On the first Friday of May at 6pm, I quickly made my way to St Philip's Square in the city centre. It was the first time I'd been able to make Critical Mass since moving back to Birmingham and I was pretty nervous having only taken part in the London CM as part of a big bike gang. I'd totally forgotten it was that evening and was sitting in the pub (not drinking!) when I bumped into another Bike Foundry member and they coerced me into going with them. Luckily, I'm always on my bike so I went along to see what it was like.
For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about; "Critical Mass is a monthly bicycle ride to celebrate cycling and to assert cyclists' right to the road. The idea started in San Francisco in September 1992 and quickly spread to cities all over the world. Critical Mass has a different flavor from city to city -- there's a big variety in size, respect of traffic laws (or lack thereof), interaction with motorists, and intervention by police. So if you want to know more about Critical Mass, you'll really need to find out what your local ride is like. Critical Mass has no leaders, and no central organization licenses rides. In every city that has a CM ride, some locals simply picked a date, time, and location for the ride and publicized it, and thus the ride was born."
I arrived to find a group of fifteen or so cyclists grouped around the benches. I floated around the edge of the group offering awkward smiles whilst CM regulars exchanged news, jokes and took photographs. We waited for any late comers and then left around 6.30pm. The pace was quite relaxed, people chatted as they cycled and I realised I was concentrating so hard on not cutting anyone up/crashing into another bike (silly worries because I am of course an excellent cyclist) that I barely noticed the route we were taking. I finally lightened up and found I was having fun! We cycled down Broad Street blocking two lanes of traffic and then circled the Five Ways Island twice. It felt great to be cycling as part of a big group and to be making such a blatant statement.
We came back down Broad Street and took over both lanes again, everyone spreading out to block traffic trying to squeeze past. A few cars beeped but nothing out of the ordinary. As we went along, cyclists on their evening commute joined us and asked what we were doing. A cheerful man on a red frame said he wished he didn't have to get home as he'd love to ride around with us! I chatted to some people about the London rides and about their bikes - there was a great mixture of different kinds of bicycles and different kinds of riders. I noticed another two ladies besides myself. One of whom was a friendly young girl riding a traditional looking step-through which seemed to be single speed or more than one gear as I noticed her stop and start. The other lady had a lovely pink fixie, I wanted to ask if she built it herself but I was too intimidated! There were also racers, commuter bikes, mountain bikes and a chap on a strange small push-bike which seemed to look quite tiring but good on him for going for it!
Unfortunately, I had a deadline the next day and had extended my 'little break' quite considerably so once we cycled towards my normal route home I peeled off and waving my goodbyes vowed to come back in June. There was absolutely no need to be nervous and it felt really liberating to be able to ride down the middle of the road safely. Now that the sun is shining and the nights are lighter, there is definitely no excuse for any cyclist in Birmingham not to come along!! As its states on the flyer, you don't need to have a great bike...in fact any kind of non-motorised transport is welcome. So what are you waiting for?! Critical Mass in Birmingham is the first Friday of every month (not the last Friday like some cities) and meets in St Philip's Square at 6pm for a 6.30pm start.
See you in June? x
PS. thankyou to Igor for the photographs!