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Our visit in Florence coincided with the largest cyclists gathering in Europe, the Critical Mass Florence. We had just arrived with our bikes in town, right at the beginning of our bike trip from Parma to Puglia. By either destiny or coincidence, we had the opportunity to join in this wonderful event that gathers people from all over the world.

We cycled for five hours, exploring practically the whole city-centre of Florence, its suburbs and even a stretch of the motorway. An awesome experience, full of energy, music and lots of respect.

cyclists outside Florence during the Critical Mass

The Mass cycling through the motorway just outside Florence

Critical what?

a sign on a bike during the Critical Mass

Some messages given…

The Critical Mass happens once a month in many cities around the world. The 1st edition was in San Franciso, USA, back in 1992. Once a year, in Europe, cyclists gather together in one determined city to make a huge parade and ask for more space and security for bicycles. Up to now, the previous editions of the Critical Mass Europe, had happened in Rome. But, especially this year, 2018, the gathering was in Florence, exactly on the date we arrived in the town with our bikes. How convenient was that?

Critical Mass: A horizontal movement

cyclists in the streets of Florence with the sun and shadows

Cycling through the streets of Florence

The idea behind the Critical Mass is that there is no pre-established leadership. The way to go is decided spontaneously according to the mass of cyclists. It’s up to the people in the front to lead the way to the others as well as to block the traffic so no crazy moto/car driver runs over any cyclist. Once the mass passes, new volunteers to lead and stop motorbikes and cars come in. And that’s how it goes for the next 5 hours.

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How did drivers take it?

cyclists in Florence for the Critical Mass

Some volunteers stopping the traffic for the mass to pass

Clearly, when people stop motorbikes and cars to avoid accidents and block the traffic for about 10 minutes, always arise some conflicts. Some impatient drivers cursed at the mass, motorbike drivers breached the block and speed past cyclists – which is dangerous and the exact thing we wanted to avoid – and so on.

Nevertheless, it was great to see that, both pedestrians and – most – drivers supported the parade. There were many people clapping when we passed, drivers switching off their cars and even people dancing songs some cyclists carried along. In fact, there was even a band bike. It was a bike carrying a drummer and a guitarist, playing along with the parade. Basically, a stage on wheels.

A bike with a drummer and a guitarist

The Band Bike

How cyclists reacted?

Moreover, it was even more satisfying to see how most cyclists reacted to the angry drivers. At some points – perhaps a couple of times, at least that we saw – there was a heated discussion between a driver and some cyclists. At some point of the discussion, on both times, we saw someone hugging the nervous driver, apologising for the nuisance and kindly asking for 10 minutes until this is over. And that’s how they cooled down the heat of the discussion. In the end, the message was not hypocritical. It was demanding respect, offering respect.

group of cyclists in Florence for the Critical Mass

The Critical Mass in Florence

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And in any urgency?

Because the nuisance of the traffic and “the order”, we had, at some moments, doubted the legitimacy of the Critical Mass. The final proof, however, was when an ambulance had to drive through the road completed taken by cyclists, in the city-centre of Florence. The last people of the Mass started shouting “ambulance!”, and the word of order was sent forward. In less than 10 secs, every bike was out of the way, letting the road absolutely free for the ambulance to pass. How long it would have taken for the same road to be cleared if it was full of cars instead?

At that moment, we were sure we were exactly where we should be.

cyclist on one wheel during the Critical Mass Florence

Cyclists enjoying themselves worry-free of cars

How did it ended?

Towards the end of the event, the mass was taken to one of the most iconic sights of Florence, the Piazzale Michelangelo for the sunset. We watched the sunset, celebrated the success of the parade and exploded in happiness. That was definitely a unique and remarkable experience which we recommend to everyone who has the chance to go. Make a Critical Mass at least once in life!

the cyclists from Critical Mass Florence in Piazzale michelangelo

The Mass in Piazzale Michelangelo for the sunset

We are not here to criticise the car lovers, but simply to ask for more respect and security for cyclists. There is space for everybody, it’s only a matter to share 🙂

Some more pictures of the Critical Mass Florence 2018