Posts Tagged 'critical mass'

Bicycling

I have a bike again (with a cojonudo lock). While America was eating turkey last Thursday she and I were giving thanks at the November Bici Crítica (with video coverage!).

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On the kindness of strangers

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Last Thursday night around 8 p.m. I navigated my way through crazy Madrid evening traffic towards Cibeles and the monthly gathering of bicycle-minded people called Bici Crítica. On the Castellana just north of Colón, my chain started doing funky things and I pulled onto the sidewalk to investigate. As I’m a rather inexperienced cyclist, I had no real idea of how to remedy the problem and so grabbed the chain and tried to put it in its place. But lo and behold I heard someone shouting instructions to me (in Spanish) from the neighboring lanes of traffic: “Just pedal and the gear will catch!” I turned to see who was advising me; it was none other than a municipal bus driver leaning out the window of his big red bus. I pedaled with my hand and, of course, the gear caught.

The ride, when we got started, was great. K and I commented on how liberating it is to ride on streets overtaken by bicycles. And so silent! Some drivers were pretty aggravated (the taxistas are specialists in this), but there were plenty of well wishers along our two-hour route all the way up Calle Alcalá to García Noblejas, where the Madrid government is building bike lanes on the sidewalk, to the dismay of many pedestrians. Towards the end of the ride I had a brief conversation with two women standing out on their 8th-floor balcony and cheering for us:

Me: Mejor que coches, no? (Better than cars, right?)

Them: Mucho mejor! (Much better!)

And at the end of the night, after a picnic on the other side of town, K and I started to make our way, somewhat uncertainly, back to our barrio. We came across another cyclist at a traffic light at Avenida de América and asked if he knew the best way to go. He asked if we’d been with the Bici Crítica and said that though he’s been riding to work daily for a year, he’s never been able to make the monthly event. And then, though it wasn’t on his way, he led us to a street that would take us basically straight home and avoid the worst of the traffic. In 15 minutes we were home.

La Criticona

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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!)

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