Biking in Chicago
I’ve been known to arrive to work a little sweaty, helmet in hand, with my change of clothes and needing 10 minutes to cool down before I can start my day. (It’s no wonder I chose to be my own boss.) But it took me 12 minutes flat — a new record — to bike to work from Lincoln Park to River North and I not only saved $2.25, sweating on other people in a crowded rush hour L, I even engaged in physical activity. Go me!
Biking in Chicago is my preferred mode of transportation. Stemming from a love of dependable transportation and a job I had in high school that simply involved riding up and down the Chicago lakefront for hours, there is no better way to get around the city. Now, I understand it probably can’t be your one and only way of transportation; harsh winters and a sprawling city take care of that. You’re going to have to learn how to take the L and the buses in order to get to that business meeting in Evanston when there is two feet of snow on the ground. But rest assured, learning how to effectively bike in the city is a great way to get around. And it’s FREE!
Chicago is a very bike-friendly city, despite what aggressive road-rage-ridden taxi drivers will tell you. Almost all major streets have bike lanes, and the approximately 27 mile stretch of lakefront track for cyclists, joggers, and rollerbladers is ideal for everything from a weekend ride to a traffic free commute to work. So that said, here are my tips for a safe and happy bike ride in Chicago:
Sticking to the streets with bike lanes is a good idea: do it when you can. It’s safer, and cars are much more aware of your presence. Beware and obey the rules of cyclists in these lanes; announce if you are passing and do the intense biker stick-out-your-arm-thing when you are turning. When cycling down the lakefront on a busy summer weekend you will hear the chorus of “on your left” as bikers pass each other. Do it too, and stay in your lane when you can. I have seen more than one head-on biker collision in my day.
Wear a helmet. Yes it will mess up your hair, and yes it doesn’t always look the coolest, but even if you are the safest bike rider in town, you could cross paths with the most unsafe driver in town and that helmet is going to be the difference.
Always lock your bike! Accept it, you’re living in a big city with a decent crime rate. Say goodbye to the days of leaving your bike resting on your front porch. Get a good lock from a bike shop and always lock your front tire AND the frame. Even if you are lucky enough to have a garage, lock your bike in the garage (yes, I have had my bike stolen out of my family’s garage) or just keep it in your apartment. There is nothing worse than the feeling when you realize your beloved black and grey Cannondale is stolen, with your sports watch attached to the handle and you favorite water bottle in the holster. Sigh.
Finally, Chicago is full of great bike shops if you need anything from a tune-up to advice on where to ride. At all shops I’ve been to the people are friendly and passionate about their biking knowledge. My favorite shop is Cycle Smithy on Clark; they are fun, knowledgeable, and when you are buying a bike they even let you take it for a 20 minute spin to see if it’s the right fit. Now that’s trust. Another great place and a real bargain is Lakeshore Bike, located at Recreation Drive just off the lakefront bike path. They are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day and can help you with just about anything you need. They rent bikes too!
For more information on bike laws in the city and where to find bike paths, visit www.chicagobikes.org.