London Indymedia

One hellllll of a mass (london)

critical mass london | 01.10.2008 22:33 | Climate Chaos | London

And there's plenty more drama to come ...

I got out of work at about half past five, so i came down to the south bank early; the tide was out, so i spent a while strolling on the beach of the Thames. It's an amazing place - a beach in the middle of a city of seven million people, and deserted except for me and two or three others. Like a rubbly, silty secret garden.

Back up on ground level, we once again set off a good few ticks after seven. Boo hiss. But at least we went through the Kingsway underpass!

But - shock horror! - with no cops. I didn't see a single policeperson accompanying the ride - did my eyes deceive me? How could this be? Anybody know? We did have the cycling ambulanceman with us, though.

I'm very pleased to say that, as far as i could tell, the mass ran like clockwork. We kept together (mostly - we split into a fast and a slow pack after Buckingham Palace, and i bounced between the two for a bit), we corked - we even let pedestrians through! Brilliant! Pats on backs all round!

Although one thing that was evident was much more aggression from drivers, particularly black cab drivers. Recently, we've always had coppers around, and cabbies have behaved themselves. Tonight, though, their basic ferocity was fully in evidence. There were two main instances of this that i saw.

The first was on High Holborn, at the junction where i spoke to the ambulanceman - this was why i was stopped. The mass was coming along from the east; i think the advance bulk had passed through, and then was a thinner stream of us coming along behind. A black cab was sat in Grape Street (i think - i'm looking at a map here; one of the side streets off on the north, just before the junction), and i imagine had been waiting a while for the mass to pass. When it thinned out, he took his chance (we hadn't corked him), and came out onto High Holborn, turning right, and staying in the rightmos lane. Fifty metres ahead of him was a red light at the junction. Less than fifty metres ahead of him was a masser, riding slowly. The cab driver drove less slowly - he drove right up to within inches of the masser, tailgated him for ten metres or so, and then quite deliberately drove straight into the back of him. The guy went down, the cab stopped, and a crowd of us clotted around the scene. Luckily, the guy wasn't hurt.

I was to the left of this, in the second or third lane over, and a little way behind the cab; i saw everything happen right in front of me. It was quite obvious that the cab driver did it deliberately: the masser was riding at a constant speed, and the driver accelerated, hitting him. he had driven to within inches of him, which is simply not a safe way to drive.

So, we made sure the taxi wasn't going anywhere, took photos of the scene, registration plate, driver, etc, and some of us who had seen it gave the guy our details. The cabbie wasn't giving his details, though. Someone called the police, and after a while our friends in blue duly turned up and did their best to work everyone up into a frothing rage. Do cops get training in dealing with angry punters (other than with a truncheon)? Because these guys were to defusing confrontations as Guy Fawkes was to the bomb squad. Anyway, eventually, questions were asked, details were recorded and exchanged, and the lead copper declared that he was recording this as a no-injury collision, and they weren't going to follow it up. Apparently deliberately driving into a cyclist doesn't count as careless driving or anything. He came out with, essentially, the usual crap about 'our word against his'. During this i had a long chat with the other copper, who seemed very nice when he wasn't trying to start a fight, but completely clueless about cycling, and indeed road safety generally. Still, i'm sure if i wanted an electrician shot dead, he'd be just my man.

I also talked to the masser who was hit, his two friends, and a courierish guy who also stopped. I didn't quite get the victim's name. Nice lad. As i said, he wasn't hurt, but his back wheel went under the cab's, and was pretty bent. I had a look at it: the hub looked like it should be okay, and the tyre and tube should be fine, but he's going to need a new rim, (it was a Bontrager, the poor thing!) spokes, and brake disc. Basically, he's going to need a new wheel. I couldn't see any damage to the stays, mech, etc, but he needs to take it to a bike shop to get it checked out. He's got the cabbie's insurance details; he didn't really seem to understand about how insurance works, but i'm sure he knows someone who does.

I suggested we bend the wheel back into shape so he could at least roll the bike home, so we found a fence and did a bit of ghetto truing - an essential urban cycling skill, and the second time i've had to do it on a mass! He and a friend set off walking for King's Cross to catch a train home. I sincerely hope he didn't decide to try and ride - he had rather a touch of teenage invincibility, so i worry he might have.

Anyway, one of his friends had received a signal that the rest of the mass was at Buckingham palace, so he, the courierish guy and i set off. We got there a few minutes before the mass set off again - i just had time to wish Des Kay well with the Lords and ride a lap round the top of the Victoria Memorial.

After that, we started to get spread out, between the main body at the front and a long tail of slow riders. I'm a speedster myself, so i was half tempted to go a bit sheepdog on them and get them moving, but i ended up bouncing back and forth - going forward, helping cork or just waiting, and being caught up.

Taxi incident number two came as we rode down Theobald's road. A stream of traffic was trying to come in from the right, i think from Red Lion Street (again, i'm looking at a map and guessing), and had been corked. There were only a few people there, so i looped back and joined them.

