(2010) Madrid Critical Mass [ENG]

Miércoles 27 de octubre de 2010, por Miguel Angel Martinez

Todas las versiones de este artículo: [Español]

Miguel Martínez. UCM. miguelam@cps.ucm.es
Elísabeth Lorenzi. UNED. elisabeth.lorenzi@gmail.com

“Bike every day, celebrate it once a month.” Critical Mass, sustainable urban mobility, and social articulations.

Cracks in the Concrete Jungle: New Perspectives on Urban Ecology Berlin. 22-24 October, 2010


What is new about Madrid Critical Mass? Why has been so successful? Is CM a paradigm for urban movements? It’s a challenge to the predominant automobilization regime, but it’s based on local assessments of urban mobility policies, on innovative and “joyful” activist’s strategies, and on a network of independent and self-managed bikes workshops and social centres as regular infrastructures for activists and cyclists. CM points out a field of power relationships about mobility: different actors and forces crash together and dispute the urban roads. Unity of the cyclists’ mass and social perception of the “critical number” of cyclists determine the CM’s power.


Madrid Critical Mass (Bici Crítica, BC) is a protest event that gathers thousands of cyclists the last Thursday of every month. In comparison to other similar events in cities world wide, BC is one of the biggest. The volume (an yearly average of 1500 people last two years) and duration (around 2-3 hours) of the collective ride reaches to interrupt the motorized flow.

It started in October 2004. Activists also call for yearly events such as “La Criticona” and “La ciclonudista” with similar methodology while emphasizing, respectively, world-European invitations and shocking image of nudist bodies on bikes.

The main features of this event are: 1)it’s the most public and notorious part of a wider urban movement in order to promote the use of bicycle; 2)it represents a challenge to Madrid’s authorities and urban plans of sustainable mobility; 3)its success is due to very innovative ways of performance, recruitment, and identity configuration.

Practices and identities

Party and Protest style of performance: playful activities (waves, costumes, music) and funny slogans, skaters and tunned bikes, final parties after the ride.

Body-machine complex identity for interaction with a diverse range of cyclists (and drivers and pedestrians) and experiencing the urban space from the perspective of bikes.

Participative involvement and recruitment in blocking actions, dressing, joining the e-mail list, and attending bike workshops ruled under the “do it yourself” principle. No leading organization. Hidden and fluid "hard core" of activists.

Paradoxical discourse: this is not a demonstration, it’s a celebration... we are traffic, we reclaim our right to occupy the roads... we want better conditions for biking in the city.

Local context and effects

BC is a powerful challenge to timid and scarce urban policies addressed to ameliorate cycling conditions. Madrid local government, on the contrary, recently developed big infrastructures which increased motorized traffic and financial debts. Madrid is not a bike-friendly city, but figures of riders are increasing year by year.

BC got a wide mass media coverage and municipal police could not stop its growth. There is a global tendency to improve cycling conditions in cities. Madrid dwellers, specially young people, feel CM can help to reach similar conditions.

City centre and some neighbourhoods are the preferred routes for the BC. Particular conflicts occur facing car and motorbikes drivers, but the "political actor" is a heterogeneous mass and many voices acting together.


BC is a disruptive action of the normal order of urban mobility. It is not fully planned, but promoted and, above all, the party at the end is well organised.

Bike workshops and squatted social centres are the "nodes" of articulation of this urban movement. Environmental organisations also support BC. There is a regular and reciprocal feedback between them and BC.

Public protest with bikes has been increasingly adopted as a convenient repertoire of action for other autonomous movements.

Bikers from different social conditions meet mainly in BC but they obtain a better knowledge of workshops and social centres through their involvement in BC.