Critical Mass Northampton celebrated its fourth birthday as you would expect – with a group cycle ride around the town at a sedate pace on the last Friday of the month.
The history of the Critical Mass bike rides around the world is rooted in protests against society’s addiction to the motor car and the oil based economy.
But because the whole point is nothing more controversial than a lawful and safe bicycle ride people from all sections of the community take part. Young and old. Riders with all the kit and riders who made all their kit themselves.
The idea is that cyclists – normally so outnumbered by motor vehicles – take to the road in such numbers that they become the dominant presence on the tarmac. Motorists might think that it’s some kind of mild cyclist revenge – making cars wait for us for a change. That would be overestimating the mildness of some cyclists and underestimating the mildness of the rest. It’s really about getting noticed.
I’m a driver. I do the same mad thing every driver does every now and then, believing there is such a thing as ‘squeezing’ a hunk of unforgiving motorised metal through a gap. And sometimes that gap is between a cyclist and another thing.
I also know what it’s like to try to weave around potholes cycling along Barrack Road, hoping that the drivers alongside me realise that its like riding through a rock garden in some places and I might swerve out at any point.
Critical Mass is not anti-motorist, it is anti-forgetting other people. It is that thing that makes you sigh and take a moment. It’s thirty seconds of bell ringing, horn hooting, good-natured perspective.
‘Funny bikes’ lead the way from the fleet of the Monday Night Is Project Night crew (Fast and Furious meets Last of the Summer Wine on bicycles) and we are fortunate in this town to have such colourful champions of the cause. There is a mini-carnival feel to the ride with people stopping to wave and shout encouragement from the pavement, even along Wellingborough Road where Friday night is well under way by the time the peloton goes through.
There is usually a Pollard or two at the head of the pack. Bill, on one of the tall bikes, is at pains to be supportive of the police and council officers responsible for organising the peaceful co-existence of bikes, cars and pedestrians. He is, however, envious of the trouble West Midlands Police are going to to highlight the safe passing distance for a car around a bicycle.
We chat about the leaflets going out in St James warning cyclists that riding on the pavement could earn them a £50 fine. He asks me if I have actually seen any being handed out. I haven’t. I still feel aggrieved at having had three bikes stolen (from different family members) in the past year with no real sense that the forces of law and order can do anything about it. And now the feds are chasing after us cyclists with leaflets! I feel so abandoned. I’m still waiting for the superhero movie that is savvy enough to show Batman diverting for a few seconds to take down a bicycle thief. Or Judge Dredd, even better.
Bill’s response to the theft problem does feel more like something from the Art of Protest Playbook; a T-shirt with a legend just about polite enough to print: ‘Bicycle thieves have small dicks’
“And if anyone has an issue with that they are welcome to step forward and discuss it,” I suggest.
“Yes,” he chuckles.