Happiness is a Critical Mass

Calton hillI remember learning to ride my bike – the initial difficulty, the early spills – but what a thrill it finally was to have the confidence to go down hills really fast in the local park. Or the excitement I felt when racing with my younger brother. I can still feel those early emotions as if they were yesterday – and the sense of empowerment too, all of a sudden I could go places, meet people, be some-thing – if I could trace back to where I began perhaps it started then.

But then the realisation soon hit me that the feelings of freedom and happiness weren’t always going to translate to the streets. Cars have priority – they are big and heavy, often scary, and this makes their dominance on the streets difficult to contest. And so day to day cyclists, pedestrians too, are left with little choice but to just give way.

But, no, not every day. Not on some Fridays.

For those that have ridden a Critical Mass I just don’t need to explain. For those that haven’t I can’t fully explain. I simply love it. Call it a celebration of cycling, call it a rolling street party, a reclaiming of the streets, peaceful assertiveness, a ride for solidarity, a community; Critical Mass is all of these things and more, a ride like no other. Look to the left, look to the right, forward and back, and you can find yourself in a sea of smiling cyclists. It’s happiness in a mass – a Critical Mass. We’ve taken back the streets and the cars are giving way to cyclists.

sea of cyclists 1
At Manchester Critical Mass, where I first came across Critical Mass. Can you spot me?

There is no organisation – it just sort of happens.

We meet, we ride. No route, no plan.

No-one is in charge of the mass – each individual takes responsibility for their role in deciding how their ride will go and in doing so contributes to an ever inspiring, evolving, flowing, and growing whole – everyone is important, everyone matters. (Here’s more on what a Critical Mass is from Edinburgh’s CM blog).

For one day a month, but it is not enough.

Not a happy lot!

Cyclists tend to be happier than non-cyclists. Perhaps it’s because we’re healthier, perhaps it’s because we save money, perhaps it’s because we’re not feeling alone and isolated in a metal box. Whatever the reason, any society that is serious about improving the well-being of its people needs to encourage cycling. Some places have daily a Critical Mass’ – and they began decades ago.

A community

I’ve normally got the next Critical Mass ride marked in my diary each month well in advance. I’m gutted if I miss a mass. I love cycling, I love the massing community.

end of the ride
The  end of an Edinburgh ride on top of Calton Hill

These days I ride with the Critical Mass in Edinburgh. We’re small; we’re nowhere near being a thousand, a hundred, let alone the tens on a cold wet blowy one, but we’re a friendly bunch and I’ve found, quite unsurprisingly, nothing but good souls there.

When I move to or revisit a city the Mass is where I can guarantee I will find my people. There’s a ride in most cities. It’s where I will feel welcome and accepted. If I’m down at a London Mass I’m sure I’ll run into people I’ve ridden with at other masses in the past, and I’ll certainly meet lots of new folk too.

A London Mass swarming “The Gherkin”

Still finding that happiness

And every time I do ride in a Critical Mass I find myself reconnecting back to my-self as a child with their first bike; speeding down hills and meeting friends in a park. Oh that freedom! Oh that happiness!


*** Thank you for reading. If you like any of my posts then I’m happy to have them shared or commented upon. Also if you don’t like anything then I’d be grateful to hear that too.



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