Fun Utopia: Chicago Closes Highway for Cyclists

Sunday morning Chicago held its annual Bike the Drive, an event put on by the Active Transportation Alliance where the city closes Lake Shore Drive (the main scenic highway that cuts down the city parallel to Lake Michigan) to motor traffic and opens it up for cyclists. An estimated 18,000 cyclists participated! What an amazing sight and beautiful way to reclaim our streets!

An estimated 18,000 biked the Drive

An estimated 18,000 biked the Drive

We had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to get ready and cycle the 7 miles downtown to get started at 5:30. Totally worth it for the sunrise alone.

Another beautiful sunrise over Lake Michigan

Another beautiful sunrise over Lake Michigan

This is the longest ride we’ve done, I think, at least by a little – 45 miles once you add riding to and from the start point. I figured it would be a great test for our future touring ambitions. We’re totally ready for a four-day Sonoma County trip in the fall – easy peasy! We’re pretty strong cyclists (not racers) simply from our daily commutes and errands. We’re also good at holding our wine.

Team White!

Team White!

Early on, my bike tried to put a “kink” in our plans.  About 7 miles into the ride (14 miles after leaving home) my chain popped off and somehow folded up on itself under the derailleur. It was a mess and even after we got it untangled and back on, it would not shift to my largest front ring. I thought I would have to end the ride early or deal with a crapped out bike the whole time, but at the turn-around there was a bike maintenance center set up by Uptown Bikes (woman-owned). Huge thanks to its team, who volunteered their time so early in the morning. The guy said, “First I must say that this is an awesome bike, and now I will proceed to fix it.” And he did, in under 10 minutes. Something about the derailleur being a bit out of whack. I’ll need to learn how to fix that in the future, in case it becomes a reoccurring problem.

Betty's Minor Procedure

Betty's Minor Procedure

After that problem was resolved, the rest of the ride was SO MUCH FUN! The highway was crowded with so many cyclists and the vast majority were families and people who probably are not regular cyclists. I’m sure participating in this ride will reignite the cycling passion in many. The only damper was one pack of extremely rude racers (note to ‘roid ragers: this event is not the time or place for aggressive training rides).

Anyway, back to the fun! After a long ride, we stopped by the festival in Grant Park, which was filled to the brim with bikes and laughter.



More Bikes!

More Bikes!

There was a pancake breakfast provided by Chicago’s brewery, Goose Island. We got our food and laid down in the grass to soak in the sun and live music.

Pancake Breakfast

Pancake Breakfast

I also did some bike watching and found this Rivendell Glorius in the wild. Beautiful! (Hm, the custom mixtes are no longer listed on Rivendell’s site, only the Betty Foy – anyone know the story on this?)

Rivendell Glorius in the Wild!

Rivendell Glorius in the Wild!

Later a woman walked by me and said, “Oh, I love your bike, I just walked by another one and I have such bike envy.” Really? Another one?? That must be aLex, I thought. She is the woman who used to write the fantastic Hank and Me blog about her Azor Oma and, it turns out, she also recently purchased a Betty Foy. We’d talked over email, but never met in real life. I got up and walked in the direction the woman came from and, sure enough, a few yards away I found aLex and her Betty Foy. What a nice surprise in this huge city.

My Bike Twin

My Bike Twin

Another fun aspect of the day was my outfit. Greg surprised me with a real cycling outfit (made of wool – of course!). So I had an Ibex wool jersey with front zip and handy rear pockets and Ibex wool cycling shorts with lots o’ padding. The padding made me feel like I was wearing a diaper while walking, but on the bike it was a godsend, since my butt never complained the whole time.

Real (wool) Cycling Clothes

Real (wool) Cycling Clothes

Along with my new Planet Bike crochet and leather fingerless cycling gloves (cork grips and sweaty palms = blisters) and Keen commuter sandals, I felt like quite the “real cyclist.” This set up will come in handy for longer rides and tours.

Real Cycling Gloves

Real Cycling Gloves

All-in-all, a fabulous morning and way to celebrate a 5-year wedding anniversary. :) If anyone lives within 100 miles of Chicago, they should try to come visit for next year’s Bike the Drive.

I’ll leave you with a video of the endless stream of cyclists (and this was in a less crowded area):

Chicago’s Bike the Drive 2009 from Dottie White on Vimeo.

Three cheers for Chicago and our Mayor Daley!!!

  • Trisha

    I think you hit on the right title for this post — that looks like major fun! Um. I don’t live within 100 miles of Chicago, but can I come next year?

    • dottie

      But of course. I have a spare room and a cat named Ollie waiting for your return.

      • anna

        Wow, this sounds great! I wish they would do a similar thing here. Btw, I love your cycling gloves!

