08 October 2009

Budapest Bike Ride with 20,000 Friends

Finally got around to editing a little film about riding in the Budapest Critical Mass a few weeks ago, in September 09.

It was quite an experience. I have heard much of the critical mass rides in the city and was looking forward to it. The whole friendly, festival atmosphere reputation precedes the Budapest version of these rides.

The evening started with the Danish embassy hosting an open house of the Dreams on Wheels exhbition and then a 'kidical mass' rolled past and we handed out croissants, EU balloons and juice to the kids from a Christiania cargo bike. Then the ride began. The declared goal of this specific ride was to raise awareness for the need for safe, separated bike lanes on specific streets.

There is a ride each spring which is organised and registered as a demonstration and the streets are closed accordingly. This fall event was not considered a demonstration. "We just going for a bike ride" was the message sent to city hall. As a result, we all stopped at red lights and rode casually around the city.

There were 20,000 participants, not riding en masse but rather in countless groups, large and small. Everywhere you looked there were bicycles and the night air was filled with bike bells ringing. The police were out in force but they just hung about chatting with each other since there was no civil disobedience to speak of. Just a bunch of people going for a bike ride.

Everyone ended up gathering in one place. It took awhile, as 20,000 people on bicycles pedalling happily about the city take time to end up at the end station. Then there was suddenly a countdown and everyone lifted their bikes. I was with two friends from the Danish embassy and we agreed that the lifting of the bikes was quite moving.

Then we considered the fact that it would probably still be moving if everyone just lifted vacuum cleaners above their heads. 20,000 people doing something en masse and cheering as they do it would always be moving.

Cycling about Budapest during the day there were many, many cyclists. Mostly just regular people in regular clothes. By and large on European style city bikes and without 'safety' gear. At the bike ride, many 'cyclists' were present with all the gear and helmets and what have you. Which was, of course, brilliant. I couldn't help thinking of the impact on the city these hobby cyclists would have if they all chose to ride to work Monday to Friday and not just at events like this one.

Whatever the case, I'm glad I was a part of it. It was impressive. It was civilised and enjoyable. Interestingly, Budapest sticks to calling it Critical Mass, where in other cities like Prague, for example, they have changed the name to avoid the negative branding from rides in other countries.

Afterwards there was a Cycle Chic party, which rounded off the mainstream feel of the whole evening.