Both submissions to Shift Happens!: Critical Mass at 20 from Rome—from the Network of People’s Bike Kitchens of Rome and by Rotafixa—speak from the difficulties of confronting the seemingly fixed car culture in that city of world wonders. To add to the wonders, they’ve inserted Critical Mass into the mix. And Marco Pierfranceschi, in “Critical Mass Meets Italian Cycle Touring” recounts how applying a Critical Mass style of organizing to Italian Cycle Touring transformed it and increased the participation and fun immensely (no excerpt of this piece included, sorry!).
“Let’s take back Rome!: Critical Mass, Ciemmona and CiclOfficine Popolari in Rome” gives us a look at the origins of the People’s Bike Kitchens:
Before 2002 [when Critical Mass Rome began], bicycles in Rome were found only in basements and garages, and as decorative objects. Urban cyclists were rare animals: poor, unlucky, unimaginable relatives of the sport cyclist, the kind only normally seen on Sundays on Roman boulevards.
In this urban landscape, with an average of one car per inhabitant, Critical Mass Rome reclaimed the right to be part of traffic and to go beyond that. To be effective in pushing people to use the bike everyday, it was necessary to create support centers aimed at giving information on the use and maintenance of the bicycle in an unfriendly city like Rome. This meant also creating a social space where people could teach each other how to repair bikes used as means of transportation, by sharing mechanical knowledge.
In 2003 to fulfill this need, two “bike kitchens” were created inside two squatted social centers. …The bike kitchens immediately produced a new political voice in Rome, critiquing transportation models based on the dictatorship of automobiles. These groups used the bike on a daily basis as a form of direct action. A new political subject appeared in Roman demonstrations and social movement spaces: the biker activist—always with one pant leg rolled up and one down, and black grease on her/his hands.
Social centers started organizing events with the bicycle as a lifestyle theme. The bike kitchens became places where everyone could learn and contribute her/his capabilities, whether using the welder or becoming metal parts fetishists. The first monster bikes were created including two-story bikes, recumbents, long johns, rickshaws, and carts. The explosion of creativity took place on a foundation of everyday bicycling, leading to the formation of a community of cyclists and mechanics. It started to spread like wildfire, shaping a new kind of political awareness. The community centered around this daily struggle—but also with a monthly celebration in the Critical Mass ride—became more participatory, fun, and effective. Soon two bike kitchens were insufficient to satisfy the growing demand to learn to fix, disassemble, grease, polish, and improve bikes. In 2004, some Don Quixote mechanics opened another kitchen in the social center Angelo Mai next to the Coliseum. Rome, by then, had bike kitchens covering all the main areas, providing a self-made infrastructure for urban bikers’ safety and service, making cyclists more aware of their presence and strength in numbers.
Rotafixa muses about “Political Critical Mass in Rome”:
Critical Mass in Rome created a new way of acting politically. In less than a decade, it taught us to resist the hegemonic politics that have dominated Italy for decades. With Critical Mass we (re)discovered a way to relate to the world around us, and rediscovered the point of connection among all human beings. We even became reacquainted with the key to what makes us human, things like the opposable thumb, nomadism, communication, and an ability to connect the individual and the collective. Our species has these qualities, which are especially effective if used together.
During the last few decades we haven’t been living well. We depend too much on cars, and those who want to move by other means are struggling, especially bicyclists. Critical Mass emerged out of this need, establishing that roads are not just for motorists, but are actually much better without cars.
Not know where the Critical Mass rides go has a deeper resonance; humans don’t know where our species is going either! Supporting each other, sharing an intention, joining something we have only heard of, perhaps going because your beloved mentioned the idea to you. This “thing” called Critical Mass embodies many different motivations. it is so refreshing to become part of a community of people you don’t know, and find that group acting together effectively. In Critical Mass we share an intention to engage in the simple act of riding bicycles through the city streets, once a month. These meetings nourish a dream some of us cultivate in solitude: What if we were a really huge mass of bikers? The dream comes true in Critical Mass.
São Paulo has also had to fight against an über car-centric attitude in that city. Read about what the bicycle movement has done to break through, and how one individual’s move toward autonomy came through Critical Mass and biking in our next installment!
We just sent off books today to all who have ordered them online! Buy one from us and get your very own copy soon too!