Critical Mass, city-riding, here I come.
August 26, 2011 8:01 AM   Subscribe

What to expect for my first Critical Mass? First real city ride in general.

So I finally got a bike last night, yay! I've done some adjustments, I'm fairly confident its a solid ride, though the skinny road bike tires are a little scary for me. Tonight at 6, I'm heading out for my first Critical Mass ride. What should I expect?

Will complete cycling newbie me be ok? Will it be really weird if I actually stop for the lights? (Atlanta PD has in the past been pretty aggressive with ticketing Critical Mass riders for not stopping at lights, plus my own personal bike ethic says to obey the rules of the road.)

Any advice, experience, or thoughts welcome!
posted by stormygrey to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
I hesitate to say this to a new rider, but if you're dead-set on riding in this Critical Mass, you should just be one of the group; do what everyone else around you is doing. If you're in the middle of the pack and you stop at a light/stop sign that no one else does, it's going to turn ugly.

(That is, of course, dependent on the proximity/number of other riders.)

If you can find a part of the mass that is also stopping at lights, etc, then you should ride with them. Be predictable to those around you. Don't ride too close if you're wobbly. Try not to pass on the right.
posted by supercres at 8:06 AM on August 26, 2011

I know Critical Mass almost always stops at the North/Virginia light. Critical Mass in Atlanta stops for more lights than in other cities where I've seen it.
posted by catlet at 8:07 AM on August 26, 2011

Best answer: If it's anything like the Chicago Critical Mass, the main thing to worry about is that you will be riding extremely slowly (like, slower than walking speed), especially at the beginning of the mass before the group has time to space out. This is actually kind of tricky if you don't have some practice. It's okay to half-walk your bike in this case. To do that, have one foot on just standing on a pedal at its lowest point, and push yourself along the ground with your other foot. When you're doing this your body should be over the top tube, not the saddle.

DO NOT stop for red lights if everyone else in the mass is riding through it -- this is a great way to make someone crash into you. It's much safer to stay with the flow of the mass, and if you're in the middle of a big group then there's no danger in going through a red light (generally the cross-street will be "corked" by cyclists). Red-light behavior at Critical Mass differs from city to city -- if the cops are ticketing mass riders (which I'm sorry to hear) then the group will probably be stopping at the major intersections anyway.

Many masses run longer than you might expect. Count on not getting home until 9-10 pm if you're going to do the whole ride.

Critical Mass is a ton of fun. Make sure your tires are pumped and your seat is at a comfortable height. Bring water (or beer, or wine.. although from what you've said I'm guessing that Atlanta's mass is a little less anarchic than Chicago's). Happy Friday!
posted by theodolite at 8:23 AM on August 26, 2011

Best answer: Stick to the group and don't fall behind at any point, lights or otherwise. Don't trail. If you can't keep up for some reason, check the area for cop cars and if there are none then turn away from the path of the group - you don't want to get picked off as you leave the ride. Make sure that people in the group see you - do you have friends who ride in this? You don't want to get pulled away by the cops and have no one realize it (this is unlikely, though). If there is an arrest situation - like the cops jump somebody - stay away. Let the experienced critical massers do whatever your group customarily does in response.

I've only ever seen really aggressive policing of critical masses around here (midwest) when there's also a big police crackdown on activists generally - prior to the RNC in 2008 and when there was a bunch of anti-animal-testing protest stuff going on at the end of the nineties.

At our critical mass, we pull aside for ambulances (of course) and buses. So be ready to do that.

Drivers can get pissed. Be prepared for that - it doesn't happen every time, but it's not especially fun with the yelling and the imprecations and the watching some white middle class entitled person come absolutely unhinged - IME, it's the whitest people in the fanciest cars who are not just irritated (which, hey, I get that) but absolutely insane with rage, with the threats and the obscenities. If someone is honking and yelling a lot, stay in the middle of the group and keep a careful eye on the car - every once in a while, one of them absolutely loses their shit and tries to run over a cyclist.

