The last Friday of July was my first experience of taking part in critical mass. A few hundred cyclists, and a few inline skaters gathered on the Southbank below waterloo bridge at around 6pm. As I arrived I noticed a large police force also assembled, I began to imagine the event being a constant battle between cyclists and officers.
However, to my surprise, nothing could be further from the truth. When we finally got moving, at which point I was riding in the middle of the mass unable to see the head or tale of the procession. I was stunned by the sight at the first big junction – around London Bridge. A police officer – on a push bike – was placed at each exit to the junction blocking the traffic from passing while our slow moving parade past through all three colours of the traffic lights. By the end of the 3 hours I participated this just seemed normal. In fact I got a real shock when later cycling home and realizing that I didn't rule the road.
Towards the end of the night, as the rain that had started got heavier and numbers had dwindled. The police presence made up a substantial number (if not the majority) of the moving mass. I think they enjoy it.
Critical mass has no one individual at its head, it's a truly malleable entity. As me and two friends experienced when upon deciding to head home while the mass was stationary in Piccadilly Circus (with the help of the police calmly holding back all five lanes of traffic) we turned to see the whole precession loyally following our route.