Reports of the Critical Mass and Spindle’s deaths are greatly exaggerated.
By Leah Pietrusiak
Chicagoans were hit with a double whammy recently when local news outlets reported the demise of two area icons: Chicago’s monthly Critical Mass bike rides and Berwyn’s car-stacked Spindle. It turns out Critical Mass’s rallies—in which pro-bike participants take to the streets to protest car dependency and its effects—seem to have many miles left to go, and the suburban sculpture isn’t headed for the scrap heap yet. And ironically, the destination for the next Critical Mass ride, set for Friday 27, is the reportedly doomed Spindle.
In the July 13 Chicago Sun-Times, bike activist Michael Burton was quoted as saying the tenth-anniversary Daley Plaza ride in September “should be the last ride—to commemorate the original values on which the rides were based: civility, self-reliance, fresh air and fellowship.” He said the monthly jaunts had gotten too big, with drunken cyclists starting fights with motorists.
The article caused an uproar in the bike community: Burton says he was only giving his opinion in what he thought was part of a larger story; but as the only participant quoted in the piece, he came off as the spokesman of the group, which has no formal structure.
Proof that the monthly rides, which depart from Daley Plaza and zig-zag throughout the city, aren’t going anywhere can be found on the group’s newly-designed website. Under the headline chicago critical mass: still we ride, veteran “Masser” Steven Lane notes Critical Mass has no leaders to report to about what action to take.
Another Masser, Travis D., told TOC, “It would be exceedingly difficult for even Mayor Daley to stop Critical Mass. You’d have to convince not most people, but every single one.”
Burton, along with other Massers, is interested in a “radical change” for the group. He’s in favor of the smaller neighborhood rides that have been cropping up instead of one huge ride, like the Mass in June that attracted 2,000 people, clogging intersections for 30 minutes and interrupting public-transit routes.
“Factioning ourselves is not what it’s about,” Lane argues. “It’s about bringing as many people as you can into a city center and letting the numbers speak for themselves…. It’s not about the people who started it controlling what it becomes.”
Although it is a beloved public icon that earned a prime cameo in Wayne’s World, Berwyn’s famed Spindle sits on private land, which makes it vulnerable to the whims of the property’s owner. And on July 4, the Berwyn Life newspaper reported the eight-car stack will fall to make way for a Walgreens. But people in Berwyn hope the owners of the Harlem-Cermak Shopping Plaza—where the tourist attraction stands—will reconsider and relocate it.
Initially, the plaza owners planned to move the piece, according to spokesman Michael Flight. But the work has become severely rusted from 18 years of exposure to the elements, and the $350,000 moving and reconditioning cost was too expensive. “If we can get it down to a manageable dollar [amount]—and no one has decided what that is—we will relocate it,” Flight says.
Berwyn Mayor Michael O’Connor believes some solution can be found. “I’m pressing the owners to pay…and if there’s gaps, we’ll see how we can fill it [before September],” O’Connor says. “There’s a real good possibility it will be saved. I don’t think people want to let it die.” Some Critical Massers, too, don’t want to see the demise of their Daley Plaza rides. “A dedicated group of riders are committed to…another ten years,” Lane writes.
The Critical Mass to the Spindle is Friday 27. See Sports & Rec. For more info, visit savethespindle.org and chicagocriticalmass.org.