Prairie Fever » Biking

New books released!

Just in time for the arrival of summer in the Midwest, I’m thrilled to announce the release of four new outdoor recreation guidebooks that I wrote. Here they are.

I’ve been busy posting photos and putting together slide show/videos highlighting many of the destinations in the books. Here’s one of the slide shows that prominently features my friend, Tim Merello.

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New guidebooks coming

Tunnel Hill Trail in Southern Illinois

Tunnel Hill Trail in Southern Illinois

Anyone who’s passed within 100 feet of me during the past year knows that I have four new guidebooks that will be released this coming spring.

Three of the books—Best Illinois Rail Trails, Illinois Road Biking, and Camping Illinois—required many months of research and writing. While researching the books, I camped for several months and I drove and bicycled for a few thousand miles. I explored Illinois from head to toe, visiting nearly every major park and most of the state’s historic attractions. I explored the rocky cliffs in the Shawnee National Forest and I cycled along the banks of the state’s big rivers. I traveled for many miles on old farm roads where the only sound was the twittering of sparrows.

All in all, it’s been the best job I’ve ever had. I love the process of exploring new places, gathering information, and then shaping the details into something that is eminently useful and fun to read. While this process gives me a special thrill, even more satisfying is the next step—getting the books into the hands of readers.

The other book to be released this spring is a new, shorter version of my book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago. It’s called Easy Hikes Close to Home: Chicago and it’s geared specifically toward newbie hikers who are interested in less strenuous local hikes. Like the other books, I’m eager to see this book put to good use. Enticing new people to explore local trails is an exciting prospect.

All four books are now available for pre-order on Amazon.com. Titles listed below link to a description of each book, its full table of contents, and a page for pre-ordering.

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Biking and paddling the Michigan coast

My friend Kari Lydersen recently interviewed me for a short piece for the Great Lakes Town Hall, a website where she served as a guest writer. She wanted to learn more about a trip I took in August bicycling the west coast of Michigan. As I explain below, for much of the trip, I was hauling my folding kayak with a bicycle trailer.

After reading the interview, be sure to check out Great Lakes Town Hall. It’s an excellent website with plenty of news and views on the Great Lakes.

My kayak awaits assembly on North Manitou Island.

My kayak awaits assembly on North Manitou Island.

Q: How exactly did you travel by kayak and bike down the coast of Lake Michigan?

The idea for the trip was to combine a couple of my favorite outdoor activities–cycling and kayaking–while exploring some of the west coast of Michigan’s lower peninsula. For much of the trip, I was hauling my sea kayak (it folds up into a suitcase-sized bag that weighs about 35 lbs) behind me in a bike trailer. I stayed as close to the shoreline as possible and camped most of the time at the numerous parks along the way.

I started the 10-day trip by paddling around North Manitou Island off the coast of Sleeping Bear Dunes. From there, I bicycled my way down to Muskegon, stopping frequently for paddling, lollygagging on beaches, bike rides and exploring parks and towns. When I reached Muskegon, I took the ferry to Milwaukee and then rode home to Chicago.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Q: It was a windy and stormy few weeks; how did you deal with the weather? Were there times you wanted to be comfortable and dry at home?

Sure, there were a handful of times when I would have liked to be home on the couch. I’ve learned that having a fairly loose itinerary helps a lot. That way, you don’t feel compelled to push yourself to ride or paddle through conditions that may be uncomfortable, or perhaps dangerous. Since I was paddling by myself, I took a very cautious approach to paddling in the lake, and avoided it if lake waves were more than one foot.

During the trip, it rained three days or so and a couple nights. Fortunately, for a couple of those days, I was able to forgo campgrounds and stay in an affordable little motel right on the lake. I had stayed in the motel on my prior travels in the area. It’s located in a village called Arcadia, just 40 miles southwest of Traverse City. There are big beautiful dunes, excellent beaches, and a recently opened nature preserve with miles of hiking trails. And surprisingly, no tourism to speak of. That’s the beauty of this area–unbelievable natural beauty and, if you look for it, plenty of places where you can have a beach or a towering dune all to yourself.

