Critical Mass

I ride the BMX I’m still borrowing from a friend down to The Level at 5:30pm and wait. I’m very early but after about half an hour I notice more bikes arriving and conglomerating near the centre of the park. I ride over to join them. Three guys sitting together drinking beer have never done the Brighton Critical Mass before, although one has done one in Manchester. Two of them have BMXs, one is just like the one I’m riding and I tell them the story of how the day before I was walking out of my flat with it when a woman who lives below me said “oh, I have a bike just like that. Would you like it?”, which everyone agreed was very fortunate but also rather odd, especially as she then said she actually had two bikes and I could take both of them. They are not in working condition though…yet!

A friend has been doing Brighton Critical Mass for a very long time now. He seems a little bitter. Apparently numbers have been falling steadily, especially since the police stopped providing an escort. Last month there were only 18 people, bit shit considering how nice the weather is, but maybe people are away? I do a head count and by the time we get moving there are 26 of us – bit better than last month then.

Everybody seems reluctant to take the lead, so we start slowly with a circuit around the park before a man up front indicates he is going left towards the seafront. We all follow suit. It’s nice riding with so many other cyclists and seems a lot safer most of the time, especially since we have enough bikes to effectively block the road and stop people coming past us. But as we continue around town and back down to the seafront drivers become increasingly aggressive, first honking loudly, then overtaking us at risky positions and shouting abuse from their windows. Where are they all going in such a hurry?

One man yells at me from his front seat – “Why are you all blocking the traffic? What’s wrong with you?”
I tell him “We’re not blocking traffic – we are traffic!”

I hear the bigger Critical Masses, like the ones in London, are really amazing. You can effectively end up with a huge car-free space on the road and feel supported by one another. I got small tastes of what that could be like but it did seem that a large part of what we were doing was pissing off motorists. Well, they piss me off a lot of the time too, but I don’t really understand why they are so angry with us. The police stopped us at one point too to ask us to go single file (!?!), although the police car did say Crawley on the side. Maybe Crawley police have too much time on their hands?

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