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.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.