Is This the Year You Become a Badass Chicago Road Cyclist?
One of our favorite Chicagoland cyclists shares his favorite rides around the city
Each spring, once the snow has finally melted, Chicagoans come out of hibernation and resume their lives outside. For many of us, that means cycling along their favorite bike paths.
But we’re also always looking for a new adventure, which is why we asked Tyler Bartley, a Chicago cyclist and senior art director for ad agency BBDO, for ideas on where to head next.
Starting as a single-speed commuter in college, Tyler got into cycling more seriously through a co-worker after moving to Chicago. “Chicago actually has an extremely big and welcoming cycling scene,” Tyler says. Many teams host beginner rides and clinics, and there are quite a few local races. As breaking into the elite local cycling scene can be intimidating, newbies should make a beeline for hubs like the Rapha Cycling Clubhouse in Wicker Park. It’s part cycling clothing store, part coffee shop, and offers great opportunities to connect with the local scene, attend events and join rides for all levels.
Similarly, there are initiatives targeted towards women on bikes, teaching basic bike maintenance, discussions on bike-packing or group riding etiquette. “As a Black cyclist, it is also good to see that there is a much-needed shift towards promoting and demanding diversity in the bike world,” Tyler says. “Teams like Veloz Cycling locally, or The Black Foxes on a global scale, really help shed light onto the need for more diversity and representation in cycling.”
Without further ado, Tyler’s picks for your springtime cycling adventures:
Ride #1: Bathing in the Lakefront Splendor
The most iconic route in Chicago is unquestionably along the lakefront. While it gets busy at times, the Lakefront Trail is the ultimate sunrise ride: Seeing the sun come up over majestic Lake Michigan, showering the skyline in golden light is a unique experience — and well worth the early alarm.
“I really enjoy riding down South to Calumet Park,” says Tyler, who also loves photography. The many piers at Promontory Point, located right at the eastern edge of Hyde Park, make for a great panorama shot of the city. From there, explore some of the many coffee shops of Hyde Park, such as Cafe Plein Air, Sip & Savor or Bonjour Cafe before heading back home or to work.
Looking for more miles? Following the path further south will take you through Wolf Lake and into Indiana. You’ll obviously have to stop at Calumet Fisheries, one of the last smokehouses in Illinois, on your way back north.
Ride #2: Of Speed and Sustenance
For group ride adventures, you’ll most likely head north, with a few 45- to 65-mile routes up to Fort Sheridan or Lake Bluff to provide a worthy challenge. As most of Chicagoland is fairly flat, the speed can become thrilling on these rides. “The most iconic sprint in Chicago has to be the Bahai Sprint,” says Tyler. “Almost all group rides come back towards this towering dome on Sheridan Road in Wilmette, so this is a highly contested segment on Strava.”
If you want to take it a little bit more leisurely, head to Highland Park via the Skokie Lagoons. The road through this forest preserve is not only scenic but also mostly uninterrupted — a luxury in the city. The area around Highland Park itself has plenty of coffee shops, and you’ll certainly meet fellow cyclists stopping for coffee at Tala Coffee Roasters or ArrivaDolce.
Instead of a mid-ride coffee, Tyler swears by his post-rides beers — and there’s no better location than Half Acre Beer Company. “The Half Acre Brewery on Balmoral is really the perfect spot to end your ride,” he says. “There’s no better feeling than chatting with your friends over a Daisy Cutter Pale Ale in the Half Acre beer garden after a hard summer ride.” Not all Chicago bars and restaurants are super welcoming to a bunch of sweaty cyclists, but Half Acre definitely gets it: Half Acre has its own racing team, and its CFO, David Bowers, is a cyclist himself.
Ride #3: Are You Race-Curious?
“As a designer, I was first mostly intrigued by the look of my bike,” Tyler tells us. “But when I picked up riding more regularly, I started learning more about the importance of having the right parts and gear.” Finding a good bike shop is crucial, and luckily Chicago has many of them. “I enjoyed the atmosphere at Johnny Sprockets so much that I joined their cycling team — I look forward to getting back to racing once COVID-19 precautions allow for it.”
“My favorite race is the Goose Island Cup, a four-corner criterium race during the Intelligentsia Cup, one of the largest racing series in the country,” says Tyler. The Intelli Cup, as local racers call it, draws cycling talent from across the country. “Crit racing can get really intense, but I love it. The Goose Island Cup draws a lot of talent as well as a large audience, so the atmosphere is pretty unique.”
If you’re not ready to dive head-first into a national-level series, the Skyway Classic Criterium Series is an amazing opportunity for beginners. The four-day event, hosted each spring in Calumet Park, not only provides ample opportunity to race and learn alongside fellow newbies, it also makes it easy to connect with teams and experienced racers on the sidelines.
As group rides and racing might still be on hold for a little while due to the pandemic, you can join a virtual Chicago cycling group organizing group rides and races for local cyclists on Zwift, RGT and other online platforms.
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