At the front of the queue was a taxi driver. He wasn't very happy about being stopped, and insisted we move. We didn't, of course - the mass was still passing. He got rather upset, and started shouting. He then started edging his taxi forward - he went from being a foot away from us to actually pressing his right fender into my leg and starting to push me over; there was another guy beside me, and a few people around us, and we made it clear we weren't going anywhere until the mass had passed. It did, and i was set to go - but he was still pressing into my leg, which meant i actually couldn't get on my bike and move off. If i had, and he'd edged forward any further, i would have gone straight under him. Bit of an impasse, cue much shouting.

Eventually, he stopped his engine, got out of his cab, and came up to me and tried to shove my bike out of the way. Because he'd stopped, i was actually able to move, and was quite happy to do so, so in a way, his move was quite successful! There was a bit more shouting, with neither side really wanting to let the other have the last word (although i was silent - i just wanted to get home and have my dinner), and a disgusting drunk old fat man walked over and started shouting and shoving a lady masser about, but eventually we disentangled ourselves and rode on.

By this point, i was getting tired and hungry, our numbers were down, and i decided to call it a night. We hit the junction with Rosebery Avenue, where i turn left. The mass defaulted to heading straight on, but a few people were shouting to go left: i mentioned that i was in favour of that because i wanted to go home; the girl beside me said she wanted to go left because she wanted some doritos, which i found quite puzzling.

It was only after i'd sped away into the night that i realised she'd said 'burritos', and must have been referring to the really good little burrito place at Angel. I could have kicked myself, because i could really have gone for a burrito right then.

And that, as they say, is that.

critical mass london
- e-mail:
- Homepage:


One hellllll of a mass (london)

01.10.2008 22:44

Well, I was there last night too, on the recumbent, 'cos I was too knackered from the Freewheel event to bring my sound system.

I think the lack of police did bring out an element of aggression from the car drivers, however I also think that we showed that we could deal with the mass ourselves.

I had a slight confrontation with the "have a go" bobbies at the palace, who expected me to walk on the pavement with my bicycle if I couldn't go fast enough because of the cyclists in front of me.

I kindly pointed out to him that as I was on a bicycle in the road, I was therefore traffic, and as he was standing there, he was a pedestrian, and suggested that he tried the pavement.

I wonder if you need a complete lack of common sense to join the police, or if you attain it after you join?

cm list

One hellllll of a mass (london)

01.10.2008 22:48

CM has always had guidelines relating to stopping for pedestrians, pulling over for emergency services, and polite corking.

The police seem to have stamped out this autonomous consideration and then buggered off, leaving a large proportion of massers thinking it is OK to block pedestrians for extended periods and so on.

Just need to get the mass back to how it was.

cm list


01.10.2008 22:51

I thought that the massers behaved well overall, but there were some people who for some retarded reason felt the need to block traffic coming *the other way*. What is the point of that!?

I think there was a similar occasion near Victoria station, where the mass was turning right from Grovesnor Place to Lower Grovesnor Place (map here : ).

Massers corked the junction so that we could turn right. That much worked perfectly, but I think, from my crap memory that a couple of massers decided to block traffic moving straight ahead (and therefore, away).

On another note, I wondered if the lack of police was a deliberate one-off to gather evidence regarding the impact that critical mass has when left to its own devices. The fact that this is the last mass prior to the court case hearing may not be a coincidence?

cm list

One hellllll of a mass (london)

01.10.2008 22:59

Friday was my first mass from the start, I have previously caught it up a
couple of times half way around because it intersected by route home from
work, which I quite enjoyed as a cyclist :-)

There was a very good party vibe which made it good to be apart of.

I did see an Ambulance make it's way through the mass near parliament square
(I think), it had to pause while some space was made but it was allowed
through. It would have been nicer is massers had moved quicker, but how
quick is quick enough for an ambulance?

My only concerns were right at the start of the ride before Kingsway Tunnel
everyone was riding so slowly < 5mph it was very difficult to stay cycling
without "stalling". I'm not saying it should be a race and I'm sure it was
caused by the amount of traffic ahead, but it means when we did reach the
tunnel we inevitably broke into 2 groups, so had to reform later.

A similar thing happened as we approached Victoria. It seems to me that
massers had prematurely blocked the streets before a "mass" was formed,
leaving some of us questioning if we should ride red lights alone, or wait
for the mass. My feeling was to wait but this made their blocking pointless.

Finally I tried a number of times to stop for pedestrians, although people
just overtook me so again it was pointless.

cm list


01.10.2008 23:05

I left the mass early because I felt unsafe, and I didn't think we were helping the cycling cause.

I have only done two rides in London - this one, and the August one. Then, I was disappointed at the heavy police presence, as I felt that they were leading the ride, and removing our autonomy. I was also frustrated when they waved us out of lanes and told us to hurry up - we should be able to set our own pace, like motorists do. I also thought they were doing lots of the things that massers should be doing - like corking, and telling motorists why they had to wait - and in that respect massers seemed to be a bit apathetic.

