Chicago’s 5,000-bike giveaway and free Learn to Ride classes kick off this summer

A CDOT Learn to Ride class. Photo: CDOT
A CDOT Learn to Ride class. Photo: CDOT

If we want to make biking a mainstream choice for transportation and physical activity in Chicago, building safe cycling infrastructure alone is not enough. Education and encouragement are also important pieces of the puzzle, and city’s upcoming 5,000-bike giveaway and annual Learn to Ride classes are part of that. Here are updates on those two initiatives.

5,000-bike giveaway

Back in March, Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Gia Biagi first announced plans to distribute the bicycles during a speech to the City Club of Chicago. (Watch a video of the speech here.) “And also, announcing right now, we’re gonna give away 5,000 bikes to Chicago residents,” Biagi said, according to a report by the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman. “Free bikes. And a helmet. And a bike lock. And it’s not gonna be a Divvy bike.” CDOT spokesperson Susan Hofer told Spielman the giveaway would be paid for by a “Climate Recovery Bond.

Hofer recently provided a bit more information to Streetsblog about the giveaway, which is intended to complement the city’s current project to install 100 miles of new or upgraded bikeways in 2021-22. CDOT plans to distribute the 5,000 bicycles, plus safety gear and maintenance equipment, over the course of 4 years. The distribution of bikes will kick off this summer, with at least 500 new cycles being distributed in the first year of the program

The city is currently developing the program with community leaders and organizations, and will share additional eligibility requirements and how residents can apply in the coming months, Hofer said. But she did specify that participants in CDOT’s summer mobility programming – including Green Corps Youth, Learn to Ride classes (more on this below), and Open Boulevard Events – will be eligible to receive a bike.

But residents who don’t participate in those programs but meet the eligibility criteria will be able to apply online, according to Hofer. It would make sense for there to be an income cap for eligibility, similar to the current $35,310 income limit for a single person to qualify for the Divvy for Everyone $5 annual membership program. Over the next four years, CDOT will gradually increase the distribution of free bikes each year until 5,000 cycles have been given away.

Learn to Ride classes

Meanwhile, CDOT is gearing up for speak biking season with an expanded offering of learn to ride courses for children and adults, including a few classes in Spanish. The Learn to Ride program kicks off tomorrow, June 7, and registration is now open. Classes will be held at six locations throughout the city.

The free bicycle-riding classes, taught by CDOT’s SAFE (Streets Are For Everyone) Ambassadors, are two hours long and designed for Chicago residents age 16 or older. Participants learn based on their experience level. 

If you know an adult or teen who’s interested in Learn to Ride Classes, here’s a basic breakdown of the classes and a schedule for them.

Beginner Learn to Ride is for those who don’t know how to ride a bike yet, as well as people who learned a while back and could benefit from a refresher class. Classes are taught on a car-free course.  

  • Tuesdays at La Villita Park, 2800 S. Sacramento Avenue: June 7, 14, 21, 28 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. 
  • Thursdays at 500 N. Sacramento Blvd. next to the Greater West Town Training Partnership: June 9 & 23 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. (meet at the Divvy Station). 
  • Saturdays at the parking lot of CAN TV, 1309 S. Wood Street: June 11 and July 2 from 10:00 a.m. to noon or 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. 
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays at Piotrowski Park, 4247 W. 31st Street: July 5, 7, 12, 14, 19, 21, 26, 28 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.   
  • Saturdays at Harmony Community Church, 1908 S. Millard Avenue: July 9, 16, 23 from 10:00 a.m. to noon. 

Skill-Builder Learn to Ride is for people who have completed the beginner course, as well as those who already have basic riding experience. Signaling, turning and interacting with other people biking or walking will be covered. The Skill-Builder class will also provide instruction to help riders interested in preparing to bike on city streets. This class will also be conducted on a car-free course.  

  • Wednesdays at La Villita Park, 2800 S. Sacramento Avenue: June 22 and July 6, 20 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. 

Road Ride is the advanced class in which SAFE Ambassadors will ride with students on city streets to help them experience everyday situations and build confidence. Topics covered include how to plan routes to your destination, the different types of bike lanes, and how to position yourself on the street in various traffic situations. 

  • Saturdays at Seward Park, 375 W. Elm Street: July 9, 23; August 6, 20 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.  

A Divvy bike will be available to attendees though those under 5’3 are encouraged to bring their own bike. Reservations are required and granted on a first-come, first-serve basis for all courses. The easiest way to register is by filling out an online form. If you encounter an issue with the form, email 312SAFEbike@gmail.com, or text or call 773-312-3283. Children under the age of 16 are welcome to attend as long as they are with a parent or guardian.

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