Chicago Focal points Photography

Critical Mass 6/10 – Part 1

Cyclists congregate en-mass

From my experience, Chicago’s monthly Critical Mass bike ride can be a divisive topic for many of this great city’s residents. I’ve found people typically have one of three responses to it:

  1. They love it
  2. They hate it
  3. They don’t know about.

That may seem like I’ve covered all the bases but the truth is virtually no one is indifferent to it. Just doing a search for it here on ChicagoNow yields a variety of responses, few of them neutral.

Although I have participated in ‘Mass’ several times, my opinions are mixed. I find the event to be fun and mostly positive. Above all, it’s a great way to see Chicago and feel like a part of the community. The organizers, on their website describe it as follows:

Critical Mass is a bike ride plain and simple. The ride takes place on the Last Friday Of Every Month (in Chicago anyway). A Critical Mass is created when the group of riders comes together for those few hours to take back the streets of our city. The right of the people to assemble is guaranteed in the Constitution, and Critical Mass helps people remember that right. The Mass itself has no political agenda, though, no more than the people of any other community do. Critical Mass is open to all, and it welcomes all riders to join in a celebration of riding bicycles. Why? Because bikes are fun!

Sure, as with any community, you’ll see people of all types. Some people see Critical Mass as a forum for grassroots political change. Some people see it as a protest against cars. Some people just like to ride. The Mass, however, is just that…a bunch of bike riders. You can drive a car the whole month and ride in the Mass. You can be an anarchist and ride in the Mass. The point of the Mass is the Mass, nothing more. Critical Mass has no leadership. It is a ride where no one is in charge. At any time, riders are free to leave, stay, stop, or even help out. Everyone is responsible for themselves and the Mass.

The spirit behind Critical Mass is one I can get behind and I do believe it still stands for that. I think those who are annoyed by it and call for it’s abolition need to lighten up.

However, I do see the other side. There are many who participate that act irresponsibly and push a political agenda through the event. After a while Critical Mass leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths as they start letting a few bad eggs influence their opinion of the whole community.

My first experience with Critical Mass was actually years ago in New York while walking through Times Square and seeing thousands of bikers holding up traffic. I didn’t understand it at the time. I just saw it as people acting irresponsibly and behaving recklessly. I remember writing a harsh blog entry at the time criticizing them. Now I find myself years later actively participating and realizing that the actions of the few do not necessarily represent the motivations of the many.

Last Friday I participated in the June riding of Critical Mass, it had been well over a year since I last participated so I figured this would be an excellent topic to focus on here. Attached to this entry you will find twelve photos and on Friday I will post twelve more and my account / findings of the ‘Mass’. Enjoy!