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Get on your Bike

Get on your Bike

by Sean O'Toole / 05.02.2010

On the last Friday of every month, a bunch of luddites – we like to call ourselves cyclists – meet in Cape Town for an early morning cycle through town. Nothing special. Either you meet at the Baxter Theatre, where the ride originates, or pick up with the peloton at the Convention Centre. From there, well, I’ll get to that in a bit.

First, a note on equipment. Like Rubik’s Cube, BMX and yoyos, stripped-down single-speeds are all the rage, particularly in the metropolitan centres of the northern hemisphere but latterly Cape Town too. Many of the riders who participate in the monthly Critical Mass ride through Cape Town have tricked-out versions of this must-have two-wheeled fashion accessory. Part track bike, part cycle messenger work tool, these bikes are undeniably fascinating to look at. For a bit of indulgent bike porn, courtesy of Critical Mass regulars, check out this link.

Critical Mass

Equipment, or rather the coolness of your equipment, is however a weak peg on which to hang any ideology. I say this because, at root, the Critical Mass event, which traces its origins back to early 1990s San Francisco and takes place on the same day in over 300 cities across the world, is an activist cause. Bicycles don’t emit greenhouse gases. They don’t clog urban roads. They’re affordable. As JM Coetzee wrote in 1994, bicycles are “the one indubitably triumphant contribution of western technology to the world”. Everyone should own one.


Of course, much like the ruling party, which recently launched a collection of 19 ANC branded jackets for men and women (costing from R1620 to R1944), self-satisfied activists are easily distracted/detoured/anaesthetised by consumption. I’m as guilty as the next, having amassed a stockpile of purpose-defined bicycles. Which leads me to my key point: yuppie cyclists, which, face it, most white bicycle riders tend to be, are not going to effect a sea change in local governmental policies, especially not by reliving scenes from the movie ET on the streets of Cape Town.

Reading what I’ve just written, I feel like a bit of a charlatan. Let me be clear. The Critical Mass ride needs your support. It doesn’t matter if you own a rusting Le Turbo, or arrive on a monolithic dikwiel – pull in. For this monthly event to gain any sense of meaning it requires volume and proportion, in other words, a critical mass.

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  1. Jason says:

    Finally… I do dig me some bike porn.

    But Sean, where are the brakes? You have to be pretty hard/dof to attempt the ‘controlled skid’ technique everywhere you go – esp in traffic. I commuted from Sandton to Parktown a few times and it’s very easy to get crumpled under some duelling taxis/towtrucks/soccer moms.
    I have neither the sack nor the total disregard for my knees to try it, but as far as aesthetics go an uncluttered handlebar and frame are pure filth. Pity about the scenesters making it all tragically hip though. What the actual commuters (read township guy on his Humber) must think.

    Been following these for ages:

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  2. urbanmosadi says:

    Is there one in capetown. Used to do them in Los Angeles. Complete fun!

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  3. Sean says:

    Jason: I don’t do single-speed or fixed gear. I’m from a different generation. Upgrading from a BMX to a MTB was like a evolutionary jump. Why revert to the stone age with a fixie?

    Ms Urban: it’s the last Friday of each month in eKapa. Check out http://fixedgearcapetown.co.za/ for dates, or email me: sean@bell-roberts.com

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  4. Andy says:

    uh… i was about to say, that’s not Sean

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  5. Jason says:

    Yar boet, The Sean is of a different weave. It was a general question re the fixie culture landing in CT.

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  6. wipneusie says:

    Glad to know that rides are happening back in SA, though it doesn’t sound like you are anywhere near critical mass yet!

    Here in Vancouver, summer masses can attract around 3000 cyclists, and the sheer popularity of these events actually riles the the non self-powered types up, because even here, people are addicted to their metal death wagons., and the downtown core gets shut down for hours to motor traffic.

    Riding with thousands of other cyclists is fun though, and a good way for novices to be introduced to urban cycling, because they tend to worry about interacting with motor vehicles (and I think in South Africa, even I would be worried about cycling on the roads!) .

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  7. Nicky says:

    Oh this is encouraging. Any advice for a would-be Cape Town cyclist who’s only ever used her bike in the supremely unthreatening environs of southern England? Not used to dodging taxis, not used to no bike lanes, tell me it’s possible…

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  8. Brett says:

    Ah, but what time in the morning? It sounds like the very thing to bring my Le Turbo to (not rusty, a bit scratched, still going like a bomb after 30 years).

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  9. Gav says:

    Yeah, no mass to consider it critical, been riding around these streets for close on 15 years and figured that if we didn’t start somehting up nothing would get started.
    Is it having any sort of impact? Not really but it’s a cool way to spend a Friday morning at least.

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  10. Hanlie says:

    Yay! I’m there with my very un hip hybrid.

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