An outsider’s Chicago bike itineraries


Photo by Alan Scott Walker

This guest post was submitted by Tim Eyre, who crosses the country frequently for his job as a manager with Extra Space Storage. Eyre is a cycling enthusiast and he’s found that exploring the cities he visits via bicycle is a good way to connect with and learn about the communities he visits. He offers the following bike route suggestions for visitors to Chicago, but locals may find them interesting as well.

Chicagoans, don’t take what you have for granted. My weekdays are spent on the road, and it’s sheer grace that I discovered bicycling to keep me sane a few years back. Wherever I’m working, I can always find an escape by cruising the town on two-wheels. As any cyclist knows, the disconnect between the observer and the community that car travel creates quickly fades away when you’re self-propelled and out in the open air. Neighborhoods come alive, and we actually meet other people.

Of all the cities I regularly ride in, Chicago may be the best. The 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail is obviously the heart of this city’s bike scene, and understandably chock-full of locals and visitors like myself taking in the view. Recently, however, I’ve been branching out, taking advantage of the city’s interactive bike map, a tool that urbanites in other metropolises across the globe would drool over. If you’ve never checked it out, it details roads with existing bike lanes, shared lanes, and recommended routes.

With a little pre-planning and my GPS-equipped phone in my pocket, I’ve been discovering new favorite rides across Chicago, from Bucktown to Little Italy. Whether you’ve got an hour after work or a full day to explore, here’s my outsider’s suggestions for a perfect ride.

Continue reading An outsider’s Chicago bike itineraries

Out spokin’: The Windy City Cycling Club rides with pride


[This piece also runs on the environmental news website]

“It’s not that we don’t like straight people,” explains Jeff Rogers, president of the Windy City Cycling Club (WCCC), Chicago’s oldest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender bicycle group. “On the contrary: The biking community at large tends to be made up of very nice people who are very accepting of diversity in general. But gay and lesbian people have a comfort level with each other that’s different than with straight people.”

That sense of belonging is easy to see as we hang out at T’s bar, a buzzing lesbian, gay, and straight pub in Chicago’s LGBT-friendly Andersonville neighborhood, on a sunny February afternoon. A dozen or so club members, mostly women plus a handful of men, are gathered at an off-season social for Dykes Pedaling Bikes, the club’s monthly women’s ride. Ranging in age from late 20s to late 50s, they kibbitz over $5 hamburgers and tall glasses of hefeweizen with lemon slices as Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” blasts on the sound system. A couple of them wear the club’s jersey, featuring a bicycle wheel, the Sears Tower, the Chicago flag, and a rainbow banner.

Continue reading Out spokin’: The Windy City Cycling Club rides with pride

George Christensen critiques our book “On Bicycles”


Christensen, left, with bike racing great Christian Vande Velde – photo by Bike_Ema

For many Grid Chicago readers, George Christensen needs no introduction. A longtime Chicago bike messenger, George is one of Chicago’s best-traveled bicyclists, having toured dozens of countries on two wheels. A movie buff, he attends many of the world’s great film fests as well, and every year he rides the entire Tour de France route. You can read about his amazing adventures on the blog George the Cyclist. When I asked Christensen to write a guest post for Grid Chicago he offered the following review of On Bicycles (New World Library 2011), a new anthology by Amy Walker, to which local author Greg Borzo and I contributed chapters.

‘Tis the season for reading and there is no shortage of bike literature out there these days. The best selection in the city can be found at Barnes and Noble at Webster and Clybourn. Besides a slew of bike magazines, it offers nearly two shelves of books on the bike, covering it all-racing, touring, fitness, mechanics and advocacy.

One that encompasses a range of topics, appealing to perhaps the widest demographic, is On Bicycles: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life. An equally appropriate subtitle, as suggested by Where to Bike Chicago author Greg Borzo, one of the book’s 34 contributors, might have been “50 Ways To Leave Your Car.” The book is a collection of 50 articles, 25 by women and 25 by men, edited by Amy Walker, a true cycling evangelist, who wrote nine of the pieces. Walker co-founded the bicycling magazine Momentum in 2001, and served as one of its publishers, editors and writers for ten years.

Book cover

She could have easily written this book herself, but instead enlisted the expertise of a host of authorities: many journalists who have written on bicycling for years along with various specialists including a lawyer, an architect, a professor, a few planners, a mechanic, and an “enchanted unicorn.” Many of the writers are from Vancouver, where Momentum is published, and the U.S. West Coast, especially Portland, but Chicago is represented by not only Borzo, but John Greenfield, another familiar name to those who follow this website.

It is a fine mix of informative journalistic pieces and poetic odes, some that could serve as sermons to be read aloud at congregations of those faithful to the bike. They all share a passion and commitment to the bicycle. Even the more whimsical and wacky pieces offer well-reasoned and convincing arguments why everyone should bicycle more.

The book is divided into four sections: “All the Right Reasons,” “Gearing Up,” “Community and Culture,” and “Getting Serious.” There are practical, informative, advice-laden pieces on subjects such as biking with children, how to behave in a bike shop, cargo bikes, folding bikes and so on. Walker describes herself as someone who likes to bike in the rain and has a chapter on that subject.