One evening while in a state park campground during pouring rain, instead of setting up my tent in the rain, I decided to sleep under a picnic shelter. I was nervous when the park’s cleaning crew visited the shelter in the early morning, and thought they might have some harsh words and even call the police. Instead, they wanted to hear about my trip and were eager to offer advice for the next leg of the journey. It’s a perfect example of how welcoming people tend to be toward those traveling on a bicycle.

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Q: Do your travels like this show people can explore the Great Lakes region even without a car or lots of money?

How lucky we are to live on the Great Lakes! All this beauty so close to home presents a strong invitation to explore. As the author of a handful of outdoor guidebooks focusing on Illinois and the Chicago area, I feel like part of my job is to convince people that the Midwest and Great Lakes region offer some wonderful places to visit. The famous parks of the nation are great to see, but how often can you do that? How often can people on a budget do that?

Michigan and much of the Great Lakes region is pretty well suited for bicycle travel. Plenty of quiet, scenic roads. Towns and parks appear frequently. Plenty of hills that are manageable on a bike. A minimal number of big urban areas to navigate. That said, I’ve learned to beware of heavily trafficked roads. Several years back, my brother and I bicycled around Lake Superior. Ninety percent of the route was great, but in a few places we were stuck riding alongside heavy truck traffic on the Trans Canada Highway with no alternate routes.

I like how traveling on a bicycle cuts expenses substantially. I also like how it puts you fully into the setting. Taking a vacation on a bicycle makes me think about things differently. I think about time differently because, of course, the pace is slower. I think about the wind, the sun, the landscape, and the plants and animals more fully. Having grown up in west Michigan, I had traveled this coast perhaps a dozen times. So I wasn’t expecting to discover much that was new to me. I was wrong. While cycling and paddling, I got to know the water and the terrain much better.

sunflower field and barn

Q: You said you enjoyed traveling alone, why?

I like traveling alone because I find that people feel more comfortable approaching a solo traveler. For me, a big part of the thrill of travel is meeting people from the area. I also find that I feel more compelled to strike up conversations while traveling solo. Traveling by myself, I sometimes get a little desperate for conversation–and need something to distract me from my own thoughts. I also want to learn about the area. To do this, I’ve become adept at finding people who don’t look like they’re in a hurry and asking them for directions, asking about local history, and just striking up idle chitchat.

Q: What is your favorite spot on the Great Lakes, why?

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the south shore of Lake Superior. Years back, I paddled and camped for several days along Pictured Rocks, and was transfixed by the colored cliffs, waterfalls, and beaches. While paddling the shoreline, you can see house-sized boulders within the strikingly clear water. It looks like the ruins of a sunken city. A remote ambience adds much to this place. Lake Superior has always held a special place for me–I’ve been camping on its shore since I was child.

In second place is the Chicago shoreline. Instead of the sandstone cliffs at Pictured Rocks, the cliffs in Chicago are skyscrapers. The shoreline offers some 20 miles of parkland in the shadow of the most enormous and arresting buildings in the world. I love the Chicago shoreline because it’s where the city comes together; it’s the city at its best. Fortunately, the city has begun embracing the shoreline more fully, making it more accessible and giving it proper status as the city’s front yard.

The page where the interview appears is here.

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Rolling through the big woods of Wisconsin

mountain-biker

In northern Wisconsin’s Chequamegon National Forest, the mosquitoes can be fierce in their search for blood. But once you understand the transaction–a bit of blood and a few itchy spots in return for basking in the great beauty and remote feel of the North Woods–the skeeters can be tolerated.

