12.01.2015

Alleycat, Mass and more: The Cycling Soul

Risultati immagini per critical mass firenze 2001It was 2001 when I took part in the largest urban bikers demonstration in Florence. Thousand of people on all kinds of bikes invaded the boulevards and the car traffic stopped for a change. I remember inhabitants clapping at the windows and children boldly riding in front. That was a superb Critica Mass. That was politics at its highest.
It wasn't the first, not the last one but the movement had its peak in 2001 during the World Social Forum against Neoliberism. It changed a lot in the last years, loosing contact with its original connotation as 'protest' to become an expression of the urban bikers subculture. The main reason was the heavy deafeat of the political movement born in Seattle: only a core of bikers working as messengers or bike mechanics kept the Mass alive, a more general and larger partecipation became hard to obtain and finally numbers didn't allow a real CRITICAL Mass anymore. Recently the Mass has been moved from Friday to Thursday and  become mostly a students' stuff.
Alleycats are for fun but very often people animating a Mass are the same taking part in these informal races. Now, like for the Critical Mass, you don't ask any authorisation for a Alleycat and they both stay on the line between informal and illegal. The Mass' motto is "We don't stop the traffic, we are the traffic": many bikes occupy all the street slowly going in the same direction. That's more or less legal. It can be dangerous because very often car drivers go mad. An Alleycat is risky because it's a race IN the traffic. Messengers know how to deal with it, but crashes are possible. I took part in managing a checkpoint once and given that the messengers' community in Florence is small, all kinds of bike geek were there. It was in winter at the evening peak time, so there was a lot of traffic and it was dark: not exactly safe... but exciting for sure
Then there are informal 'cyclocross' races: people gather in a field or in a wood and race on extemporary circuits. In a winter Saturday on the hills of Tuskany you can easily run across something like that: real cyclocross isn't popular and mountain bikes are more used than road bikes because few people bother to buy cross tyres. Still it isn't mbk but a very rough cyclocross
In some occasions people ride or even race wearing a mask or a funny costume. For exemple here we have an informal Christmas cross with riders wearing.... Santa's clothes! Finally - but not in taly - there are naked bike rides.
Sometimes I think the soul of cycling lays somewhere here: between urban biking and races for fun. 

No comments: