In the Eighties we were advised to get on our bikes. In the Spring of 1994 a small group of cyclists did just that. Coming together under the banner "Critical Mass", 30 cyclists took to the streets of central London, blocking the roads in protest against the lack of facilities for cyclists. The idea captured the imagination of other fume-choked riders and Critical Mass became a monthly event. The ride now takes place on the last Friday of every month; in London, more than 1,000 riders participate; and most British cities now have their own event.

protest and socialise

One thousand riders and 1,000 reasons for taking part. Some want cycle lanes and better manners towards cyclists . Others see the motorist as a metaphor for our consumer-driven society. Most turn up for the thrill of getting their own back on car drivers with a little road rage of their own. Whatever your reason for attending, make sure you enter into the spirit. Many riders dress up and some even customise their bikes for the occasion.

where did it start?

Riding for a cause isn't a new phenomenon. Back in the late 19th century, British cyclists lobbied for public highways to be made more cycle-friendly. In 1983, 3,500 cyclists demonstrated in central London to get the London Cycle Network funded. Following on from the time honoured tradition of getting on your bike, Critical Mass originally started in San Francisco in September 1992 in a free-spirited look at how to create "new social spaces [including] a new political space". It started with 45 cyclists on the first ride which has risen to up to 3,000 in July 1995. Although the original members fantasised about the group becoming a mass event these numbers mean that the ride has taken on a different flavour and set of problems. Smaller numbers ensure that the ride remains at grass roots level - the way it's going they could turn it into a mega-event and get sponsored. In London it evolved due to a frustration that public protest had become so limited. Rides take place all over Britain, in the US, Australia and in Scandinavia.

who will I meet?

Participants come in all shapes and sizes - as do their vehicles - and are quite welcoming to newcomers. You can't go all that wrong with the Mass, who ride slowly and are often looking out for each other. Simply turn up on the last Friday of the month at Waterloo, on the south side of the river, near the National Film Theatre at 5.45pm. For details of your nearest ride, call the Cyclists Touring Club and ask to be put in touch with your local group. 01483 417 217.

get your kit on

Sell the car and use the money to buy bike, gloves, lights and lycra. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Roopi Makkar

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