Off yer bikes!

IssueNovember 2005
News by Albert Beale

After more than a decade of informal, monthly, collective assertions of the delight of cycling around a city in the company of lots of other cyclists, the Critical Mass bike rides in central London have suddenly been targeted by the police.

Critical Mass rides, which take place in many parts of the world, are a traditional way to show that if bikes outnumber cars for a change, rather than vice versa - hence the name Critical Mass - then the safety and pleasure of public spaces can improve dramatically for everyone. This London ride meets on the Thames embankment under the south end of Waterloo Bridge at 6-6.30pm on the last Friday of every month.

It's a collective, duh!

Participants arriving for the 30 September event were handed leaflets by police, saying that the rides were not lawful because no organisers had come forward to notify the policy of the proposed route beforehand. But it's not just right-on anarchist rhetoric to say that the rides don't have any organisers - they really don't. And there isn't a prearranged route.

Occasionally there will be a suggestion at the start, of somewhere that some people would like to visit, but decisions evolve collectively as the ride progresses. And if there are police on bikes with the ride, then of course they can be part of the collective process too - though they usually seem to be unable to cope with that way of taking decisions.

Biggest event

yet The Metropolitan Police, when asked why they have suddenly decided after all these years to classify the event as a demonstration which needs to be policed according to the Public Order Act, have no answer. And in practical terms, it's not clear how hundreds of cyclists are policeable anyway.

The Critical Massers' answer is expected to be the biggest such event ever held in London. Amongst those taking part on 28 October will be Jenny Jones of the Green Party, who is currently a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority - the body which runs London police. It should be an interesting evening.