Critical Mass Route Dev Hints

Some accumulated wisdom for development of Chicago Critical Mass routes by a few who have done so.

From the "old" CCM site content (by who? what year?):
Who decides where Critical Mass rides go? Anyone can make a map and distribute copies at Daley Plaza before a ride. If there is more than one map, each mapmaker usually stands on the Picasso pedestal, promotes his or her map, and a vote is taken. In actuality, there are rarely more than a couple of route proposals, since map creation requires considerable time and effort. Sometimes the maps have "themes," such as the Rat Patrol Alley Ride, Bike the Ike, May Day Progressive History Tour, etc.
Mapmaking Tips from Veteran Cartographers:
  • The mass is super social. Seek out streets with heavy pedestrian traffic, sidewalk cafes, and high population density. Avoid industrial areas, hospitals, etc.
  • Turn frequently, at least every half mile. Turns help to keep the mass together, make the ride more interesting, and keep us from messing up CTA bus schedules.
  • Ride lengths and speeds vary; typically 5 mph and 2-3 hours, shorter in winter.
  • The mass loves riding up hills or bridges (that afford vistas of the magnitude of the ride), into tunnels, and under viaducts. Seek them out. But watch out for metal-grate bridges that cause consternation to many.
  • Have a defined destination: a party, beach, restaurant district, park, festival, polka club, etc.
  • Most riders live on the north side. If you head north, then turn back south, many people will defect and head home.
  • Try something new-- Show everyone your favorite sights, take everyone past your favorite hidden urban treasures.
  • Rounding triangles (e.g. The "Polish Triangle" @ Ashland/Division/Milwaukee and the triangle in the Rush Street restaurant district (N of Oak) is Big Fun. The same thing can be done w/ other self-crossing routes (like going around a block); but triangles are fun because everyone can see one another.
  • Splitting the ride takes lots of work and planning but can have a big fun payoff.
  • Think "Theme". If the route has some unifying theme (even if it's tenuous at best) makes it memorable. People will talk about a "Masters and Johnson Ride" (for example) rather than the "October 2004" ride.
  • Make at least a couple hundred copies of your route, get to the Plaza early and and pass them out. If there are other proposed routes, tout the merits of your map prior to the route vote.
  • Making the map is only half the work. You'll have to ride up at the front (preferably with a posse) and "guide" the mass along the map if you really want them to stick with it. Hijacking the route is a favorite pastime for some riders.
  • Don't put too much stock into what veteran mapmakers have to say . . .

From Andrew Bedno:
  • The majority of designers I've know draft initially on Google Maps. Many others freehand or make art.
  • Producing a route without having participated for years is unusual. One really needs a feel for the nature of the beast, a sense of what it can handle, and a seriousness about leading potentially several thousand people.
  • Subscribe to the email listserv (linked from the main CCM site), and participate in discussions on Critical Mass discussion on and the Chicago Critical Mass Facebook page.
  • Seek an elder massers with enthusiasm about your topic to champion a route. Posting to the listserv and TCL and FB can help rally such cohorts. Leading a mass requires several helpers.
  • Regarding rides for causes: Many massers are resistant to any specific cause, pursuant to being agenda-less. Many see it as dedicated to radical promotion of cycling over cars only and always. Many see it as just a fun monthly social ride. Some will call rides for causes co-opting, even if the promoted thing is eco/green. Many enjoy it as a dynamic mix of all things the many riders bring to it. The vast majority will be unaware, no matter what the cause or theme.
  • Promise a fun ending, such as beach or free beer, a party or bike art.
  • Start by creating a planning Discussion Forum under TCL's CCM group (where other past months' planning threads are), and post to the specific month's ride on Facebook. That's due diligence to claim the month for your plan.
  • See the MapMakers group on TheChainLink for basic hints.
  • Don't date the map (in case it doesn't get used). Though personally I've argued for years that voting on site isn't practical, and prefer open discussion in advance.
  • Design distances in the 12-18 miles range, averaging a slow 6-9 mph. Keep skaters, kids and trailers in mind.
  • YOU MUST carefully pre-ride your route in advance, or it should not be run.
  • Read some post-ride reviews.
  • Contrary to some mapmakers, I think distances up to 1.4 miles straight on a single street are ok in limited cases.
  • Daley plaza rotates counter-clockwise. Personally I prefer exiting West on Randolph, and have seen it quickly whisk masses west out of downtown. Exit Northbound or Dearborn slows in traffic but has a nice bridge, South on LaSalle starts slow but works, East ends soon at the park but offers State and Michigan.
  • Read other FAQs. Ride with the mass many times. See some relevant movies.
  • See the Route Flyers Retrospective.

