Berlin bicycling: an interview with bike blogger Wolfgang Scherreiks


Wolfgang Scherreiks with his English-made Pashley Guv’nor.

It’s ironic that I’ve written dozens of articles about efforts to make Chicago more like the bike-friendly cities of northern Europe, but until recently I’d never actually been to any of these places. Last month I finally made the trip across the pond to check out bike facilities in Berlin, Copenhagen and several towns in the Netherlands.

It was inspiring to experience places where cycling, walking and transit are given at least as much respect as driving, with the result being livable, vibrant cities. During the trip I met up with various transportation advocates and bloggers to pick their brains about the local cycling scene, in hopes of gleaning ideas for Chicago.

Continue reading Berlin bicycling: an interview with bike blogger Wolfgang Scherreiks

Circumnavigating lower Lake Michigan by Metra, bike, ferry and bus


Sunset near Muskegon, MI.

[This piece also ran in Newcity magazine.]

One reason I’m glad I’ve cycled coast-to-coast a couple of times is that I feel like I’ve got nothing to prove when it comes to bike touring. As long as I’ve got my bicycle with me and get a few miles of pedaling in, it doesn’t matter what other non-car transportation modes I use – it’s a bike trip. Or at least a trip worth taking.

Case in point is a circuit of lower Lake Michigan I took a few years ago. While I covered a lot of ground with my bicycle in tow, I didn’t actually ride much more than a hundred miles. But this actually enhanced the experience.

Instead of my usual death-march mileage, the relaxed pace left me time to take walks in the woods and hang out on the beach before hitting the road to the next destination. Of course, a well-disciplined cycle tourist would leave early and get the day’s pedaling done before sightseeing. Maybe next time I’ll do it this way.

This excursion was inspired by a Time Out Chicago issue about Lake Michigan getaways and a yen to escape the big city and catch some sunsets over water. I was also curious to try the high-speed ferry from Milwaukee to Muskegon, MI. I’d already ridden the entire perimeter of the lake in stages before so this jaunt was about R & R rather than breaking new ground.

Continue reading Circumnavigating lower Lake Michigan by Metra, bike, ferry and bus

Black Power Riding: Oboi Reed reports from Brazil


Oboi Reed in Quilombo do Remanso, Brazil. All photos courtesy of Oboi.

[This piece was contributed by Oboi Reed, founder of The Pioneers, a bike club that promotes cycling on Chicago’s South Side, and co-leader of the Southeast Side community advisory group for the city’s Streets for Cycling 2020 plan.]

In February, I embarked on a journey to live and study in Brazil for six months. With the tremendous support of many family and friends, I travelled to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil to study public health in the African-Brazilian community in Salvador and elsewhere in northeast Brazil. Throughout this nearly four month program, Brazil: Public Health, Race, & Human Rights organized by The School for International Training, colleagues and I were blessed to have unparalleled access to the people, families, organizations, institutions, and systems that make up the fabric of Brazil’s healthcare delivery system. We experienced firsthand, in sight and in sound, the contemporary successes and challenges of the public healthcare system for African-Brazilian people and all Brazilians. We engaged patients, community health agents, nurses, doctors, administrators, activists, educators, and more. We directly participated in the Candomblé spiritual tradition. We explored Candomblé traditional healing as a critically important and culturally relevant system of healthcare – in fact a viable & effective complement to the Brazilian government’s system of healthcare delivery.

We traveled throughout northeast Brazil, visiting a diverse set of communities: Itapuã, Cachoeira, Alecrim, Ilha de Maré, Feira de Santana, Santo Antonio de Jesus, Lençóis, and Luna. The exposure to different geographies, lifestyles, cultures, people, income levels, struggles, and successes was an incredibly eye-opening experience. The opportunity to achieve all of this in such a short timeframe was a divine blessing and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It served as an important chance for me to grow personally, academically, and professionally by embracing my global citizenship. My life has changed forever.

Continue reading Black Power Riding: Oboi Reed reports from Brazil

Mileage mystery: what does “90 miles outside Chicago” actually mean?


Photo by Eric Stuve.

[This is a variation of a piece that also runs in Time Out Chicago magazine.]

Q: When a highway sign tells us Chicago is a certain number of miles away, from what point in the city is it measuring: the outermost boundary line or from, say, State and Madison, the zero point of the street grid?

A: Good question. The first lines from the 1999 earworm “Someday We’ll Know” by New Radicals have always bugged us: “90 miles outside Chicago / Can’t stop driving / I don’t know why.” Is the singer talking about the distance to the city limits or downtown? Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Josh Kauffman says it’s the latter. “Highway signage typically refers to the distance to the main business district of city,” he says. “So in Chicago that would be the center of Loop.”

Kauffman couldn’t pinpoint exactly what intersection IDOT considers to be Chicago’s epicenter, but Amy Krouse, spokeswoman for Skokie-based Rand McNally, says mileage between cities is usually calculated from one city hall to another. Accordingly, both Rand McNally’s online mapping service and locate their Chicago pushpins at LaSalle and Randolph, spitting distance from Rahm’s office. Now we know exactly what Elwood Blues meant when he said, “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.”

Mileage measurements are important to bicycle touring: when you see a sign that your destination town is X miles away, you want to know if that’s to the city center or the edge of town, because every mile counts when you’re pedaling.

Savage ride: a trans-Chicago bike trek with Nelson Algren scholar Bill Savage


Bill Savage at the McKinley Park lagoon.

[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Wednesday evenings.]

“Nelson Algren wrote, ‘It isn’t hard to love a town for its greater and its lesser towers, its pleasant parks or its flashing ballet,’” says Algren scholar Bill Savage, strapping on his bicycle helmet. “‘But you never truly love it until you can love its alleys too.’ So there’s this dynamic in the city between the boulevard and the alley, between the beautiful urban spaces and the place where the garbage and the rats are, and if you really love Chicago you’ve got to love both.”

An English lecturer at Northwestern University, Bill grew up in Rogers Park with his brother, sex advice columnist Dan Savage, and still lives in the neighborhood. “I tell my students, it’s very easy to experience the city secondhand, in books and movies and online,” Bill says. “But if you’re not out there on the pavement, whether on foot or on a bicycle or in a car or on public transportation, you’re missing something.”

Continue reading Savage ride: a trans-Chicago bike trek with Nelson Algren scholar Bill Savage

Bike sharing in Toronto: a preview for Chicago’s program

On a recent visit to Toronto, I decided to try Bixi bike sharing as a way of exploring the city, getting a taste of the Toronto cycling experience and trying bike sharing, in anticipation of Chicago’s planned launch of a similar system.

Each day, my ride was waiting outside my door.


York station, at York and Queens Quay West.

When I entered my code on the dock keypad, the yellow light flashed, then the green light was accompanied by a bike bell sound.


Members insert their key fob. Lights indicate the bike’s unlocking/locking status. 

The Bixi bike is a sturdy utilitarian model, comparable to a Dutch city bike. Its heavy steel frame and fat tires absorb a good amount of vibration and shock. Its front basket has a built-in bungee cord to keep things in place.  A hub dynamo powers LED blinky headlights on the front of the basket and tail lights on the rear stays.  They worked quite reliably when the bikes were moving, but I found myself wishing that the tail lights were a little brighter.  I supplemented mine with an additional red blinky that I brought from home. Continue reading Bike sharing in Toronto: a preview for Chicago’s program