Chicago's cycling infrastructure has grown a considerable amount in recent years. With new bike lanes being built every year (including many protected bike lanes), and the city's bike-sharing program "Divvy" being introduced in 2013, more and more people are becoming comfortable with the idea of biking in the city.
As an avid traveler who doesn't have the luxury (or desire) of renting a car, I find exploring a new city by bike to be a great alternative. You're able to cover more ground on a bike than on foot. You're also able to avoid hefty parking fees and the stress of traffic jams. So grab your helmet and get ready to ride! Here are some basic tips for biking in Chicago.
Finding a Bike
There's no shortage of bike rental options in Chicago. Visitors and locals both love Divvy, Chicago's popular bike sharing program. Divvy, like many other city bike-sharing programs, is most ideal for short distances and quick errands. With a 24-hr pass (available at any Divvy station) you get unlimited 30-minute trips. Keep in mind you're charged extra for each trip that lasts longer than 30 minutes, so if you're looking to bike greater distances or for longer than 30 minutes at a time, you'll want to look into renting a bike by the hour or by the day. Bike and Roll Chicago and Bobby's Bike Hike both offer a wide range of bikes at hourly and daily rates, and they're conveniently located downtown with easy access to Chicago's 18-mile Lakefront Path.
If you're staying in town for an extended period of time and plan to bike a lot, you might want to consider purchasing a bike from a local bike shop like Working Bikes or Smart Bike Parts - both have a good variety of affordable, used bikes.
Where to Go
Chicago has more than 100 miles of bike lanes throughout the city. From dedicated, barrier-protected bike lanes, to shared roadways, there are plenty of areas to explore on two wheels.
For stunning views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan, you don't want to miss the Lakeshore Path (pictured at top). A popular spot for runners, bikers and walkers, this 18-mile paved trail stretches through several lakefront neighborhoods. If you plan on riding the Lakeshore Path, you'll probably want to rent by the hour from Bike and Roll Chicago or Bobby's Bike Hike (to avoid having to check in the Divvy every 30 minutes).
Dearborn Street offers a two-way bike lane through the loop - a great route for navigating north & south downtown. Other dedicated bike routes include Wells Street, Lincoln Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue. These bike lanes will take you through many different neighborhoods, each unique in their own way.
If that's not enough, in June, the city introduced The 606, a unique park and trail system stretching east/west through Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park and Logan Square. This elevated trail is 2.7 miles long and includes many Divvy bike-share stations along the route.
Tips for Biking in the City
Riding a bike in the city comes with risks. The most common is getting "doored." That is, riding down the street when all of the sudden, BOOM - a car door flies open and you're on the pavement. Use caution when biking, and always leave plenty of space next to parked cars, even if it means taking a little bit of the road. You never know when one of those doors is going to open, and unfortunately, not everyone looks for approaching cyclists before exiting their car.
Avoid wearing headphones - you want your senses working at full capacity while biking in the city. This ensures you can hear approaching cars and other cyclists passing you.
Another risk is theft. If you don't lock your bike, it will get stolen. Always lock your bike properly. The more secure, the better. Most bike rental places should be able to provide a lock or have them for sale. Here's a comprehensive guide to locking your bike.
Wear a helmet! Unfortunately, Divvy does not offer helmets, but most other bike rental places will be able to provide a helmet, and it's simply in your best interest to wear it.
Finally, be aware of your surroundings, be smart and enjoy your journey!
Photos: Divvy by Adam Alexander, others by Jake Bartlett