Biking in the city is very different than biking in my hometown, a Wisconsin suburb. The most important rule you need to know is that you can't bike on the sidewalk, which leads to a whole new experience--biking on a busy city street. I've learned a lot while biking in Chicago, and all of it's fast paced horror. After experiencing biking in the Windy City this Summer, I thought I should share with you my wisdom.
1. Cars will literally run you off of the road.
Chicago is known for its awful drivers. Anyone who drives into the city is bound to almost get in an accident at least once or twice. Bikes are no different. While biking I’ve had several incidents where I saw my life flash before my eyes because a Chicago driver wanted to just run me right over. Most of the time, these drivers won’t break at red lights, will turn when you’re trying to cross a street, will drive so close to the edge of the road that you have to weave in and out in order to not bike right into parked cars, and don’t get me started on those turn signals! Most Chicago drivers I’ve talked to rave about how they hate cyclists because we break so many traffic laws. However, most of the law breaking I see on the road is from reckless drivers.
2. Pedestrians are worse than cars.
While pedestrians don’t pose as much of a threat as a delivery truck, cyclists pose a threat to them. The only thing is they are so unaware of how stupid it is to cross a busy bike path without looking both ways. The amount of adults and children I’ve almost run over because they weren’t looking while crossing is ridiculous. I’m not an advocate for leashing you two-year-old child but a number of times I’ve nearly hit a child that decided to bolt across a bike path without realizing, “Oh gee, there are things with wheels that go very fast. Most of the time, especially in touristy areas like Lincoln Park Zoo or Navy Pier, pedestrians are very oblivious to their surroundings. They’ll take up the entire path giving me no room to bike around them without having to go into the other lane and risk getting hit head on by another bike. Not fun.
3. Better buy an actual bike lock.
I don’t think Chicago is the worst place in the world as far as crime goes but it is a city and even the nicest areas could be potentially dangerous. Buying a new bike was difficult because I wanted a bike that functioned enough but wouldn’t get stolen if I tied it up outside. For my bike, I spent about fifty dollars and it’s a vintage Schwinn with a basket and rust on the handles and even a bike that has rust on the handles still has a chance of getting stolen because it’s at least fully functioning. Currently, I have a bike lock but it’s not a very good one. It’s one of those cable locks which are fine for a town or maybe a nicer neighborhood but it’s definitely not fit for city living. People can cut right through that thing with the right tools. The best type of lock to get is a U-lock. Apparently, those are really difficult to cut through and they are your best bet for urban survival.
4. Trying to find a place to put your bike is awful.
Chicago is known for it’s lack of free parking spots, but it’s almost bad for bikes. Some places of business have placing where you can chain up your bike while other times you might have to tie it to a nearby fence or pole both of which are technically not legal. If it’s a busy area there’s a chance an entire bike rack will be filled to capacity. CTA is rough with bikes too as some stations don’t have a bike rack to keep your bike and some stations don’t allow bikes period. Some buses have a bike rack but if that’s filled then you might have to wait for the next bus because you can’t take a bike inside of the bus! Apartments can be weird about their bike policy. Some have bike rooms, others require you to keep it in storage and some are specific about where you can take your bike up.
5. Construction zones are terrifying.
They say in the Midwest that there are only two seasons: winter and road construction. Construction on a bike is scary because most of the time people have no idea what they’re doing. They see a red cone and they flip out. Bikers aren’t allowed on the sidewalk. It’s the law. So when you don’t have a sidewalk and you don’t have a road, what do you do? Honestly, you brace yourselves and hope people don’t do anything stupid. Which they will. Trust me. The most aggressive I’ve been on a bike had been trying to drive through construction when a driver insisted he cut me off. While people are driving slow, people are still driving stupid.
6. Chicago lacks bicycle lanes.
One thing Chicago lacks is bike lanes. If you’re from Minneapolis or Portland or any other bike friendly city, you’ll be insulted when you see the bike lanes here. Many of the bike lanes are hard to see, are covered in potholes that haven’t been filled, and usually have shards of glass or trash on them. Like I really can afford to pop a tire. The good news is, local bicycle activists are trying to get legislation to give Chicagoan more safer bike lanes. Areas like the South Loop, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Lakeview have all started to get better bike lanes for their busier areas.
7. No one actually cares about bike lanes.
However, people kind of don’t really care about bike lanes. Cars will often park in bike lanes with their for ways on, Cars will drive in bike lanes, pedestrians will walk on bike lanes even if they have a perfectly good sidewalk. Bike lanes are almost always first to get sectioned off during construction which involves having to ride right in the middle of traffic in order to avoid falling into a hole. Fun stuff.
8. Most chicago cyclists are fearless.
With all of this, you won’t be surprised to find out the cyclists are reckless human beings. But that’s because they have to be! Cyclists can get a bad reputation for reckless biking, e.g. blowing stop signs, riding through lights, turning unexpectedly- the list goes on. And while I don’t condone reckless biking, it should be noted that drivers are in no way better and most of the time, the near death experience accidents are the drivers fault. Though I did cut off a taxi cab once. That was bad. That was very bad.
9. We all hate people on Divvy bikes.
For those of you who live outside of Chicago, Divvy bikes are these blue bikes that you can rent while you’re in Chicago. They are kind of heavy, kind of slow. They come with lights and a bell and are generally used by tourists, though some locals use them to get around if they don’t feel like messing with public transportation. While these are school, the cyclists on these bikes tend to not be seasoned riders. They bike slow. They make poor decisions. They know literally nothing about biking properly in Chicago and that can be scary when your really don’t want to get into an accident. I remember hearing one woman say, “While I haven’t ridden a bike since eighth grade. I hope I don’t fall!” I was right in front of her and feared for my life at that exact moment.
10. It’s more convenient than public transit.
One thing I can say is that despite all of the terrible stuff, biking in more convenient than public transit. A lot people have negative things to say about the CTA, whether it be the dirty stations, the lack of train cars late at night, how packed it gets during rush hour, or the fact that buses still don’t run as often as they should and always seem to have two buses come at once. With bikes, you can just hop and ride wherever you need to go. It’s free. It’s a good leg workout. And besides the occasional weirdness with traffic and construction, you only have to rely on your own two legs instead of waiting thirty minutes for a train to get “signal clearance.”
11. There are some gorgeous trails in Chicago.
The best part about Chicago to get introduced to is the fantastic bike trails have to offer. My three favorites are the Lakefront Trail, the trails around Lincoln Park and the 606. The Lakefront Trail runs eighteen miles from Ardmore street on the north side all the way to 71st on the south side. The best thing to do is bike there while the sun is setting in the west behind the buildings or if you’re an early bird, biking so you see the sunrise across the beautiful Lake Michigan. Lincoln park is a beautiful biking experience because of the wildlife and plant life. There’s nothing better than riding your bike past a bunch of cute baby ducklings! 606 is relatively new. This trail is roughly two and a half miles long and runs through Wicker park, Logan square and Humboldt park. The path used to be a elevated railroad track but they turned it into a green way. The best part about this path is that you get a great view of the neighborhood!