A thimble-full of blood seemed a minor sacrifice for a weekend spent enjoying what is widely regarded as the best collection of mountain biking trails in the Midwest. Chequamegon (pronounced “sha-wa-maghan”) National Forest contains nearly one million acres of rolling glacial terrain punctuated by rocky outcroppings, dramatic ravines, and hills blanketed with maple, oak, and pine. Dozens of backwoods ponds, lakes, and wetlands provide homes for wildlife such as beavers, loons and bald eagles.

So begins an article of mine that just appeared in Windy City Sports magazine. Read the entire article here.

(Photo above courtesy of Chequamegon Area Mountain Biking Association.)

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Climate change turns up heat on Chicago

What’s outdoor recreation in Chicagoland going to be like in future years as the climate continues to change? Well, you’ve already had a taste of this transformation. Since 1980, Chicago’s average temperature has risen approximately 2.6 degrees. And according to a new report drawn up by leading climate scientists to describe various scenarios for Chicago’s climate future, the city could experience more extreme heat, heavier, more damaging rainstorms, growing flood risks, and greater loss of habitat for native plants and animals.

The city-commissioned report, called the Chicago Climate Action Plan, provides an in-depth view of the effects of climate change on area temperatures, precipitation, human health, ecosystems, and infrastructure. Here is a thumbnail sketch of details in the report that will inevitably affect local outdoor activities:

Temperature: With 15 of the last 20 years showing above-average annual temperatures, it’s very likely that Chicago summers will continue to be hotter with a higher frequency of intense heat waves. Moreover, a likely increase in humidity could make hot days feel even hotter. By mid-century, Chicago’s climate could resemble that of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with summer temperatures reaching 90+ degrees on more than seventy days and 100+ degrees on more than thirty days.

Precipitation: As anyone who owns a pair of cross-country skis can attest, we’re already experiencing less snow in winter, and an earlier snow melt in spring. In years to come, expect more flooding and erosion as downpours increase in intensity. This could lead to trails getting washed out more frequently, and will likely create long-term trouble for parks and preserves prone to high water from nearby lakes and rivers.

Plants and animals: Those who enjoy identifying wildflowers and watching local wildlife may have already seen some changes happening in local ecosystems. Chicago’s “plant hardiness zone,” as it’s called, shifted to that of central Illinois in 1990. If left unchecked, plants from northern Alabama will be very comfortable growing in the Chicago region by the end of the century. Of course, when plant species go, the creatures that feed on those plants follow.

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is mostly a human-made phenomenon resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases. Of the two main sources of greenhouse gases in Chicago, 70 percent of the gas emissions come from buildings or the energy production needed to serve them. Another 21 percent comes from the burning of fossil fuels to operate cars, trucks, buses, and trains. Most of the remaining greenhouse gas emissions come from waste and industrial pollution.

The Chicago Climate Action Plan states that the timeline for these changes depends on future levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The authors make it clear that there is time to lessen or even eliminate some of the negative effects of climate change in the Chicago area. In addition to laying out larger goals and action plans for business and government, the report offers plenty of suggestions for individuals.

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The Fox River Trail

Located only 30 miles west of downtown Chicago, the Fox River Trail has plenty of good things going for it. As this pathway hugs the Fox River for 33 miles between Aurora on the south and Algonquin to the north, it passes more than a dozen community parks and forest preserves. These quiet riverside parks offer great views of the big winding river.

In Elgin, the Fox River Trolley Museum sits alongside the trail. In Geneva, the 300-acre Fabyan Forest Preserve contains a restored Dutch windmill that dates back to the 1850s. Also alongside the trail at Fabyan are a pristine Japanese garden and the Villa Museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Fox River Trail

The Fox River Trail

Along with the natural and historic attractions, the trail also passes through a string of enjoyable downtown areas. Some of the towns—particularly Elgin, Geneva, and Batavia—have done great work in creating attractive urban riverfront areas with flower and sculpture gardens, pedestrian bridges, and scenic walkways.

