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The Perfect Place For Serious Bikers
Because Mayor Richard Daley is such a fan of biking, I'm sure that he had a say in the new Bicycle Parking Area called the BICYCLE STATION in Millennium Park. It is an indoor bike parking area with 300 spaces for bikes. The space also has showers, lockers, a bike repair shop, a rental center, and a coffee shop. It is heated, clean, and safe.
This Bicycle Station was designed by Muller & Muller of Chicago. Even though it is a small structure, it is quite nice looking. It cost $3.2 Million and is a two-level building of glass and steel and, in my estimation, is a great addition to the park. Mayor Daley wants to encourage people to bike in the city, and he suggests that they bike to work if they work close to the park because they may use the showers and lockers as well as the bike storage. It is to be the quarters for the Chicago Police Department's Bike Patrol Group. The Mayor sees it as a way to encourage commuting to downtown Chicago.
The building itself is organized around an atrium that leads to the underground facilities, but it gives the building an aboveground presence. Solar panels are used on the sloping roof to announce to the city its GREEN IDENTITY.
The architect, David Steele, extended the simple box into the landscape with steel supports for bright blue awnings. These awnings provide shade for the interior.
He also has horizontal stainless steel cables attached to the exterior and plans to have plants climbing on these cables. He says that "when closely cropped, the plants will add another layer to the bike station's architecture and change its identity with the seasons."
It's obvious that much thought has gone into the building of the Bicycle Station.
Equipment: If you have a bike, then you would be wise to store it at the Bicycle Station while at work or at play.
North Branch bike trail
The North Branch trail is probably the nicest, best maintained bicycle trail in Chicago/Illinois. The 20 mile asphalt trail starts at Caldwell Woods on the city's northwest side (Milwaukee and Devon) and travels north to the Botanic Gardens in Glencoe, going through many wooded areas and forest preserves and past the Skokie Lagoons. The Botanic Gardens are free if you arrive by bike or on foot. You do have to cross some busy streets but there are long stretches without stopping and most of the trail is flat although there are a few curves. Walkers, rollerbladers and runners also share the same trail and keep your eyes peeled for some of the many deer who don't seem to be phased by the presence of humans.
A map of the North Branch trail can be seen at the website below, broken into the north and south parts. There is lots of parking along the route as well as bathrooms and picnic shelters.
Map of south end
Map of north end
Equipment: Bike, helmet, water. There are water pumps but the water tastes funny
Four Star Bike Tour (formerly BLT)
Sunday August 25, 2013, in 2010 the starting location changed from the University of Chicago Campus in Hyde Park to the University of Illinois-Chicago campus at Morgan and Taylor streets, in 2011 renamed from the Boulevard Lakefront Tour (BLT) to the Four Star Bike Tour, renamed again in to the 2013 Four Star Bike & Chow
2013 was the 7th time we've done the Four Star Bike Tour/BLT, it's one of my favorite organized rides because it goes into neighborhoods which the normal visitor or even locals don't get to see because there aren't any tourist attractions along much of the route. There's safety in numbers with a couple thousand people riding through. I've been through most of these areas in a car but I thought it was really cool seeing it from a bicycle. There's a $35 registration fee that goes to the Active Transportation Alliance, you get a tshirt and some snacks along the way if you pre register, if not it costs more and you don't get a tshirt.
The routes this year were 12, 22, 35 or 62 miles, we usually do the 35 mile ride. Until 2010 the ride started at the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park, the past three years it has started near the UIC campus on Taylor Street. Although I would have preferred to see this event stay as a southside event, with the Taylor Street start I get to have yummy Mexican food afterwards at the Maxwell Street Market.
Every year the route changes. one year we went down Prairie Avenue, sometimes through Chinatown, another year through Bronzeville. The route usually goes through some of Chicago's fabulous parks and always through interesting neighborhoods In 2011 the 21 mile route went through Pilsen, Kenwood, and Hyde Park before heading back along the lakefront. In 2012 the 35 mile route went out into the suburbs, we had a nice ride through Berwyn, Cicero, Riverside, Forest Park and Oak Park in addition to some of the Chicago neighborhoods like Little Village, Pilsen, Heart of Italy and Garfield Park. In 2013, the 35 mile route went north through downtown, Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville, Rogers Park, and then west through Logan Park and Humboldt Park. They added three "chow" locations, they were well stocked with pierogi, samosas and thai appetizers and the lines went very quick, kudos to them for getting that right on the 1st shot. The route not as interesting as usual though, I think they were trying to highlight some of the changes for bicyclists in the city such as the new bike lane on Dearborn and the development of the Bloomingdale 606 trail (which has nothing to do with the suburb of the same name).
There are several rest stops along the way with healthy snacks, toilets and water and there are folks along the way to help out with flat tires. Since we ended at UIC, we rode to Mario's in Little Italy for a lemonade and then to the Maxwell Street Market for some churros.
