If an 80,000 turnout at Critical Mass wasn't evidence enough that cycling's the next big thing in Budapest, check this out: Just an hour ago, a standing-room only crowd crammed into the narrow confines of the Szoda Bar in District VI to take in a fashion show of nouveau peddal pushers, courier bags and other designer clothes and accessories for chic urban bicyclists.
The fashion show complemented the opening of an exhibit of photos featured in a bicycling calendar released this month by the Museum of Ethnography. But the main draw was the fashion show. By the time it started at 6 p.m., every bike rack, signpost and window grate in front of the Jewish Quarter hangout had several bikes chained to it, so latecomers (such as myself) had to search, squeeze and cheat to secure their wheels.
Inside, it was elbow-to-elbow mayhem, and getting to the bar looked like an impossible mission. However, a spot smack dab in front of the beer tap miraculously opened up moments before the show started. So by the time the models began strutting down the ad hoc catwalk in front of the bar, I not only had my pint of Pilsner but also a prime point of view to shoot the action.
Virtually everyone there was in their early to mid-20s, roughly half my age, but I did see a couple similarly geezerly attendees (relatively speaking, of course), including Gabor Kurti, director of local bike courier company Hajtas Pajtas and lynchpin of the Budapest Critical Mass movement, and Janos Laszlo, president of the Hungarian Cyclists Club. Laszlo interpreted the turnout as vindication for immersing himself in the urban cycling movement. "Have you ever seen so many people turn out for a photo exhibit?" he asked in disbelief. I agreed it was remarkable, especially with so many having come by bike. Laszlo shook his head in wonder. "And in the middle of winter!"