Massa Kritikal, Kuala Lumpur, July 2011


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On Kelly’s actual birthday day, we participated in our first Massa Kritikal (Critical Mass). I’ve known about Critical Mass for many years, seeing plenty of them in Melbourne, and watching a good online documentary on the movement. I’ve never really wanted to participate though; riding through city streets in Friday peak hour never seemed like a ‘good’ bike ride to me. Something like the Melbourne Roobaix is more my style, although I’ve never done that either (seems like you need to be pretty fit) but at least it looks fun!

I’m happy to report that despite a long wait to start (should’ve realised: we’re in Malaysia) it actually was a lot of fun!

Concerns

Kelly and I were a little concerned about riding in Kuala Lumpur traffic. We’ve lived here now for almost 1½ years and have never attempted to ride on the roads for fear of our lives (our friend The Cypriot is a motor insurance lawyer here in KL, and she’s told us some horror stories).

The traffic is crazy, even in a car, and most roads are not in tip-top condition (to be polite), but when you’re out and about with 150 other riders, weaving your way slowly through bumper-to-bumper traffic, many of the dangers disappear. Or at least become semi-translucent.

We befriended a local named Hana and she made us feel quite relaxed during the hour-long wait for the ride to start. Hana and her friend Norr,who runs a record store and website called The Ricecooker, both took charge of the ride and helped the uninitiated feel comfortable during their (our) first ride. We were also the only two ‘whiteys’ so it was good to know some locals and meet more along the way.

Pimped

As we waited for our critical mass to arrive, we watched as the riders displayed their bikes to the crowd. Most riders were on pimped out fixies, many of them females and young-ish teenagers — all of which I found surprising.

Many bikes were sprayed all kinds of fluorescence, and there was an abundance of flashing, computerised, and movement-activated lights attached. Many Bikes also had a charm-like like item hanging from the bottom of the seat: small teddy bears, skulls, cards, and more lights. You could see how much work the riders had put into their steeds, and they liked to show them off. It was the two-wheeled equivalent of a Saturday night drive down Chapel Street. Unfortunately the couple hours I put into loosening each link of our 15-month stagnated bike chains with pliers resulted in no visual enhancement to our bikes. Win some, lose some.

Party

The riding crowd in general seemed to enjoy the event of riding through KL late on a Friday night more than appreciating the concept of Critical Mass. They came bearing air horns, bells, whistles, and plucky spirits. Once the ride got underway, there was no mistaking we were coming down the road. I’d describe the ride as a large party on two wheels rather than a bicycle awareness movement. The atmosphere was infectious.

We suspect the route has changed over time from the preplanned route, making it shorter (we’re in Malaysia, lah…) and avoiding the roads which have less traffic. The ‘fun’ of weaving in and out of as much traffic as possible and blowing air horns is obviously more appealing to the youth of KL. And maybe it’s a good thing seeing as we didn’t get back to our place until about 12:30am, being the oldies we are ;)

August?

In summary, I think we’d do it again. Riding this one time in KL traffic has almost given me enough confidence to ride in traffic during the day. It’s unfortunate that the ride occurs only once a month; Kelly and I seem to have plans each time Massa Kritikal is on in KL. We’ll be missing the August ride; hopefully we can do September.

I expected to shoot a bunch more images and video than I actually did, but slipping in and out of heavy traffic is not easy when holding a camera up catching the action. At least it’s not for me.

For a good video of an earlier Massa Kritikal in KL, see my previous post.