Equipment: You must bring your own bike and helmet or you can rent one in advance through their website
Charity runs/bike rides/walks
In the warmer months, there are a bazillion 5k runs, walks, triathlons and bike rides benefitting every charitable organization you can think of. Registration fees are usually $20-30 that mostly benefit the charity and you get to get a little exercise in while seeing a part of the city.
We usually do several during the summer, some of the ones we do include:
Breast Cancer 5K held on Mother's Day, over 25,000 people show up for this one
Bark in the Park 5K, benefiting the Anti Cruelty Society, you can bring your 4 legged friends with you for this one :-)
Jim Gibbons 5K, benefiting the Leukemia Foundation
Late Ride, benefiting the Friends of the Park
BLT, benefiting the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation
Bowling in Southport
Let's go bowling! And a place you'll always remember is Southport Lanes and Billiards. It's got to be one of the very few remaining genuine bowling bars anywhere in the US - and it is certainly the last such in Chicago. It's tiny - just four lanes - and you get to set your own pins. Buy a pitcher of Goose Island brew and have an old fashioned afternoon here.
Equipment: They do rent shoes here, and they have their own bowling balls, but of course you can bring your own.
The Horses They Are Not!
Big Joes is a cool little neighborhood bar that hosts possibly one of the most competative events in the entire Chicagoland area.
Prepair yourself for... TURTLE RACES. In the bar you recieve tickets for every beer you purchase and at race time you bet your tickets on what turtle you think will win. The person who won with the most tickets on a turtle gets a t-shirt and moves onto the finals. I might add that the last place looser gets a free drink.
At the end of six races all of the winners of all of the other races compete against each other to see who is champ.
The bar is full of regulars and is a lot of fun for all of the first timers, or turtle virgins as what the bar keep will call you.
Equipment: The races are held on every Friday and all that is needed is your best drinking buddy and a little cash for side bets.
The turtles are placed in the center of a wooden circle table and the first one to touch a corner of the table is declaired the winner.
- Casino and Gambling
Bobby's Bike Hikes
I've now done two of Bobby's Bike Hikes, the 1st was the Lakefront Neighborhood tour that I took with a few VTers back in 2004. I thought that as a native Chicagoan that I might find this tour a little dull but the tour actually took me by a few places that I had heard of but had never seen (Playboy Mansion, Cardinal's residence, Abraham Lincoln statue) and a few hidden corners that I had not explored. The pace is very slow, perfect for casual riders.
The 2nd tour was done in conjunction with the Great Places and Spaces festival and this time we did the Obama tour that started from their downtown location, around 20 miles in length. There is a shorter tour but you have to get yourself to the southside location. We started off down the lakefront path, stopping only for a couple of equipment malfunctions before going under Lake Shore Drive at 63rd Street. From there we rode past the Statue of the Republic, through the Wooded Isle and by the Osaka Gardens, the University of Chicago Campus and then up to Obama's current home which is blocked off by cement barriers and patroled by Chicago police. The tour ends up at the Hyde Park Art Center. The Obama trivia wasn't the highlight of the tour for me, the stops seemed almost contrived to make it so they could call it an Obama tour-the place he played basketball, where he taught law school, an apartment building where he lived and his current home. But I would recommend it for those of you who want to see a different slice of Chicago than downtown, the Hyde Park and University of Chicago area is quite beautiful and the lakefront path is delightful. The 20 mile tour was very moderately paced, if you are a speed demon you may find the pace a little slow.
Equipment: The cost of the Lakefront tour is $32 which includes a fat tire bike complete with a bell but you can bring your own bike and get a $5 discount on the price of the tour. The Obama tour is either $32 or $43 depending on which one you choose.
Bike the Drive
May 26, 2013, held on the Sunday before Memorial Day annually
We are usually out of town Memorial Day weekend but we were in town in 2003 and 2006 so we signed up for Bike the Drive, one of the funnest Chicago area bike rides. Bike the Drive, sponsored by the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, is a 15 or 30 mile ride on Lake Shore Drive which was closed off to traffic from 5:30 am to 10:00 am. The course goes south to the Museum of Science and Industry and north to the end of Lake Shore Drive at Bryn Mawr.
It may not look like it from the attached photo but approximately 18,000 cyclists attended this event in 2003, attendance was over 20,000 in 2006.
There are several rest stops with healthy snacks and water. The registration fee includes a t-shirt although they often run out of the size you want at these events.
Although many Chicago bicyclists thought closing Lake Shore Drive to cars would be great permanently, the most they can hope for is that this will be an annual event. But Chicago is still a very bike friendly city and the city sponsors many biking events during the summer months.
Equipment: You must have your own bike and helmet.