A runner in Norris Woods

A runner in Norris Woods

Since you’re never far from one of the nearby towns, there is usually a variety of restaurants, ice cream parlors, and watering holes not far down the trail. In East Dundee, you can choose between two locally-owned trailside coffee shops.

The Dutch windmill at Fabyan Forest Preserve.

The Dutch windmill at Fabyan Forest Preserve.

If you’re keen on a longer trip, the Fox River Trail allows you to connect with a handful of other Chicagoland recreation trails. Heading north, for example, will connect you with the Prairie Trail, which will take you all the way to the Wisconsin border.

And finally, the gamblers among us will be happy to know that the Fox River Trail might be the only long recreation path in the nation with two riverboat casinos located steps from the trail.

Japanese Garden at Fabyan Forest Preserve

Japanese Garden at Fabyan Forest Preserve

Nearly the entire Fox River Trail is paved; only a few short sections are covered with crushed gravel. The trail is eminently reachable via Metra trains.

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Ted Villaire, the author of this post, is also the author of 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago (now available in a second edition).

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When cars and bikes collide

As a cyclist, what should you do if you’re in a crash with a car on Chicago streets? My friend Jim Freeman knows. He’s a personal injury lawyer whose clients are primarily Chicago cyclists and pedestrians. Recently, he answered some of my questions about steps to take after a crash, bike safety, and local bike laws. Here’s what he had to say.

What are the steps a cyclist should take after a crash?

1. Call the police.

2. Get witness and driver information. Do not depend on the police to get information from witnesses. In almost every case that comes to me, the client will say, “There were lots of witnesses, but I didn’t get any information from them. It should be on the police report.” In most instances, I get the police report and there are no witnesses listed. In a case where the question of fault depends on your word against theirs, an independent witness makes all the difference. So be sure to get any witness’ phone numbers and addresses.

3. Seek medical attention. If there is even the slightest possibility of an injury, you should request an ambulance and go to the emergency room. Adrenaline runs high after a crash, so you might think you are fine; but often there are latent injuries that are not immediately apparent. From a legal standpoint, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention at the scene of the crash.

4. Preserve evidence and take pictures. Your bicycle, clothing, helmet, and anything else damaged in the crash is evidence and should be preserved. Do not swap parts from your damaged bicycle. Leave it in its present condition and take pictures of the damaged bicycle and any visible injuries.

In your experience, what are the most common reasons for car vs. bike crashes?

About a third of my bicycle cases are “doorings.” Another third of my bicycle cases are “left turns” in which a cyclist is cut off or struck by a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction attempting a left turn.

Regarding bike- and pedestrian-friendly laws, how does Chicago compare to other cities?

The State of Illinois has some of the nation’s worst laws for cyclists. Cyclists are given a second class status. We are permitted to use Illinois roadways, but we are relegated to hugging the right hand curb, and we must yield to auto traffic under most circumstances.

As a city, Chicago has gone a long way to promote cycling through infrastructure improvements and legislative improvements such as The Bicycle Safety Ordinance passed earlier this year. The Illinois Vehicle Code was clearly designed with only motorists in mind, not cyclists. The changes really need to come from Springfield to improve conditions for bicyclists statewide.

Some states have much more favorable laws such as the stop sign/yield, red light/stop laws, which more realistically consider the practical differences between cyclists and motorists.

What are the most important strategies for avoiding crashes on a bike?

Headlights. Illinois law requires bicycles to be equipped with a white headlight and a red rear reflector. For some reason, cyclists in Chicago think it is acceptable to forgo headlights for a red rear light. If you are only going to have one light it should be a white headlight—not a red rear blinky.

Lack of headlights kills more cases than all other factors combined. If a cyclist is involved in an accident with a motorist at night and the cyclist doesn’t have proper lighting equipment, the cyclist can expect to be blamed for the accident.

Keep your eyes open and ride defensively. Understand that many motorists haven’t learned to look for cyclists. Assume they don’t see you or anticipate your presence. Stay out of the “door zone” and look into rear view mirrors of parked cars as you ride by. If you see someone in the car assume they are about to open their door.

