La Criticona


This year the second of May saw an uprising in Madrid of a different kind. La Criticona was Spain’s biggest Critical Mass event, a huge gathering of cyclists determined to show the city that cycling is a means of transport. The organizers at Bici Crítica say there were 2,546 riders who filled Madrid’s streets with chants*, the dinging of bike bells, music blasted from rear-wheel-rigged stereos, tall bikes, dogs in bike baskets, and lots of smiling faces on a warm Saturday afternoon.

The group got more separated than the organizers would have liked, and there were plenty of irate drivers waiting as we all passed, but, as the post-Criticona debate has expressed, the idea is to think that any driver could be a future cyclist—to educate rather than aggravate. Hence the cyclists seen bent over car windows chatting with drivers about what we were doing. Not everyone was very receptive (the fact that there was a football match about to begin didn’t help matters), but the people who stood on the sidewalks applauding and snapping photos as we passed made me think that the event surely would leave an impact on the minds of some madrileños. Naturally, among the cyclists there was a real sense of goodwill and camaraderie as well as the sustained hope that each day more bikes will ride the city’s car-congested asphalt.

*Among the chants:

No es un deporte, es mi medio de transporte! (It’s not a sport, it’s my means of transport!)
Yo pedaleo y no me cabreo! (I pedal and don’t get pissed!)
No contamina, no gasta gasolina! (Doesn’t pollute, doesn’t use gas!)
Si tu coche te quema, quema tu coche! (If your car burns you, burn your car!)



3 Responses to “La Criticona”

  1. 1 Troy Thursday, 14 May, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    I read something on the Guardian recently and was reminded of it by one of the chants you mentioned (no es un deporte, es mi transporte)…Apparently a study group from the U.K went to Denmark and Holland to learn and see how they could encourage people back in the U.K to take up cycling as transport.

    One of their biggest findings was that whereas people in the U.K (could be said the same here in Spain) get all dressed up in their neoprene on the weekends, the bike gathers dust during the week. The advice from Holland and Denmark was to relax helmet laws and try project the image of someone in their day to day clothes riding.

    I think Spain is even further off than the U.K in terms of getting people to ride as transport, but the ideas learned are food for thought.

  2. 2 Katie Thursday, 14 May, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Troy. I’m not sure about helmet laws in Spain—you see cyclists both with and without helmets in about equal measure. I think people do whatever they feel like. I’ve just started cycling in Madrid this year, but I could almost swear to you that there are more cyclists on the road than in other years–it gives me a bit of hope.

  3. 3 Troy Friday, 15 May, 2009 at 7:34 am

    It’s not your imagination, there really are more bikes in Madrid. I can’t even remember seeing one back in the 90’s and now you see them outside Retiro. Unfortunately it’ll take a little more time out here in the sticks. Some will crucify me for saying the following, but out here some women still think that they shouldn’t ride bikes after a certain age! (Argue away Spaniards, while it isn’t common, it is true)

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