Exploring Chicago’s Bicycle Culture

The city of Chicago, famous for its stunning skyscraper landscape and rich tapestry of cultural roots, holds a secret unbeknownst to most: a parallel universe buzzing with the hum of spinning bicycle wheels.

More than just a mode of transport, the humble two-wheeler has sprouted its very own unique culture, thriving community and vibrant way of life.

Cycling Scene: Tight-Knit Community

Peppered with events, Chicago’s annual calendar is filled with opportunities to experience local spaces, nature and festivals on bikes. There are many tailored options available to choose from, ranging from a single afternoon jaunt to multi-day rides; there are races, bicycle tours and spectacles for one and all.

Group events have access to several cafés, public areas and access points for food, rest and supplies along the way. From Bike the Chicago Marathon (if you don’t run, you can roll!), Battle to the Dunes (sweet bike ride and campout event), to the World Naked Bike Ride (clothing optional), the choices are endless – whatever oils your spokes.

Chicago is home to a host of inclusive spaces with a strong DIY ethic, as well as a significant number of independent clubs and groups for bike people to meet, gather and grow. Volunteer-run organizations such as Working Bikes repair old bicycles to reduce waste and provide bike access to low-income communities. Food establishments such as Heritage Bikes and Coffee in the Lakeview area sell bikes, and coffee, and even offer bike repair and maintenance services.

The city’s infamous Rat Patrol bike crew builds fantastic and freaky ‘tall bikes’ out of recycled scraps – each custom build is certainly easy and delightful to spot from yards away. At Chicago Bike Polo, all are welcome to hit a ball around a hardcourt while wielding mallets atop one’s faithful steed.

Cycling City: Cool Trails

From as far back as the invention of the bicycle, Chicago has been a hub for cycling, at the forefront of the manufacture and sale of nearly a quarter of all bicycles in the United States by the 1950s. With the continued expansion of cycling infrastructure, Chicago today has more than 200 miles of bike lanes and paths.

Cruising along with the wind in your hair is easy with several popular biking routes that boast fantastic sights and spectacular skylines. The Lakefront Trail, nearly twenty miles of cycling path along the western shore of majestic Lake Michigan, is a mecca for cyclists, with its easy access to parks and beaches.

The 606 Trail, which in its previous life was an elevated rail line, features beautiful green spaces and remarkable public art. Originally a dirt path for horse riding, The North Branch Trail moves cyclists through woodlands and forests for a delicious taste of wildlife along the North Branch of the Chicago River. These, along with many other routes that are ripe for discovery, take intrepid riders on unrivaled explorations through the city’s diverse neighborhoods, each with its distinct character.

Final Thoughts

Through its unique engagement with the city’s environment, Chicago’s bicycle culture invites one and all to explore its heart, to ride through lived stories of its culture and heritage on a journey that propels you from the mundane into the extraordinary. And do not forget that bicycling is healthy for both body and mind! Who would not appreciate some more gentle exercise in daily life? A bicycle creates health opportunities.

As you navigate the cityscape on each immersive adventure, a new hidden corner is unveiled with every pedal forward; Chicago will reveal its soul in unexpected ways. Embrace the handlebars and enjoy the ride – and don’t forget to wear a helmet.