Information

 The following information is taken from an old Cardiff Critical Mass website 

What is Critical Mass?

Critical Mass is an organised coincidence. It happens when a lot of
cyclists happen to be in the same place at the same time and decide to cycle the same way together for a while. Very often, those taking part enjoy it so much that they decide to get together at the
same place and time the next month and the month after and so on, and to get other cyclists to join
as well.

Where and when does CM take place?

Currently more than 30 places in the UK, there will be a Critical Mass somewhere every week. Critical Mass started in San Fransisco in 1993, and now takes place in more than 100 cities worldwide.

What are the aims of CM?

Although there is a shared wish to see less car-dominated cities and
more people cycling, there is no such thing as the aim of CM. There are 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. Some of the aims may be:

  • Raising the profile of cycling in towns and cities
  • Campaigning for better provision for cyclists
  • Creating a car-free space in the centre of our cities
  • Having fun Meeting friends
  • Getting our own back at the motorists
  • Showing off our flashy new bike and clothes
  • Creating a vision and experience of a possible future

Some things may feature more strongly than others, but any combination
of the aims above and lots of others can be reason enough for anyone to come to CM.

Who are the organisers?

Nobody organises CM in the sense that they control the event - what
happens at the ride is up to all the individuals. However, some individuals are usually more involved
than others, in printing and distributing leaflets and other publicity, thinking out the route,
organising corkers, front and back markers for the ride, doing press releases etc. However, they only do the work, and don't have any authority over anybody else - their only power is to make suggestions. The Mass is usually most successful if many people get involved and do these things on their own accord - it takes the pressure off the few and makes CM more of the spontaneous event it is meant to be. There are copies of leaflets available on this website for those who want to help print them up and then hand them out to people on the day or post them up and publicise it beforehand. Even better, make your own leaflets and bring them along.

Is it legal?

In principle, CM is nothing different from a bunch of cyclists taking
a slightly convoluted way home from work, or just cruising around the streets, all of which is
perfectly legal. Section 209 of the Highway Code advises cyclists to not ride more than two abreast, and to ride in single file on narrow roads when in traffic. However, this advice does not have force of
law, and the whole section is titled 'Safe riding' - presumably it would be acceptable to ride more than two abreast where this is safer. It is also acceptable to ride more than two abreast when overtaking.

However, the police do have considerable powers to break up any demonstration, thereby declaring it illegal. The best way of preventing this from happening is to avoid provoking the police.

What to do before the big day

To make the event even bigger and better, there are a few things any participant can do to help. If the event is to keep going, people need to get involved. This can be as simple as telling your friends, or as exciting as getting on TV.

Beforehand: make placards from cardboard and bits of scrap wood, paint old sheets as banners; use them to tell passers by why the mass is happening. Things like statistics about road deaths, air pollution, the car industry are good. They can be found on environmental campaigning groups websites for example. Court the media, especially if you have any friends who work in the media. Get them interested, get the issues about cars and roads and transport systems out into people's sitting rooms, and get people onto bikes, and along to critical masses..

You can also make up leaflets to either publicise the event before hand, or to hand out on the day to people we pass by and interest.  There are copies of the ones already being used in Cardiff here. Or you can make your own. It is an idea to ask for donations from people at the demo to put towards printing.  Add the event to listings magazines if it is not already listed, write letters to papers etc. The more people we get along, the better it is…

On the day: wear costumes, decorate your bike, carry balloons, paint your face etc.   Bring whistles, horns, bicycle bells, instruments, make up songs and slogans to sing and shout to passers by, like oil spills, oil kills.  The more noise we make, the bigger our presence in the street, the more people see there is an alternative to boring, destructive, dangerous car culture. It also makes it more fun to be involved in, and it is supposed to be a carnival after all.

Blocking the traffic? We ARE the traffic.

On the Day

Tips for an effective and happy critical mass.

Look out for each other, the more people that are on the case and looking around on the day, the safer it all is for everyone.

Be noisy, bring whisltes, musical instruments, costumes, banners, streamers, pedal powered sound systems, even shouting out slogans or songs empowers the mass and gets the message across to passers by. It is a carnival after all.

Stay together - the back should keep up with and follow the front. Not the other way around. The front leads, the back follows.

Keep together in a tight bunch. Use the mass itself to block the road, not a thin back line. If cyclists at the back ride too slowly in a misguided attempt to block the roads to motor traffic, this allows yawning gaps to open up in the mass and motorists are tempted to break through the back line because they can see the road ahead is clear. Keep up and keep together. If you feel you're being kept back and can see the front disappearing into the distance, then overtake and catch up.

Large rides may break up. This will be due to police action or complicated traffic. If the ride splits,
don't worry. It might take quite a while to regroup. The front portion should wait at the side of the
road to let traffic caught in between out of the front or go into a holding pattern around a convenient
square. The front portion should not just stop and block the road, or the back will never catch up because the traffic in between can't go anywhere.

Don't block traffic unnecessarily. Blocking occurs when a few cyclists hold up the traffic even though the road ahead is clear. Although there are times when this is useful, it can lead to confrontation with motorists. If, however, the road is full of bikes so that cars cannot get through, that's not blocking - that's traffic. If you do block, then think about it. Don't block cars so that they in turn block the progress of the mass.

People at the front are responsible!!! If you're at the front, you define the route; discuss the route with people around you and KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. Don't go too quickly: 4-6 mph
is fine. Be aware of how spread out the mass is behind you. If the ride is becoming spread out, stop at the next junction and wait through a change of traffic lights for the back to catch up. Use density
of numbers to negotiate a junction: don't take on a junction in one's or two's. Wait for cyclists to catch up and then take it by force at the right time.