What’s your background in cycling and lawyering?

I grew up in a small town in downstate Illinois. Like all the neighborhood kids I had a number of bikes over the years. In grade school I acquired my first road bike and started to spend time taking day trips in the country. The first few years of my undergraduate education were spent in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, so I took up recreational mountain biking. I moved to Chicago in 1996, which lead to my first urban cycling experience.

In 2002, when I moved to Logan Square, I discovered the joys of urban cycling and bicycle commuting, and I began to think of the bicycle as transportation rather than recreation. I became a religious year-round bicycle commuter and started racing. I also took a basic bicycle maintenance class, which marked the beginning of a more professional understanding of bicycle mechanics. In 2007, I took First Fixed, Second Overall in the Tour Da Chicago alleycat series, and I started teaching adult wheel building classes at West Town Bikes.

After graduating from law school, I worked for a plaintiffs’ firm, representing injured people for two years. Then I went to work for a defense firm where I worked for insurance companies defending people or corporations alleged to have caused injuries.  After four years of defense work, I left to start my own practice.

I originally thought I would have a diverse practice, but fairly quickly I started getting calls from injured cyclists. Now, I have a busy practice consisting of different personal injury cases, but the overwhelming majority of my work involves advocating on behalf of bicyclists and pedestrians.

Read Jim Freeman’s blogs: The Streets of Chicago and Chicago Bicycle Laws.

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Chicago bicycling maps

A good bicycle map is essential to cycling in the city. Such a map will point you to less-trafficked roads, roads with bike lanes, and roads with an ample shoulder for riding. It’ll also tip you off to cycling paths, and, in some cases, local bike shops.

While cycling around the city, the map I use the most is the free Chicago Bike Map. This map shows bike lanes and preferred routes for the entire city. It’s free and incredibly useful—what more could you want? The downside of this map is that it’s made from very low quality paper and starts to fall apart almost immediately.

Other local cycling maps:

Chicagoland Bicycle Map. Produced by the Active Transportation Alliance (formerly the Chicago Bicycle Federation), this map is now in its 4th edition. It shows the best cycling routes through a particular area; the routes are then rated according to ease of use. Since this map costs $7 (ATA members receive the map for free), I decided to push the envelop on geekiness and have the map laminated. (While lamination renders a map practically indestructible, it does make folding cumbersome.)

Illinois Official Bicycle Map: Chicago and Northeastern Illinois.This map, published by the Illinois Department of Transportation, takes a different approach compared to the ATA map. Instead of showing a preferred route through a particular area, it shows suitability of all roads within a given area. This map loses much detail, though, once you get into areas with densely situated streets. Another freebie, this map is one of a series of nine cycling maps produced by IDOT focusing on the entire state of Illinois.

Northwest Indiana Bike Map. Just released in the spring of 2008 by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, this map fills a much needed gap in local cycling resources. The single time I’ve used this map, it proved enormously useful. It looks and feels much like the ATA map in that it shows a minimum number of preferred routes through a particular area.

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In 2010 FalconGuides will publish my books, Road Biking Illinois and Best Rail Trails Illinois.

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Get to Galena

If you live in or near Illinois, you’ve likely heard of Galena–a small historic town in the northwest corner of Illinois not far from the Mississippi River. The town, perched on the side of a hill above the Galena River, is chock-full of restaurants, shops, and attractive historic architecture. Galena claims a few museums, including one devoted to its most famous resident, Ulysses S. Grant. Not surprisingly, the town is one of the region’s major tourist destinations.

The rolling hills near Schapville

The rolling hills near Schapville

What the throngs of visitors to Galena often fail to fully experience is the countryside surrounding the town. Hands down, it’s the most scenic terrain in northern Illinois. The big hills and valleys, small dairy farms, lush woodland, and streams flowing through small limestone canyons offer a sharp contrast to the Prairie State’s nearby fields of corn and soy. All this combined with fairly quiet roadways that twist and curve like wriggling snakes make the Galena area a top-notch road biking destination.