That said, almost every critical mass I've been on has been uneventful, positive and fun. If your bike is light, you can do bike lifts!
posted by Frowner at 8:24 AM on August 26, 2011

Best answer: 1. Middle of the pack.
2. Have an exit strategy if things go bad.
3. Bring a first aid kit for if things go bad and if the accidental injury occurs.
4. The fluids you should have in you around the ride should not include alcohol.
5. For a first ride, resist the temptation to photograph or video while in motion.
6. For a first ride, only photograph results and willing participants. Do not take your first ride to document police or driver improprieties if they occur. Let other people do that this time.
7. Remember, the ride is for fun. If you aren't having fun, stop.
8. Don't go looking for trouble, in all likelihood it wont happen.
9. Helmet at all times.
10. If you get a ticket, be polite - even if it is unjustly assigned.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:31 AM on August 26, 2011

A couple more things:

- Smile and wave and cheer at the drivers (and the pedestrians, and everyone else) that you're inconveniencing. For every Grumpy Gus there's a dozen drivers who are absolutely delighted at the spectacle of a thousand cyclists riding by on their road bikes and fixies and tall bikes and recumbents and cruisers and tandems. Don't be surprised if you see a lot of people taking snapshots.

- If there's someone riding with a boombox on his bike, try to stay behind or near that person. They emit Fun.
posted by theodolite at 8:35 AM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Helmet. Helmet helmet. Helmet.


The corkers have been trained (I hope) to keep the intersection blocked for your groups to go through. Do not attempt to cork an intersection if you have not been trained. If everybody is stopping at reds, you should too.

There is a possibility you get a traffic ticket. Some of the things that Critical Mass groups do are illegal, so be aware of that.

Also be aware that "safety in numbers" is almost always false security. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. You can't see what you aren't looking for.
posted by bilabial at 8:39 AM on August 26, 2011

Oh, and you should be aware that when you leave the mass (whether because it's over or because you're done with it) you will probably have to ride several miles home or to where you parked, in the dark, which means that in addition to your first Critical Mass tonight will also be your first city ride with car traffic. I don't know how the Atlanta mass works but the Chicago one does not end in the same place that it begins. (If you know for a fact that the mass returns to its starting point, or goes by your house, then ignore this advice.)
posted by theodolite at 8:43 AM on August 26, 2011

Everybody already gave excellent advice.
I'd say get to the meeting spot early. Ask other riders about what will happen.
nth. Stay with the group. Go through the light if the group does.
Have fun. It's a rush to be with so many cyclists.
posted by hot_monster at 8:52 AM on August 26, 2011

Smile and wave and cheer at the drivers (and the pedestrians, and everyone else) that you're inconveniencing.

This. And also say thank you to the corkers and to people who stop for you.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:58 AM on August 26, 2011

Response by poster: Man, so much great information! I am getting the warm fuzzy endorphins already. You have all convinced me that this is almost more of a parade so I'll follow the group as far as lights go for safety reasons.

I will be riding with my bf who is a much more experienced rider than I am, he has promised to stay with me and peel off the group if things get hairy or I am just done. I have a back light, I think I may run by target and get a headlight since I will most likely be riding home in the dark.
posted by stormygrey at 9:21 AM on August 26, 2011

Smile and wave and cheer at the drivers (and the pedestrians, and everyone else) that you're inconveniencing.

Some people could take this as being antagonistic, If you're ruining someone's commute, they'd probably rather you just hurry along rather be cutesy.
posted by spaltavian at 9:33 AM on August 26, 2011 [8 favorites]

Just FYI, Target isn't a good source for bikes or equipment -- your local bike shop (LBS) will have much better headlight options.

Also, though Critical Mass certainly highlights the presence of cyclists on the street and their right to be there, you should bear in mind that big groups of bicyclists blocking traffic just makes drivers hate bicyclists more. Riding on the street to work or for recreation by yourself is probably a better way to make your statement.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2011

Mod note: This is not a general referendum on Critical Mass, folks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:46 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You have good CM advice, but I just wanted to say three things:

Skinny road tires are really best on roads. They're lighter, so it's less work to pedal. You'l get used to them fast.

Definitely get a front light of any sort- you want to be seen at night. If you can only get to Target right now, that's better than no light at all, though I agree that you'll find the best lights at a proper bike shop (lighter, more powerful).

Have fun!
posted by oneirodynia at 9:14 PM on August 26, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Target was just my only option, LBS are awesome, but it was my only option before the ride.

I went strong for the first seven miles or so then started falling behind the mass on a long hard series of hills which were plagued by cars. We peeled off and took a leisurely detour though an older residential neighborhood, then started to head back and there was the Mass! Awesome, we reintegrated and it was a blast. Got in about 12 miles. Yay!
posted by stormygrey at 8:03 AM on August 27, 2011

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