By Jacky Runice
3136 W. Montrose Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618
Some of the best things about cycling in Chicago, according to Adam Wachendorf, Manager at Iron Cycles, include the more than 170 miles of lanes available to riders, and many miles of off-street paths including a beautiful 18.5-mile Lakefront Path. The seed for cycling was planted when Wachendorf, a native of Northern California, got into BMX as a kid. It really blossomed, though, when he got laid off from a corporate job in 2009. Instead of eating his way through the predicament, he picked up a bike again, lost 100 pounds through bicycling and eventually became the manager of Iron Cycles, a full-service bike shop serving Chicago commuters and racers alike. Here are five of his top bike rides.
Lakefront Path Ride (easy)
Wachendorf and fellow Iron Cyclers love starting at Montrose Beach riding south past North Avenue Beach, taking in all the sights of Lake Michigan, the inimitable skyline and Soldier Field. “It’s car free and beautiful,” he beams. The 18.5-mile path doesn’t wander more than a few hundred yards from the lakefront, and if you head out in the summer, you’ll ride past runners, fitness classes, people playing volleyball and soccer, picnickers and all kinds of Chicagoans enjoying a day outdoors. Wachendorf suggests wrapping up the ride at Burnham Harbor.
North Branch Trail (easy to medium)
Starting from Devon and Milwaukee Avenues and riding along the north branch of the Chicago River, the path takes you up and around Chicago Botanical Gardens. A total ride of about 30 miles round trip, there are plenty of rest stops, parks, picnic groves and wildlife along the way. You may meet up with equestrians, too, as a few horse trails still remain. Stop in for lunch at the Botanical Gardens then loop back to your starting point. Admission to the Gardens is free and only cars have to pay for parking. The trail is well maintained and the ride is almost entirely tree-covered which makes it biker friendly even on sweaty summer days.
Palos Forest Preserve, Willow Springs, IL (all skill levels)
Our expert likens Palos to be the mother of trail systems among the Cook County Forest Preserves. It boasts the largest trail system and attracts lots of bicycle enthusiasts Explore 50 miles of single-track and wide-track trails climbing over hills and offering brisk descents. The varied terrain and elevation levels, from serpentine single track to rambling wide track, means an entertaining and challenging ride for all skill levels. The ride begins in the state forest preserve and you can choose among the network of trails.
Related: Best Places To Rent A Bike In Chicago
The Judson Ride (hard)
All you need to know is that you meet at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday at the corner of Judson and Greenleaf in Evanston and the course of this popular group ride is determined by the biker at the head of the pack. Expect to pedal 50-plus miles at around 20 to 25 miles per hour and your quadriceps will be singing to you. “The ride always starts with coffee and ends with coffee,” our expert says. “We clearly love our coffee!” The ride shoves off at 8 a.m. during the winter months.
Midweek Gem (hard)
Another one of the fastest rides you’ll encounter in the Chicago area, the Midweek Gem typically sees 20 to 40 riders meeting at 1027 Davis Street in Evanston around 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. It’s the site of the old Turin Cycles shop, soon to be Wheel and Sprocket. The speedy spin travels north into leafy Lake Forest and other North Shore burgs, looping back and bumping up your distance into the 40-mile range. Many riders like to end the jaunt at JJ Peppers on Ridge Boulevard in Chicago for cold High Life beer and group congrats. The Midweek Gem takes off April through the beginning of winter.
Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.