So I was glad to see there were no police on Friday. But, as the ride progressed, I began to wonder whether it was the police who kept it in order.

I know that the ethic of CM is disorganisation and spontaneity, but I also think one of its chief aims is to raise awareness of cyclists' right to the roads, and to educate motorists. I think the ride failed in this on Friday night. There was a lot of aggressive and combative behaviour from many individuals, many of whom I think just wanted to fight with motorists. I saw several really horrible confrontations with motorists; one where a panicked female motorist bumped into a cyclist (admittedly her fault, but we had clearly made her nervous - and she hadn't been corked), and a masser who hadn't been involved cycled over, stuck his head in her window and just shouted and swore at her. In another incident I saw a private hire car driver get out to ask what was going on, and a masser shouted at him that it was a protest, and he could get f*cked, he didn't know how long it would take, he would just have to wait. That is that elitist approach - since we are forced to share the roads with motorists, isn't this about teaching mutual respect between cyclists and motorists?

Most riders didn't wait for people at pedestrian crossings, and held up buses and, like someone else mentioned already, traffic coming in the other direction. This wouldn't have been so dangerous had we been riding in a mass, but as we were so spread out it took ages to get us all through. Traffic wasn't being corked properly, and that's why so many motorists pulled out and there were so many accidents.

I was at the back of the ride for a long time, and there were some really nasty incidents, which got worse as we were separated from the front of the ride, which didn't wait for us. Also, leading the mass up that one-way street in Soho was a really dumb idea - apart from being one-way it was single lane and full of Friday night drinkers - isn't the point to take over car-dominated roads? As it was we got trapped, hassled by police, and most of us had to get off our bikes and walk them through.

Again, I know that we are a disorganised mass and we can't control the behaviour of individuals, but I do think we can create a safer and more inclusive cycling environment and try to change people's attitudes.

I am from Melbourne where I did CM regularly for the last couple of years. The atmosphere on Melbourne CM rides is awesome - it really is, as we say, a party on wheels. Because we are promoting all forms of transport other than petrol-fuelled, we wait for pedestrians, and we clear the way for trams and buses. I've never had a particularly bad confrontation with a motorist there. We do have quite large rides, and the traffic is terrible (no congestion charge = lots of car commuters), so I don't think that's the difference. I've never felt unsafe and I have always felt proud to be part of the mass there.

One thing the CM there does do occasionally is to hand out leaflets describing good CM behaviour. They explain how to cork, and some examples of answers to give motorists when they ask why we're obstructing them. There's also legal advice and cycling road rules.

cm list

police tactic

01.10.2008 23:09

I believe the police have previously shouted at and generally 'told-off' massers for corking traffic i.e. only the police can do that.

So obviously as time goes by, the knowledge fades away for many people, or many don't realise they should take the initiative (in many respects) and then suddenly in Sept 2008 the mass needs to suddenly re-learn everything on the night.

I think the police can take some of the blame for that.

It's certainly not helpful to shout at cab drivers, but some of the most deliberately vindictive attitudes I've encountered on the roads have been from cab and Taxi drivers.

They often act very aggressively from the comfort of their tin-can, usually using the threat of running you down, clipping you, and leaving gaps of ooooh... an inch, and generally putting you in deliberate danger. So perhaps when the boot is on the other foot, it's not surprising that the cab driver got this response.

I think one of the most helpful things the mass could do is to not filter through traffic. It splits the groups up when results in people corking traffic for prolonged periods and gaps, which results in irate motorists.

critical mass london

police behaviour Friday

01.10.2008 23:18

I couldn't attend this CM but caught up with some regulars later in a pub. One of them had been knocked to the ground whilst corking in ¿Buckingham Palace Road? by a male police officer who had come 'out of nowhere' and was dressed in that ninja outfit (Territorial Support Group?). A female officer told him to get up or else he would be arrested (he was trying to get up but had foot still in clip).

critical mass london

police behaviour Friday

01.10.2008 23:38

That was 'Viking 101', they're just ordinary cops, but they were wearing overalls for dirty (physically!) work, not for protection.

They claimed they were attending to some kind of emergency but their van had neither lights nor siren so they resorted to brute force to clear a path for themselves, they weren't bothered about the mass once their route was clear - they were trying to go from Grosvenor Place to Bressenden Place, while the mass was going from Grosvenor Gardens to Buckingham gate.

I heard they actually pulled one driver out of his/her car to move it too!

critical mass london


Display the following 5 comments

  1. Was on awesome Mass. — cm list
  2. Taxi drivers — HG
  3. The post titled 'left' is the first bit of sense I've read about CM — Part time cyclist
  4. keep on — phatsss
  5. Black cabs have engine stop buttons/toggles — Pinkolady


South Coast

Other UK IMCs
Bristol/South West
Northern Indymedia

London Topics

Animal Liberation
Climate Chaos
Energy Crisis
Free Spaces
Ocean Defence
Other Press
Public sector cuts
Social Struggles
Terror War
Workers' Movements

London IMC


About | Contact
Mission Statement
Editorial Guidelines
Publish | Help

Search :