Next ride: Friday, March 27

Chicago Critical Mass: Still We Ride

On Friday, July 13th, the Sun-Times reported that Chicago Critical Mass was coming to end on the 10th Anniversary ride Friday September 28, 2007. They based their article solely from the input of one Critical Mass rider, Michael Burton, and that is where they missed the real story.

The Sun-Times writer Celeste Busk did get many details about Critical Mass right, "Chicago Critical Mass is not an organization, but a group ride that has been leaving at 5:30 p.m. on the last Friday of the month from the Daley Center Plaza in the Loop for the past 10 years. It has no leaders, but is autonomous. Before each ride, participants submit maps of proposed routes and the group takes a vote (via bullhorn). Critical Mass bike riders believe strongly that the city and country are too car-dependent, that cars devour too many resources, occupy too much space, and do too much damage to the environment."

Considering Ms. Busk understands the basic idea that Critical Mass operates without leadership, it's very suspicious that she would take the word of one Critical Mass rider as speaking for the group as a whole. Sure, you can find someone who thinks the ride has strayed from it's roots, but what about those thousands of new cyclists that keep showing up each month?

Let's just go out on a limb here and consider what if Ms. Busk had gotten out from behind her desk and actually went on a Critical Mass ride, she would have had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of riders that are thrilled to participate in a big noisy semi-sober bike parade once a month. She would have also seen the smiling faces of thousands of bystanders that are delighted to be momentarily lifted from the self absorbed haze of their scheduled routine lives.

Why do we Mass Up?
Bike lanes are cute, but commuting on a bicycle in Chicago is still a very intimidating process. If Ms. Busk really dug and found out what was really making Critical Mass grow into a "victim of it's own success", she would have learned that all these cyclists are sick of being bullied by motorists that think they own the road. We wish there was more than just one evening a month that we could ride together without looking over our shoulders every minute like it might be our last.

Let's back up and consider Critical Mass is a global movement, even a simple Google search would have lead Ms. Busk to information about San Francisco's upcoming 15th Anniversary Critical Mass. The city that started Critical Mass is still at it 15 years later and they are trying to get 15,000 cyclists out to make it loud and clear that bikes are not merely summer toys, but a viable year round form of transportation that deserves a place on the road. We are traffic!

A funny side note to this is that I recently read a comment on a YouTube video from a San Francisco Critical Mass rider proclaiming they were going to do it "Budapest Style" for SFCM's 15th Anniversary ride. How did Budapest come along and start rolling out some of the biggest most color coordinated Critical Mass rides anyone has ever seen? I dunno; maybe you can figure it out?

That's the beauty of Critical Mass, no one has to report back to headquarters to make sure it's OK to act. You just go out there every month and make it your own. In kind, Michael Burton is welcome to break off and start a Critical Mass ride in Logan Square or Humboldt Park or where ever people choose to Mass Up!

However, a very dedicated group of riders are committed to keeping the Daley Plaza rides running for another 10 years. We are not ready to hang the "Mission Accomplished" banner. The Chicago Critical Mass website has been redesigned and users can now register to submit ride reports and upload fliers at We believe the cycling community needs more avenues for group discussion and a chance for all riders to share their experiences. If you missed June's Mass, check out the ride reports submitted by newbies and long time Massers. Just like the rides, the Chicago Critical Mass website is a forum for all to join and express themselves.

July and August are sure to be off the hook, but September's 10th Anniversary Ride will be like nothing Chicago has ever seen, even Mayor Daley is trying to get in on the party; gotta tandem for da mayor?

Oh, and if that wasn't enough, Halloween Critical Mass rides are always a sure thing - much more to come.

Steven Lane