It is generally safer to keep on going through a set of traffic lights if they turn red as the mass passes through. The motorists should be well aware of your presence and should let you all through. It is important to stay together, its also the most fun!

Don't be a hero. Trying to block the road or junction all by yourself will get you arrested, run over, or both.

Remember to have a good time!!

What is CM's attitude:

- towards police?

If the police don't show up, that's fine - CM should be able to police itself. If they do turn up, cooperation is normally much better than confrontation.

The police will try to pick a 'ringleader' when they turn up - their first sentence is often "who's in charge here". The purpose of this is to single out one person and intimidate them and thereby intimidate the demonstration. Do not let them do this if possible, tell them that no one is in charge. Always be on the lookout for police officers singling out people, and if you feel confident enough, support people who are talking to the police; often standing next to them and listening is enough, or join in the conversation if you can. 

Sometimes the police will try to determine the route. Point out to them that it is not possible to command 50-100 or more individual cyclists to go one place if they want to go somewhere else, but if they insist on sheperding the mass it should follow their instructions unless they are completely unreasonable.

More often, the police will be content with following the mass around and seeing to it that things do not get out of hand, nobody does anything dangerous or illegal, potential rows with motorists are defused, etc. Sometimes, they will even do us a favour by blocking side streets and sheperding the mass through red lights. In these cases, the best thing is for the mass to cooperate fully.

The silliest thing one can do is to behave in a confrontational manner, shout abusive messages and refuse to follow sensible instructions. This will often lead to further calamities. Remember that the police have very wide powers of arrest, and this was the case even before the Criminal Justice
Act was passed.

Some police officers have a dislike of demonstrations or cyclists, and will try to sabotage it. Don't give them any extra reasons for doing it. Others are very friendly and sympathetic.


- towards pedestrians?


Pedestrians are our friends, and many pedestrians are supportive of our aims. It is very important
that we do not alienate them by cycling on pavements or going through pedestrian crossings. It is also a good idea to hand out leaflets to pedestrians to let them know why we are there, and to be generally cheerful.

In response, CM will often find pedestrians supportive. Andy Castellano Smith writes:

"From seeing the reactions of passing pedestrians, tourists, shoppers, and occasionally a motorist or two, they do support us. Pedestrians get to walk down the road without being smoked out, tourists get to cross roads without having to run between cars, and the odd motorist does see the sense in promoting an alternative."

 

- towards buses?

Buses are also our friends. A proper public transport system is essential to reduce the number of cars on the roads. We should let buses through the Mass wherever possible. Sometimes there will
be several cars in front of the bus (even when it is in a bus lane!). If there are only one or two cars, it
may be best to let them through as well (depending on the situation); if there are more, the bus will normally reach a bus stop or a red light before it can catch up with the Mass.

- towards taxis?

Taxi drivers are generally an unsympathetic bunch, but they are a form of public transport as well. In a society where fewer people own cars, people will need taxis for those occasions where walking, cycling or taking the bus is not possible. Unlike private motorists, they have a right to be in the bus lanes. Some taxi drivers act like they are the scum-of-the-Earth, but then they are on the road everyday and get badly hassled by everyone. Even when they explode, don't behave aggressively towards them. Whether they should receive preferential treatment compared to other motorists by being let through is open to discussion. Most places that normally won't happen, but it may well be advisable to do so.

- towards other motorists?

Some people going to Critical Mass have as their primary aim to persuade motorists to get out of their cars and onto their bikes. Others want to get their own back after putting up with intolerant motorists the other 29 days of the month. In any case, aggressive behaviour won't do much good - it will alienate car drivers and others and is likely to lead to even more aggression and intolerance.

Motorists should not be let into (or past) the mass if it can be avoided. That will often create dangerous situations, and it also defeats the purpose of creating a safe, car-free space on the road. But don't treat this as an absolute. Charlie Lloyd writes:

"I think we have learnt that the mass works best when it keeps together and keeps moving. It is better to let the occaisional car / bus go through rather than confront them when they are blocking our route. Engaging in long arguments and confrontations only involve one or two vehicles and atmost a dozen cyclists, the other 988 of us just get bored and pissed off because the ride stops moving. What we are about is the freedom to move, not the right to stand still in traffic jams of our own causing."

It is not us and them either. Many cyclists are motorists as well, and some of the car drivers we encounter may be found on bikes other days. It may also be good to try to put the point across that bikes take up much less space than cars, so by cycling we are reducing the congestion for the minority who really have to drive. Tell the motorists via voices, placards and leaflets who we are and what we are doing, and try to defuse tempers.

- towards disabled drivers?

Some people drive because they have no other way of getting around; walking and cycling are not options for them, and the public transport is often unaccessible for the disabled. Disabled people have a hard enough time already, and CM should not deliberately make it worse for them. It may be a good idea - depending on the situation - to let through cars bearing the orange disabled stickers.

- towards motorcyclists?

Motorcycles create noise and pollution, but they do not take away space from other road users and are a much more sensible mode of transport in urban areas than cars. Also, motorcyclists experience many of the same problems as cyclists do - being vulnerable in accidents, abused my motorists and not respected as equals in the traffic. So motorcyclists are better seen as friends and allies of cyclists than as rivals or enemies.

Since motorcyclists, like cyclists, can easily pass on the outside or through a gap in the mass, trying to keep them back would be futile even if that was what the mass wanted. But if someone tries to barge straight through the middle of the mass, it is advisable to surround this person and try to calm him (or her) down.