Happy Cubs fans flood the streets near Wrigley Field. The energy is palpable as they cheer the team towards a World Series victory. I’m elated as my folding bike and I squeeze our way out of the crowded Addison ‘L’ (subway) station.
When I booked this trip, riding my bike in Chicago seemed as farfetched as the Cubs winning the World Series. I was in Chicago to celebrate my friend’s wedding. As a St. Louis Cardinals fan, my gut instinct was Wrigleyville would be a nice quiet centrally located place to stay.
I couldn’t have been more wrong–about the Cubs, or where I’d find myself riding my shiny new Brompton around the Windy City.
Shortly after completing CyclingSavvy, I pulled up on my Brompton to St. Louis’ Maryland Plaza Tuesday Night Ride. Our regular sweep, Harold Karabell, asked if the latest addition to my fleet was going with me to Chicago. I unenthusiastically responded, “I guess.”
A thought bubble over my head would have read:
“Clearly he’s up past bedtime. I could never bike in a big city where they drive like that.”
To prepare for my trip I sat down with Chicago Transit Authority timetables and maps. One place would be hard to reach by transit alone. The night before the wedding, there was a gathering for dessert at a restaurant in Skokie. Bus service was infrequent and terminated at 8 PM. This left me with a gap of nearly two miles from the Yellow Line ‘L’ station to the restaurant.
I considered Harold’s suggestion that I go by bicycle. Now that I had a Brompton, if I felt uncomfortable at any time I’d have the option to fold the bike and order a Lyft.
OK. I’d at least try my hand at mapping a bike route to meet my friends in Skokie. A Chicagoland adventure would be the ultimate test of what I learned in CyclingSavvy.
After a decade of cycling for transportation, going by bicycle was already a natural part of vacation for me. I’d found my way around smaller cities like Albuquerque, Kansas City and Madison, WI. I’ve also been to Chicago numerous times and navigated by ‘L’, bus, Metra, and walking.
I scoured satellite images and bicycle maps to see what options I had for riding through Skokie. Settling on a route of primarily neighborhood streets, I wrote myself directions to the restaurant. Now I was excited. I eagerly hoped to add greater Chicago to the list of cities I’d biked.
An Amtrak and subway ride later, my Brompton and I are happily settled in my Chicago Airbnb. The moment of truth had arrived. That evening I’d find my way from Wrigleyville to Skokie’s Old Orchard Mall to meet my friends, hopefully without resorting to the use of a car.
Cue sheet and transit pass in hand, I head north with my bike on the ‘L’. At the Dempster-Skokie stop, I carry my bike down a few steps to exit the platform. I roll up the right leg of my jeans, take a few deep breaths, and head out onto a four-lane road.
Trepidation welled up inside me, as my little bike and I took our place in traffic on a big road in a big city. Traffic is light and the lane to my left is available to pass me. My center-of-lane position and dynamo lights communicate that a slow-moving vehicle is in the right hand lane.
A few blocks later I signal and turn onto a quiet residential street. Several more turns through the neighborhood and I wait at a light to cross an arterial road in front of Old Orchard Mall. The light changes. With a few more pedal strokes I arrive at my destination. I’m smiling ear-to-ear.
I did it! I can proudly add Skokie to the list of places I’ve biked.
Fortified by a fruit-filled chocolate piñata, I’m ready to retrace my path back to the ‘L’. I read over the directions once more as I unfold my bicycle. It’s well past 10 PM and the streets are empty. I easily navigate back through neighborhood streets and come to a two-way stop sign. I signal my intention to stop as a car pulls up behind me.
If they don’t turn I’ll encourage them to pass on the other side of the intersection. I’ve nearly stopped as I hear a “beeeeeep” coming from behind me. I’m startled, and land on my feet in an ungraceful dismount I hope no one caught on video.
She rolls down her window.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” she said. “I didn’t expect you to stop.”
I showed her what the stop hand signal looks like and wished her a nice night.
I pedal on uneventfully retracing the remainder of my route. After a quick jughandle turn, I happily find myself back at the ‘L’. I fold up the Brompton and board the train back to the apartment for the night.
I can’t wipe the grin off my face.
I’ve successfully biked in an metro area where I loathe driving a car.
Those 3.6 miles were as transformative as ditching training wheels as a child.
I used savvy cycling in Chicagoland and nothing happened! Yes, one motorist honked at me. She was confused and apologetic. I’m on the top of the world. Next stop Los Angeles? New York? Boston? London?
Clearly, the skills I refined in CyclingSavvy will serve me well, even in big cities with intimidating traffic.