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Critical Mass comes to Beirut

Seven cyclists brave Lebanese capital's streets in bid to increase rider visibility...

Critical Mass bike rides are a monthly celebration of bike culture in more than 300 cities across the world, in some cases regularly attracting thousands of riders looking to reclaim the streets and raise the visibility of cyclists to other road users.

Last weekend, the Lebanese capital Beirut became the latest Critical Mass venue, although with only seven cyclists starting, a few more joining them during the two-hour ride, it’s clear there’s some way to go to catch up with the likes of Budapest in Hungary, whose biennial events see as many as 80,000 riders take to the streets.

While officially Critical Mass rides have no organiser and no set route, typically being described instead as a spontaneous meeting of cyclists who decide to cycle in the same direction for a while, obviously someone needs to get things going, in this case a 23-year-old from Seattle named Deric Gruen who is currently touring the world by bicycle.

Gruen, who is spending two and a half months in the city, handed out flyers and put up posters advertising the event, as well as setting up a Facebook group for it. And while Beirut may not be the war-torn city plagued by hostage-taking familiar from news reports in the 1980s, it remains a harsh environment for cyclists.

Talking to The Daily Star Lebanon, Gruen said, “it’s a challenge to ride here. I’ve cycled in a number of cities around the world and [Beirut] has definitely been the most challenging.”

Gruen says that the city has more cyclists than may at first seem apparent, but adds that “most of them go unseen, riding against traffic, isolated on the side of the road.” One of the motivations behind him instigating the Critical Mass ride is to help improve that situation by raising cyclists’ visibility.

If the experience of one participant, Fadi Salloum, is anything to go by, that is something that is desperately needed. Salloum, who has seen first-hand the types of facilities that benefit cyclists in cities such as Amsterdam, told the paper that in the space of five minutes, while on his way to the rendezvous in Sanayeh Park, “I nearly got killed 10 times.”

Salloum added, “Accidents do happen and I expect a lot of casualties in Lebanon. The drivers do not expect cyclists so they drive extra recklessly; that’s why we need to sacrifice ourselves by doing what we are doing today.”

Another participant, Ruba Mourad, said “I like the idea and I think it will work, but it’s too bad that it happened on a day that it rained,” although she added that she would return on the last Saturday in November, when the next ride is due to be held.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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