One of the best rides in the area heads into the hills north of Galena and then runs east along an old stagecoach route to Apple River Canyon State Park. From the park, it loops back to Galena along a series of quiet scenic roads offering plenty of far-off views. Saddle up for this 57-mile ride at the Tourist Information Center in Galena.

Getting the lead out

In the 1830s, as a result of its booming lead mining industry, Galena’s population of 1,000 far outnumbered the 100 residents who lived in the swampy town of Chicago. The lead mines and associated commerce catapulted Galena into one of the busiest Mississippi River ports in the 1850s. Many of the buildings from the era still stand. Indeed, 85 percent of the town’s buildings–including the entire downtown district–are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

All this history and picturesque architecture can turn Galena’s Main Street into a half-mile long traffic jam. If you’re biking on a summer weekend, you’ll likely feel some relief as you head out of Galena and leave its crowds behind.

Apple River Canyon State Park

Apple River Canyon State Park

Following the Stagecoach Trail

A mile or so outside of Galena, you’ll encounter a few short downhills, but mainly your pistons are pumping upward. While continuing a gradual climb, don’t forget to raise your head to see the expansive views of the farms and woodland to the south and north. Soon, the road descends and you’ll fly across the Galena River. Start climbing again, and far-off views in nearly every direction compete with the need to watch the road in front of you.

As West Stagecoach Trail dips and bobs, you’ll see old farmhouses, swaths of dense woodland, and occasional gatherings of Holsteins in green fields. This scenery probably hasn’t changed much since this road served a 40-mile stagecoach route between Galena and the town of Lena to the east. Local historians say the stagecoach operated from the mid-1830s until the mid-1850s when the railroad arrived in the area.

Into the canyon

Heading south from West Stagecoach Trail, the route zigzags along a few quiet farm roads on the way to Apple River Canyon State Park, which hosts fine picnicking spots and a small limestone canyon carved out by the Apple River. This is a perfect place to unpack the sandwiches from the pannier, admire the surroundings, and give your hardworking, hill-climbing legs a bath in the cool river.

South of the park, Townsend Road immediately takes you on a sometimes gradual–and sometimes screaming–descent for a couple of miles. Pure joy. By now, you’ll see a pattern emerge: the longer descents often lead to a river or stream crossing–in this case, the Apple River.

Riding the ridge

In Schapville, look for the Zion Presbyterian Church, a wood country church built in 1886. Beyond Schapville, the road mounts a ridge that occasionally offers jaw-dropping views of far-off countryside. The scenes bring to mind idyllic pastoral paintings of 19th century America: a series of overlapping hills adorned with lush greenery, happy farm animals, and the occasional garnet-colored barn.

The road gradually descends about 350 feet before crossing Smallpox Creek. Two minor climbs bring you back to West Stagecoach Trail, over the Galena River, and back into town.

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The Route

Most of this 57-mile loop ride follows quiet roads. West Stagecoach Trail is busier and traffic can move fast, but motorists seem accustomed to cyclists and provide a wide berth while passing. Near Galena, roads seem to change names randomly.

  1. From the Galena Visitor Information Center, head north out of town on Main Street.
  2. Bear left on North Council Hill Road.
  3. Continue straight ahead as North Council Hill Road turns into West Council Hill Road.
  4. At West Stagecoach Trail, turn left.
  5. After passing through the small village of Apple River, turn right on North Canyon Park Road.
  6. Left on East Sweet Home Road. Right North Canyon Park Road. Right on East Townsend Road.
  7. Right on North Scout Camp Road.
  8. Left on East Schapville Road.
  9. Left on North Elizabeth Scales Mound Road (County Route 4).
  10. Right on West Rawlins Road.
  11. Continue straight ahead on Guilford Road as West Rawlins Road turns to the right.
  12. Left on West Stagecoach Trail to return to Galena.

