Performance Art Vs Critical Mass
I’ve never taken part in a critical mass event. Heck, I’ve never even seen one first hand, so what I’m about to say could just be me talking out of my backside.
I have a bit of a problem with the idea of critical mass. The anarchist within me says, “Yeah! Right on! Let’s really stick it to them, and get some payback at last. We’re really going to show them that we’ve got rights. And while we’re at it, we’ll blow some whistles! Woooo!”
When it comes down to it, I think it’s just too confrontational. Taking over a huge area of a city centre, really being a massive pain in the bum for a bunch of motorists and making them late home to tuck their kiddies up in bed, just doesn’t seem like a great way to convince people to ride a bike. It seems like a great way to make people who don’t ride bikes utterly convinced that people who do ride bikes are a bunch of f**k-wits.
It was the last day of the BikeAbility Instructors course, and we were learning about teaching more advanced road features to Level 3. This involved ten of us riding in pairs around junctions with traffic lights & filter lanes, and roundabouts. One would act as the student, and the rider behind as the instructor. The thing is, this was done at busy junctions, and we were dressed like this: (If you ride a bike in The Netherlands or Copenhagen, or anywhere else where riding a bike is ‘normal’, look away now)
When you’ve got five pairs of riders doing circuits of a busy junction, dressed like this, it creates a special kind of mayhem. It was very like the final scene in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art from the remake of the Thomas Crown Affair - the one with all those guys in the bowler hats walking around. There were only ten of us, but to anyone watching, it would have looked like there were far, far more.
It was like having a bunch of performance artists take over a road junction. Not in the swamping-it-with bikes way of critical mass though. No, it was more subtle than that. Drivers, passengers, and pedestrians were all agog. As a result, the driving around us was (mostly) first-rate, probably as drivers were convinced that somewhere among these hundreds of day-glo cyclists, there was either Peirce Brosnan hiding with a stolen masterpeice, or some TV cameras.
So what I’m wondering is, how many people in normal clothes on bikes would it take to swamp a junction like we did, while just being part of the traffic, and not really impeding anyone’s progress as such? And might that be a better sort of critical mass than the we’re-taking-over-this-entire-road kind?