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Purple Ride: Chicago’s South Side Critical Mass Pays Tribute to Prince

Members of Chicago's South Side Critical Mass at the Prince mural by Rahmaan "Statik" Barnes. Photo: South Side Critical Mass

“I put her on the back of my bike and we went riding / Down by Old Man Johnson’s Farm.” – Prince, “Raspberry Beret”

OK, it’s true that the Purple One was talking about a motorcycle, not a bicycle, in that beloved pop song. And, sure, one of his biggest hits compared a lover to a “Little Red Corvette.” But there are plenty of photographs out there proving that the late, great Prince Rogers Nelson enjoyed cycling.

So it’s appropriate that Chicago's South Side Critical Mass bike group paid tribute to the self-proclaimed “purple Yoda… from the heart of Minnesota” with a Prince tribute ride last Friday. They made a pilgrimage to a new mural in his honor on the side of an auto repair shop in the Avalon Park nieghborhood, and then pedaled east to purify themselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, I mean Michigan.

South Side Critical Mass, a spinoff of the larger Chicago Critical Mass rides that leave from downtown, meets every third Friday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at Nat “King” Cole Park, 361 East 85th Street, departing at 7, and drawing a mostly African-American ridership. For the Prince ride, they wore their finest purple garb and towed a sound system blasting songs like “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” and “Pop Life,” to the delight of passers-by.

The full group at Nat "King" Cole Park. Danielle McKinnie and her sister Alisa Holman are in the center with T-shirt's bearing Prince's symbol. Photo: South Side Critical Mass

Danielle McKinnie, a technical trainer at Lurie Children’s Hospital, showed up for the cruise with her sister Alisa Holman, who made special T-shirts featuring The Artist’s mysterious symbol. McKinnie says the ride seemed like a natural way to honor the man whose music had brought them so much joy. “You know he rode his bike just before he passed away,” she noted.

From the park, the group pedaled in the 83rd Street bike lanes towards the mural, singing and grooving to the funky tunes while spectators waved and beeped their horns in approval. “People seemed pleased and a little surprised to see us out on our bikes, especially with the South Side having such negative connotations because of violence,” McKinnie said. “We always get that reaction – people are really happy to see us.”

They stopped by the mural at 8051 South Stony Island, painted last month by artist Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes in the wake of the legend’s untimely death. Prince appears as he does on the cover of the “Purple Rain” album, astride a violet motorcycle, but with angel wings.

The Prince tribute ride at Rainbow Beach. Photo: South Side Critical Mass

From there the group continued to Rainbow Beach, 3111 East 77th, for a photo op under an appropriately lavender sky. Then they rolled west again to refuel at Dat Donut and Uncle John’s BBQ, 8251 South Cottage Grove. “On all of our rides we want to patronize local businesses,” McKinnie said. “They seemed really thankful that we showed up to support them.”

McKinnie says the purpose of South Side Critical Mass is to get more people on bikes in a part of town that could greatly benefit from more cycling. “Biking is an easy way to get healthier, and it doesn’t have to cost much,” she said. “On our rides you’re with a crew, we don’t go at a fast pace, and you can bring your family.”

“We want people to get out to see more of the South Side,” McKinnie added. “There are a lot of hidden gems here that we want to promote and support. We want to help alleviate some of the fears people might have of the South Side and show them some of the beauty.”

That’s a goal that His Royal Badness would surely endorse.

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