A Bike Cavalry Primer

Historically, Cavalry has had a twofold role that stems from its speed: to act as advance scouts, and to make flanking attacks. In the realm of Protest Marches, many tactics from cavalry can be applied to protesters with Bicycles. Bicycle Cavalry has been used to some extent by both protesters and police and there are a plethora of tactics we can gain from these examples.

  1. Reconnaissance: Bicycle cavalry can scope out the blocks ahead of a march with an unplanned route, relaying information about the location of police to flag-bearers/banner holders that lead the march. Communication is obviously a must, and can be accomplished easily via text messaging. This requires some organization and planning.
  2. Setting Roadblocks/Directing Traffic: Setting a roadblock may be useful for preventing indecision at an intersection (closing off the sides that the protesters shouldn’t be going) or to stop vehicular traffic so that police vehicles have a hard time advancing to the location of the march. Stopped traffic means police will only be able to get through on foot, closing down their ability to drive vans into the march and force people onto the sidewalk, or use wedge (Flying-V) formations with their two-wheeled motorized vehicles (be they scooters or motorcycles). These are easily achieved by turning the bikes so that they are almost perpendicular with the street they are blocking, interlocking in a phalanx formation. This tactic is sometimes used by the NYPD, but judging from those circumstances, they are only as effective as they are complete. The more porous the line, the less effective it will be in being a barrier, but this isn’t relevant if the only purpose is simply to help keep the march moving in the right direction.
  3. Flash Mob/Distraction: In this case the function as reconnaissance should tell the swarm where they are needed. A scenario might be appearing outside of a kettle, stopping to hurl some projectiles in the direction of the police as a distraction for long enough to weaken the kettle-line and help the people inside to break free. This is obviously a risky (illegal) offensive tactic and can be modified to a simple distraction-swarm, but kettle-preventing and kettle-breaking are two of the most important things a Bike Cavalry can accomplish and so this would have to weighed by individual members of particular bike cavalry organizations as to whether the risks involved are worth it. This is something that people would have to be willing to be arrested to accomplish and can represent a division in your local Bike Cavalry to arrestables and those not willing to be arrested. If one isn’t willing to be arrested, one can focus simply on reconnaissance or become…
  4. Couriers: This is simple enough. On long marches people get hungry and thirsty, and there can be members of the Bike Cavalry who focus on getting food and water to those in need.
  5. Bicycle Medics: This would just be a medic on a bicycle, the advantage being one of rapid response to different parts of the march. Again, using the bicycle as a shield to protect an injured protester who is being treated by street-medics is another possibility here.

This is a relatively new idea, with some precedent in the Occupy movement. Portland is known to have a bike swarm (read this on some of their successes http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2011/12/15/occupy-portland-outsmarts-police-creating-blueprint-for-other-occupations/), and San Fransisco has a Bike Cavalry (http://sfbikecavalry.blog.com/). Many of these maneuvers require organization, communication, and most of all, training. Please share some of your ideas about uses for a bicycle cavalry in protest marches!Some other suggestions:

1) Via @SFBicycleCavalry: Badges/Something similar to the street medics’ cross to convey a sense of trust between Bike Cavalry and Marchers.
2) Via @PDXBikeSwarm: “Disco Trike” (a bike blasting music) and the presence of the bike swarm itself to show both solidarity and raise spirits. There’s nothing worse than a march without noise!

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