One of my favorite kinds of bicycling is to just choose a destination, like a library, a restaurant or a beach and then find a pleasant, interesting way to ride there. This summer I’ve been enjoying going out around sunset and doing what I call “dreaming” my way around: I cruise slow and improvise a route on shady side streets while taking in the scenery and letting my mind wander.
Or, if it’s a trip that I often take, sometimes I’ll mix things up by playing a game where every time I come to a red light I have to change directions. Say I’m riding from the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State, northwest to my home in Logan Square. I might start by pedaling west on Van Buren, then come to a red at Dearborn and turn north, then come to a red at Kinzie and head west, etc.
Some of my favorite suburban destinations are tiki bars and old Chinese restaurants with Polynesian-themed décor. I trace my fascination with “Polynesian Pop” culture to my childhood, when my family used to visit my dad’s cousin Leo’s tiki-themed hotel, the Hawaiian Isle, in North Miami Beach. It’s harder to improvise routes for these kind of suburban safaris, so a little forethought is required.
[flickr]photo:4891526901[/flickr]Chef Shangri-La – photo by Jericl Cat
The Chicago Bike Map (which mostly covers the city proper) and the Chicagoland Bicycle Map (covering the six-county metro region) are great tools for choosing decent streets for cycling. But the longer I’ve lived in Chicago the more interested I am in avoiding car traffic and finding fresh routes.
Ride the City is a good way to get new recommendations for routes within the city and it offers three different types of itineraries: safer, safe and direct. For some reason the direct routes are often the most interesting, with lots of zigzagging on back streets. The directions are usually reliable.
Google Maps’ bike directions cover the suburbs as well, but since the service is still in “beta” mode there are still a few bugs. The main problem is that the directions often send you down alleys. So while Google directions are very handy for finding side-street routes to suburban tiki bars, I always make sure to review the recommended route closely beforehand. If it wants to take me through an alley, I “pull” the route to a suitable side street. And since Google indicates which direction traffic flows on one-way streets, it also allows me to adjust the route from a tolerable secondary street like, say, Damen to a mellow, beautiful tertiary street like Walcott or Leavitt.
When I’m planning a suburban ride with Google, I print out overview maps of the route and then zoom in on my computer to view the street names and ink them in on the printouts. I take my touring bike on these trips so I can easily read the maps in my handlebar bag map case while riding.
Last Sunday I rode from Logan Square to the Wiki Waki Luau, a 35th anniversary party for Chef Shangri-La, a tiki-Chinese restaurant at 7930 W. 26th in North Riverside, a few miles southwest of Oak Park. Following my Google route I took Palmer Avenue west out of Logan Square and stair-stepped southwest for twelve miles, the majority of it on quiet, leafy side streets. Especially in Oak Park and River Forest, I rolled by beautiful homes and fascinating architecture, including several Frank Lloyd Wright designs. I also passed by the post-apocalyptic-looking concrete home known as “The Logan’s Run House” at 1046 Fair Oaks Avenue in Oak Park.
[flickr]photo:3041379541[/flickr]Photo by Paul Goyette
The luau was a terrific multi-generational community event with lots of families hanging out in the parking lot. I caught great live performances by the surf and rock-a-billy trio Hill Billy Idle and the Royal Polynesian Revue, performing traditional Hawaiian, Tahitian and Maori songs, dances and drumming. I really dug the retro fashions of all the tiki-philes present, and it was really fun seeing the many kids present get onstage to join in the dances.
Eventually my friend Howard, an old crony from Critical Mass, showed up and we went inside to the amazing restaurant and bar, decorated with carved idols, tropical flowers, seashells, thatched roofs, Buddha statues and a large fountain and goldfish pond. We sat down for the traditional tiki appetizer, a Pu Pu platter of deep-fried and barbecued tidbits surrounding a small hibachi grill, and sumptuous Chinese-American entrees. Eventually I caught the CTA Pink and Blue lines back to the Northwest Side. It was definitely a night to remember.
[flickr]photo:4891527813[/flickr]Photo by Jericl Cat