Biking In Chicago: A Long History of a Strong Community

I’ve been a proud to be biking in Chicago for almost two years now.  Biking, to me, conjures feelings of childhood bliss. Memories of summers riding my purple Huffy, bedecked with psychedelic flowers. I’d ride it in a continuous loop in my parents’ driveway and, if I was daring, a neighbor’s sidewalk. Unfortunately, suburban sprawl wasn’t conducive to my need for speed. Without any biker-friendly streets or destinations in Omaha, I sadly hung up my helmet for a learner’s driving permit.

Little did I know of the joy and fulfillment of biking in Chicago. Destinations, tours, and paths that were just waiting for me. Not only can people ride for the fun of the wind in your hair, but Chicago has worked very hard to promote bicycle tourism and transportation for visitors and residents. In fact, in 2001 Bicycling Magazine named Chicago the best city for biking, in 2008 Chicago was listed as “still the greatest,” and this past year they gave a nod to Mayor Emanuel‘s newest efforts.

Biking in Chicago History

biking in Chicago velocipedeChicago has a long history of bicycle advocacy. As the first “velocipedes” became commonly popular in the mid- to late-1800s. Indeed, Carter Harrison II rode on a cycling campaign for mayor in 1897. His campaign slogan? “Not the Champion Cyclist, but the Cyclist’s Champion.” Cycling back then was a leisure activity mostly enjoyed by the upper-middle class.

biking in Chicago
Carter Harrison II, “Not the Champion Cyclist, but the Cyclist’s Champion”

class.

City streets around the turn of the century were composed of knobby bricks, mud, sewage, and lots of horse manure. Biking was a hobby best enjoyed on the outskirts. After winning the election, Mayor Harrison repaid his pedaling supporters by creating a bike path from Edgewater to Evanston along Sheridan Road.

Bicycle Manufacturing

Chicago was also once known as “the bicycle-building capital of America,” home to two-thirds of country’s manufacturers such as Arnold, Schwinn & Company. It was the rise of the automobile that forced bicycle companies to market to children.  The energy crisis of the 1970’s and the resulting decline of the car industry in the 1980’s extended Chicago’s status as the city that loved cycling into the both the Daley mayoral terms.

The Daleys had cycling advocacy councils that added substantially to the city’s bike friendliness. Richard J. Daley established the 18.5 mile lakefront bicycle path and Richard M. Daley expanded marked bike lanes by 100 miles. Mayor Emanuel’s Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 plans to create 100 miles of protected bike lanes and paths, establish a bicycle-sharing program, and continue programs that encourage cycle awareness and safety. And now there’s even a new cycling race track, aka “velodrome,” located on the site of the former U.S. Steel South Works. Chicago Velo Campus opened last year after Chicago spent 65 years velodrome-less.

biking in chicago daley plaza critical mass
Critical Mass meets at Daley Plaza every last Friday of the Month. Picture by InterwovenThreads.com/blog

Biking in Chicago Today

Chicago has a lot of awesome summertime bicycle events like Bike the Drive, Bike to Work Week, and the always zany World Naked Bike Ride. There’s Critical Mass on every last Friday of the month (ahem, that would be THIS Friday, June 29 at 5:30 in Daley Plaza), and the L.A.T.E. Ride (an overnight right June 30/July 1). Our lovely city also has a strong bicycle community and resources, like the Active Transportation Alliance and thechainlink.org.

I think biking is even more fun today than it was when I was a kid; there is nothing like breezing through the bike lane past a line of suckers stuck in traffic. If nothing else, cycling in the city reigns as an efficient, fun and liberating way to explore and sight-see in Chicago. Truly there is no better way to experience Chicago’s architecture and neighborhood dynamics than with the speed and ease of self-perpetuated motion.

— Marianna Foral, Editorial & Research Intern

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Jen

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Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

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Elyse

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

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Sonny

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As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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