Methods of the study
I rode on the rides between January 2002 and August 2002, and videotaped the April through June rides. While at these rides, I asked and recorded 20 participants responses to questions. Questions were formed to uncover why people ride in the mass, who rides,Hannah Anderson what effects the ride has had on individual’s everyday transportation experiences and what their ideal vision of the city looks like. Check out the edited videos to see the mass in movement and to hear the voices of mass participants.

This ethnographic analysis of Chicago's Critical Mass is based on formal and informal interviews, discussions on the CCM list-serve and conversations at unofficial CM gatherings including the CCM happy hour. These observations are supplemented by the CM unofficial web-pages, various pamphlets and flyers disseminated at the rides and several recently published books including edited volume of CM participants Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration (Carlson, 2002) and Sociologist Jeff Ferrell’s Tearing Down the Streets: Adventures in Urban Anarchism (2001). I also examined maps of the city’s transportation system and an analyzed how city and federal policy treats biking as a viable mode of transportation. Because of the experiential importance of the actual event, this thesis would not have been possible without going on the rides.

I attempted to capture the key moments of rides including: the circling of the Picasso in Daley Plaza, rushing into the street in mass, rounding corners, passing through and corking major or symbolic intersections. I video-taped the bike-rides, by hand-holding the camera while riding my bike in the Mass. I attached a basket with my camera bag to the front of my bike and was generally able to brake left handed with the small camera in my hand. (I only flew over the handlebars once--the camera and I were fine). I would often ride ahead of the mass, stop and tape from the street and sidewalk. These vantage points provide the perspectives of both the rider, as well as passers-by. I documented the location of where I was shooting at intersections by speaking the name of the streets, so I could reference the video to the city space in the multi-media presentation. However, I could not plan ahead of the Mass where to set up cameras because the route is chosen at the event itself. Also, rides are often ‘hijacked,” meaning the route is not followed.

I also mapped the April-June rides onto the City’s 2001 bike map and compared the actual routes on official representations of space with proposed routes on maps designed by Massers (see “The Rides”). Mass participant Corey Conn used a Global Positioning System unit to track the route taken on the hijacked June ride. I used his data to plot the real route of the June ride. The real routes of the April and May rides are based on route maps handed out at the ride. These routes were followed.

Multimedia and Ethnography

The field of ethnography is dominated by textual interpretations of reality -- often accompanied by a series of tables and photographs. Text, tables and still photos cannot account for many important cultural processes or cultural meanings—particularly those of spatial interest. I argue that digital based multimedia can be used as an analytical tool, enhancing our understanding of some of the cultural forms of meaning that are not conveyable in texts. These include movement, sound, technological processes, and aesthetics. Multimedia facilitates the smooth juxtaposition of many voices, providing deeper contextual information and levels of abstraction to ethnography.

Critical Mass is an ideal socio-cultural movement for a multi-media based analysis because of the aesthetic appeal that draws people to the ride time and time again. By using the layering capabilities of web, video technology and graphic imaging, I juxtapose maps of the city along with Mass-ride routes and city planning maps to explore the construction of city space and the transformation of the city image through the Critical Mass movement across city streets. The juxtaposition of planned representations of space and video highlight how the meaning of that space is inverted during the rides and illustrates the powerful and festive feelings individuals experience while riding in Mass through spaces constructed not for bicycles but for individual automobiles. This form of representation provides a compressed argumentative image that synthesizes planned images of the city space with the experienced empowerment of transforming the use of that space during a social demonstration.

The Ride
CCM & Social Space
Critical Mass Art Show
Bike Maps
links & resources