We study large groups of birational transformations Bir(X), where X is a variety of dimension at least 3, defined over C or a subfield of C. Two prominent cases are when X is the projective space P^n, in which case Bir(X) is the Cremona group of rank n, or when X⊂P^{n+1} is a smooth cubic hypersurface. In both cases, and more generally when X is birational to a conic bundle, we produce infinitely many distinct group homomorphisms from Bir(X) to Z/2, showing in particular that the group Bir(X) is not perfect, and thus not simple. As a consequence, we also obtain that the Cremona group of rank n⩾3 is not generated by linear and Jonquières elements.