Chicagoboyz Cycling Series: The Critical Mass Ride

critical massholes

These guys always seemed to be a bunch of juvenile, self-righteous assholes who enjoy the fruits of a modern transportation system while pretending to be above it all with their bicycles and simpleminded cultural leftism. The core of the Critical Mass experience are the massive traffic-fouling group bike rides on urban streets. By now CM is mainstream and tolerated by the powers that be with, I assume, the understanding that any daring transgressions will be restricted to off-peak hours. So it becomes just another annoying street event like the parades and art fairs and filming the hot TV show that are given dispensation to block traffic and inconvenience drivers. Of course I would never participate in such a thing. However, it turns out that some of my friends do these rides, and they asked if I wanted to join them. So I said, sure, sounds like fun.

We meet up downtown on a Friday evening with thousands of other cyclists. There is some dope smoking and music, a party vibe. As the hour approaches everyone goes to wait in the street with his bike. One of the assholes in charge gets on a high place with a megaphone and tells us we’re going to start at 7:15 SHARP. At around 7:20 the front of the crowd, about a city block ahead of us, starts to move. A little while later we start walking our bikes, then riding slowly. It is kind of cool, one of those carried-along-by-the-crowd moments in a crowd that is pretty mellow as crowds go. The riders ahead bunch up while going over a small hill, and the moving mass of bikes with flashing tail lights is a pretty sight. (Photography is impossible during the ride due to the need for constant vigilance. Some of the cyclists ride erratically and there are accidents.)


Once the ride really gets going it is a lot of fun. You ride through interesting neighborhoods including some that you might avoid if alone — there is safety in numbers. A lot of the fun comes from not having to worry (much) about auto traffic. The mass of riders fills streets and volunteer assholes engage in traffic “corking” to intimidate drivers at intersections. The police assist in some places. The car/bike interactions seem less tense than you might expect, but it also seems like maybe a good idea to stay towards the middle of the crowd where encounters with angry motorists are less likely. Also, if you stay in the main crowd you get to ride with the pedicab with purple lights and boom box, the guy with the sideways bike and other entertaining fauna.

Eventually the ride enters its final stretch on a major thoroughfare, and here the illusion begins to break down. The mass of cyclists is much more strung out on the road and drivers are no longer playing along. Few of the intersections are blocked and some drivers are confused. It becomes prudent to stop at red lights, though brave or entitled cyclists continue to ride through as though protected by personal forcefields. Whatever. It is always a good idea to think for yourself, particularly when somebody with an agenda suggests that you can ignore the rules.

Back near the starting point, the announced apres-ride bars and restaurants are jammed, so we go to a nice waterfront restaurant a few blocks away.

apres bike

Overall a fun evening and probably worth doing again.

20 thoughts on “Chicagoboyz Cycling Series: The Critical Mass Ride”

  1. It is hard to explain to people how cool it is to ride in a pack of cyclists – I like the friendship and the intensity of trying to keep out of accidents. Two rides stick in my head as my favorites – the Milwaukee Ride for the Arts is a pretty mellow ride (not a race) that has a mass start. This one has all blocked streets by the cops. It is a charity ride to boot. Pretty awesome to ride through downtown Milwaukee and up the lake with ten thousand or so of your closest friends at once. In addition they have the last two years added a back and forth across the Hoan bridge, probably the highest point in the area for stunning views of the Lake and of Milwaukee itself.

    The other rush I get every year is cycling in the Cyclesport Airegoise that leaves Tarascon, France. This is a UCI sanctioned race and the pro and semi pro riders start out front, of course never to be seen again by us amateurs once the race begins until the after party. After they are gone, the pace is still pretty fast for the rest of us and you really need your head on a swivel as you wind through the small town on your way out to Foix and the countryside. If you do the long version (125 miles), you get the pleasure of the pro peloton for the short version (75 miles) yelling at you to get out of the way in French, and blowing by you as you are struggling along. You just can’t describe the sound.

    This year I plan on having my GoPro camera running on the helmet to try to capture some of this.

  2. Dan – if you want to see some hard core cyclists, come to Davis CA. Led a great car drive down Russell Blvd, the old hwy 40, up into the coast ranges and down into the Napa Valley.

    60-70 miles out of Davis, in the middle of nowhere – you see packs of cyclists in their spandex.

    When the Amgen was running though Davis 10s of thousands of people turned out – in the rain – to see them off.

    Including Lance Armstrong, in his better days.

  3. @Bill – believe it or not we have plenty of hardcore cyclists in Wisconsin. The cycling tourism industry is very large here (in the warm months, of course). There are a lot of hilly rides in many different portions of the state.

  4. Don’t get me started!

    When I worked in downtown Boston, the messengers were a constant threat to public safety. It was menacing, you were fair game crossing any street, obeying traffic laws or otherwise. Often you would not hear or see it coming, and suddenly you were strafed by some dreadlocked, tattooed asshole. If I’m correct, one of them finally hit the wrong pedestrian, some big shot, and they then were required to sport orange vests with large numbers. New York?, same routine. Here in Red State one must follow behind in your car at eighteen mph, until you can manage to then illegally cross the double yellow to free yourself of the spandex control freak.

