Critical Mass London August 2018

The August ride last night had many hundreds of participants (as usual for a summer ride) – though I’m not going to try to estimate more precisely! Quite a few people I chatted to before and during the ride were first-timers – and there were certainly many old-timers too. (Though I didn’t recognise anyone I “knew” – in the Critical Mass once a month sense – which I found a bit surprising; maybe it’s because I haven’t been able to be on the ride for some months, and there’s a gradual turnover of “regulars” … not to mention my memory…)

As has become the custom in recent years, the ride left _really_ late – not until around 7.20 this time. We headed across Upper Ground and up the ramp to the Waterloo roundabout, and (without even the customary circuit or two of the roundabout) those at the front headed down Waterloo Road. After a bit of indecision at St George’s Circus (I thought the Elephant was on the cards), a few people swept off east on Borough road, on both sides of the road, and the rest of the mass followed. Then north up Borough High Street, over London Bridge, and a right-left wiggle onto Bracechurch St and onwards up Bishopsgate, and on past Liverpool Street station. Then a sudden right turn off of Shoreditch High St at Calvert Avenue, to enjoy a visit to the historic Arnold Circus; then north again, followed by a cut-through back west and another turn north for a long haul up Kingsland Road.

At this stage a few people were asking where they were(!); although I was getting a little bit out of my comfort zone up that way, I knew we were heading for Dalston. But before we got all the way up to Balls Pond Rd, and Dalston proper, there was a left turn and a long sweep west to pick up Essex Rd [I can’t remember which roads we went on – I _was_ some way from my regular patch]; then, southwards again (phew!). We got to the end of Essex Rd at Islington Green, joined Upper St, and carried on to the Angel crossroads. A right there, up over the hill, and a nice coast all the way down to Kings Cross. Along Euston Rd as far as Gower St, then south down the western side of Bloomsbury.

At New Oxford St, people headed west and along Oxford St as far as Oxford Circus; then there was the fairly traditional cheering and taking over of the crossroads for 10 minutes or so, with a bit of bike-lifting and suchlike. Then, south down Regent Street, via Piccadilly Circus, Haymarket, Cockspur St, to Trafalgar Sq. At the top of Whitehall there was a bit of indecision, but the main mass seemed to get its act together to head under Admiralty Arch for – presumably – a bit of a party outside Buckingham Palace, as is quite common for a mass getting back into the centre.

However, the previous night’s lack of sleep crashing deadlines was catching up on me by then. And although cycling around London with your eyes half shut is OK if you’re in the middle of hundreds of other cyclists, I thought it sensible not to join the ride down The Mall, but bailed out while I was safely close to home; I reckon it was about 9pm by then.

So – if anyone has reports of any continuation after the Palace, I’d be pleased to read it.

At one stage on the ride I found myself amongst a gaggle of machine-powered participants (some motorised skateboards and and few electric bikes) – for me personally, this rather spoilt the Critical Mass vibe. There was also a bunch of very young riders doing wheelies in the face of oncoming traffic on unlit bikes – quite common in recent times unfortunately. While I’m on the downside, I also noted a few riders (possibly overlapping with the last category) who seemed to enjoy being unnecessarily aggressive when there were any arguments with motorists (or even with other cyclists), and I saw the odd punch thrown.

At the same time there were some participating families, the odd noisy but
friendly dog in a front basket, a couple of sound systems, and a mostly
friendly and non-confrontational atmosphere. There was some good corking at
junctions (though with unnecessary aggro now and then). The ride didn’t stop much (until Oxford Circus), and the pace was mostly steady. Though as time went on it got a bit straggly on and off, without (it seemed to me) much consciousness on the part of the people at the front of the need to hold on and check that people weren’t getting lost. However, I don’t think there was any large-scale shedding of contingents of riders during the time I was on the ride.

All in all it was good to be back, even though I had to skip some Stravinsky I rather fancied at the Proms that night.

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