May 2024

Mass left the Southbank at 7:30pm, as it usually does these days. Leaflets were circulated before the start of the ride, asking participants to come to Homerton, to put up a white bike for Harry Webb, who was killed there last September. At the time of writing the trial of the driver involved has been adjourned. Harry’s parents were contacted directly beforehand by members of Hackney LCC group, who approved of the proposed ride and white bike.

There were approximately five to six hundred participants on the ride. The Mass headed east towards Tower Bridge. Due to road closures in the central area of London, for the Champions League final, car traffic was heavy and movement was slow. The ride managed to stay together reasonably well, and headed east along Whitechapel High Street. A north turn up Cambridge Heath Road and then east on Well Street brought the ride to Kenworthy Road after about an hour and 20 minutes.

A bike that had been locked in place during the week, with pictures of Harry Webb attached to it, was spraypainted white, and a hundred tea light candles were lit around the bike as a memorial. Red distress smoke was lit, and the participants broke into spontaneous applause, cheers, and bell ringing as the smoke cleared. A bandmate of Harry’s attended on foot, and thanked Critical Mass riders for coming and remembering his friend.

Image courtesy of Lorenzo Ali – https://lorenzophotography.co.uk
Image courtesy of Lorenzo Ali – https://lorenzophotography.co.uk

The ride then took a slightly chaotic but fun route through Mabley Green and Victoria Park, riding over grass, before coming back to the roads around the south west corner of Victoria Park and heading towards Shoreditch via Bethnal Green. The front of the ride still stopped regularly, waiting for people behind to gather, and then move off again in a tighter bloc. This meant during the incident at the end of the ride after 10pm, there was a fairly large number of riders still participating.

The ride then headed south towards Borough Market, crossing London Bridge. At the junction of Tooley Street, while the ride was stopped again waiting for others to catch up, there was an incident which is still being investigated. An 18 year old rider became trapped under the wheels of a car and was dragged for approximately 50 metres across London Bridge. Multiple ambulances and police vehicles arrived on the scene. The rider is still recovering from his injuries, which included a broken nose, and heavy brusing and lacerations to his body – but thankfully, nothing more serious and he will make a recovery. The driver of the car was arrested by the City of London Police on the northern end of London Bridge after Mass riders caught up with him. After approximately an hour on the bridge, the police dispersed the crowd and riders went home.

A GoFundMe was set up with help from Critical Mass riders and friends of the injured rider. At the time of writing it is still open to make donations, but within less than 48 hours after it had been opened, the GoFundMe had reached its target of £1000 for a replacement bike for the rider. Although the ride was overwhelmingly positive, and it had been memorable to mark where Harry Webb had been killed, it had come to a very upsetting and traumatic end for anyone who had seen the incident at the south end of London Bridge. To see such genuine and immediate solidarity being displayed by Critical Mass riders with support for the rider, was a real sign of positivity and community.

Apr 2024

Tonight’s ride left at 7:30pm as it usually does these days. Before this a crowd of approximately 500-600 riders gathered on the Southbank. Many in the crowd were coming for the first time, confused and excited, arriving on hired Santander or Lime Bikes, having seen videos on social media of the 30th birthday ride two weeks before. Other people came who had not attended mass for months or even years, but had come back to rejoin the ride after the 30th anniversary ride, which was a really positive development.

on waterloo road

The weather thankfully had held off and the sun was poking out between the clouds. Leaflets alerting people to the potential presence of phone thieves on the ride were handed out again to attendees, giving people information about ride etiquette. The text of this leaflet includes points about staying together, stopping at junctions, corking, and not filtering through traffic. Participants discussed beforehand, and a vague destination of Greenwich was agreed. Generally speaking, these days, a majority of participants prefer to avoid travelling in towards the west end for at least the first part of the ride, to avoid getting caught in rush hour traffic and breathing in fumes, and the ride sitting there, or else filtering through cars and become all broken up. Central London is thankfully better for individual cyclists (while still always needing improvement), with wider footpaths and narrower single lane roads; but for a mass group ride, which mimics vehicular traffic in some ways, central London can be difficult and slow moving. Going into parts of zone 2 and 3 for the ride generally means it is more freely moving.

