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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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