Bicicrítica and Beyond: Critical Mass in Madrid (Shift Happens! excerpts)

November 13th, 2013 by LisaRuth

Dozens of European cities have a long legacy of cycling for everyday transportation. Madrid is not one of these cities. But it IS one of the many European urban centers that has adopted the basic framework of Critical Mass, and the popularity of these rides—known to Madrileños as Bicicrítica—has propelled more riders through the town’s “gray breath of traffic” and into a dynamic building of bicycles AND bicycle culture. Through Elisabeth Lorenzi’s words—or Eli as we know her—we can see past the once solitary daily experience of cycling through Madrid she has experienced in her contribution to Shift Happens!: Critical Mass at 20 in “‘Alegria Entre Tus Piernas’: To Conquer Madrid’s Streets.”

Bicicrítica encompasses a great many perspectives, motivations, practices, and influences, and affinity with el movimiento de okupación (the squatting or Okupation Movement) is one of them. One of the greatest strengths of the Okupation Movement has been its role as an integrator of different citizen movements and initatives, including unique activist practices that were pioneered by Bicicrítica. Based on Critical Mass practices, do-it-yourself (DIY) bicycle workshops have emerged in autonomous and okupied spaces.

Bicicrítica, the best example of citizen mobilation, is not an isolated movement. It is a discourse and praxis connected to other movements and broader discourses, which has led to its rapid growth, since often the activists of related movements take the intitiative to promote Bicicrítica. But Critical Mass also embodies the desire for immediate and sustainable access to a better quality of life.

As the problem of mobility in cities—and the bicycle as a tool for improving this situation—becomes more important in the discourse and practices of many centros sociales okupados, they help sustain the growth and maintenance of bicycle-related actions. These DIY workshops, which are connected to each other through common initiatives related to bicycling in Madrid, in turn open a window on connections among social centers, other movements, and the general citizenry.

Bicicrítica offers an exceptional environment for socializing and empowerment around the bicycle, but it only happens once a month. The monthly gathering becomes a cultural stew where new initiatives and social opportunities emerge, whether for activism, pragmatic organizing, or pleasure. … But it has been the DIY workshop activists who have done the most to diffuse bicycling broadly and promote Bicicrítica, as they now offer weekly and daily activities related to the bicycle. The DIY bike workshops are housed in autonomous spaces, and when participating in them, visitors and activists merge urbanism, transit, political mobilization, and technological skill-sharing.

In 2009, I witnessed the emergence and development of eight DIY bicycle workshops. In general terms, these places offer support to bicyclists to fix or reinvent some aspect of their bike, construct a new one from loose parts, and facilitate the lending of rebuilt bicycles. Tools, recycled parts, and people with a passion for mechanics are the basic infrastructure of these workshops, where not only is it important to know about mechanics, but also to have personal initiative, creativity, and a cooperative spirit.

To learn a lot more about the interplay between Madrid’s social centers and Bicicrítica—and about the birth of the intergalactic Criticona—check out our newly added links page and pick up your copy of Shift Happens! today by ordering from us online. We return next time with more inspiring Critical Mass stories from Spain!!

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