Edges to these wheels, reporting from Critical Mass in Manchester and London (Shift Happens! excerpts)

September 14th, 2012 by LisaRuth

Vanessa Bear reports from her active involvement in creating cycling culture in “Pedaling with Ghosts of the Industrial Revolution in Manchester, England”:

It’s where the industrial revolution began, where the computer was invented, where people first danced to house music in the UK. Zooming past chrome and glass modern buildings that sit next to crumbling mills, riding over cobblestones that lead to highways, it’s clear that Manchester is a city that embraces change. One of the main changes that’s occurred over the past 10 years being the huge increase in bicycles used as transportation. Many would say that’s mostly due to Critical Mass.

The first Critical Mass bike ride in Manchester was inspired by reports in the radical press of those happening in San Francisco. It was organized as part of an anti-roads and G8 protest. However, this was only a one-off event and it wasn’t until 2004 that Critical Mass in Manchester became a regular monthly sight on our city’s roads.

In 2005 a group of cyclists rode around the UK to spread news and information about the upcoming G8 protests taking place in Scotland. There were about 70 people riding together, stopping off at cities to do workshops and to meet like-minded people around the country. The workshops were inspiring but the most inspiring thing of all was that this was when Critical Mass in Manchester started to be noticed. The G8 bike ride came along on our Critical Mass increasing our numbers to over 150 people that month and creating such an incredible spectacle that everyone wanted to  know what i was and when the next one would be. To get more people cycling, we just need more people cycling!

Before Critical Mass there was no real bike culture in our city, no place where we could meet. …Hardly anyone used a bike for transport and it was alienating to do so. Now with the increased fashion to ride we have countless bikes on the roads. However, Critical Mass has definitely helped that process here as well as creating a place for us to meet and share our experiences. Many people riding a bike said they were inspired to do so when they saw the monthly throng of cheerful, carnival-like riders going past them whilst they were standing at a bus stop. It has also inspired amazing community bike projects such as Pedal MCR, a community bike co-op that recycles bikes, has a drop-in tool club for the community, provides Earn-a-Bike programs, and much more.

Des Kay has also been closely involved in the presence of Critical Mass in London, even spearheading a court case to stop the Metropolitan Police from making Critical Mass illegal. Given the decision made by the House of Lords, the recent arrests at the start of the Olympics seem even more wrong. He gives us a taste of “London Critical Mass”:

The largest London Mass was in the middle of 2008 to oppose police controlling the event. They wanted to bind us to all sorts of bureaucracy, such as sending them a route map (!) and a list of organisers (!). A month earlier we were handed letters purporting that our london Friday night get-together was unlawful. They eventually cottoned on to the joys of joining us on bicycles and their support and cooperation continued until the legality was questioned.

…The court case was taken to the highest courts in the land …and we initially won, then lost on appeal, and finally on October 20, 2008, the case went to the House of Lords where it was heard by five Law Lords. Their decision was that, “the appeal is allowed and Critical Mass is a commonly or customarily held procession without organizers and therefore does not need to inform the police of each ride.” Once that precedent was set, no mass bike ride in the country has had any interference. The police must believe that after 18 years, we’re grown up enough to go out on our own.

At 18, London Critical Mass has matured toward a more relaxed and laid-back kind of affair. We haven’t lost that radical edge, but we now are more aware of the power we had ego command the roads we choose to cycle along.

Stay tuned for Roman wheels spinning into your screens tomorrow! In the meantime, think about buying the book, available through us!

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