The rides are fun.

The last Friday of every month, a group of bike-riders congregate around Picasso’s steel baboon statue in Chicago’s Daley Plaza around five thirty. Some individuals show up in costume, wearing signs with political and pro-bike slogans or pulling banners and even bands on trailers. Others show up business casual. The congregating period of the mass serves as a time for bike-lover socializing as well as a nexus for other grassroots progressive social and political movements to network -- usually through leafleting. Activists pass out flyers for other grassroots social and political events. Some Massers reject some flyers, debate the validity of a cause or even join a new found cause.

Critical Mass is unique because it is the event, not an organization or institution that serves as the movement’s structure. The actual ride is both a node for both progressive political and social agendas shared by many of the mass participants, and the biking sub-culture.

The Routes
Individuals make routes and bring maps to the ride. These mapmakers distribute their route to the crowd. Mapmakers then mount the Picasso baboon and make a pitch for their route. The crowd votes on the route it takes by cheering. At around six p.m. the riders begin circling around the Picasso. When most are on their bikes, the Mass breaks into rush hour traffic and swarms through city streets for about two hours.

Routes have taken riders through many of Chicago’s neighborhoods. However, the rides tend to end either on the West or North sides of the city in the Lake View, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and Logan Square areas (see CD-rom “The Routes”). These neighborhoods tend to be the home to many of the active Mass participants. Very few rides go beyond 1800 south most likely because not many riders live on the south side, with the exception of Hyde Park. Some routes are designed to hit the most busy streets to create traffic jams. In general, Mass participants are either employed by the cycling industry in Chicago (as messengers, at bike shops or in transportation planning), work for non-profit corporations, are students, or work in the computer industry. The majority of riders are white and in their mid- twenties to mid-forties. However, there is an Asian, Latino and African American presence at the rides and several Massers have developed strategies to increase the diversity of the Mass. Masses in the winter tend to consist of a older crowd than the larger summer rides: Riders in the winter tend to be in their late 20s and older.

Once on its way, the Mass moves in union through intersections, including red lights if the flow of riders outlasts the light cycle. Several riders “cork” major intersections by blocking it with their bodies, often holding their bike over their heads. These blockers often wave and “thank” the drivers for patiently waiting for the mass to roll by. Massers yell slogans like “Happy Friday!” and “Bikes are Better!” Occasionally, interactions with drivers-by are less than cordial, but in general, interactions range from blasé to friendly.

Actual routes often differ from proposed routes. Mapped to the right are the paths that Chicago's Critical Mass actually followed in April, May and June. Click on a ride in the legend at right to see the proposed route.

The May Day Ride was followed exactly, resembling a guided tour of Chicago's Labor History.

The LaXXXhore Ride also closely followed the proposed map. Map makers for both of these rides remained at the front of the ride most of these routes and kept the ride on course.

These rides were also substantially smaller than Bike the Ike, which was "hijacked" by a friendly police officer who participated in the mass until it swarmed onto the expressway.



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