A facebook post led me to writing this. I had things to say, but they extended far beyond what is an acceptable length to a facebook comment, so I apologise only a little bit for going off on one here. It suppose it might mean something for cycling in Aberdeen, and although I no longer live in Aberdeen the topic is one I remain passionate about.
Ah, those Critical Mass rides in 2011. I was critical: highly critical. I can be seen in the first of those pictures. Much as I was a reluctant participant at best, downright subversive at worst, it has to be said that I can put at least a first name to almost everyone in those pictures. So I have to admit that those rides must have been influential in drawing some kind of a social scene together.
I know that something which claimed the use of the name Critical Mass happened in Aberdeen about 2006-8 time, but disappeared. When the idea resurfaced in 2011, it lasted, from my memory, three or four months. I would not be surprised to learn that the same thing killed it off both times, but in 2011 it was certainly the fact that it just wasn’t really about cycling. People would show up riding things that you could just barely call bicycles, with the intention of showing off and antagonising motorists but with no thought of taking part in a mutually enjoyable bike ride, in fact, no idea that it might be possible for a group of people to enjoy riding around the city on bikes of a weekday evening. I wasn’t there for the last of that summer’s rides. Hearsay tells me, however, that it ended in a surprisingly patient lecture from a harassed member of Grampian Police, patiently trying to explain that everyone there was succeeding only in annoying very many people and generally associating cycling with petulant and useless aggression towards motorists, pedestrians and the world in general. If you went to an event that ended in a ticking-off from a Policeman, would you want to come back next month?
I think Critical Mass is a good idea and that Aberdeen would be a better placesd if, once a month, some cyclists got together and rode in a group through rush-hour traffic. It would show that not only is it possible, but it’s actually quite fun. But to make that happen, it would help a lot if the participants would have some understanding of what it’s like to ride a bike in a group, in a city, in traffic. And if they aren’t used to riding in a group, or in traffic, or either, that they would listen to people there who are used to those things, that they would take advice, that they would come with the idea of taking part rather than the idea of showing everyone what a badass they are and how much they like winding up drivers. God knows, if you were driving home from work of a Friday evening, you’d be easy to wind up. Picking on an easy target doesn’t gain you anything. Getting honked at, shouted at, or even, as happened to a friend of beCyCle recently, spat at, proves nothing.
So Critical Mass. Do it, by all means, it should happen. But try to do it in a spirit of enjoyment and inclusiveness, and it might just get past the first three months. Try to do it with the idea that what you do will go on for years. That you’ll see these drivers again next month and the month after, even if it’s dark and cold and snowing. That you’re creating an institution. I wish you the very, very, best.