The streets of Buenos Aires are like any large South American city — congested, chaotic and dangerous. The familiar sounds of blaring horns, growling engines and screaming sirens reverberate down the city streets.
The painted traffic lines are interpreted more like suggestions than guidelines, almost saying: ‘You can drive here if you want, but you don’t have to.’
The brave bicyclist weaves in and out of traffic, dodges clueless pedestrians and rides within inches of massive buses. It’s a dangerous, defensive game of getting where you need to be that bikers face on a daily basis.
But twice a month, thousands of bicyclists take to the streets to reclaim their rights as cyclists and celebrate biking. The event and movement is called Critical Mass (Masa Crítica) and it takes place the first Sunday of the month and every full moon.
This Sunday, Oct. 7 marks the fourth anniversary of the first Critical Mass event in Buenos Aires. As usual, the ride will begin at 4 p.m. at the Obelisk.
According to its website, Critical Mass is not an organization, but rather an idea and an event. Their motto is: ‘We don’t block traffic, we are traffic.’
The event began in 1992 in San Francisco, and since then has reached more than 300 cities. In other cities, bike rides are usually held on the last Friday of the month, but in Buenos Aires where Fridays are particularly furious, bike rides take place on the first Sunday of the month.
“It just reminds people that there’s another way to get around without causing harm to your environment,” said Shewit Phelper, a student studying in Buenos Aires for a semester. Phelper participated in last month’s Critical Mass. “It’s healthy individually and healthy to society.”
But as bikers take over the street twice a month, those trying to get around the city by car or bus may be held up by the bike traffic for a while. And the reaction of those waiting isn’t always pretty. Horns continually honk, taxi drivers abandon their cars and stomp their feet in frustration and people yell insults at the passing mass of bikers.
Peddle Power in Buenos Aires
Despite the sometimes angry reactions, Buenos Aires is today far more bike friendly than just a few years ago. The city has built bike lanes throughout the metropolis and established Mejor en Bici, a free bike-lending program.
Now that the city has legitimized their presence and there are more bicyclists on Buenos Aires’ streets, automobile drivers have adjusted and are getting better at sharing the road.
Critical Mass has faced public opposition in some cities, and in other places it is known for violence and vandalism. Though the Buenos Aires version and its bikers are relatively peaceful, cyclists and the police don’t always get along.
“If you’re not on a bike you see it as a disruption to normal transportation and the rest of the city,” says Phelper. “But until you actually get on a bike and go somewhere, it’s very hard to understand the movement.”
Every Critical Mass begins at the Obelisk, however the bike route changes every time.
Sundays begin at 4 p.m. and the full moon rides begin at 9 p.m. The rides take place rain or shine.
While most participants are on bikes, any ecological form of transportation is welcome, including skateboards, roller skates, wheelchairs and foot scooters.
To find out more, visit the Masa Crítica website.
-by Rachel Aretakis