Last weekend I traveled to Chicago to celebrate my nephew's 2nd birthday. Technically, I landed at O'Hare but spent most of the weekend in Great Lakes, Illinois (about 40 miles north of the city) where my sister lives.
Our weekend was full of toddler fun: the Betty Brin Children's Museum in Milwaukee, family swim time, rainbow cupcakes, and toddler music class. As has happened previously on trips to visit them, I reach my limit of suburb time after about 3 days. I need the energy, diversity, and craziness that a city brings. So on Saturday March 17th (yep, St. Patrick's Day), I took the train into Chicago for a day in the city.
The previous time I was in Chicago I explored the city by Divvy bike. This worked out pretty well, as Chicago has a good density of stations. Planning to do the same this time, I reached out to "Bike Twitter" for recommendations on must sees, eats, and dos in the Windy City.
I was surprised by a message from Elsbeth Cool, the owner of Four Star Family Cyclery. She offered me one of her fleet bikes to ride for the day, a Tern Vektron. She told me she was just off the blue train line in Logan Park, and being the transit savvy person I am, I figured "No problem. I'll just transfer and be there shortly!"
If only it was so easy. l spent the majority of the train ride trying to figure out how to transfer from the UP-N to the Blue L line, a feat which is apparently impossible. I asked 4 people on the train how to do it- none of them knew. Eventually I decided I would get off at the closest stop to Logan Park and make my way from there.
Getting off the train I was suddenly awash in a sea of St. Patrick's Day revelers. St. Patrick's Day in Chicago is a BIG deal. Oh shit. My sister was right - going to the city today was a big mistake and I'm going to have to deal with drunks all day.
Quickly enough, however, the throngs caught their Ubers and Lyfts and were on their way to Wrigleyville or Downtown Chicago for the real party, and I was left to my own. Thankfully, in Chicago, the Transit App works incredibly well and has train, bus, bike, and carshare integrated. I discovered that a Divvy station was less than a block away, which I could then ride to Logan Park!
I've been seriously spoiled by the free-floating bike share model in Seattle and forgot how annoying it is to redock at a specific station every 30 minutes. I slowly and deliberately made my way to Logan Park, with the help of Google Maps. (Hat tip- the bike directions on Google are usually pretty spot on!) I found another Divvy station a few blocks from Elsbeth's house, dropped the bike, and walked to her place.
She opened Four Star Family Cyclery out of her basement last summer and business has been humming along steadily ever since! She works to get families on bikes that a practical alternative to traveling by car, which usually means electric cargo and family bikes!
I was loaned a Tern Vektron for the day, which is a super cool folding electric bike. While Chicago is super flat compared to Seattle, having the electric assist meant I could get further and explore more with less effort. Winning!
I set off with the intention to explore a few different neighborhoods, including Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, and Logan Square. I slowly made my way throughout the neighborhoods, stopping for photos, an occasional beer, and one really good baked potato at The Shelby. Seriously, if you're ever in Chicago, check out their baked potatoes.
As far as bike lanes go and feeling safe on the road, Chicago wasn't the best. Many of the bike lanes on the major streets are solidly in the door zone (as with every other city), however, Elsbeth gave me a great tip to ride a block or two over from the main street and I would find quiet residential streets. She was 100% spot on and I spent most of my time on side streets.
During my day, I stopped at many businesses, but two of them I want to briefly highlight.
The first is BFF Bikes, a neighborhood bike shop that I've followed on social media for years. They're a full service bike shop, but with a focus on women's specific apparel and bikes. When I rolled by on Saturday afternoon, they were in the middle of their 4th Anniversary Party with treats and a solid crew hanging out inside. I was warmly welcomed and had a great chat with some local riders and the owner. If you're in Chicago, I'd encourage you to swing by their shop.
The second business is a bookstore called "Women and Children First." I first visited this shop last year on my visit and fell in love. Unabashedly feminist and political, this local bookstore is a gem. With tables dedicated to trans* literature, highlights by authors of color and a welcoming, positive vibe, I think I could spend all day in here. (My undergrad degree is in Women Studies after all. This is my feminist dream come true!) I browsed for a while and eventually picked up "Tell Me More" by Kelly Corrigan, a mug, and a Black Lives Matter button.
From there, I rode back to Elsbeth's place, dropped off the bike, and was on my way back to the train. I think in total I rode somwhere between 15 and 20 miles, but I'm not really sure. The ease of the bike I was loaned along with the flat, grid streets of Chicago made it easy to just keep going.
I can't wait to go back, hopefully this time with my sister and nephew riding alongside me!