Next ride: Friday, January 30


What is Critical Mass?
Critical Mass is a worldwide movement to promote the use of bicycles as a viable means of transportation. It has arisen in response to what many call the "car-culture": an overdependence on the private automobile. It is, more than anything else, a reclamation of space, a demonstration to show that the city belongs to people and not machines. Here is an excellent description of CM from former Chicago masser Adam Kessel in response to Boston CM critics. Also, readers are directed to the Wikipedia page on the subject.
How did it get started?
It started in August 1992 in San Francisco when a group of bicycle commuters decided to ride home together.
Why is it called "Critical Mass"?
The name "Critical Mass" comes from Ted White's bike-umentary Return of the Scorcher. This video shows intersection crossing etiquette in China's big cities. Cross bike-traffic waits until it has enough riders, i.e., a critical mass, to push it's way through the intersection.
How long are the rides?
It's better to think of the length of CM rides in terms of "time" rather than "distance". Rides in the warmer months tend to around three hours, rides in the Winter or on cold/rainy days tend to be shorter. (See also Are the rides 'athletic'? Do I need to be in shape?, below.)
Who runs Critical Mass?
Nobody runs Critical Mass! There is no organized structure and no leaders. That said, there are occasional meetings where anyone who wants to be involved beyond just the rides themselves can participate. They usually take the form of an informal gathering at someone's house or a bar. Anyone can call one of these meetings and anyone can go.
If no one runs Critical Mass, who runs this website?
This website is not official as anyone is welcome to make one about Critical Mass. This one is discussed here
I've heard that bike riders sometimes run red lights. Is this true?
The strength of the Mass is in it's close-knit unity as an organic body. It is sometimes necessary to ride through lights in order to maintain this unity. It is actually safer. Otherwise, car traffic is tempted to weave in and out among small groups of riders.
When did Critical Mass start in Chicago?
The first ride from Daley Plaza was September 5, 1997, in which 150 bikers showed up. However, there had been several rides in previous years beginning at other locations.
What is the relationship between the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (CBF) and Critical Mass?
The Chicago Bicycle Federation and most riders in Critical Mass share many common goals: among them to promote biking as alternative transportation (not just as recreation), and to help make Chicago a better place to bike. CBF has been working 'within the system' for many years, and has a track record of accomplishment.
By contrast, Critical Mass in Chicago is a new phenomenon. It is grassroots: it has no formal organization or political agenda. It exists as an entity only during the rides. It provides a public, visual demonstration of the strength of the Chicago biking community. Once a month, it gives a brief glimpse of what many riders envision as a better future for urban transportation -- one in which cars with their pollution, noise, and dangers do not completely dominate the cityscape.
When the Daley Plaza rides first began in Chicago, the leadership of CBF was skeptical, fearing that a bunch of unruly cyclists would undermine their bicycle advocacy efforts. However, both CBF and the City's Bicycle Coordinator now realize that CCM has energized the Chicago biking community, and both orgainzations have hired staff members from among CCM riders. Many CCM riders are members of CBF. We believe that by participating in this public display of the joys of biking, we will actually make the work of CBF and other advocacy organizations more effective.
What do you talk about at the meetings?
Come to one and find out.
How do I know when and where these meetings occur?
Come to a ride. Ask around. Join the Critical Mass listserv (see this page for instructions). Also, the main page of this website lists upcoming events.
Are CM rides sanctioned by the Chicago Police Department?
We believe that riding our bikes in public streets does not require sanctioning by anyone. Bikes have as much right as cars to city streets. Police officers sometimes assist us by restraining cross-car traffic at intersections. However, we do not request such assistance. We prefer to "cork" the intersections ourselves.
Why do you give out flyers on your rides? Who makes them and what do they say?
Most CM riders believe strongly that our city and country are too car-dependent, that cars use up too many resources, occupy too much space, and do too much damage. Bikes, they say, would be a partial solution to the car-glut that grips our cities. So, the flyers are usually designed to help educate motorists along those lines. Some people ride for more personal reasons: since Chicago, like most cities in this country, provides little in the way of bike-safe routes, bike commuters are forced to compete with motorized traffic for road space. Unfortunately, some motorists do not recognize the right of bikers to the streets. The flyers sometimes carry messages promoting mutual respect between bikers and motorists. Anyone can make them. Several flyers, including for areas beyond Chicago, can be seen (and downloaded!) on the Flyer Exchange page
Who decides where to ride?
Anyone can make a map and distribute copies at Daley Plaza before a ride. If there is more than one map, each map-maker usually stands on the Picasso pedestal, promotes his or her map, and a vote is taken. In actuality, there are rarely more than a couple of route proposals, since map creation requires considerable time and effort. Sometimes the maps have 'themes', such as a southside neighborhood tour; others are done to maximize exposure to traffic. One of the biggest issues is whether or not to go into the 18th Police District, whose officers are known to be hostile to Critical Mass. See The Rides.
Would-be Map Makers, for more details see the Route Development Resources page.
Is Critical Mass anti-car?
Well, Critical Mass itself has no agenda. There are certainly some Massers who hold an anti-car sentiment, as evidenced by the success of the Chicago Car Show rides and protest. However, 'pro-bike' does not necessarily imply 'anti-car'. Many massers, of course, own and drive cars, but advocate using them appropriately, only when no other means is practical. Some riders favor 'peaceful coexistence' with the car, while others, no doubt, would like to see a completely car-free city. But, in general, most Massers just want to celebrate the joy of biking, and to share that feeling with others. It's really an individual thing.
Why are the rides the last Friday of every month?
Critical Mass is a worldwide movement. In order to enhance the feeling of solidarity with other riders around the world, the last Friday has become customary.
Are the rides 'athletic'? Do I need to be in shape?
No. People of all ages and abilities ride. The average speed is about 5mph -- parade speed. However, you should be in shape anyway, and if you ride your bike enough, you will be.
Has anyone ever been arrested on a CM ride in Chicago?
Unfortunately, yes. On two occasions several years ago, officers of Chicago's 18th police district arrested a number of riders. They were charged with "Mob Action". Most riders viewed these arrests as police harrassment, since in all of the cases charges were dismissed or the riders were found not guilty. Since then, however, Chicago Critical Mass has had a great relationship with the police. Often Chicago Police Officers ride along with the Mass and can be seen cheering along with everyone else!
Can I come on inline skates?
YES! Several skaters have regularly joined the mass for years. has provided an advice page for skating with Critical Mass.
Can I come on skateboard or non-motorized scooter?
Yes. Several competent skateboarders (mid to long) have completed prior rides.
Can I Jog?
Maybe. The sustained distance and speed are challenging (15-20mi/3-4hr), but if you're a strong runner with a will to try, give it a go.
Can I rent a bike
Bobby's Bike Hike has a special $15 overnight Critical Mass rental deal.
Can I come on Segway?
Please no. Nor on combustion engine assisted bikes. People Powered wheels only please.
What's up with this "Happy Friday" thing?
"Happy Friday" is the greeting of choice for Chicago Critical Massers. It's our way of wishing people along our rides well. Help spread the love by saying this to everyone you see!

What is a "Chicago Holdup"?
Occasionally, when CM riders move through intersections, they spontaneously lift their bikes over their heads. This is also called a "bike lift" or "bike salute" in other parts of the world. It is a symbolic gesture to emphasize our belief that bikes are superior to cars as a form of urban transportation. See Wikipedia