffected and miscellaneous anarchists, few of whom have any real commitment to whatever cause is supposedly being promoted but they are there anyway “for a laugh” or to cause trouble if they can. What they certainly do, like it or not, is undermine the reputation of ALL those taking part and of the cause itself.
A good ride in the company of other cyclists is a fine thing. So why not celebrate the best of cycling rather than demonstrate it in such an unfavourable light? Why not have a proper organising group with leaders and marshalls and predetermined routes, and official support, where participants can demonstrate how cycling, even in large numbers, can be carried out in accordance with the rules of the road and accomodated with due consideration for other road users in our cities and towns? This has got to come anyway as more and more people get on their bikes. Wouldn’t it be a marvellous way for cyclists to show that we are ready for it even if the infrastructure leaves rather a lot to be desired and that we are willing and able to ride in an orderly and considerate fashion? Wouldn’t that give a much more positive impression of cycling, and the potential for more cycling, not only to other road users and casual bystanders at the time but also through the media coverage to the population at large? Wouldn’t this make a much more beneficial contribution to the debate at national and local government level about making better provision for cycling?
If cyclists who currently participate in critical mass events cannot rise to this challenge then I suggest that critical mass in the UK should be abandoned – for it amounts to nothing more than an inconsiderate self-indulgence on the part of participants which offers nothing positive to the cause of cycling.