  5. @Will – some of these packs have an arrogant attitude on the road, which given the state of mind of some car drivers, can be a dangerous thing. The cyclists swarm in packs and a few times think that because there are so many of them taking up the entire lane, the rest of the traffic can be damned.

    A few years ago one of them wouldn’t give way to a trucker and it proved that 40,000 lbs trumps 200 lbs.

    But the cyclists I have encountered around Davis are pretty cool. I told my group to take your time passing – I will wait if anyone is “stuck” behind – I have never had a problem – everyone enjoys the roads and the day.

    Last time I am following a chase vehicle behind the pack and he is waving me on – in front of a blind hill – “trust, but verify” I say ;-)

  6. Here in San Francisco, it is urban warfare.

    The cyclists embody the entitlement attitude. Is it the fact that they are riding a hobby machine while other peons are just wage slaves? Is it that cyclists are “carbon-free”?

    Is it the dayglow spandex?

    I used to ride but now I wouldn’t want to be associated with bicyclists.

  7. The self indulgent, bored, semi affluent..aggravating everyone around them…make way we are your betters. And most of the bodies in spandex don’t look so good either

  8. Will “When I worked in downtown Boston, the messengers were a constant threat to public safety….”

    Chicago too. Not only the reckless riding, but the physical aggression toward any pedestrian who objects. A few years ago a messenger murdered a pedestrian by pushing him down the stairs of an entrance to Union Station.

    If you enjoy riding, and want to ride in a large group, you should choose events run by civilized people, not the creepy thuggish Massholes.

  9. I wanna see him ride that sideways bike down a trail or through a motocross track :^D

  10. Jonathan – I have to apologize – I finally read all of your post and you were mentioning the very thing – arrogance on the road – that I brought up.

    In the words of Emily Lotilla, “Never Mind” ;-)

    Given this type of person, I propose a new term – the “AIC” – pronounced “ache” – for “Asshole In Charge

    Good manners are nothing more than consideration for others.

  11. No worries, Bill. Most of the people doing the ride are do doubt in it for the fun and don’t care about or aren’t even aware of the ideology. Miami isn’t a very ideological place. But the organizers and some of the more dedicated participants are definitely ideological assholes in a way the Portlandia clip catches well.

  12. When I lived on the North side, I enjoyed how critical mass would turn a $15 cab ride back home into a $30+ ride home.

    Then I moved to West side, where I found myself stuck in traffic while one rider spit thru my open window. (SUVs are evil, didn’t you know)

    My all time favorite was when some friends and I decided to critical mass the critical mass. We found a good street (Wells, just north of North Ave.) and started to walk back and forth between opposite sides of the road. My, oh my, were they not amused that their own tactics had been used against them. (self-awareness is in short supply on this ride)

  13. My episode with a bicyclist: driving through a mostly dead downtown en route to go play golf on a Sunday morning, hitting all green lights by going the speed limit. Guy flys in front of me through a red light at the intersection, and by the time my foot hit the brake I knew it was too late. He didn’t even notice me until my brakes locked up. Hit him squarely and quite hard, sending him flying down the street. Windshield shattered (bits of scalp stuck in the glass), front end badly dented, lights broken and other minor damage. He was taken to the hospital in less than five minutes by ambulance and I stayed and talked to police and witnesses. I was pretty shaken up by it, and saw that his ten speed frame was broken in half and a large pool of blood from the huge gash on his head was next to it. No, he wasn’t wearing a helmet. No ticket from the police for me, but he got one. Later I got the police report in the mail, which had his phone #, so I called and talked to him. He was in the hospital for 3 days, with a severe concussion, broken eye socket, fifty or so stitches and a shattered leg needing pins and plates. But he seemed to be in good spirits and looking forward to making a recovery. I was relieved to hear that, as I thought he was going to be a vegetable or amputee judging by the damage to my truck and his bike. There was not a whiff of sympathy for him from the emts, police, firemen or bystanders.

  14. Model_1066 – always remember someone from Jr High – got hit while cycling and never was “right” after that – speech slurred – brain injury. Cyclists do seem to think they are immune from traffic rules.

    I have to admit – while riding – and enjoying a good hill, will ignore a stop sign – but in the interest of self-preservation look first before flying by – with my hand on the brake –

  15. Bill,
    He will recover, but probably not be as aggressive when riding…
    How he got in that predicament was by making two very bad decisions…

    bad decision #1: “I don’t need a helmet”
    bad decision #2: “I think I can beat that light, and there isn’t much traffic at this time of day”

    He probably was relatively new in town and wasn’t aware that with synchronized lights, you are able to cross the intersection when the light turns green without slowing down. Cars will usually not be moving from a dead stop. Detective measured my truck’s skid marks and determined I was going 28 mph. He was going 20-25. Last thing the detective asked me: “were you wearing a seat belt?”, to which I said YES SIR! He said “good answer”. Smart thing I did but was hardly aware of it at the time: left my vehicle exactly where it stopped, and shut it off.

  16. Gangs are fun.

    Until another gang shows up.

    Everybody’s a bad ass until it gets bad, then you see who the asses are..

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