In the same vein as the Jozi Run events I took part in last year (‘Taking back the streets – a random juxtaposition‘ and ‘An empty achievement‘), Critical Mass is also a social movement to “take back the streets” and pure adrenalin will beat through your blood.
Although Critical Mass is held more frequently than Jozi Run, specifically the last Friday night of every month, it is not formally organised. Although a huge thank you needs to go out to the Admin Team behind the mass events held in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The marshals are also fantastic! On Friday (my first Critical Mass) I saw them being harassed numerous times by taxi drivers and other drivers alike but not once did they lose their cool or distract from the job at hand; keeping everyone together and safe. I need to point out though that in general the reaction of drivers was one of amusement and encouragement rather than annoyance.
The name originates from a Ted White documentary called Return of the Scorcher; half an hour’s worth of interviews and footage of bicycle use in China, the Netherlands and the US. Bike culture and bike lifestyles around the world are explored and society’s love affair with cars critiqued. In one scene a bicycle designer by the name of George Bliss coins the term “critical mass”. He notes that in China there is an understood method of traversing roads; cyclists queue up at intersections until the backlog reaches a “critical mass” at which point motorists allow them to safely cross the intersection.
In the early 1970s riders used to gather to cycle the streets of Sweden although the official date of the first Critical Mass ride is 25 September 1992 at 18:00, a couple of dozen people who had received flyers took part. By the fourth ride there were 100s of participants and just over a decade later these spontaneous gatherings were happening around the world in more than 300 cities.
This phenomenon had quickly reached its own “critical mass”.
Rather than referring to Critical Mass as “political protests” participants should rather view them as “spontaneous celebrations”. This dynamic turn in semantics is necessary from a legal point of view – respective authorities do not need to be notified of these events.
This might have been the first Critical Mass cycle I rode but it most definitely won’t be my last. Wes and a friend of ours Dyl joined me and I have already excitedly roped in many more friends for the next one! The camaraderie, the diverse crowd, the support, the atmosphere, the historic sites cycled past, it all feels so (dare I say it?) revolutionary.
For all of the cyclists out there that are tired of being intimated on the road or afraid of cycling alone, change this and help create awareness. You do not even have to be fit to do so the cycle is slow and the stop halfway for food and drink is as much fun as any other Friday night out, if not more so.
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below if you have taken part in a Critical Mass event or would like toHover mouse over images to reveal caption and click on them to view larger versions.