An electric boost made a long-distance bike trip to the ‘burbs a breeze

Courtney's odometer at the end of her trip. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
Courtney's odometer at the end of her trip. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

On Wednesday I completed my first century (100-mile) ride. An associate of mine who I know through my work in alternative medicine was offering free bodywork sessions for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.) She lives in north-suburban Grayslake and often posts great photos from her bike rides in the area. I initially planned on taking my electric cargo bike bike aboard Metra commuter rail but once I looked further into their policies regarding bikes, it was clear to me I was going to have to bike the 40-plus miles from my home in Rogers Park.

Metra’s bike policy states that “Bicyclists and e-scooter users must be able to board and detrain without assistance from conductors.” Given that my bike is over 60 lbs, it would be pretty difficult for me to lift it onto the train by myself. Additionally, Metra’s bike policy states, “The wheelchair lift cannot be used to load or unload bikes or e-scooters.” And even if you are able to carry a cargo bike onto a Metra train, its length might be an issue, since the rules state that “Bikes and e-scooters are not to exceed 70 inches.” In an ideal world Metra’s trains would easily allow you to roll a bike of any common size or shape bike on board, but we’re not there yet. As it stood, I was going to need to get to my destination by a combination of battery and muscle power.

Courtney Cobbs with her new electric cargo bike at 5 Star Family Cycling.
Courtney Cobbs with her new electric cargo bike at Four Star Family Cyclery.

On the morning of my ride I was excited but also a little nervous. Would I be injured? Would I make it home alive? Would I get lost? Would I encounter angry drivers? I’m happy to report my ride was overall great. The weather was perfect: sunny and 80 degrees. I encountered smiles, nods, and “hellos” along the trails. However, I’d have to give the trip a B- rating due to a close call with a dump truck driver who honked at me as I was riding to the right on a road with “Share the Road” signs and sharrows (bike-and-chevron symbols), Old Green Bay Road, if I recall correctly. I was so startled and afraid he’d run me over that I fell over to the side of the road. Luckily I didn’t sustain any injuries, but I was left somewhat shaken.

I thought I would have been able to bike solo to my friend’s home but due to Google Maps suggestion I take a road with a 35 mph speed limit (where most of the drivers were not doing 35 MPH), I had to call my friend for help. I was only 2 miles away from her home. We ended up mostly riding the sidewalk to her house and had to cross a busy 2 lane road. The experience definitely made me grateful for my life here in Chicago where I can fairly easily get around by bike.

A bike route from Rogers Park to Grayslake (not Courtney's exact start or endpoints.) Image: Google Maps
A bike route from Rogers Park to Grayslake (not Courtney’s exact start or endpoints.) Image: Google Maps

I enjoyed the bike paths I took: the Green Bay Trail, the Skokie Valley Bike Path, the Desplaines River Trail, and the Casey Trail. However, as much as I love trails, they cannot be a substitute for on-street protected cycling infrastructure. It was clear on my ride back that these trails were solely built with recreation in mind. My experience on the Green Bay Trail on the ride home was somewhat scary because there is no lighting along the trail. I had the light of my bike to help me navigate, but I could have easily been attacked by someone lurking in the dark. I did encounter a few folks along the trail and only one of them had a light. It was a bit unnerving. The Sheridan Road bike lane in Winnetka was nice during the day but at night I felt unsafe biking in the painted lane. I mostly took the sidewalk along Sheridan Road and observed drivers hugging the line of the painted bike lane.

Once I made it home I had logged 82 miles on my odometer. So I charged my battery up a bit and went back out to log 20 more miles to break 100 miles. I enjoyed the quiet of the streets with little car traffic and imagined a world in which we can all feel calm in our nervous systems when we ride. 

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Anne Alt is president of the Chicago Cycling Club and works in the Law Offices of James Freeman, a sponsor of Streetsblog Chicago.  When legislation encouraged by then-Lt. Governor Pat Quinn allowed non-folding bikes on Metra trains for the first time in 2005, it was a long-sought victory for Chicago area cyclists. Gaining a new […]