Summer of Velo ride 7/2009

Combo love celebration, and protest.
I write to remember these times, and to share the experience deeply as introduction and furtherance and practical advice to those new to the mass.

This month's Critical Mass included World Naked Bike Ride influence, and was titled the "Summer of VELO" ride. "Velo" is a clever twist replacing "love" with the latin prefix for speedy/swift/rapid, often found in words relating to bicycles.
Body painting, reduced clothes, and BYO for grilling were encouraged, and afterparty with music and vids were planned.

The route evolved through many online and personal discussions, on listserv, and in threads on
As usual earlier in the week I transcribed the proposed route to KML (GoogleMaps/Earth) and posted to TheChainLink. I also created a turn-by-turn and posted for mobile users at
I also froze two big Mountain Dews in advance, a good summer trick.

Pal Susan and I took the Red Line before 4pm (cutoff for bikes before rush hours), both of us lucky to control our work schedules some, knowing that we'd arrive way early. She took my sticker adorned now spare bike "Russell", whose quality I strictly maintain, yet I remained nervous all evening with a sense of responsibility. We could've biked downtown, but I was being extra watchful of total one day knee mileage. Downtown is such a rush. I worked here for a decade, but now haven't for more, and it always comes at me bizarro and speedy, a mix of spectacle and gray. A quick iPhone check for "bar" showed Cardozo's Pub at 170 W Washington, just 2blks W. I now love this place and will come again. Slightly underground and better than dive, has a swordfish on wall and Dunkin Donuts next door. In no hurry, we toasted Satan over pineapple melon vodka fancies.

Plaza gathering was casual and constant, and some commented that turnout seemed low for a perfect summer day, but possibly the effect of having the whole mall for once with no fests. Empirically, by departure there must have been well over 2000 people, but I'm not sure we hit 3K.*
Map distribution was excellent and early, and increasingly many self print from download.
After maybe 6:15 people started rallying, some airhorns helped make it happen, and I'm glad we've learned not to linger.

Route was a crawl through several early miles. Love you Steven, but plowing through Michigan and Columbus is hard, and the planned two fingered rocker salute early in the map quickly lost a horn. My thinking is always straight out Randolph to avoid traffic. Also this route had a lot of turns, but all certainly worth trying.

North of downtown the ride remained slow, but comfy and social. Circles occurred at least twice, but not at places I expected, and didn't happen at places I did expect (like that gas station on Ashland). Several times people thanked me for corking, when I was just paused somewhere convenient, sometimes not even in possible car traffic flow. Crazy cars were moderate, more details in metrics section below. I took a few photos of trouble, but saw few needs for interventions. I also didn't lead, because the few times I saw the front, they seemed fine. Was nice to just ride, especially this first time mass on my new fixie.

Second half was smooth and easy, and from Lincoln on I ran into friends who'd gotten split up. I lost Susan several times, mainly because I did a few mass laps being a restless type. Interestingly that means we passed more than once without noticing. At one point reaching each other by phone, both solidly in mass, I later confirmed we were 1.3 miles apart.

Returning South the mass became extremely long, while not being very thin. Home stretch on Halsted I stopped at Dominick's (great advice Steven), and watched several distinct significant sub-masses pass, indicating that there'd been splits. After quick shopping we rolled into the end with stragglers after maybe 9:15p.

Given over 18 miles by the map, roughly 3 hours elapsed time, makes the overall average speed over 6mph. Given a max mass length of 1.5 miles, simplest computation gives about 15 minutes average to pass a point. These figures feel roughly accurate.

After-party was perfect. I expected occasional cop lights on us, but saw no police presence at all. It was nice to feel trusted and safe, and but also hard to let my guard down.
Painting, nudity, grilling, not sure they happened. But it was a perfect human summer chill thing; a happy few hundred cyclists dancing and drinking and chatting and snacking, and I really got to know a few people better. Todd's sound wagon as always was more than enough ("Todd is Godd"), and the video projection was ubercool. The short shown will be the new official World Naked Bike Ride Chicago promotional video.
Eventually group photos were taken of the remaining 200-ish, what a joy.
Finally I left with a few northsiders, and after tip-toeing through downtown we took the lakefront path home to Foster. So quiet on that path at night that it grounds me to bliss.

Risk metrics:
I personally saw at least six incidents with angry cars and SUVs, but all pretty moderate compared to the worst we've seen. At one point Westbound on Division a monster truck driver blithely began pulling out from curb parking into the passing mass, bumped riders, and immediately launched into obscenities. I got a license photo and moved on as a swarm formed, glad that the mass would save the city from another drunk driver
I also saw at least a dozen lightly trapped cars, especially cabs, who I thought were being pretty cool about it. I credit that we are becoming familiar to them.
I also saw a few average bike falls and the usual afterfalls, but no grossly obvious drunkenness nor injuries. I also saw a few flats, and wondered how rescues go.
I saw a few police involvement in progress, but most looked like car drivers being scolded.
Finally, I spoke with some people after who saw nothing but happiness, but heard of one who was severely ticketed. How diverse the experiences are when there's an arena worth of people and miles of space.
I saw a high number (at least a dozen first hand) of pedestrians with phenomenally poor judgement. Even some clearly challenged such as elderly or carrying an infant, stepped right out into passing mass like somehow they're Moses. The frequency of this event type concerns me, though I've yet to hear of any collisions. Wise massers tell me that it's easier to stop the mass for peds and cars than I think.
Other issues such as slow speed, inclusion of families and children, car traffic delays, multi-masses and splitting continue in lively discussion.
Disclaimer: Anything I saw and say may be completely wrong, as my eyes and mind aren't perfect.


Though I may seem to highlight dangers, I consider the ride nearly Utopian, and the overall experience brilliantly positive for many thousands, with some acceptable costs. Along with full moons, Critical Mass is a fixture in my every month.

I continue to feel driver anger speaks more of their problems, than of our faults. We're just feeling the heat from the friction of cultural change. Objectively, we surely cause far less disruption than any single major sports event, but some level of complaints will always happen.

I draw comfort from the belief that this must all be moot soon, when it sinks in that the last Fridays in Chicago are owned by bikes, and as the age of cars wanes. I fully expect to hear future local news routinely reporting well in advance along the lines of "Don't forget, tonight is Critical Mass, so allow extra travel time or take a bike. Thanks Jean, now let's have a look at the weather..."

Andrew Bedno

* Mass Counting:
I used to often do a mass count video. It was from my video in August 2007 (10th anniversary mass) that the 3000 confirmed count was made. But now I don't always carry a camera, and I'm not always on skates which made it easier. Someone else should pick up that duty please. Simply take a continuous stationary video (even 15fpsx320x200 is fine) at an angle from ahead of mass until stragglers of last wave pass.