Chicago's one of the more cycling-friendly cities in America, from its profusion of park paths and marked bike lanes on major thoroughfares to a host of activist and support organizations to the wide availability of affordable parts. The city's own transportation department site, which includes a frequently updated map (www.egov.cityofchicago.org/Transportation/bikemap/keymap.html) of marked lanes, is a good place to start planning your routes. For an exhaustive guide to biking, including info on shops, activism, safety, and more, see the well-maintained portal bikechicago.info.
The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (biketraffic.org), the city's largest cycling advocacy organization, hosts the spring Bike the Drive (312-427-3325, bikethedrive.org), closing Lake Shore Drive to cars on a Saturday morning and giving riders the run of the highway ($40, $35 for CBF members).
CBF provides support for other rides and initiatives as well, including the Chicago Major Taylor Bike Society's Bike the South Side Ride Series (chicagomajortaylor.org), whose next ride, the "Two Day Michigan City Bike Ride," is scheduled for September 23 and 24, though registration is closed.
The local chapter of Critical Mass (chicagocriticalmass.org) hosts free rides that start downtown at Daley Plaza (Washington and Dearborn) and emphasize the group's take-back-the-streets message. Part community-building exercise, part activism, and part happening, the rides draw motley crowds, from corporate types on mountain bikes to purple-haired messengers on double-decker homemade jobs. The next one's scheduled for September 29.
The gay and lesbian oriented Windy City Cycling Club (windycitycyclingclub.com) partners with dykediva.com for Dykes Pedaling Bikes, a slow ride down the lake from the Loop to Hyde Park, Saturday, October 7, at 9 AM.
Chicago's going on its fourth year for the World Naked Bike Ride (worldnakedbikeride.org/chicago), a globally coordinated protest ride against oil dependency. Can't wait for next spring? Bike Winter (bikewinter.org), a (not naked) confederation of cold-weather enthusiasts, has group rides anytime it snows more than two inches. It also holds cold-weather-riding workshops and other events--in January 2005 it got it together for a ten-day festival. Its Web site offers tips for surviving the winter on wheels--by the way, the one that's coming is supposed to be a doozy.
The Chicago Cycling Club (773-509-8093, chicagocyclingclub.org), a social club that hosts weekend rides April through October, also offers Wednesday training rides.
A recent one focused on increasing speed and mobility in group riding. Most rides are free, and you don't have to be a member to pedal along.
aFood and drink
Cyclists get thirsty, even in winter (layers of clothing = buckets of sweat). The Handlebar (2311 W. North, 773-384-9546, handlebar chicago.com), a bike-themed bar and grill, has stools fabricated from old wheels and out front the modern-day equivalent of a hitching post. For drink only there's also Cal's (400 S. Wells, 312-922-6392), popular with bike messengers, among others.
When it comes to gear and maintenance, there are plenty of choices. Kozy's Cyclery (kozy.com) has several locations, all good if you're looking for new bikes or gear or have maintenance issues. Likewise Upgrade Cycle Works (1130 W. Chicago, 312-226-8650, upgradecycle.com) has a knowledgeable service staff and stocks high-end new models.
On the north side, Uptown Bikes (4653 N. Broadway, 773-728-5212) sells new models except for some used sales in spring. When I wrecked my 1980s Schwinn a few years back (on Augusta, where I've been hit twice in the past four years: avoid it), they matched the old fork with a perfect used replacement in no time. Yojimbo's Garage (1310 N. Clybourn, 312-587-0878, yojimbos garage.com) is a funky shop operated by a track-bike enthusiast and expert mechanic in the shadow of what remains of the Cabrini-Green housing project. And the small storefront Boulevard Bikes (2535 N. Kedzie, 773-235-9109, boulevardbikeshop.com) doesn't have a huge selection of gear, but the staff is always friendly and helpful with problems large or small--quick, too.
In Pilsen, due south of UIC, Irv's Bike Shop (1725 S. Racine, 312-226-6330, email@example.com) is a handy one, and on the western edge of the neighborhood is Working Bikes, which maintains both a storefront (1125 S. Western, 312-421-5048, workingbikes.org) for used-bike sales and a warehouse just up the street (927 S. Western) that's a gold mine of used bikes and parts. Both are open to the public on Wednesdays and weekends. Proceeds from sales fund large donations of used bikes to developing nations.
Down the street from the Handlebar is West Town Bikes (2418 W. North, 312-213-4184, westtownbikes.org), an organization devoted to outreach and education that has a community workshop for rent and classes in maintenance, among other services.
Many shops offer discounts to Chicagoland Bicycle Federation members. Check out chicago bikeshops.info for complete listings, and be sure to pick up a helmet if you haven't already got one. In case you haven't noticed the spectral memorials posted around the city by Chicago Ghost Bikes, our car culture often makes city biking difficult: they're bikes locked in place and spray painted white to raise awareness of bicycle-related fatalities. The first ghost bike, outside the Empty Bottle at 1035 N. Western, is a chopper of the kind often ridden by Isai Medina, who was hit near that spot.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.