Dr Nunes pokes the broken tooth he is about to perform a root canal procedure on, and asks if I feel any pain. I shake my head.
Before Dr Nunes started treating me, he narrated a story of how while working in London he was involved in two cycling accidents; both times trying to avoid getting run over by a motorist. I sustained my own injuries (six fractured teeth and a fractured jaw) participating in the Johannesburg Critical Mass Movement ride, which aims to have cycling tracks built in the city to avoid risky events such as the ones the doctor was involved in.
The Johannesburg Critical Mass ride happens every last Friday of the month. It's an offshoot of the first Critical Mass Ride that was held in San Fransisco in 1992, when a group of riders decided to reclaim the roads from motorists by cycling en mass. The movement has since spread to over 300 cities around the world with the primary motive of integrating bikes into the transport systems of their respective cities, but with each ride and possibly each rider, as the London CM website states, having different aims.
I was asked by JHBLive and Nokia to cycle with The Mass in the October ride to give an experiential account of the event. From the onset I had a suspicion it might be a bad idea for me to ride, having not been on a bike on a road for many years. But riding a bike is just like riding a bike, right? Wrong. But we'll get to that later.
The Facebook page
of the Johannesburg Critical Mass Movement says one of the reasons the movement was formed is to bring Joburgers back into the city. Since the mid-2000s business has been returning to Joburg and cultural hotspots, restaurants and bars are springing up regularly, from Braamfontein to Newtown and the Maboneng Precinct. Critical Mass Movement Johannesburg wants to reinforce this, increase people's awareness of the city and dispel the myth of 'big-bad-Joburg', all by riding through the city at night, when crime is assumed to be at its peak.
The ride attracts an eclectic mix of people - from kids to greyhaired men and women. Some came in Halloween themed costumes and others had beer to drink as they rode. In total about 1 000 (and possibly more) people participated in the October ride.
Riders have the option of starting at the Dunkeld shopping centre or joining the Dunkeld cyclists in Braamfontein, outside Kitchener's Carvery, where the two groups merge to explore the city. I chose to start from Dunkeld.
I found the route from Dunkeld Shopping Centre easy, flat to moderately undulating and not particularly long. The whole thing is around 45 kilometres if you start from Dunkeld, and under 20 kilometres if you go from Braamfontein. Before the ride I was fearful of being left behind, or being too slow. And indeed, at one point I and a bunch of other riders were so far behind that the mass had to stop and wait for us. But the mass makes it a point not to leave anyone behind - it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be for me (and other unfit cyclists) to complete the ride.
I must confess that I thought the ride would be quite edgy, slum / poverty tourism; but it was actually a touristy ride in a fashionable and classy way. To me, this is one of the best ways of exploring the city.
From Kitchener's the exploration of the city began - we stopped at different spots for riders to take pictures and I noted a few places I will visit later on. At PataPata (at Arts on Main), which is the Mass's half way stop, we spent about an hour eating, drinking and having a banter-full time. This is one of the aspects of the Mass that I enjoyed the most, the community feel.
On the ride back, cycling down a steep slope, I fell and smashed my face - through faulty brakes, cycling inexperience and wet tarmac. Luckily the ride is well organised and had an emergency vehicle operated by a volunteer, Tristan. Tristan rushed me to Milpark hospital, where my injuries were assessed and I was referred to Dr Nunes.
As I sat on the good doctor's' chair having my teeth fixed, unable to speak through my swollen mouth, I knew there was one thing I would definitely be doing - when I'm finally all healed - on the last Friday of December. Cycling with a mass where I feel I belong.
If you participate in the Critical Mass ride, here are a few of my top tips (gathered at some personal expense, I might add):
- Make sure your bike is fully functional and in good working order.
- Ensure you have a helmet and possibly other protective gear (and maybe some painkillers etc in case of a fall).
- If you don't have a decent bike you can rent one from the organisers for about R200, but do this as early as you can to avoid disappointment.
- Training before the ride will work to your advantage; 45 kilometres can be a little tough for people who don't cycle regularly.
- If you feel unfit, start the ride from Kitchener's and you will stroll through the route without breaking a sweat.
- Feel free to start a conversation on whatever interests you with the riders around you, they are a fun and welcoming bunch.
- Be prepared to have fun.
Photographs by: Jason Ryan Geldenhuys and Justin Reed