And no, I don’t mean a vitally important Catholic communion, I mean this. Its basically a type of protest which occurs once a month in hundreds of major cities around the world. Large numbers of cyclists, cycle reasonably slowly around the inner city, during rush hour. Its aim is to promote the use of bikes and to demand more respect from other road users. I went for the first time today, in Manchester. My sister and some of her friends were arranging to all go on it together, and she dragged me along to. Not that I needed much dragging.
The first fun bit was trying to find bikes for everyone. My sister, Ceri and I, who were all using my parents house as a base, were all away from home, which meant that we had to raid their garage for bikes. My sister ended up with an old blue bike, and Ceri and I had the tandom. This tandom is quite old – my parents bought it soon after they were married and used to use it to go on holiday together. Then when they had us two kids, we’d go on the back of it, when weren’t considered road safe on our own. So I’m used to riding on the back of it – I spent years doing it when I was younger (got very used to comments such as ‘wow!!! its a 4 wheeled bike!’…). Ceri has also riden on the front of a tandom, with a blind person on the back. So we figured we’d be fine.
Except it wasn’t that simple. The front handlebars were touring ones, which Ceri didn’t really get on with, especially as she said they were narrower than most touring handlebars. This meant steering, especially suddenly, was difficult. The brakes were also interesting – Ceri had two brakes at the front, but they didn’t seem to have enough power in them to stop us properly. But my single brake on the back handlebars did. So everytime we needed to stop, Ceri would shout ‘STOP!’ and I would brake. This was fine until the way home, when my brake decided not to work either. But we managed by using her brakes but taking a longer distance to slow down. One of the key differences between riding with Ceri this afternoon and riding with my Dad many years ago, is the communication. My Dad used to take full control of the bike, stating that all I had to do was sit on the back and pedal. But because Ceri has only ever riden a cyclist with a blind person on the back, she went into automatic ‘running commentary’ mode. Which meant that it felt much more like a team effort, because we were communicating constantly about the stopping, starting, steering, etc.
The actual critical mass was amazing. Unfortunately because its the middle of winter and Christmas, we only had 12 people on it. But I gather they usually get a good 20 odd, and in the summer it rises dramatically. And even though we had less people, we still managed to block 2 or 3 lanes of traffic, around central Manchester. One cyclist even had a small trailer with a sound system, which was blarring out music all the way round. We were cycling at a steady pace, but slower than we would do usually on the road. We pissed off so many car drivers. It was fabulous.
What I want to know is, why doesn’t Swansea do it???