A critical mass

This evening I have been out cycling with Leeds Critical Mass. Some people see this as “monthly protest by cyclists reclaiming the streets.” Others insiste that these events should be viewed as “celebrations.” Well I enjoy it so much it must be a celebration even if we reclaim the streets in the process.

I went on a few of the very early Leeds Critical Mass rides but then lost touch. Then, over a year ago, I felt inspired to rejoin them and I’ve only missed a couple in the last year. They happen on the last Friday of the month and we gather at Leeds City Museum in Millennium Square at 6pm, someone brings a trailer with a sound system and we set off for one or two circuits of Leeds City Centre slowing traffic and bringing a lot of joy and fun to pedestrian onlookers. On one of the first ones I went on I remember someone shouting something at us but it wasn’t quite clear whether he told us to “use the cycle paths” or if was calling us “psychopaths”!

Most motorists seem amused, give a toot or smile out of their windows but tonight we had someone who obviously thought they were more important. The car told us this straight away – a big black Range Rover with tinted windows and LED lights. The use of the horn confirmed that the driver was “loud” and used to getting their own way. The lack of indicators, the aggressive driving told us that here was someone who thought they were “it”. They quickly found themselves surrounded by bicycles and delayed even more, their attempt to change lane without signalling in order to get past the car in front and the cycles left them trapped but as we rounded a bend his driving made some of the cyclists rethink and he was let through before he did some physical damage. And then, just around the corner, was a police car with blue lights flashing – a pity they were busy on another task!

Part of me worries for the next cyclist this motorist meets. Part of me wishes I had a camera on my cycle or I had taken his number so that I could shame this motorist on-line. Part of me wonders what this driver was racing to, whether that few lost seconds were so valuable that they were willing to risk people’s safety. 

Whatever, the outcome was that tonight’s critical mass did feel more like a a protest to reclaim the streets, and I felt less like celebrating.

Anyway, next month it will be almost, er, advent! How shall we celebrate that on our bicycles?

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