april route

The ride went south from the BFI roundabout. At the junction of The Cut and Waterloo Road, a drinker at the Old Fire Station pub, diagonally across from the Old Vic Theatre, hurled a pint glass unprovoked at the Mass. Thankfully, nobody was hit or injured, the glass landed between riders and smashed on the ground. These sorts of incidents of random violence against the ride are rare. And participants did the right thing in not rising to the aggression shown by drunk Friday night morons just there to elicit a response. But aggression like this is a reminder of the coarse level of debate generally, where anti-cycling bias in the media emboldens people to do this sort of thing when they see a group ride.

The ride headed towards Elephant and Castle and out the New Kent Road, over the bricklayers arms flyover and south on the Old Kent Road towards New Cross. Thankfully the ride managed to stay reasonably together, having stopped at Elephant, again on the flyover, and then further down the Old Kent Road at the junction of Ilderton Road, and then again the intersection where the New Cross Road begins. These little pauses, even if they only take a minute or two, are really important for the Mass to stay together. The corking along the Old Kent Road was excellent, with people putting in shifts as the ride became a bit more strung out, which happens on long straight stretches. There were two reported incidences of drivers getting out of cars and challenging people, including one incident where a female rider who was corking was grabbed and was pushed out of the way, but was then supported by other riders. The driver wisely got back in the car and waited the extra two minutes they had to until the ride had fully passed. Another potential flashpoint with a BMW driver at the Greenwich Market was also firmly but peacefully dealt with. Any driver attempting this sort of thing is likely going to have to wait longer as more cyclists come and back others up.

stopped on bricklayers arms flyover

The ride then had a customary pitstop at the area near the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, where people played a bit of music as the sun went down, had a beer and a smoke. About 20 minutes later, the ride eventually reconvened and headed back towards Central London, heading in along the the northern route along Evelyn Street, passing through the top of Deptford and then along Jamaica Road through Bermondsey. Again, the ride is slowly getting better generally, stopping every so often waiting for people behind to catch up (including some wheelie riders near the front, who have been befriended over time and are slowly more on board with the message of Mass), so the ride moves together in a single bloc.

greenwich

On Jamaica Road, the ride turned into Long Lane, heading towards Borough High Street, and then turning back in towards Newington Gardens MUGA area, where the London hardcourt Bike Polo crew were having some Friday night games and a party, as one of their players was leaving London for good. The Mass managed to catch the last 15 minutes of games there before the floodlights turned off for the night. Some of the Polo crew had helped out with the corking on the 30th Birthday ride, so they were very happy to see Mass come along and have a chance to watch some of their games in action. A small campfire had already been lit at Newington Gardens by the Polo crew, so it was a nice way for people to interact with each other from the two different scenes and warm up.

watching hardcourt bike polo

By 10pm, the ride had thinned out and approximately 100-150 riders remained. They rolled the small distance to the steps at Potter’s Fields next to Tower Bridge, where the ride finished up. People stayed there for a while having a drink and chatting. The security guards for More London are generally standoffish when the Mass arrives there on a Friday night, they see that we are peaceful, and are not interested in having any confrontation with us, as long as the music is at a reasonably tolerable level for the residents living in the blocks of flats nearby, some of which are not luxury apartments, but actually social housing for City of London tenants.

finishing at tower bridge

There were no incidences of any phone thefts or similar antisocial behaviour from balaclava riders on the ride tonight, which is a really positive thing to remember, and to take forward into the summer rides.

A 30th Birthday Ride for Critical Mass London (14th April 2024)

A large crowd began to gather on the Southbank early on Sunday. This ride had been heavily publicised in advance, both in real life and online, with posters and flyers in cafes, bars, bookshops, bicycle shops, radical spaces, and up on walls and hoardings around the city, in advance of the 30th anniversary of the very first CHARM ride on the 15th of April 1994.

