ChainLinkers Philosophize About Critical Mass

The Discussion

Source: ChainLink

Reply by Barry Aldridge on August 28, 2012 at 1:44pm

I feel sorry for the people on the South Side if Critical Mass is going through their neighborhood. I thank goodness they’ve only come through my area once.  At my side-street intersection, drivers were trapped for over 20 minutes – I think the cyclists made alot of enemies that day. Can someone explain to me the point of what seems to be an arrogant, childish whim masquerading as a protest?

Reply by Adam Herstein on August 28, 2012 at 1:49pm

Because it’s fun?

Reply by Duppie on August 28, 2012 at 3:16pm

You make a classic beginners mistake here by assuming that CM has a point.

Reply by notoriousDUG on August 28, 2012 at 3:36pm

The point is to upset you.

You really are that important.

Reply by Anne Alt on August 28, 2012 at 4:51pm

Much of the south side has a lot less traffic congestion and relatively few drivers with a grand sense of entitlement – in other words, the opposite of River North and Lincoln Park, in good ways.

Reply by ilter on August 28, 2012 at 9:31pm

Well said!   “sense of entitlement” , if only we had less of that.

Reply by Zoetrope on August 28, 2012 at 9:19pm

I wouldn’t feel too sorry for them.  In my experience, every time the mass has headed to the more southern side of the city the response from motorists and pedestrians has been among the most enthusiastic and supportive I’ve seen.

Reply by ilter on August 28, 2012 at 9:55pm

I am no Critical Mass expert, nor an old timer, but..  It is more of a celebration than a protest, isn`t it?  I suspect that the South Side will greet the CM even more warmly than other neighborhoods..

As for the “over 20 minutes” wait..  Would you please estimate for me, how many people had to wait in their cars for the mass to pass?  How many people were enjoying watching and/or interacting with the mass?  And how many people were in the mass, cycling, using their fair share of the road?  If you have the numbers, you would probably notice that a small group of people “sacrificed” some of their time for a bigger group of people.  Now is that too much to ask for?

Reply by Adam Herstein on September 1, 2012 at 10:05am

Thanks, Oboi, for a great route choice! I really enjoyed riding though the historic neighborhoods of Bronzeville, Washington Park, Hyde Park, and Kenwood! Thanks again for helping me get out of my comfort zone and ride though the South Side. Not once did I feel like we were in bad areas, and the people there were all very friendly and welcoming. I would definitely do this again!

Reply by Barbra Mann on September 1, 2012 at 10:21am

This was one of my fave masses ever, for the route, the significance of the map points and for the ending spot, and for the outpour of families from doorsteps, coming out to cheer us on!  I think the Southside rocks!  I absolutely loved it thanks so much for this mass!  So glad I made it!

Reply by James BlackHeron on September 1, 2012 at 10:25am

It was surprising to witness the muted police presence on this ride.   I saw very few marked cars shadowing us and even the number of bikebacons in the mass itself seemed to be quite low.

I didn’t even notice any extra security or cops when we passed the Obama Residence.  I was wondering how they would feel about a mass of people riding by and all the security implications that implies for the detachment that is tasked with protecting the property.  Don’t taze me bro!  I wasn’t looking forward to a heavy-handed over-reaction by the establishment on our passing but my fears were thankfully unfounded.

By and by a pretty good ride.

One thing I might suggest is that ride leaders need to be aware that when they pass from a nice wide open street or boulevard and then down a very narrow choke-point that they NEED to slow down afterwards to allow the mass of bikes behind them, still within the choke-point to catch up.

There were a number of times when the mass got REALLY skinny and sparse in the middle sections and we had a number of incidents of motor vehiciles encroaching into the mass because of this -much more than usual.   There were times when the bikes around me were traveling at excess for 15-16MPH to keep up and close the distance between us and the folks in the lead.  Gaps opened up of 200 feet at times.   15 is  WAY too fast for the average rider who comes to CCM.    These faster sprints happened on multiple occasions and I witnessed many dangerous gaps opening up in the mass.    This is a typical mistake many CCM leaders make.  Things were so much better the last couple of months with regards to this so a bit of slippage is all the more noticeable.

But all in all it was a nice mass and I don’t mean to be overly down on the way it was run.   I’ve seen it much worse over the years -just a few observations and opportunities to learn for next time.

