(On Wednesday I published a photo set and article discussing the perception around, reaction to and purpose of Critical Mass. This is a follow up to that piece with my account of the Mass.)
On the last Friday of every month Chicago’s cycling community descends on Daley Plaza and around 6 they take to the streets in an effort to overrun and control traffic in an event called “Critical Mass.” Last Friday, June 25th was no exception to this tradition.
When I first moved to Chicago I had a mountain bike, I learned quickly that while this worked out great living in the Northeast it was terrible for the roads out here. I eventually purchased a new bike, started riding to work daily and eventually taking part in several community bike rides. However last year when winter set in I stopped riding for almost a year.
Last Friday I pulled my bike out of storage, filled up the tires and intended to make it to Daley Plaza in time for the ride. I have taken part in three ridings of Critical Mass since moving to Chicago but this one was different for me. I barely made it in time.
On my way to the plaza I blew out a tire and had to make a pit stop at Johnny Sprockets to get it repaired. The staff there was helpful and had me quickly back on the road.
I got down to Daley Plaza around 5:30, surveyed the crowd and picked up a map of this month’s route. Around 5:45 the other cyclists started circling and by 6 it was time to “mass up!” The group took off down south, eventually touring through Chinatown and then back up through the west side of the city before heading back towards the loop.
All the while the event was pretty mild. There seemed to be no large disruptions and the majority of the drivers that found themselves delayed due to the event seemed to take it in stride as riders passed them shouting “Happy Friday!” while waving a smiling. There were of course a few exceptions but overall the experience was welcome, jovial and friendly.
The two previous “masses” I’ve ridden in went through the North side. The different course of this trip was a welcome one for me as my experience with the South side has been limited. I was pleased with what I saw. As we passed under the highways I found parts of Chicago that reminded me of Brooklyn and others of San Francisco. It was profoundly eye opening and exactly the kind of experience that Critical Mass should be about. After the route looped back through the loop it head east to towards the lake. From there the riders went over to the museum campus and along the Lakeshore path. This was decidedly my favorite part of the trip. I watched people fish along the lake and walk the path waving and smiling. It was shortly after this that I saw the other side of Critical Mass reared it’s ugly head.
As I mentioned in my previous entry Critical Mass sometimes gets a bad name due to the actions of a few individuals, well it was after the Lakeshore path when that happened. The road from the path turned up towards the road again and as few riders took off. At that point more and more riders followed their lead, mob mentality took over and much of the Mass attempted to take over Lakeshore Drive.
I, like many, held off and watched the Police block off the path, begin knocking people off bikes and saw this as my cue to exit. It’s moments like this that make me understand why there are those who dislike Critical Mass. All in all the bulk of the riders used their better judgement but the actions of a few can tarnish the perception of the whole.
Now that I’ve had a week for me to collect my thoughts I’ve decided I still very much value and appreciate Critical Mass and what it offers to our great city, I just wished everyone did, riders included.