The Met police attended on the Southbank, but kept a discreet distance, monitoring the gathering informally from above, only intervening to come down from their elevated position when two riders in full balaclavas appeared briefly in the crowd. The balaclava riders disappeared shortly afterwards and were not seen again on the ride. One of the primary reasons for the callout to have the 30th anniversary on this day, rather than a Friday night, was to mitigate the potential presence of thieves using the ride as cover to snatch pedestrian phones, and causing older or irregular returning riders anxiety or panic. The daylight and larger crowd meant that any activities like this would have stood out, and thankfully there were no reports of any thefts. Mass has been through some negative times in the last three years since crowds began returning after the lockdowns, and it was important to create a safe and positive space to celebrate a huge milestone; and not have to endure any stressful situations on a night ride, which had the potential to cause even more people to be turned off the idea of Mass.

Lots of older faces were evident in the crowd. Many people were chatting who had not seen each other for many years or had not come to a critical mass for a long time. The ride was advertised on “old school” websites, such as radar.squat.net and urban75, to encourage people who had maybe not attended for many years to join in the festivities. Multiple sound systems were in attendance as well as a hugely diverse group of riders, including an older black riders group, a Deaf cycling campaign group, riders with disability bikes, and families with children and teenagers in tow.

Des Kay also reappeared for the first time in many years back on the Southbank, and brought a collection of newspaper clippings, flyers, bike tags, posters, and other ephemera gathered over the course of 25 years of CHARM and Critical Mass, to show to the public as more people continued to arrive.

The weather helped to swell the crowd to near record numbers as one o’clock approached. The ride left on time at the advertised 1pm, heading up the ramp towards the Waterloo roundabout and turning right heading south towards Lambeth Bridge. Here one of the MCs advertised in the promotional material was picked up en route, and joined up with another sound system, to give the ride at the front a bit of extra energy and positivity as it made its way around the city.

The ride stopped intermittently throughout the two and a half hour duration, which allowed riders behind to be bunched back up again, instead of the ride being strung out and fracturing. For the duration of the ride, the Mass stayed together, and was coherent and safe. There were no reported instances of cars or other vehicles becoming entangled with riders in the middle of the Mass, so no reports of cars hitting any riders accidentally during the journey.

After Lambeth bridge, the road headed towards Westminster, and circled around Parliament Square, avoiding Whitehall and the West End, and turned back onto the river on the north embankment. At this stage, it became evident that more and more riders had joined after the 1pm start, with estimates for the ride attendance varying between 2000 to 2500, going on rough head counts from static videos as the entire ride passed by larger junctions.

The ride turned south over Southwark Bridge, towards Elephant and Castle, and then went east along the New Kent Road and turned north at the Bricklayers Arms. On Tower Bridge itself, the ride stopped and people let off some smoke flares and there were some dancing in the middle of Tower Bridge, before heading north towards Whitechapel, and arriving at London Fields around 3:30pm via Cambridge Heath Road, where the after party was taking place.

A 10-piece all-female brass band called She’s Got Brass arrived slightly late (as did the ride) having been delayed in their taxi with their instruments, reportedly by a large cycling demonstration happening in the area on the same day! Approximately half the ride filtered out through the rest of London Fields, with many older riders stopping at Columbia Road market for drinks and food.

Younger and regular went up towards the centre of London Fields where sound systems were congregating. The brass band played for about 45 minutes, including grime, rap and pop tunes, with lots of audience participation. Other people with families who were in the park at the time came along and sat down to watch the band, with young kids dancing and coming up to see the instruments. The band were cheered back for “one more” encore track; and after they finished up exhausted, some cargo bike sound system riders combined their sound systems together, and used the Hackney Council large wheelie bins in the park to mount the speakers, and get more people up dancing.

At 5:30pm two park wardens came over and instructed that if the music wasn’t turned off, four police fans waiting nearby would be instructed to come in, seize the equipment and arrest anyone still trying to play music. By then people had been starting to drift off home. A 6pm switch off was negotiated with the wardens, which was adhered to peacefully, so most people at that point dispersed. Some went to Tower Bridge for drinks by the river. Others went down to Hop Kingdom and St. Johns Churchyard across the street, for a short after-after party.

