Yesterday I rode in the monthly Chicago Critical Mass ride. There’s a lot of strong opinions on whether Critical Mass is a positive event. I think so! My first exposure to Critical Mass was before I started riding, in June 2007, soon after moving to Chicago from Nashville. Coincidentally, Trisha was visiting at the time. We were in a cab on our way to Second City and were stopped for 15 minutes while hundreds of cyclists streamed by. It was an amazing sight. I asked the driver was was going on and he explained that it was a bike ride that happened once a month. Once a month!? Wow. The driver was irritated, but I thought the whole thing was way cool, especially since we got to the show on time.
By August 2008, I had joined the mass. Again, Trisha was visiting from Nashville and rented a bike to ride along. The ride was festive and overwhelmingly positive – lots of cheers, bell ringing, and “Happy Fridays!” There were bikes equipped with sound systems, drums, cymbols; tall bikes; chopper bikes; unicycles. The crowd was huge and the weather perfect.
The Chicago police supported the ride in a big way, closing off traffic in the loop and along our route. Thanks Mayor Daley! (All it would take for this to end is a new mayor saying resources shouldn’t be wasted on supporting the ride – see the horrible situation with NYC Critical Mass.)
Last night was my second time riding with Critical Mass. I was alone and it was about 10 degrees outside. We were quite a collection of hardy ragamuffins. The crowd was much smaller than the two previous times, maybe around 150 (I’m a bad estimator). This made it a little more vulnerable to cars, but the police were there as usual to keep the group together – a police car in the front and a police car in the back, both with blue lights flashing, and several bike cops.
I posted about the Chicago bike police before and my impression remains highly favorable. I saw one “corking” an SUV that had inched into the intersection and heard him tell the driver “once these bike riders all go by…” I saw another pause by a woman’s car window to tell her to get off her cell phone. I said, I wish I could do that!! Again, the ride was overwhelmingly positive, with a great reaction from pedestrians and even most drivers. A lot of drivers stuck their hands out to get high fives from cyclists. There was minimal jerky honking, with a lot more cute-songy honking. The staff at every Starbucks we rode by (so many!) all waved at us. One pedestrian asked me, why are you all riding your bikes? Me: Because it’s fun! Him: Oh, okay.
This month’s ride ended up at a bowling alley but I ducked out early when we went by my street. After almost 2 hours of very slow riding, my finders and toes were numb, but I didn’t think much of it until I got home in the warmth. As soon as they began thawing, I could feel a lot of pain, like I had pressed my fingers and toes against a hot stove. I curled up in a ball and shed a few tears. (Don’t worry, my response to a lot in life is to curl up in a ball and cry; I get over it quickly ;)) After about 20 minutes I was okay. I’m pretty sure that’s what minor frostbite feels like. So I don’t think I’ll be going on any more winter CM rides. It’s simply too cold for me to ride so slowly for so long. Not sure how all the others managed, especially since a lot were wearing regular hipster sneakers and I had on two pairs of wool socks and winter boots.
I recovered enough to go back out in the cold and walk the mile to Beat Kitchen (none of my companions had bikes) to see The Dials and send off my sister, who moved to North Carolina today. I hear tell it’s pretty warm there. Love you, sister!