Critical Mass. A riders rally, focused on sharing the road, and raising awareness in driver's minds. It's worldwide. I've never managed to take part in one before, either by them not existing in the towns I was living in, or not living in the right town at the right time.
So when I saw a bunch of posters advertising a critical mass ride in Reykjavik, I was very keen. Reykjavik has lots of people who ride bikes, we even have a bicycle chopper gang. (The gang also operates a tool shed where you can go and work on bikes, they're a friendly gang) We even have pretty decent weekend riding paths, but almost zero cycle commuters, the main roads don't have cycle lanes, and you're left with the hodge podge of pedestrian and local bike paths. Still, it could be worse.
Anyway, back to the rally! I asked all the people I know who ride bikes to come along, which basically meant Rakel, who really does cycle commute, skirts and all, and Nicky, who was on a borrowed bike, but is enough of a hippy that she would ride if she actually lived here. We rode out of town to the rendevous, unsure of what to expect.
The meetup, in the carpark of a small shopping center, was almost deserted, but it slowly started to fill out, until, at the go time, we were at almost 25 riders. Not exactly the "critical mass" I've seen and heard about, but hey, it's early days :)
Then the police turned up! Two squad cars, bikers, and even a panel van! They didn't do much, had a bit of a chat to the road bike warrior who seemed to have organised the rally, and then sort of departed. We even had a tv crew turn up. "Look at the weirdos!" Just as we were leaving, a modified christiana style bike turned up, complete with boom box, and it felt more like a cycle rally.
And so we went, cruising off down the street, calmly taking up a single lane, and generally having a good time in the sun, and riding together. Obeying traffic laws, and doing all the things that critical mass tries to show. Bikers are people too!
After about 1km, a bunch of latecomers joined in. Filthy hippies the lot of them. They immediately started chanting about taking back the roads, and getting rid of cars, and wanting to slow down, and take up both lanes, really stop traffic, really get their attention. Stickin it to the man, yeah.
One of them even told us, "Don't you know how to protest?!" They were young, that's their only excuse. They also almost all spoke english first, so I suspect they were the idiotic rabble rousers from Saving Iceland. Great idea, great cause, apalling execution.
No matter, they sort of followed the line, as we progressed down town, handing out flyers explaining what critical mass was about, and it was still generally just lovely. We rode down the main drag, ringing bells, cruising.
We then took a detour, off Laugavegur, up to Skólavörðustígur, which seemed like a nice jink from my point of view. I later learnt from people closer to the front that it was actually the point when the activists took control of the rally, veering off to "Call out to their friends in jail" If I'd known then, I would have left immediately.
We continued on, down bankastræti and austastræti, to Ingolfstorg, where I expected us to all stop, and hang out in the traditional bikers and skaters square, and chat, and hand out flyers, and generally rally.
Instead, we deviated back round down the pedestrian walkway and onto austurvöllur, and then backwards down a one way street, stopping in front of a church. A rather irate priest came out, demanding that we leave immediately, he had a wedding about to come out, and a couple of people yelled insults back at him. The mob at this point rolled on, causing mayhem and being obnoxious, and I pulled out, and told Rakel and Nicky why. They agreed, and we headed back into Ingolfstorg to relax and hang out.
We later met a few other riders who had felt quite betrayed, and I know others definitely felt that as well. Really unfortunate to have stupid infantile activists take over. They seem to think that anything further left than than mass capitalism rally is automatically their rally for sticking it to the man, somehow.
Really unfortunate too, that this was such an early critical mass event, and had been well publicised in advance. It might be a while before anything is tried again, and I feel that is a real loss.