Early October is the time for the Chicago Marathon - the first or second weekend of the month. Even if you're not a runner (I'm not) it's fun to be in the city with so many dedicated athletes all so intent on doing their best. I'm told that it's a good marathon - Chicago's not exactly a hilly city, and it's possible to make excellent time there, as long as the wind isn't too fierce.
Hustle Up the Hancock
Every year, in the second half of February, the American Lung Association puts on a fund raising event called "Hustle up the Hancock". I've personally done it three times!
With starting intervals of 10 seconds, several thousand people will race the stairwell from the basement to the observatory (some 94 floors, 1200ft/365m). Or alternatively there is a half-climb option of 52 floors. Upon reaching the top you will be treated with a few refreshments, fruit and a massage if you so wish, not to mention a well deserved marvelous view.
Registration is required a couple weeks in advance. Minimum donations are also required.
If you participate, you may notice that there will always be several firefighters that will complete. Most of them do so in honor of the 300+ firefighters who lost their lives in the Twin Towers on 9/11. Many of them who participate will do the clime wearing full gear and carrying all tools!
Of course for those who don't want to take the time (& effort) to do the stairs can go up to the Observatory on the 94th floor in 39 seconds by the Otis elevators (1,800 feet (549 meters) per minute). Or for those even to lazy to take the elevator, you can wait in the Cheesecake Factory at the base of the building.
Equipment: yourself and a pair of good shoes. Unless you are quite physically fit, it does require a bit of training and endurance.
- Hiking and Walking
Diving the Wrecks of Lake Michigan
Yes, people do not often think about it, but Chicago has been a thriving port for nearly 150 years. With that, there are many aquatic treasures to see just off the city's shores.
I've personnally dove on a handful of wrecks just 1/2 mile off the coast of downtown Chicago. The cold water and low levels of bacteria have preserved many of the wooden hulled ships (typically in 30~50 feet depth). The wrecks are wonderfully summarized under the "Shipwrecks" link on the website listed below.
Equipment: You will need typical scuba gear, as well as a 5mm (1/4") suit depending on the water temperatures. Thermoclines are common and can be a bit chilly. Rent what you don't have from the tour boat you book with.
Local dive shops and phone numbers are also summarized on the website listed below.
- Historical Travel
- Diving and Snorkeling
Chicago is one of America's better cities for biking. Even if you're from out of town, the city makes it easy for you to get a bike, with bicycle rental centers througout town. You can rent a bike at various locations around town: North Avenue Beach, Ohio Street Beach, or near Millennium Park at 239 East Randolph Street, just to name a few.
Rates vary according to the size of the bike and length of rental. I recommend you spend the money to rent a good bike - trying to navigate Chicago's winds on a small, cheap bike is not fun. Once you have your bike, use it to check out the city, or stay on the bike trail along the lakefront - it can get a little crowded on weekends & holidays though. And you won't be alone either - Chicago is quite a biking city, especially when the weather's warm.
Bike Chicago. It's fun.
Kayaking the Chicago River
Equipment: For the active minded, or those that just want to see Chicago from a whole new perspective, I recommend renting a kayak and paddling up the Chicago River or the Lake Michigan shoreline. If you’re new to the area you can book any number of guided tours, including an architectural tour. The more experienced kayaker can go it alone, just beware of the larger boats that frequent the Chicago waterways – they always have the right of way, and can’t always see you. If you’re planning to explore the Chicago River the easiest kayak launch is from North Pier. For Lake Michigan access Montrose Harbor provides an easy launch point. Kayak rentals from North Pier through Kayak Chicago run $15/hour for a single and $25/hour for a tandem. They’re open from 10 am to 7 pm Wed – Sun. Check out their website to view dates times and pricing for kayak classes and group paddles.
- Water Sports
Run, Run, Run
First there was the Marathon, then lazy people like me decided that was too much and hence they invented the half marathon. Then we got a bit older and fatter so they gave us the quarter marathon. All three are available in Chicago - so if you are feeling sporty then where better to do some excercise. They all run at different times of the year! Though the half is in September? And don't worry they are hopefully working on the one eight marathon right now!
Equipment: You, running shoes, shorts and a vest (girls this is optional)
Kayak In an urban Grand Canyon
Chicago, with its large calm river flowing through downtown, offers you a great opportunity to kayak through an urban canyon. Heading into the northern end of the city, rent a kayak and drop in ... it is possible to go all the way to Michigan Ave, going under bridges, past skyscrapers, and other river traffic. It is a calm area, easy paddling, and more fun than you can imagine. Then, return to have lunch and relax after your trip. I highly recommend this, if the weather is right.
Equipment: Sunscreen, water, and a camera are what you need. The kayaks are pretty stable, so I wouldn't worry about getting wet or tipping over. Just relax and have fun.
- Family Travel
- Water Sports
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