I walked my shining red bike into Victoria Park…

I arrived right at 6:00. I was heading to the critical mass bike ride, but I was running late. I saw a few teens riding on the street near Wellington and Dufferin – had I missed the ride?

My worries were quashed when I saw a slew of bikers of all ages in front of the Victoria Park bandshell. I came just in time for a live performance of Westminster Park’s recent biking song, then I raised my bike over my head with all 75-100 others, and then we were off.

A crowd of bikers wait for the critical mass bike ride to start in Victoria Park. Photo by Thomas Sayers.
This pic was taken before we raised our bikes – I was expecting a leg workout, not an arm workout! Photo by Thomas Sayers.

Maybe you saw London’s critical mass bike ride from behind a windshield as we weaved around Victoria Park and through downtown. Here’s how it felt, sounded like, and looked like from the other side of the road.

The sweets sound of bells and conversations.

Biking is usually my time to chill out and enjoy the quiet sounds of outdoors (and the whooshing of cars driving nearby). The Critical Mass ride was anything but quiet and it felt… well, it just felt inspiring.

My soundtrack for our evening ride was a symphony of bike bells – including a cowbell. It was a welcome sound and reminded me that this was, at its core, a celebration of biking.

But it was the happy chattering and overheard conversations that brought me the most joy. Bikers seemed more open to talking to one another than most vehicle operators I’ve seen. Maybe it was that we all were sharing in a biking experience together. Cars, with their air-tight windows and metal cases, seem stifling in comparison.

The bells and conversations that I heard on our critical mass ride brightened my evening. But what I saw really hammered the message of the critical mass ride home.

Witnessing bikers and seeing a biker’s future for London.

I recognized a few riders amidst the sea of metal frames and plastic helmets, but most were strangers to me. The turnout was still shockingly huge – I had no clue that so many people were passionate enough about riding bikes in London. I did recognize the owner of the London Bicycle Cafe among the crowd.

I expected to see more frustrated faces in the cars that we passed by. Most drivers seemed amused, some seemed to be waiting patiently, and a few had their phones out taking videos or photos. I wonder how many social media stories we appeared in – probably quite a few.

I was near the back of the pack so those drivers might have had time to adjust to the influx of bikes. Still, I was expecting more confrontation and was happy that it was avoided.

It felt so strange (but welcome!) to look in any directions and see another biker nearby. City biking is such a solitary act that makes you feel like it’s you and your bike against the motorized world. And that’s even when you’re on a protected bike lane. Seeing mass of bikes lined up at red lights on King Street was a beautiful sight that I won’t soon forget.

All these sights and sounds inspired some questions and thoughts about the kind of city and future that I want to live in.

Why I rode in the critical mass ride today, and why I’ll ride again.

Riding in the critical mass bike ride made me feel like I was living in a world where bikes were the main mode of transportation in cities. Biking down King street lent itself to a utopian re-imagining of London just by being there. You could hardly see any cars. Just bikes, their riders, and pedestrians.

Bikers in front of the Covent Garden Market after the critical mass ride. About 75-100 people rode.
We finished biking around 6:45 and took this photo – I didn’t want our ride to end!
Photo by Shelley Carr and posted on the Facebook event page.

It felt like taking part in this critical mass ride was making a bike-filled future possible. So far, it exists only in my imagination. But it also showed London that there is a biking presence in the city and that there is a demand for bike lanes, pathways, and other infrastructure to make biking safer and more accessible.

I’m at a point in my life where I should be learning how to drive and should have a car. I feel more confident about wanting to make the bicycle my main method of transportation after tonight. I know other people want it too. It feels like I can do something to make that future happen.

But until that day comes, I’ll keep on biking in London’s critical mass rides.

Feel like you missed out? There will be more.

Organizers announced that the next critical mass will take place on Friday Sept. 27, 2019. Critical mass rides traditionally take place on the last Friday of each month and London appears to be following that trend. You can find more information about the event on the old Facebook event page.

Comment if you were there – either on a bike or in a car – for the critical mass ride. I’d love to hear what you think.

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Want more bike-related Fuse news? Check out this article on the Squeaky Wheels Bike Co-op. You should also read about this commuter competition between the bus, the bike, and the automobile. The bike does surprisingly well.

1 COMMENT

  1. The one thing I really noticed last night (that I image was there on other rides but didn’t realize) is that I was mostly oblivious to the cars. That’s what safe infrastructure should feel like.

    If you were driving a car and every time you drove you felt unsafe in traffic you’d want something to change. That’s what what last night’s ride was all about.

  2. You nailed it!!! Meeting and making friends is my favourite part. And the whole experience does bring us one step closer to create a bike-friendly city as it is a live experience of what it could look and feel like.

    I hope to see 300+ on September 27

    Thanks for sharing the article about Squeaky Wheel

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