Winter Maintenance of the Lakefront Trail

I’m still annoyed by winter, but I’ll think back to happier times: Friday, when I biked to work and then took a joyride to the lakefront during my lunch break.

This was two days post-blizzard. Access to the trail is through an underpass below Lakeshore Drive and this was the most difficult section to manage due to the snow, as only a narrow path was shoveled and not very well.

Once I emerged on the other side, the plowed bike path pleasantly surprised me. I biked a ways up and down the path just for fun, but it was slow going, mostly because I’m a baby when it comes to biking on packed snow, even with my studded tires, and always want to be able to put a foot down if necessary.

At this moment, I joined Lovely Bicycle in really wanting a Surly Pugsly for the massive snow tires. I also wondered if Coco would be better in this particular snow situation with her Fat Frank tires. I’ll have to take her for a spin in the alley this weekend for research.

It’s a good thing that my visit to the Lakefront Trail was only for fun and not for transportation. Although I commend the city for plowing the trail so quickly after the blizzard, clearing away all the snow would take a little more time.

For Chicagoans who want to use the trail for transportation in the winter, the Active Transportation Alliance posts regular updates of conditions on its blog, along with helpful pictures. You may also be able to find useful information on The Chainlink, a Chicago bicycling online community.

Is anyone relying on trails and bike paths to commute during the winter? If so, how are the conditions as far as upkeep and lighting?

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18 thoughts on “Winter Maintenance of the Lakefront Trail

  1. My swimming coach ( got a Pugsley for Christmas from his wife. A bunch of us swimmers are super envious.

  2. cycler says:

    There is some rumblings of discussion about advocacy groups here getting together and buying a snow thrower of some sort, and then getting volunteers to clear the paths and trails.
    The entity that maintains our river side path has recently stated that they’re only going to clear the path for joggers (1″ or so of hard pack) and not for bikes anymore, which is frustrating.

    I already ride mostly on the streets in the winter because they are cleared, and because the path is too remote and dark to ride home on, but I long for days when I don’t have to constantly be riding vehicularly.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      So they’re going to accommodate recreational path users but do nothing for transportationists? Irksome. That’s why it frustrates me that bicycle path snow clearance typically falls under the purview of parks & recreation departments and not sanitation or department of transportation.

      • David says:


        LFP maintenance is handled by the parks dept. rather than S&S or CDOT because all of it is on park land. I know that may sound kind of obvious, but it’s the same division of responsibility that means CDOT is responsible for certain city streets and S&S for others.

        • dukiebiddle says:

          It is also an obvious reality which will make it very difficult to get MUPs treated like transportation infrastructure. They will continue to not be plowed until far after the roads are cleared, there will continue to be inadequate lighting or police presence, and there will often be dusk to dawn curfews that forbid their use for year round commuting.

          • Dottie says:

            Luckily in Chicago, none of those problems exist with the Lakefront Trail, except that snow removal is slower than arterial streets but faster than side streets. All of the trails in the Chicago suburbs I’m aware of suffer from those problems, though, making them impossible to use for a great part of the year.

  3. Stephen says:

    I’ve never ridden on snow. I’ve downhilled and xc’ed, but never bicycling. I can only imagine it..

    My ride in Tallahassee today was glorious, sunny and 38 degrees, a light wind out of the east. No flowers yet, but the swamp maples are beginning to sprout their red winged seeds, and the buds are fattening up on the Japanese maple at the end of our crushed stone driveway.

    I was swathed in my city wool coat, with a natty wool scarf (a Novica from Peru), leather gloves, and a black Citi helmet. Very comfortable. Just sayin’..

  4. Please do compare Coco’s vs Oma’s tires in the snow, I am very curious!

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by CHUX TRUX, Barb Chamberlain. Barb Chamberlain said: By @letsgorideabike: Winter Maintenance of the Lakefront Trail […]

  6. bongobike says:

    Oma is a very cool bike and looks right in her habitat. But what happened to the big ol’ mudflap?

  7. Coreen says:

    A little more than half my commute is on trails. They have been plowed, but not to the pavement, so the recent thaw we had and the subsequent return to normal, freezing temperatures, has turned them all into sheets of bumpy ice. Parts have been (badly) sanded, but I’ve been relying on my studded tires to keep traction. I’ve actually been riding on so much ice lately that I’m starting to relax more and not be so afraid of it.

  8. Sara says:

    I haven’t ventured over to the Lakefront Trail in a while. You are brave! Great pics, as always!

  9. David says:


    Studs themselves aren’t going to do anything for you on packed snow like that in the pictures. Studs will help with traction if they can get to the asphalt or concrete below, or on ice, but not in snow. Going by tires alone I’d hazard to guess that Oma would do better than Coco because of the open tread pattern. Then again, Coco might work well if you set the pressures very low. It’s certainly worth experimenting!

  10. Jim says:

    Today, 18 miles on packed and loose snow, mild ice, upper teens. Vittoria Randonneur 2 x 1.75 tires, nothing special. Maybe half of the ride was a controlled slide; light touch on the bars and low pressures are necessities.

    At one point pontooned a leg out, back wheel sliding opposite down a 30 degree slope. Fun!

    Maybe even more funner than smashing through 3 ft. high berms.

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