Critical Mass is a recurring event bringing cyclists together to ride in a large group to raise awareness of cyclists, pedestrians, and the environmental damage done to the environment by fossil fuel. This event got its start in San Francisco in the 90s, but spread out to other major cities including Chicago, Illinois.
Described as a “very large bike event”, Chicago Critical Mass celebrated its 25th anniversary in October of 2022, where the event has been held the last Friday of every month. It has been described by some sources as a localized call to re-evaluate city planning, transportation issues, and safety for pedestrians and cyclists alike.
But this event, as organized in Chicago, caters to cyclists here in more ways than one. There is a “main” Critical Mass ride starting in Daley Plaza at Dearborn and Washington. The event is held regardless of weather, and is free to all. The only thing required to participate is a bike.
But Chicago is large enough to support neighborhood versions of the gathering. Chicago’s smaller versions include two on the first Friday of the month (Evanston and Wicker Park) and one on the North Side every second Friday. And for those who can’t get quite enough Critical Mass, there’s even a “Midnight Marauders” event on the third Saturday of the month.
Chicago Critical Mass
Dates: Last Friday of every month at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Richard J. Daley Center
Address: 50 W Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602
Critical Mass Forecast Crew: The route for Chicago Critical Mass rides is never predetermined, and if more than one person shows up at Daley Plaza’s Picasso sculpture with a route proposal, the crowd will often take a vote on where to ride. The rides generally last about three hours.
Critical Mass Dates
- Friday, October 30, 2022 (Halloween ride)
- Friday, November 28, 2022
- Friday, December 30, 2022
- Friday, January 27, 2023
- Friday, February 24, 2023
- Friday, March 31, 2023
- Friday, April 28, 2023
- Friday, May 26, 2023
- Friday, June 30, 2023
- Friday, July 28, 2023
- Friday, August 25, 2023
- Friday, September 29, 2023
- Friday, October 27, 2023 (Halloween ride)
- Friday, November 24, 2023
- Friday, December 29, 2023
Chicago Critical Mass & The Theatre District
Critical Mass bicyclists briefly take over Chicago streets and they do not intend to block traffic but they do create traffic with this event. If heading to the theatre district on the last Friday of each month plan accordingly as it may take more time than normal to arrive.
For many, the ride itself is the thing, but for others it is about making a political statement (typically that bikes should be able to safely share the road with four-wheeled vehicles) and raising awareness of bike culture in the area.
Chicago has an unfortunate tradition of “ghost bikes”, and if you have ever wondered what that (typically) spray-painted white bicycle is doing on the side of the road, know that it is a memorial for a cyclist who was killed in traffic. The ghost bike is a reminder to share the road, and in a place like Chicago where bikes, cars, and trucks all share the same major roadways that reminder is very necessary.
Chicago Critical Mass is another such reminder–all those two wheeled vehicles gathered in the road forces four-wheelers to slow down, to rethink their habits, and to make room for others. Four-wheel drivers may find Critical Mass annoying, inconvenient, and a source of delays getting from point A to point B. And that really seems to be the point–getting people to slow down and think twice about their place on the roadway.
As mentioned above, there is no fee to join a Chicago Critical Mass ride, just bring your bike and show up ready to ride. If you are new to cycling, or you are new to cycling in Illinois, you should know Illinois and Chicago law about operating a bicycle. Noncompliance with local and state ordinances can result in a warning, a ticket, and/or fines. When you ride in Illinois, the state requires the following:
- Front light visible for at least 500 feet at night
- Clear front reflector
- Red rear reflector visible from 100 to 600 feet
- Horn or bell that can be heard up to 100 feet
- Reliable, properly adjusted brakes
- Wheel-mounted side reflectors
- Reflector pedals
When riding during Critical Mass or any other time, Illinois law typically requires a stop at all stop signs and traffic lights according to the Illinois Bicycle Rules of the Road.
Newcomers will soon learn that many cyclists in Chicago ignore the red light rule, which creates major traffic hazards due to the lack of predictability on the road. It is wise NOT to ignore stop signs and red lights while cycling in Chicago regardless of local habits. Chicago traffic can be unruly enough without the added variable of bikes crossing against the traffic light.
If you have never participated in a Chicago Critical Mass ride before, you should be prepared for a three hour ride that takes a different path through the city every month. Many show up to the ride not knowing where they will end up and that can be part of the fun of this monthly ride.
Preparing for Critical Mass means dressing for the weather, bringing enough water, and packing a snack for the ride in case you need it. It’s smart to expect rain or snow during the ride; pack accordingly if you’re concerned about weather changes mid-ride.