Cyclists Enjoyed a Car-Free and Carefree LSD on Bike the Drive

Photo: Kim Bellware
Photo: Kim Bellware

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Cyclists from across the Chicagoland area gathered near Lake Michigan on a sweltering Sunday morning for the unofficial kickoff to the summer cycling season, Bike the Drive. It’s the most important annual fundraiser for the Active Transportation Alliance advocacy group.

For 17 years, cyclists ranging from small children pedaling on trailer bikes to high-speed racers zooming by on pricey titanium-frame cycles have taken over Lake Shore Drive for a few hours on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend for the rare opportunity of biking in the city without a car in sight.

“This is actually my first bike ride since I was little,” said 31-year-old Chianne, a native Chicagoan who did this year’s Bike the Drive on a Divvy, alongside her daughter.

Chianne and her daughter, who had been itching to ride since getting a bike of her own, rode from Grant Park to 39th Street and back before enjoying the post-ride festival in the park.  

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Chianne and her daughter. Photo: Kim Bellware

“We went south, and when got to 39th we took a picture in front of the ‘You Are Beautiful’ sign,” Chianne said. The experience, she said, encouraged her to bike more in the city.

“I’ve never rode one of these bikes,” she said of the Divvy, giving the wheels a little bounce. “These bikes aren’t too bad, neither.”

Another Chicago-based participant, Deon, had done the ride in the past, but preferred this years weather, even as the temps crept into the mid-90s by morning.

Deon. Photo: Kim Bellware
Deon. Photo: Kim Bellware

“The weather was a little better this year. But no issues,” he said. His normal route is the Lakefront Trail, but today biked from 39th to North Avenue and back with some family members — and the family dog — in tow.

“My favorite part is probably the [Outer Drive] Bridge over the river ‘cause you get the speed going down,” Deon said. So far, he hasn’t been able to convince more of his friends to join him on the city streets during typical days.

“It’s just good exercise for me.”

Deon observed that, apart from the good condition of the drive compared to parts of the Lakefront Trail, Sunday’s event brought out a variety of cyclists — “people who do it everyday, new bikers, experienced bikers” — not usually seen on the city streets, or even the Lakefront Trail.

Anna. Photo: Kim Bellware
Anna. Photo: Kim Bellware

It was telling that, among the Bike the Drive participants who discussed their experience, none were hesitant to do the ride despite age, fitness level or lack of familiarity with riding in groups; far fewer were comfortable riding on the city’s car-choked roadways.

Anna, an 11-year-old first-timer who brought a stuffed pig along in her handlebar basket for company, biked most of the distance to 31st Street with her father and said the fact that she could ride on the street was the part she liked best. (The young cyclist was pleased to know that even real pigs  sometimes get to join in Chicago’s group rides).

Carolyn, an Orland Park resident, came to the city with her husband and their recumbent bikes to do the ride for the first time.

“It was all good. Sunrise was great. We started at 5:30 [a.m.],” she said. “Normally we ride around Tinley Park and Orland Park. But we decided to come out this year; we’re training for Ragbrai.”

Normally a suburban bike trail rider, Carolyn and her husband said they were hooked — at least on the annual closed-to-cars ride.

“We loved it. We did everything, north and south, the whole 30, starting from Grant Park,” she said.

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Carolyn. Photo: Kim Bellware

The more than 20,000 estimated participants gradually cleared the drive around 10:30 a.m. as cars were reintroduced onto the highway and the cyclists fanned out back to their usual routes on the street.

Hours later, after all traces of the bike riders had vanished from the drive, Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward encompasses some of the most popular bike routes in the city, mused on Twitter about a future where an event like Bike the Drive isn’t just an anomaly of a few hours each year.  

“[M]aybe someday we will see a world where cars have just one special day each year to take Lake Shore Drive away from the bikes.”

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago’s own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

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