Tips For Newcomers
So, you're new to this Critical Mass thing, and you're trying to figure it all out? Well, we're here to help. While the Mass is open to all and there are no set "rules," there are a few things that can help riders enjoy their ride.
As you probably know, the Mass starts in Daley Plaza at 5:30pm on the last Friday of every month. But how do we know where to ride? The ride routes are determined at that time. Each rider can bring a route that they would like the ride to take, and usually a vote is taken to see which route will be followed. Sometimes the route can be 'hijacked' by riders at the front. The Mass may not wind up where you think it will wind up. Just think of it like real life. You never know how it will turn out. If you don't want to follow the Mass, don't. Head your own way. Start a splinter Mass. The world is your oyster.
You can ride the Mass with any type of bike you like. You'll see everything from tall bikes to fixies, trailers to mountain bikes. The ride is generally at an easy pace (rarely faster than 10mph), and it usually winds up being between 10 and 15 miles, although no distance is set in stone.
How it works
The concept of a Critical Mass is that as cyclists, there is safety in numbers. Many of the places the Mass goes would be dangerous for inexperienced cyclists. So, the Mass attempts to stay together. Sometimes this involves riding through red lights or stop signs. Laws are generally obeyed, but safety always comes before the law.
Should the Mass become stretched or fragmented, things can get dangerous. With the number of riders that Chicago has had in the past years, drivers can get frustrated waiting for the Mass to pass by. When the Mass is stretched thin, drivers can attempt to push through the Mass. So, to avoid this, massers can do the following things:
Cork an intersection
Corking is when riders sit in front of cars to prevent them from trying to pass through the Mass. Usually, more experienced riders should cork, as it can be a tense thing. If you see a fellow masser corking, be sure to thank them as you pass.
1 Make sure to cork both sides of the cross street, but only when the light turns red mid-mass
2 Don't block oncoming traffic. It doesn't help us get anywhere, and antagonizes drivers. Also, NEVER block emergency vehicles or train tracks.
Massing up can be frustrating and slow down the ride, but if riders in the back become split, the Mass can lose its ability to form. In an extreme case, should the Mass become irreparably split, knowing where the Mass was intending to go can be helpful. Getting to the end of the ride safely is the most important thing.
Be aware of your surroundings and communicate with your fellow massers
If you see drivers becoming agitated, warn riders around and behind you. Also, be sure to stay calm no matter what. You may become angry at a driver, but aggression only leads to more aggression.
In Chicago, the police are generally supportive of the Mass. Sometimes that can change. The most problematic case is if the Mass attempts to ride on Lake Shore Drive or one of the nearby expressways. The police generally will not tolerate this, so be warned should any Mass begin to make its way onto such a roadway, the police may intervene.
Open liquor containers are illegal in Chicago, but then again, so are many of the things we do on the Mass. If you're going to drink, be sure to not drink from glass, as broken glass and bicycles don't play nicely together.
Injuries can happen, and if you witness a cyclist get injured, try and help the rider out as best you can. Also, the Mass can easily spread for emergency vehicles, and we should always try to accommodate emergency vehicles.
At the end of the day, keeping the Mass calm and together takes cooperation from everyone. If you think of the Mass as a party rather than a protest, it can help keep things from getting out of control.
This guide is by no means exhaustive. There are as many perspectives on riding the Mass as there are riders. Head over to the FAQ to find out more. Explore the site, explore other sites. Ask questions of your fellow riders. There is no such thing as too much knowledge.