From H3 (cross-posted from The Chain Link): (2010.03.25)
There is no "official" plan for any CM ride and anyone should feel free to step up at any time. Some quick suggestions on map making (based on my personal experience and observations):
  • Don't feel you need to be a trained graphic artist-- hand-drawn maps have always been acceptable, and often appeal to the voting masses more than a slick, commercial looking map. The most important quality is that they can be read easily, and that there are enough that anyone who wants to help at the front is able to get hold of one.
  • Try to avoid long stretches on any main artery. This helps keep the mass from speeding up and stringing out or losing families/kids off the back, and also avoids snarling motor vehicle traffic behind the mass (especially buses that our non-motorized brethren rely upon) unnecessarily. A good rule of thumb is to keep any straightaway to 4 blocks or less.
  • Try to avoid unintentionally turning the mass back across itself. While it sounds kind of fun, it's resulted in frustrating bottlenecks on past high-turnout rides. On larger summertime rides the mass can stretch out to two linear miles or more.
  • Remember that there are trailers and recumbents and trail-a-bikes and trikes on the ride-- if you're going to take the mass off the beaten path (e.g. cross a college campus or a park or a commercial plaza) please make good and sure there are functional curb cuts and adequate passage (ideally for at least 3 riders abreast).
  • Bring the mass away from Daley Plaza towards the south loop initially. Automobile traffic on a Friday evening is much less dense here than on Randolph and points north, or on Dearborn and points east; the mass has the best opportunity to "stage" on southbound Clark and historically has not always recovered well from being stuck in snarled traffic at the outset of the ride.
  • The police have standing orders to prevent the ride from going "east of Michigan." Trying to do so early in a ride will likely result in a standoff that can derail your route. Often, the police escorting the ride try to dissuade the mass from heading towards Michigan Avenue in general (particularly N. Michigan, as their other main order is to keep us off LSD.) Compared to other cities, we have a fairly easy opportunity to avoid having our monthly ride be about the police-- let's make the best of that. On that same note, don't shoot your route in the tire by including anything unnecessarily provocative in your map, e.g. "Daley's Condo" or the home of someone who wrote an unpleasant letter to the CM site.
  • The best routes are designed by CM participants who have day-to-day familiarity with the neighborhoods you're traveling to/through. If you need to take the mass through an area you don't know well, it's much better to partner with someone who rides there regularly than to try to plan the route using mapping software. Pre-riding is good but it's no substitute for first-hand intimacy, as you are likely to miss interesting or unique sites and routes that would add value for the participants and showcase the strengths of a given neighborhood.
  • Remember that even if your route is chosen and initially followed, there's no rule that CCM has to follow any pre-planned route; be prepared to chill out and enjoy the ride should it depart from your planned route. The opportunity to do so only comes once a month.
  • I could go on (and on) but I don't want to be responsible for smoke coming out of anyone's PDA. Here's to the return of choice!

From Steven Lane to the CCM list:
  • Posting your idea and a link to a map is a great start, you or anyone else is free to propose an idea. You can post your flier on
  • The tricky part is getting people to go along with you. Are you on It's like facebook for local cyclists.
  • They have a Critical Mass discussion group, and you should also promote your idea at
  • It does help to have a map flier to hand out at Daley Plaza. If there is another route proposed, a vote should be held to pick which way the Mass goes, but this rarely happens. Regardless, see if you can find someone with a microphone or megaphone to announce your route.
  • Basically, you want to do as much as possible to create awareness for your route.
  • Then it's up to you to get in front of the ride and make sure people follow your map. You're gonna need help, so try and get some friends to assist you. A lot of people don't care to follow a map and just want to ride fast. This will make it hard for you to keep on course, and a fast ride will split the group up. You have to get ahead of people and be very vocal about stopping the ride periodically at a red lights to "Mass Up".

From Scott Arciniegas (posted to the CCM list): (2013.03.20)
  • Please keep the Mass off the most major of major streets (Ashland and Western are the ones that come to mind); if you absolutely can't avoid the route taking us on one of those, limit the length of our ride on them to just a couple blocks. There's "making everyone aware that we are traffic and they should share the road", and there's leaving traffic patterns utterly FUBAR'd for miles around. Let's try to go with the former.
  • Try to implement measures to keep it a Critical Mass, rather than a critical race: maybe see if we can organize a small group of people, preferably including a sound cart, to be the pacesetters at the front of the Mass? If the fixie kids wanna race ahead of these pace bikes, let 'em, but they'll be riding alone before long.