  • steph

    Yay! I was there too and was wondering if I would see your Betty Foy! It was a great ride, but chillier than expected. Love your gloves!

  • Gordon Inkeles

    Amazing video! The world as it should/could be. May I use it on my blog? With a credit, of course…

    • dottie

      Absolutely, of course! Yes, too bad Chicago’s not like that everyday.

  • MelissaHopeS

    Looks like fun! I love your matching outfits! Also, your legs look great!

    • Gordon Inkeles

      Thanks, Dottie!

      Full speed ahead on that Sonoma bike trip. You can’t go wrong in Sonoma.

      Are you planning on visiting Calistoga? The hot baths there are heavenly after a day in the saddle.

      • dottie

        I’ll add Calistoga to my research list – hot baths sounds heavenly, indeed.

  • sara

    I think you both look sweet in your new matching bike duds. I love that you tracked down aLex by hearing about her bike.

  • Cathy


    I’m a fellow Rivendell mixte fan (I own a Glorius) and I enjoyed your photos and narrative. You mentioned touring this fall in California and I’d be interested in hearing how you plan to transport your bike there.

    My Glorius mixte is so comfortable that I have found that I don’t need to wear cycling gloves or padded shorts when I wear it. This is the first bike I have had that I haven’t had to wear cycling specific clothes for riding. Of course, it might have something to do with my extra padding!

    Nonetheless, your matching cycling outfits are very. The Ibex wool products look wonderful.

    • dottie

      Hi Cathy. Great to hear from other Riv mixte people. I was hoping I could simply check my bike to California (as Trisha did for her Batavus from London). I have not actually looked into the details yet, though. The Betty is very comfortable, but I’m still breaking in the Brooks saddle :)

  • 2whls3spds

    Sweet…God forbid we close a road down around here for anything! Glad to see aLex is doing okay, I miss her blog on the Oma and Bakfiets. I had hoped to make it Chicago last year for some pub crawls when working in IN but got pulled out on short notice. However! I will be in Iowa City starting next week…


  • http://none grambev

    I am so proud of my granddaughter Dottie & her husband Greg & all of you bike enthusiasts! Wish I was living in Chicago! It’s such a grat place !

  • http://none grambev

    PS, I need to learn how to “spull”

  • Karen

    What a wonderfu event. I hope the group ride provided some inspiration for others to consider leaving their car at home. Chicago really is one of the truly great American cities. Bob and I were engaged there. I hope we can get back in another year or two.

  • meligrosa

    that is awesome!!! this is such a great happy post, Im in love with it all. Hey so sonoma? eh – if there’s any chance you might swing by SF, you better tell me!! /xoxo

    • dottie

      For sure!!!

  • Cyclin Missy

    How cool is that! I’ve gotta make a trip to Chicago for that next year!

    • ksteinhoff

      Like Gordon, I swiped your video for my blog.

      The more I looked at that video, the more I wondered what the world would be like if cyclists and peds got even a fraction of the infrastructure monies spent on eight-lane highways.

      Nice job.

  • spiderleggreen

    Wow, Very cool! We need an event like that, here. I think SF has 6 per summer.

  • E A

    I met your bike twin at BTD, too! Love your bikes and glad you enjoyed the ride. now has a post about the ride, too. ;-)

    Happy Anniversary!

  • Nico

    That sounds like a lot of fun. I’m jealous! :D

    (Your feed is working again, by the way.)

    • Scott


      I got started with bike touring last year. A good ride I have done a few times (and will do again soon) is from the city up to Illinois Beach State Park. It’s about 50 miles each way and all on bike paths except for the ride up Elston to the start of the N. Branch Trail. The Chicago Botanic Gardens are about halfway and have a nice cafe to stop at for lunch.

      The park itself has nice camping spots; I think it’s $15 for a site with a picnic bench, fire pit, and electric hookup. Maybe a good warmup ride for your CA tour.

      • Dottie

        Thanks for the info, Scott! I’ve been wanting to ride to the Botanic Gardens.

  • Ethan

    Glad you enjoyed the ride! Just so you know, the event benefits and is produced by the nonprofit Active Transportation Alliance (formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation). We do work with the City of Chicago and the Mayor but it is our event and we put $.86 out of every dollar raised back into advocacy to improve biking, walking and transit our region. Please consider becoming a member!

    • dottie

      Thanks for pointing that out, Ethan! I am a member of Active Trans already and all other cyclists in Chicago should be, too.

  • jalexartis

    Now, that is a ride I’d love to do. I’m living in the wrong place. Cool…

  • http://none grambev

    Ouch! My achin bones just thinking about cycling fifty miles. Will I EVER be able to work up to that kind of endurance?

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