I rode from my apartment to Piazza Santissima, the meeting point, on the pale blue frame. The saddle was a dark Italian leather, full of discomfort with each pedal stroke and the hand-grips had become tacky, making it impossible to hold onto for more than a few minutes. I regretted not buying one of my own, but my roommates bike had reconnected me with the road.
I continued to pick up speed and remembered the long rides I went on at home, through the hills and lakes, in large groups and all alone, in the freezing cold and the time I could not make it back because of Sun Poisoning.
I darted through an intersection cluttered by people and passing cars with little running through my mind, I was just living and reacting to the chaos. I slammed on the brakes flying face first through the rear window of a small SUV, almost. My heart began to race, but I had no intention of colliding with any vehicle or the cold glass. An uneasy grin came across my face and I was free.
I approached the Piazza with some speed and arrived exactly on time, 18:30. Few people were gathered on the steps passing beers, cigarettes and cannabis that was tucked discreetly between strands of rolling tobacco. I cycled around the square for a few laps in no particular direction. The chains rattled against the frame below my seat, making an ambient ‘ping’ that echoed through the city. I could feel the stones shifting beneath my wheel. I was alive like the entire city, in motion, changing with each rotation.
I hadn’t been sitting on the stairs long before people, real people, started to roll in. Some it pairs, alone or in groups all with their own story. A few Italians arrived with alochol tucked away in a backpack. They split it three ways directly out of the bottle and nobody seemed to care that they were underage. A man with tie-dye pants and flip-flops began playing music from a large speaker strapped across the back of his bicycle. Another one juggling, with short hair and one dreadlock, that stretched to his lower back. Others rolled in on tandem bikes; one carrying his black lab.
We left over an hour later as people slowly began riding around and getting one more beer for the road. We set off to take over the city. Over fifty of us in total. Riding slowly or too fast, taking up all four lanes of the road. It was quite simple really, taking back what was ours.
Then we were speeding down the outskirts of the city, through the historic gate, and down a long tunnel where the roar of living people became overpowering to the ear.I lifted both hands in the air, away from the tacky grips, and stretched my legs as far as they would go. The wind was brisk on my face. We were all screaming!
Traffic was not an issue, because we were the traffic. Riding through a roundabout one-too-many times and the sound of car horns and yelling motorist blended with the blasting music. Queen’s “Bicycle Race” came on and we lured passing cyclist to join the heard. Scooters crept in and tried to speed by, but the mass made it impossible to for them to pass. They were simply caught in-between.
Two hours later and the ride had seized at the original meeting point, but people were in no rush to leave. I couldn’t break free from the two wheels and began racing through the dark city, caught on the margins of the curb as a bus tried to pass and hoping I would not loose my balance.
“Critical Mass is not a confidence organised bike ride. It has no leader, no organisation, it is simply made by those who take part in the ride. Critical Mass does not want to be an obstacle to traffic, but be the traffic. Come along and reclaim the space of bicycles in Florence.” – April 24 2014