The feedback from the ride was overwhelmingly positive. Many people felt that it was one of the best masses in the last decade, with a huge array of different tribes of cyclists in attendance. Here is one comment from Urban75:

“I should preface this with a bit of an admission – I’m a bit of an imposter here. I had never been to a Critical Mass before. I’m am absolutley very ‘pro’ it’s cause, though I’m never in London on the day, or have generally deprioritised it, and/or might feel that it’s a fairly tight knit community (and I am of the spandex and carbon (or vintage and steel) sub-tribes of cycling, not the laid back courier vets or wheelie kids that I assume make up most of the CM population…

…But that was an amazing day on the bike, I wish I could do it all over again. :cool: :cool: :cool: God bless the weather, too.

The togetherness and community spirit had a message beyond the promotion of cycling. Too many walks of life the (critical!) masses think they are alone, but when smart shit like this gets organised, it can unlock a powerful group that can show ‘we’ can be ‘the many’.

Any day where you can cycle on closed roads – even from my amateur event do’s like RideLondon – are a blessing, and combined with that real feeling of ‘this city is ours’, made it for a magical few hours on the bike. The feeling when you cycle past the first blocking (corking?), and being part of a giant (unorganised) mass of fellow cyclists, was genuinely pretty moving moment. One or two cyclists each time heroically held up 100’s of cars, (all either irate at the delay or ‘wtf’ at what they were witnessing – ‘where did you all come from’?) to ensure we all had our day. No fucks given. Today, there are more of us then you.

(And shouting “beep if you like Critical Mass’ at said irate honking car drivers is still making me chuckle tbh :D )”

This ride was always intended as a supplementery party ride, after in-person group discussions on the regular rides over the course of a few months in the second half of 2023. It was not intended to replace the usual ride at the end of the month, which would always happen – just an extra daytime celebration with an endpoint, so people who had left London over many years including during and after the pandemic could come back together and celebrate. A good analogy at the time was “sometimes you don’t celebrate your birthday on the day itself!” A few people wanted to have it actually on the 15th which is the first ever CHARM ride birthday, but thought that a Sunday rather than a Monday would help people with kids and who live further out attend, as central London gets more hollowed out of real residents.

Another idea discussed in late 2023 was to have a “Reclaim The Streets” type event, occupying a street and diverting traffic, but with recent changes in the POA and the Met’s aggression towards groups like XR and JSO, doing this ran a much higher risk of confrontation and likely arrests. If an RTS-style action had been pre-advertised, this would also have resulted in much heavier police surveillance from the start. It was felt that the ride, with a large contingent of volunteer corkers, and a slow moving pace, meant that any goal to occupy the street safely for cyclists would be achieved with the ride itself.

It was a brilliant day with an enormous turnout; and hopefully it acts as a springboard for more people to come to the regular last Friday night rides throughout this coming summer.

Mar 2024

A large crowd gathered on the Southbank this evening. Flyers had been circulated online that some riders on the Mass wanted to visit the junction at Clerkenwell Road and Farringdon Road, where another cyclist, Cheistha Kochhar, a 33 year old PHD student at LSE, had been killed the previous week while cycling with her partner. Leaflets were also handed out warning about thieves in balaclavas using the Mass as cover to steal phones from pedestrians as the ride goes past them.

The ride left at 7:30pm and unusually travelled along Upper Ground to get to Blackfriars Bridge Road. The ride then arrived at the location, where some regular riders from Mass had installed a ghost bike earlier in the day, kindly donated by community bike shop Babyldn Bikes, which is in the garages of Aberfeldy House in the Brandon Estate. The junction was occupied in all directions, stopping traffic.

The ghost bike for Cheistha Kochhar was sprayed white, and also a large stencil was painted on the road in front of the bike, saying “another needless cyclist death”. When the painting was finished, red distress smoke signals and a distress flare were lit in front of the bike, and the group did a large “bike lift” in the air at the junction, to the sounds of cheers, applause and bike bells.

Police arrived at the rear of the ride after about ten minutes, and the ride headed north on Farringdon Road, towards Kings Cross. Corking was being done and the ride was reasonably well kept together, but as Euston Road was emptied out by the Mass blocking it, the pace picked up and the ride began to fragment a bit as it went west. It came back together at the Warren Street underpass, but then fragmented again after it restarted, causing some friction with motorists trying to turn into Marylebone Road.

