The Role of Bike Marshals

Bike Marshals help keep people safe, and have been part of sanctioned and unsanctioned demonstrations for a long time

By now you might have heard the term “bike marshal” from one of our PedalPGH rides in the past or the recent news about one of them getting snatched off the street by plainclothes officers at the Civil Saturdays Protests

Bike marshals (bike corkers, bike blocs, etc.) are volunteers charged with providing safety and support for the event they’re protecting. One of the primary responsibilities of marshals is to ride ahead of the event to upcoming intersections and “cork” them. This means blocking intersections, directing traffic, de-escalating conflicts with drivers, and keeping the cohesiveness of the participants in place.

This practice was codified into standard bike ride/protest practice with Critical Mass in the 1990s and early aughts. Critical Mass was a monthly bike protest that originated in San Francisco and spread to cities throughout the world (including Pittsburgh) to raise awareness of bicyclists and pedestrians in the street and urge cities to prioritize their safety.

In addition to Critical Mass, bike marshals are used at PedalPGH events, Underwear Bike Rides, Slow Rolls and many other group rides.


  1. Listen to the organizers – Listen to the organizers of the event. You are representing and protecting them.
  2. Buddy up – Do not marshal alone. Period. 
  3. Know your rightsACLU has great resources, review and prepare before going out. 
  4. Stay calm – Do not engage or yell with drivers, stay positive. When biking back to the front of the event stay calm so as to not cause panic. 
  5. Cork all entryways – Driveways, drive-thrus, parking lots, parked cars etc. can all be places where cars accidentally enter the event. Even if your event has a  police escort, officers do not always provide this assistance.
  6. Bring Supplies – Bring lights, snacks, water, bike repair supplies, a battery pack to keep your phone charged, and anything else you might need as you will likely be out for a while.
  7. Read more from ACT UP on engaging with police.
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The role of bike marshals in protests is to protect the protestors

At the Civil Saturdays protests, organized by the group, Back, Young, & Educated, and other Black Lives Matter protests here in Pittsburgh, bike marshals provide a buffer between police and cars and protesters so the organizers can focus on delivering their message.

Similar to Critical Mass and many other community bike rides and demonstrations, Civil Saturdays operates without a permit, so they must take their own safety precautions. Bike marshals provide that safety.

Pittsburgh Bike Corkers, is there anything BikePGH can do to support you? We’ve got water bottles, bike lights, and other supplies. Email us You’ll remain anonymous.

Pittsburgh has more than 1000 miles of publicly owned streets. They connect our communities and take us where we need to go. Whether commuting, taking a family bike ride or demanding better from our government—we shouldn’t have to fear for our safety.

Posted by Samone Riddle

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