A sneak peek at the exhibition “Bikes! The Green Revolution”


Brandon Gobel from Chicago Cargo is one of many local cyclists you might recognize in the exhibit. The photo of Brandon is by Steven.

I’m used to seeing Chicago bicycle culture portrayed in the mainstream media in ways that seem a little off, so it’s refreshing when someone gets it right. Bikes! The Green Revolution, a new exhibition opening Saturday at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum does a great job of celebrating the many facets of the local bike scene. I got to check out the exhibit at a media preview yesterday. They managed to capture most of my favorite aspects of Chicago biking: history, planning, advocacy, youth education, bike shops, messengers and style.

Steven tells me that the museum got plenty of input from West Town Bikes’ Alex Wilson, who’s been a central figure in promoting cycling here for more than a decade, so that may have something to do with why the exhibit hits all the right notes. The Lycra crowd may find it a bit light on bike racing content, and I noticed a few minor errors on the exhibit signs, like a statement that the Lakefront Trail runs from Rogers Park to 75th Street when it actually runs from Edgewater to 71st. But otherwise I think it’s an excellent show that all local bike enthusiasts will want to check out, especially if they have kids.


A tall bike that visitors can “test ride.” Note the photo of Chicago Critical Mass in the background, one of several images of the ride in the show. Understandably, due to the controversial nature of the Mass, the exhibit never mentions the ride by name.

“There were so many fun aspects to putting this exhibition together,” curator Alvaro Ramos told me. “The exhibit is broken down into three main sections. Bike Town Chicago, where we talk about how Chicago has always been a bike town, beginning with the late 1800s in the era of the White City, the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Daniel Burham, who was a city planner, really understood that as the city was expanding we would need a lot of bike lanes to connect people to nature. This was a time when the only other main form of [land] transportation [besides trains] was the horse.”


Ramos points out a Columbia No. 88 shaft-driven bicycle, circa 1902

“Our second section is The Green Revolution, where we talk about how folks can actually integrate cycling into their lifestyle,” Ramos said. “Is there any more fun way to be green? Especially with gas prices being over $4.50, I’m sure we’re going to see a huge spike in cyclists. That was a really fun section of the exhibit for me as well.”


Kids can practice loading a bike up with groceries

“Our end section, the Wheel People bike shop will be filled with all kinds of fun public programming,” Ramos said. “We’ll have people coming in from Chicago bike shops as well as some of our partner organizations like Active Transportation Alliance, West Town Bikes and other local groups. They’ll teach people how to maintain their bikes as well as talking about safety and how to get the most out of biking in the city.”


The model bike shop highlights the work of local nonprofits like World Bicycle Relief, Working Bikes Cooperative and Project Mobility, which provides adaptive bikes to people with disabilities, and has how-to videos featuring mechanics from West Town, Blue City Cycles and more.

Here are a few other highlights from the show:


I was happily surprised to see a wall of images from Martha Williams’ BikeFancy.com, a Chicago bicycle fashion photo blog. Here’s an interview we did with Martha last fall.


A video highlights the history of various regional paths with point-of-view footage that makes me want to go out for a trail ride.


A mini section on messengers gives a respectful summary of the industry, including an interesting POV video featuring Four Star Courier Collective‘s Nico Deportago-Cabrera. I’m not sure why they used this image of a Toronto courier instead of an equally photogenic local one, though.


Sit in this pedicab for a slightly dizzying virtual tour of various Chicago neighborhoods and parks on a mini Omnimax screen.


This vintage Schwinn ad features movie star Dorothy Lamour


This antique cycle has lace-up fenders and chainguard.


A nice use of the “marked shared lane” symbol, AKA the “sharrow,” AKA “Sgt. Bike.”


At the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Drive in Lincoln Park, (773)755-5100, naturemuseum.org, through September 9. $9/adult, $6/child, $7 seniors and students.

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

19 thoughts on “A sneak peek at the exhibition “Bikes! The Green Revolution””

  1. We are members of the Nature Museum and they were still finishing up the exhibit last time we visited. Can’t wait to take my biking kids to see this soon!

  2. “Sneak peak”?   How about “full exposure”?  I am very disappointed that you have displayed 90% of the exhibit here on your website, couched in your predictably nit-picky criticism, no less.  Give The Nature Museum a break!  They work hard to bring Chicagoans through their doors and, despite detractors, they do a great job.  

    1. I don’t think there’s a physical museum exhibit that can be sufficiently experienced online. An online perusal also forgoes the enjoyable time spent with friends and family at said exhibit.

    2. Thanks for the feedback. Don’t worry – I’ve displayed maybe 20% of the stuff there is to see and experience at this wonderful exhibit, and hopefully what I’ve shown will make people more excited to check it out. I had permission from the museum to run photos but I’m new at writing about museum exhibits, so I apologize if I gave you more info than you wanted. I was trying to make the tone of the write-up celebratory, because I really like this show, but yes, I couldn’t resist drawing attention to a bit of misinformation in the exhibit, just as I appreciate it when our readers draw our attention to (hopefully rare) errors or typos in our posts. After all, a review that avoids including any criticism is called a “puff piece.” Thanks again, and I hope you keep reading our blog and providing feedback.

  3. Thanks for your review. I’ve never been to this museum but maybe this will spur me to check it out. I’m still bitter that they got rid of the old Chicago Academy of Sciences and willingly killed off 100 years of their own history but maybe I should be less of a crank.

  4. Hey Guys-
    It’s free every Thursday for Illinois residents which can make it easier going for families especially.

    I love that they used so many of Martha’s photos. She really captures the joy of Chicago Bike life! J.

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