INTO THE WILD:
H.G. Wells said, “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.” Indeed, bicycles are a powerful tool for living with nature — and a great way to visit some of our wide-open spaces.
Photo: Kim Karpeles / Life Through the Lens
Compiled by Ezra Hozinsky
Get on Your Bike and Ride
With nature preserves flung far across our region, bikes offer an eco-friendly way to get you there (or anywhere, for that matter). The free Chicago Bike Map, available at bike shops or online, lists routes within the city. The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation map, (312) 427-3325, shows bike-friendly routes, including trails within preserves, throughout the seven-county region. Milwaukee Map Service, (414) 774-1300 offers detailed regional road maps good for weekend tours.
If the Bike Fits...
Whether you need a new bike, repairs for that old three-speed, or a few accessories, a good independent local shop or cycling club is the best place to start (check the phone book or bikelib.org). And do-it-yourselfers in search of a good read will enjoy Lennard Zinn’s Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance. You’ll never walk your bike home again.
Converted railways such as the Burnham Greenway and the Illinois Prairie Path now host quieter wheels with help from groups such as the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, (202) 331-9696. Pedal alongside paddlers on the Des Plaines River Trail (CW, Fall ’97) or North Branch Trail, where you’ll cruise by patches of restored riverside biodiversity. Challenge your bike-handling skills on Palos forest preserve’s sprawling web of singletrack (stay on legal trails). Or tour the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, near Joliet (for biking directions from the southern suburbs, visit biketraffic.org.)
This is Only a Test
Take that new bike around the block before hitting the trail. Make sure you understand how it shifts gears, how the brakes feel, how it steers. Be prepared to repair a flat tire. Ask your shop how, or take repair classes with a group such as Chicago’s Cycling Sisters.
Bikes in the Wild
Like any vehicle, bikes can tear up trails and plants. Poorly placed bike trails built through natural areas can be as ecologically and aesthetically disruptive as a road. Some wild places should never have trails. “We need to find a balance in trail construction,” says Bev Moore of the Illinois Trails Conservancy. “People need access to natural areas so they can appreciate what’s there, but not everything has to be paved in blacktop. I never would have seen or heard the amazing variety of birds at Lake County’s Singing Hills Forest Preserve without cycling the Millennium Trail there.”
Volunteer for trail maintenance and ecosystem restoration workdays with Illinois Trails Conservancy, (815) 569-2472; Chicago Area Mountain Bikers; the Lake County Forest Preserves, (847) 367-6640; and the Sierra Club Illinois Chapter, (312) 251-1680.
Life in the Slow Lane
Give yourself a brake. Bikes cover a lot of ground, but make sure to stop to inspect that unfamiliar flower or listen to a stream.Standing still for five minutes, you’ll notice things your speeding self missed. See who else is slowing down at RIDE (Recreation for Individuals Dedicated to the Environment), (312) 853-2820 ext. 105.
Useful Links for Biking in Chicago Wilderness
Bike Trails Profiled in Chicago Wilderness Magazine
Connect the Dots
Want to fully appreciate habitat fragmentation? Just cycle to your favorite natural area. Years of road construction have given motorists unimpeded access to every building, park, and parking lot, while cyclists and pedestrians are often forced to find alternate routes, potentially more dangerous ones. Animals forced out of isolated habitats in search of food or mates encounter the same risks, and some species can’t adapt. To learn about the Chicago Wilderness Sustainability Initiatives, call (312) 454-0400.
A bike gets the equivalent of 1,000 miles to a gallon of gasoline. It’s the most efficient form of transportation ever invented.
8–12 bikes park in the space of one car.
Under current law, Illinois cyclists are not “intended” roadway users. Read more at Leage of Illinois Bicyclists.
Riding after a rain seriously erodes unpaved trails. Wait for a dry day.
Autumn is often ideal for cycling — it’s usually drier and cooler, fallen leaves protect trails, and fewer insects are about.
Essentials for Autumn Rides
Patch kit or spare tube
Pump or CO2 inflation cartridge
Water bottles or hydration pack
Rain jacket or windbreaker, sweater
U-lock or chain (for locking to trees)
Gloves (for warmth and protection)