Reply by Anne B. on September 1, 2012 at 10:53am

Thank you so much to everyone who organized this- I had so much fun and so did the first time CM-er I brought with me! Loved the route, loved biking through areas where I don’t normally bike, loved all the smiling kids and great architecture we passed by! Another highlight was biking home on the LFT with so many bikers all around and a gorgeous moon going in and out of the clouds. Really appreciate all the work that went into planning this route.

Reply by Barbra Mann on September 1, 2012 at 1:37pm

I agree, I was at the middle-to-back the whole ride with a friend on skates and it was hard for her to keep up. And she’s not a newbie to skating, she’s pretty fast.  And the gaps were sometimes harrowing. I just wish all the people who hang out at the front trying to speed it up, or resisting mass-ups would just ride back to front then front to back again instead of riding the wave.  It’s hard at the front, leading, to not cave in to pressure to keep moving.

Reply by Mike Zumwalt on September 1, 2012 at 3:48pm

It was a little fast and broken up but a good ride.

I did the race to the front then slow down to have people pass me then ride back to the front.

Reply by h’ on September 1, 2012 at 4:50pm

There’s only so much you can hold a tiny handful of people accountable for– besides Oboi and John, were any of the ‘experienced’ folks helping at the front?  I didn’t quite understand the purpose of people racing up from the back to tell the people at the front the ride was too spread out– if you see that happening the thing to do is to plant yourself at the front and help set the pace– when I first caught the mass at Cermak/Michigan there were at least 200, and maybe 300 ‘cowboys’ out ahead, basically riding as fast as they could; as with many summer rides, many or most of these folks had probably never been on a CM before.  It seemed like the front finally got the pace under control somewhere after McCormick; guessing there were few to no massups in the first two miles of the ride?

Re: wide streets and narrow streets– at one point it was decided to mass up with the head of the ride on a one-way street which was a connector between wider streets, for something like 4 light cycles. The point about needing to recover from the narrow stretches with massups on the wider stretches is valid, so it didn’t help that the reverse was done, although considering there was so little “help” at the front, it may have been much harder to hold up the front on a larger street.

But the overall problem is that too few experienced riders made the effort to get to the front and help set the pace.

Reply by James BlackHeron on September 2, 2012 at 9:58am

Like I said earlier, a good rule of thumb is when the mass moves out of a “choke point” where it is slowed down for whatever reason the folks at the front need to be conscious NOT to speed up and lose the guys who are still going slow at (and before) said choke point and are still struggling to move through it.     The leaders can’t go any faster than those behind them once they get back out onto a nice, wide, open street. Those behind are still in that choke point and CAN’T go faster so if the head moves faster than the body (or the tail) the Mass will naturally get too spread out.

It’s human nature to WANT to speed up after one has been slowed-down to “make up for lost time” –but that very natural instinct is exactly what causes the slinky-effect as those behind you can NOT speed up until they are past the slow area.

And yes, I understand that it is difficult to rein in the yahoos exuberant folks from blazing ahead too fast at the front of the Mass.  it isn’t exactly common sense (or common knowledge) that one needs to hold back once the head of the Mass emerges from a choke point.   And yes, more of us experienced massers needed to ride to the front and help out.  But it gets tiring to fight this same battle month after month.    It wasn’t super-terrible this month anyhow and the leaders hopefully learned from the experience, which only leads to more folks who actually know what is going on.   If the same few folks step up month after month and work to stop these types of minor mistakes from happening then the new guys never really get to understand why this stuff is important or how to pace the front of the mass.

Take Aways From This Erudite Discussion

The Nature of Critical Mass:

  • It is a pointless exercise in celebrating something (what not exactly explained) which should hopefully “piss off” those who are the intended targets.
  • But despite the labeling of the South Side as a “shit hole” by Gabe it appears that several of the riders actually survived and would ride the route again in future.
  • Despite the CCM being pointless, it should be ridden in a more precise fashion. No handbook provided outlining the necessary protocol, just some pontification on what “those in the know” have learned over time.

Why Even Bother With A Critique?

I find it a bit ironic that a group which has a strong affinity to riding through stop signs and stop lights even bothers with a discussion about the protocol used in conducting a ride like Critical Mass.

The ride is classified as a celebration to avoid having to post information about it with the police. And a celebration really is a spontaneous outpouring of joy at having lived through a tough week and reached its pinnacle, “Happy Friday!” If this we a group of pre-teens celebrating anything even a slow-witted adult would realize that form holds little interest for the celebrants.

So again, why the critique of the ride? It really seems that there is a bit of schizophrenia being exhibited where this ride is concerned. It seems that it has a form and yet is pointless. And those two characteristics seem sorely at odds with one another.