The ride had been circulated on some wheelie rider and electric scooter whatsapp groups as a “Good Friday rideout” (see attached flyer). Outreach and discussions with these groups asking them not to bill CM as such is still happening, as a “rideout” generally has different values and ride etiquette to a Mass, the main ones being riding inbetween moving traffic, and not stopping to wait for others behind.

The ride had split in two by the time it turned south on Edgware Road. The fast moving group went to Oxford Circus, and then headed south to Trafalgar Square, then on to Buckingham Palace. The second group followed more or less the same route, about five to ten minutes behind, eventually joining back up at Buckingham Palace. A rider in a black mask snatched a phone from a pedestrian between Bond Street and Oxford Circus, and was chased briefly but disappeared into the streets around Mayfair.

The ride stopped at Buckingham Palace for about twenty minutes, which was mostly deserted. It then picked up again and headed east, along the Strand and past St Pauls, through the city, over London Bridge, and finishing up at Potters Fields opposite the Tower of London.

Feb 2024

(reposted from social media, with permission)

On Feb 23rd Critical Mass London visited the scene where cyclist Gao Gao was killed last year by a driver, who was driving 50mph in a 20mph zone, overtaking in wet conditions, and flipped his car, crashing into her at full speed, killing her instantly. Despite having many previous convictions, and killing Gao Gao, the driver will be free to get behind the wheel again on his release.

Distress flares and smoke signals were lit at the memorial for Gao Gao, as the road was peacefully occupied by participants on the Mass; and the white bike memorial for her at the location where she was killed was resprayed.

From the text of the CM leaflet: “Driving is not a human right, it is a privilege. Successive governments have kicked this reform down the road, despite petitions and lobbying for drivers to lose their license if they kill someone. The “war on motorists” is actually a war on cyclists, with the deaths only happening on one side.”

Respect to groups like the LCC for their continued work in highlighting unsafe conditions and infrastructure for cyclists in London, and for their efforts to change sentencing laws in awful cases like this one.

Sunday 14th April 2024 – Critical Mass 30th Anniversary Ride

SUNDAY 14TH APRIL 2024

12pm : meet at Southbank

1pm : Ride

3pm : Picnic / After Party (bring food and a lock)

1994 saw jungle music move from the underground into mainstream consciousness, the hated Public Order Act was passed at the end of the year, and the Tories were clinging on to power after a disastrous 14 years in government, hollowing out public services and destroying the social fabric of the country. During this era, Critical Mass London had its genesis on the 15th of April 1994, as the CHARM ride, occupying space around dangerous roundabouts in central London. It then morphed into the Critical Mass ride, mirroring the “last Friday of the month” occurrence from cities in the US.

It has been through thick and thin, had its highs and lows, been subject to harassment and surveillance, mass arrests and prosecutions, and legal attempts to shut it down. But still it endures, every month without fail, an unbroken line for three decades. It celebrates the diversity of cycling in this city, to temporarily re-occupy our city streets which have been near monopolised by hyper-capitalist car fetishism. It is a living, breathing example of an anti-authoritarian, non-hierarchical, structureless event that has seen so many other movements and organisations come and go.

And what better way to celebrate THIRTY YEARS of this than a huge coming together of all participants, past and present, young and old, all genders, all colours.

Let’s celebrate this milestone! This birthday meetup will allow us to ride, laugh and dance together, to reminisce about the past, and think about the future.

If you have friends who used to come, please let them know! If you know other riders who’ve never been before, invite them! If you are still connected to networks from the past, please spread the word! If you have any ideas that you think will make this party even better, then just do it!

Q: Why not have it on Monday 15th (the exact 30 year anniversary), or Friday 26th April? Many riders have left the city over the years, or find it difficult to come out at night with caring responsibilities, or just with age! People from other CMs across the UK have also indicated their interest to visit. A Sunday afternoon ride allows more people to travel to London, and makes meeting up far easier. It also facilitates us all staying together for a party afterwards! But if you want to have another birthday party ride, on either or both of those other evenings, please do!

SEE YOU ON THE 14th OF APRIL 2024 AT 12pm ON THE SOUTHBANK!