Pedal on Parliament has quickly grown to become a major event in the Scottish cycling calendar. Now in its third year and attracting thousands of participants, the basic principle behind the ride is that by pedalling to parliament en masse, we send a clear message that cycling matters to a lot of people and not enough is being done by politicians to promote it.*
As regular participants in Critical Mass, we knew that Pedal on Parliament was right up our street – riding together in solidarity is what we do all year round, summer or winter, rain or shine! This being the case, we saw PoP as an opportunity to let other cyclists know about Critical Mass, and to promote the idea that riding together for a shared cause can happen more than just once a year.
We had our work cut out for us if we were to get our message across, and so we decided to focus on three main areas: music, flags, and flyers.
No party is complete without music, and so a portable sound-system was required. Regular follows of the blog will already know about the evolution of our current system, but we figured that something bigger would be better suited to such a massive event. Flags would also be important so that we could stand out as a group and let others know who we are.
If people seemed interested in us, flyers would be useful for providing more information.
On paper, yeah, pretty straightforward. In reality, though, it proved to be a little more complicated, so sit tight and I’ll regale you with the story (don’t worry, it’s well illustrated).
In terms of music, Edinburgh’s Critical Mass rides are usually accompanied by tunes from a home-made system composed of car audio components:
This set-up was great for the monthly rides as it was fairly loud and easily portable. We felt, however, that Pedal on Parliament was a much larger event, and so a larger system would be more appropriate. Instead of simply adding more speakers, a subwoofer was acquired and integrated into the system. Although it took a few attempts to get the configuration right…
…the final ‘Mickey Mouse’ design was settled upon:
As you can see from the encroaching mess in the photo above, many wires, cables, crimps, and countless other nubbins and gubbins had to be put together before anything would actually work.
Following the technical complexity of the sound-system, flags might have seemed like a relatively simple thing to have to produce; in theory, yes, they ought to have been, but this is the twenty-first century, and basic skills like painting and sewing are hard to come by. Stencils, spray paint, and sewing machines were therefore the order of the day, and thanks to the kind people at Edinburgh’s Hacklab we had use of their laser-cutter to produce some pretty impressive designs:
With all the clobber falling into place, the morning of April 26th found us congregating near to the start of the ride nice and early so that we could get a good spot and be as visible as possible.
In addition to the flags, we also had a rider sporting a rather dashing Critical Mass cape…
On arrival, we took our place in the already substantial queue leading from the top of the Quartermile (past the new cycle counter!), down Middle Meadow Walk, and around the corner.
The ride itself was fun but pretty short. Photographs are emerging, but this is the only one of us that I’ve been able to find so far:
The atmosphere was great, and it was inspiring to see so many different types of bike riders…
However, it was especially good to see so many young people on bikes…
Seeing kids on bikes was a reminder that cycling isn’t intrinsically dangerous, and also a tantalising hint at the idea that roads can be safe spaces for people of all ages (if we commit ourselves to making them safe, that is).
By the end of the ride a good time was had by all, and cheese scones were handed out as we listened to speeches on the grass next to parliament.
Let’s hope that the thousands of riders and pedestrians who turned out in the name of safer streets will have an impact on the decisions made for Scotland’s future. Although Pedal on Parliament is a fun event, the underlying message is a serious one, and until such rides become superfluous it is vital that we keep up the energy throughout the year with Critical Mass.
*The PoP manifesto makes for good reading and can be found here.