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Bikers brave the elements

January 9, 2008

By MARK LAWTON Staff Writer

While most riders consider winter a good time to store their bicycles in garages or back rooms, the activists of Critical Mass hope to change that conception.

From Jan. 11 to Feb. 29 the group is putting on a series of events under the heading of "Critical Mass Art Show: Autogedden Revisited." Some are indoor events such as networking for cycling advocates, though others involve braving the cold on bikes.

"A lot of new riders have asked me, why don't you do it during the summer?" said Steven Lane, who is coordinating the events. "Dude, the point is to give you more reason and inspiration to bicycle in the winter and be that year-round cycling commuter."

Among those events are a bike ride to see the punk-polka band, the Polkaholics. The ride used to go from Daley Plaza to a club near Midway Airport, though this year it's going to Lincoln Square.

"When I first joined Critical Mass, I thought that was insane," said Lane. "Going out in February and picking a destination 16 miles away?"

In spite of the distance and weather, the event is one of the most popular of the winter rides, with as many as 500 bicyclists showing up.

Another event is the annual protest at the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place. This isn't people carrying placards. Rather protesters don costumes. The 2006 show gathered protesters dressed as polar bears, playing off climate change caused by car emissions.

For previous auto shows, bicyclist have dressed up as superman, Uncle Sam and the "Rev. H. Antiford." This year protesters plan to dress up as crash test dummies.

"The theme will be less on environmentalism and more on road safety," said Lane. "We're creating awareness of the death toll paid on highways each year. There were 42,000 people killed in 2006."

While biking in winter turns some people off, Howard Kaplan says it has its advantages.

"Twelve degrees is some of my favorite weather for biking," said Kaplan, who is the 2008 chair of Bike Winter, a loose-knit group that promotes and educates winter bikers. Bike Winter is sponsoring a poetry and cinema night as part of the Art Show.

"I can control my temperature better than in the summer," said Kaplan. "I can get to work without being drenched in sweat."

The events start with an opening night party at the Mercury Cafe, 1505 W. Chicago Ave., from 5 to 9 p.m. Jan. 11. Pro-bike and anti car artwork will be in display.

For more information, check out the Web site

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