My Kind of Town

Exactly a year tonight I was on a train somewhere in Wisconsin or Minnesota, on my way to Portland with my bike.  After a crazy two weeks of goodbyes and packing up, I biked down Lake Shore path with Cooper and Tim to the Amtrak Station downtown (not before stopping at Trader Joe’s to load up on snacks for the 40 hour ride), where Karen, Karla and Pete were waiting there with my heavy duffel bag of stuff I’d eventually fit on my bike.



To mark a year since I’ve not been in Chicago, I’ve compiled a list of top bike rides in the city (and a few bottom ones as well), it is by no means exhaustive.  Clearly this list will be skewed towards my experience of Chicago, which generally was on the north side.  Feel free to chime in if you have something to include on the list.  In no particular order:

Elston Ave
If you’ve been to Chicago you know it is laid out on an almost perfect grid, with a numbering system that means getting lost is almost impossible.  But all the right angles mean that you can’t always get places as the crow flies.  Here is where Chicago’s diagonal roads, which mostly fan out radially from downtown, come in handy (Milwaukee, Clark, Lincoln and South Chicago come to mind).   A big advantage is that there is a nice wide bike lane, but no CTA route on Elston, so you won’t get stuck leapfrogging those buses.

The first time I biked to work, I headed down Elston never having biked it before, and little by little fell in love with it over the coming years.  Because it was the shortest route from Albany Park to the Loop, I used it frequently and got to know every bump and crack on the road, and learn how to time the stoplights.  Heading southeast, Elston joins up with Milwaukee Ave and the best part of my morning commute, especially on a winter day, biking by the Blommers Chocolate factory.

Lake Shore Path
This multi-use path between Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive is a perfect way to soak in the skyline of Chicago.  Starting in Edgewater and heading all the way south mostly uninterrupted (except for the real annoying bit near Navy Pier), it heads all the way down past the Museum Campus and to Jackson Park.  Of course, the path is no secret, and during a summer weekend, the path will be full of joggers, rollerbladers with iPods, strollers, dogs, tourists in 5-person bikes, and things become a little unpleasant if not dangerous.  The most enjoyable time for me would be on a cool evening, waves crashing on the breakers, on my way home from work, planning what groceries I need to pick up for dinner, with the path nice and empty.

Alley just west of Kenmore between Irving and Montrose
Although there are many roads closer to downtown where you can bike under the L tracks (a la Blues Brothers), there is a little hidden alleyway where you can do this as well.  It follows the eastern wall of Graceland Cemetery.  You’ll most likely have a Red or Purple line come thundering overhead.

Most any Chicago alley
On weekends, with time to kill while looking for old coffee mugs at the various Village Discounts, or going to used bookstores, getting lost in alleys was a favorite activity of mine.  As I mentioned, getting lost in Chicago is tough as every corner has street signs with coordinates, but if you take alleys you can almost lose track of where you are.  I don’t know of very many cities that have alleys on every block, but this is the place to meander around and take a peek at the odd things Chicagoans throw out.

Wilson Ave
Also one of Pete Strom’s favorite street to drive on, it is a great way to getwest from the Lake Shore Path over to Albany Park (once again, no CTA buses west of Clark).  It heads though well kept neighborhood Ravenswood Manor (home to Blagojevich). The bridge over the North Branch is probably one of the largest climbs you’ll ever have to make in Chicago.

Western and Ashland
These large north-south thoroughfares are just not bike friendly.  They go through a lot of commercial areas and I’ve just had too many close calls and never enjoyed biking on them.  The best alternative is right between the two, Damen, a much better option with bike lanes.

Fox River
In the western Chicago Suburbs, the Fox River has a nice path along it, which can be accessed via the different Prairie Path branches which more or less start in the Oak Park area.  If you aren’t up for biking to the Fox River valley from Chicago, take the Metra to either Elgin or Aurora, bike along the river (stopping for chocolate chip cookies at aunt and uncle’s along the way) and the take the Metra back in at the other end.

North Branch Trail
One place to pick up on this trail is right by SuperDawg on Milwaukee (the other is by the Forest Glen Metra stop), a perfect excuse for a Chicago style dog (no ketchup, for Pete’s sake).  It heads up north to the Skokie lagoons and the Chicago Botanical Garden.  I also would take this path part of the way to visit my grandma and the REI in Northbrook, back before there wasn’t an REI in Chicago.   It is real fun during the fall when all you hear is the whoosh of the crunchy leaves in your wake.

Critical Mass Rides
Critical Mass is a bike awareness event of sorts, which takes place on the last Friday of every month in hundreds of cities around the world.  Hundreds (thousands in the summer) of cyclists meet up at 5:30pm in Daley Plaza, and head out through the city as one big stream of cyclists.  I agree that disrupting traffic (especially for folks on public transportation) doesn’t really win over the hearts of motorists (in fact some confrontations with hot-headed folks on car, bike, or police patrol can get violent), but the ride generally has a peaceful atmosphere, and all sorts of bike nuts show up in droves. One or two cyclists will often tow a sound system on a trailer, and the street becomes a party. Pedestrians stop to smile and wave, cyclists yell “Happy Friday” back, and the tourists eat it up, “Look honey, the weirdos are on parade!”.  The cars can clog the roads the remaining 99.5% of the month.  The Halloween ride is not to be missed.

Miss you tons Chicago!

7 comments to My Kind of Town

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>