Stockholm Critical Mess

The first critical mass of the year was held on Friday last week and as an avid cyclist who had never attended such an event before I thought it would be nice to ride around town with a group of people who have a common enthusiasm and love for cycling. I decided to give it a try and even managed to bring two friends along.

Stockholm Critical Mess

Almost 1,500 people got the Facebook invitation to the ride: 88 replied they were going, 90 said they were maybe going (meaning they declined but did not want to offend their friends) and the rest just ignored the invitation as people often do with public spams on Facebook.

So it’s 17:30 and I’m 30 minutes away from my first critical mass. The ride will start at 18:00 from Medborgarplatsen on Södermalm and as I sit on a bench waiting for my friends I can hear from the small gathering that the fun has already begun. Not the kind of fun I was expecting though since people are arguing whether anti-nuclear activists can hijack the ride with two meter high Smiling Sun flags or not. They finally take the flags down and the rather small group is good to go.

Still, I must ask: if those hippies represent the opinion of so many thousands – so they claim – of supporters, why don’t they organize their own ride or demonstration instead of sneaking in events that have nothing to do with the subject?

The ride begins and I quite enjoy it at first. We cycle the right lane on the four-lane Folkungagatan leaving one lane for cars to overtake us. But as we make a left turn on to Renstiernas gata things get hairy: we (25 cyclists) occupy the whole road and furious honking drivers don’t hesitate to cross the solid white line to travel past the group at light speed.

As we continue our promenade it turns out some riders are not in for critical mass cycling but are demonstrating and shout so to angry drivers who don’t seem to agree with 25 bikes taking up all the space: “We live in a democracy! This is a demonstration! Town without cars! Town without cars!”

As much as like the idea of towns and city centers without cars I also do believe this was definitely not the way to behave. Critical mass is all about power in numbers and there is no power in 25. Not even enough power to fully utilize the cycling tracks along the same very roads we were riding. The critical mass turned into a critical mess.

Critical Mass participants have insisted that these events should be viewed as “celebrations” and spontaneous gatherings, and not as protests or organized demonstrations. – Wikipedia

The quote above summarizes what I think a critical mass ought to be: a celebration and not a demonstration. Last Friday was no celebration in my opinion and me and my friends quickly left the group and headed to the pub instead. That probably was a pale move from me as I could have met with the “organizers” in the end and tell them what I just wrote but I did not feel like riding in that kind of ambiance any longer.

Criticism is easy, art is difficult. I know and I would still like to thank people who get involved and make such events happen. I just don’t think I’d be part of future rides until it gets what a critical mass is supposed to be: a celebration, in great numbers. Meanwhile I’ll just do what I do every day: ride my bike and have fun.

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Laurent Pignon

Born in 1980 in France. Got lost in Finland in 2002. Living in Sweden since 2005. Daily, year-round, rain snow or shine bicycle commuter since 2012. And yes, that's lots of dates.

One thought on “Stockholm Critical Mess”

  1. This is the problem with Critical Mass in London, what was supposed to be a celebration of our cycle culture just became a magnet for various fringe groups who cycle because they are making a political statement and not just because they like the feeling of being on two wheels.

    I happen to be an environmental science student AND a cyclists but my love of cycling is because I actually like riding a bike.

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