There is a good balance between heavily footnoted articles (Kristen Steele had the most with 17), and those that are just breezily entertaining. Nothing was so ponderous, except perhaps the article on internal hubs, that I was anxious for the next article. There were times the writing sent me to Google to find what else the author had written.

Despite the heavy West Coast influence, Chicago is not ignored. Greenfield’s article profiles West Town Bikes as an example of a non-profit earn-a-bike program. He says there are about eighty of them in the United States and roughly twenty in Canada.


West Town Bikes’ Damian Lee reads from the chapter about the center at the Chicago release party for the book last month at Cole’s in Logan Square – photo by Serge Lubomudrov

John Pucher, a professor at Rutgers University, praised Chicago’s bike rack installment program and the bike station in Millennium Park. Chicago’s supply of bike-parking spaces of 1,121 per 100,000 residents outnumbers most American cities. Portland has 725, San Francisco 466, and New York a measly 75. But they are all measly compared to Amsterdam’s 30,271 and Copenhagen’s 6,960.

However, Chicago lags behind when it comes to bike routes physically separated from motor vehicles, with just two kilometers per 100,000 residents. San Francisco has six and New York three. Once again American cities are quite pitiful compared to Europe. Copenhagen has a staggering 76, Amsterdam 61 and Berlin 33.

Borzo’s thorough article on bike-sharing programs around the world lists a handful of entities in Chicago that offer bike sharing to their employees, tenants and students: the Field Museum, SRAM, the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago, Saint Xavier University and Loyola University.


Borzo at the reading, which was followed by a Hall & Oates-themed dance party – photo by Serge Lubomudrov

An article on traveling with a bicycle by Shawn Granton gave a brief description of cycling in seven American and Canadian cities. Here’s what he said about Chicago: “The traffic can be intimidating, but there are scads of bike routes and fun settings of postindustrial decay. And it’s flat.”

The only other mention Chicago receives came in a highly entertaining semi-rant on freak bikes by Megulon-5. He traces the manufacture of tall bikes back to the late 1800s in Chicago. They were built for lamplighters to ride to turn streetlights on and off.

The book is mostly a positive screed extolling the virtues of the bike, though there is a certain amount of anti-car rhetoric. Lori Kessler, an architect, in a piece on designing cities for bikes wrote, “Hell isn’t other people, as Jean-Paul Sartre suggested. Hell is other people’s cars.” Another article quoted an American Automobile Association statistic that Americans spend on average $9,641 each year on their cars. Other authors cited the tons and tons of pollutants cars spew. One of the wilder statistics was the amount of space it would take to park all the cars in America–about the size of New Hampshire.

But the gloom and doom of the automobile are countered with one affirmation after another for the bicycle, none stronger than Mykle Hasen, the enchanted unicorn, stating, “Like a hammer or a telescope, the bicycle gives you superpowers.” Carmen Mills, a “bicycle bodhisattva,” is equally fervent. She says, “Bicycles are karma-generating machines, relieving suffering for self and others.”

Vote on the best apps for metro Chicago


The Grand Challenge of the Apps for Metro Chicago Contest starts today. Everyone will have the opportunity to vote for the best apps that take Chicagoland data and make it more useful, interesting, or engaging. Apps can be for the web, or specific smartphone operating systems. Winners get recognition and cash prizes.

I’ve re-submitted the Bikes on Metra app my friend and I worked on. We weren’t finalists in the first round, about transportation, and I didn’t make any changes in the re-submission because I’m working on so many projects (book club being the latest).

So browse the gallery and leave your votes at 4 PM. Voting ends Monday, December 12, at 4 PM. I hope things go better this time around than in the first round, after the rules changed and the first batch of votes were invalidated. Continue reading Vote on the best apps for metro Chicago

A secular Chicago cycling Christmas


The Chicago Cycling Club’s Bagel Ride – photo courtesy of Kathy Schubert

[This piece also runs in Newcity magazine.]

Christmas is a great time to be in Chicago, even if you’re not a Christian. As a mostly nonobservant Jewish person, I usually make a point of staying in town during the holiday because I always have a blast. It’s the best of both worlds. I get to enjoy the spirit of brotherhood and good cheer that prevails, and pedal the nearly traffic-free streets, but there’s no pressure to gather with relatives (Thanksgiving is when we do that) or exchange gifts. For me Christmas is a chance to spend quality time with members of my family of choice, my longtime friends from the local bicycling community.

Continue reading A secular Chicago cycling Christmas

Alderman Solis goes to Amsterdam


Alderman Solis in Zolle, Netherlands – all photos courtesy of Bikes Belong

[Background info for this post came from a write-up of the trip by Washington D.C. Department of Transportation Bicycle Program Specialist Mike Goodno.]

Earlier this month when I interviewed 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis about sustainable transportation projects in his ward, he mentioned that he would be taking a trip to the Netherlands from October 1 – 8 to study bike facilities. The bike industry-funded advocacy group Bikes Belong sponsored this fact-finding mission for transportation officials from Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Miami, and Solis says that staffers from Working Bikes Cooperative recommended him to Bikes Belong as a bike-friendly politician. Joining him from Chicago were former Active Transportation Alliance executive director and current SRAM Cycling Fund director Randy Neufeld, as well as Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) bike program staffers David Gleason and Mike Amsden. Continue reading Alderman Solis goes to Amsterdam