Cubania joins Critical Mass and tours Havana
"Bicicletear en La Habana", better known as "critical mass", could be described as many things. It’s unique each time, it’s a happy affair, and it’s a great way of getting a good workout. What’s more, there’s no doubt that it’s a novel and clever way to view the marvellous city of Havana, all whilst raising environmental awareness.
Previously, individual members of the Cubania team had participated on various Critical Mass rides, but to see off the year, there was a collective thought that a group ride involving the whole team would be a lovely way of sharing our love of bicycles and our passion for Havana, all whilst promoting a healthy life-style.
On the first Sunday of each month, during the final few months of 2020, some members of the Cubania Travel team joined in riding with "Bicicletear La Habana" a group of cycling enthusiasts that form Havana’s Critical Mass.
Then, to finally say goodbye (or good riddance) to 2020 in December, the Cubania Travel team decided to also join in with the last edition of this – ahem – "special" year, in order to share a healthy, happy time with friends and bike lovers, all whilst promoting the use of bicycles in Havana, a city that we love deeply.
Here is a quick recount of an unforgettable day.
Cubania Travel takes part in Critical Mass, Havana!
It wasn’t really a hard decision to make. When we had the chance to participate in critical mass and see the city by bicycle, it didn’t take us long to decide.
On the morning of the ride, as usual, an enthusiastic group of bike aficionados gathered, all ready to mix physical exercise with the pleasure of soaking up the city’s special ambience.
We set off from Havana’s Parque de los Martires Universitarios, located at the junction of San Lazaro and Infanta, which is one of the points where the neighbourhoods of Vedado and Centro Habana meet.
The journey was improvised as we went along, each rider chipping in with suggestions of where to head next. This makes the ride seem like an unknown route of discovery, something which makes each time different and new.
La Calle Vapor led us along the Malecon sea wall and into the Cayo Hueso neighbourhood, very near San Isidro where you can see some amazing graffiti street art. Once there, we travelled along Oquendo before crossing Avenida de Carlos III, then continuing on to Estrella.
Critical Mass is fast becoming recognised in Havana and the tireless cyclists are already familiar to some people in the neighbourhoods of Pueblo Nuevo, Los Sitios and Tallapiedra.
These old streets have seen colourful bands of cyclists pass through them on many occasions, and despite being home to one of the populous parts of the Centro Habana municipality, when their cycle bells ring, the residents always respond with friendly greetings and lots of vocal encouragement.
When the streets get really narrow, depending on how many cyclists there are, it can all get quite crowded, so the bonhomie is crucial!
The ride is attractive and extremely photogenic. Many of us all got together, with face masks and social distancing of course, for group "selfies", whilst others, keen on analysing their routes later, recorded the journey on their phones or the occasional GoPro.
It is not just the cyclists who enjoy this camaraderie though. Many "habaneros" stroll up to the group asking to take photos, capturing lovely images of a friendly, colourful group of people who all share a love of bicycles and a love of Havana.
Who makes up this colourful group, I hear you ask? Well, they are a diverse bunch! There are young people, older people, men, women, groups of friends, individual riders, and even representatives of clubs, as was the case with Cubania Travel. It is rare to see such a large varied group of people, all sharing a common interest in this seductive Caribbean city.
The evident solidarity found in the group also helps to solve the little problems that can arise during a cycling trip. Everyone mucks in together, sharing water, helping out with minor bike issues, recording videos and taking photos of each other, and encouraging those towards the back of the group.
We all rely on everyone else in the group too. The people at the front can pass back warnings of an upcoming hole in the road, a dangerous junction, or a set of traffic lights. It really is a group of individuals who make up one single organism.
We carried on through Elevados, the area that includes the Train Terminal and the Jesus Maria neighbourhood, and eventually retraced the streets of Havana Old Town just as the first signs of dusk descended on the city. We then took the Avenida del Puerto and headed towards the Malecon sea wall – spectacular still in the fading light – and proceeded towards Calle Linea, in Vedado.
Those who have taken part in critical mass around Havana will know that the trip does not end at one specific location. So, as the Cuban skies darken and a comfortable chair beckons, some riders drift away from the peloton to put their feet up.
Little by little, the group became less of a crowd until there were only a few stalwarts left who keep going until everyone has drifted home.
Here is to a city with less pollution!
Yasser Gonzalez, the guy who dreamt up Critical Mass in Havana had to overcome quite a few obstacles to get it up and running, but he was always pretty sure on one thing. There were to be no posters, no adverts, or any other form or marketing. All you have to do is get on a bike, pedal until you are tired and show everyone that there is a cleaner and healthier way to get around, as well as a better way to see this wonderful city.
Critical Mass, the Cuban Way!
At the end of the day, it was time for our team at Cubania Travel to say goodbye. We promised not to miss the next critical mass in January as we had thoroughly enjoyed the company of a group of people who share two of our deepest passions, bicycles and our beautiful city, Havana.
The next time you visit Havana, make sure you check the calendar and remember that on the first Sunday of each month, a group of dreamers meet in the heart of Havana to make friends and ride along the streets of the city. Why don’t you get involved?