If you’ve still got energy to burn after returning to Galena, consider taking a spin on the 3.4-mile Galena River Bike Trail, which starts at the parking area near the visitor center. The smooth crushed gravel trail runs along the river and adjoining wetlands, and ends just shy of meeting up with the Mississippi.

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This article first appeared in the August 2008 issue of Silent Sports magazine.


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Overcoming traffic fears

You’re on your way home from work and a coworker notices your bike helmet tucked under your arm, and says, “You’re a cyclist?” You nod and perhaps mention one of the many benefits of pedaling to work. Then your colleague says something you’ve likely heard number of times: “I’d love to ride to work, but the traffic is too dangerous.” How should you respond? Do you dismiss your colleague’s fears and tell him or her to quit whining and get riding? Do you tell this person that biking is not for everyone and leave it at that? Or do you suggest ways he or she may become more comfortable biking in traffic?

For those with an interest in earning songs of high praise from their cycling friends, here are suggestions offered by a handful of local cycling instructors on how you can provide encouragement and guidance to the up-and-coming cyclists in your midst.

1. Understand their fears. When someone is afraid of riding in traffic, the first step is confirming his or her concerns, said Dave Glowacz, author of Urban Bikers Tricks and Tips: Low-Tech and No-Tech Ways to Find, Ride, and Keep a Bicycle. Glowacz said this approach typically opens the door to more conversation: “I say ‘Yeah, it is scary, but there are a lot of people who do it and don’t have any trouble,”

“I acknowledge that it’s a valid feeling no matter how realistic their concerns are,” said Randy Warren, a Chicago Bicycle Federation (CBF) program specialist who heads up the federation’s Commuter Challenge. Warren suggests asking if there are specific situations that are most scary for this person, and then offering some solutions–or providing him or her with relevant resources.

2. Suggest a mentor. Sarah Kaplan, a cycling instructor and bike mechanic, said novice riders can learn a lot by riding with more experienced riders. Many urban biking skills–such as positioning oneself at a stoplight, making left turns at a busy intersection, and riding through traffic jams–are better understood when seen, she said. If the colleague lives within a reasonable distance of you, Kaplan suggests commuting with this person until he or she achieves a greater level of comfort. Also, she said, you may try to connect your colleague with other bike commuters who could ride with this person or advise him or her on local routes.

3. Expand their comfort zone. “Suggest that they ride in a places that are comfortable and then expand their territory slowly,” said Glowacz. Your colleague may want to start out on a quiet bike path, and then slowly move onto quiet streets, he said, and then busy streets with a bike lane, and then busy streets without a bike lane. Eventually, said Glowacz, “Most people can achieve a level comfort riding in most places.” Still, he warns, some people will never feel comfortable riding in car traffic.

4. Send ‘em to school. Chicago cycling instructor Eric Willms said beginners will become more self-assured if they know basic skills such as riding predictably, being visible, using a helmet, and keeping a safe distance from parked cars. Bicycle safety classes offer an introduction to these topics from trained individuals. Willms and other biking instructors said that people who participate in a good bike safety class consistently express how much safer and more comfortable they feel riding in a variety of traffic conditions. Cycling courses also typically touch upon other topics essential for novices, such as bike selection and fit, basics of bike handling, and maintenance.

5. Offer resources. Give your colleague a copy of the free Chicago Bike Map and explain why it’s important to stick to bike-friendly roads. Point out the Safe Bicycling in Illinois guide and CBF resources such as Bike to Work Guide, Chicagoland Bicycle Map and Safe Bicycling in Chicago, all found at the CBF website.

While fear of traffic is likely to be the most common obstacle holding people back from bike commuting, a variety of other concerns may crop up. These could involve anything from parking to cleanup to clothing to the plain ol’ fear of being different. Some of these concerns you could help with; others are addressed in the resources listed above. And, of course, whatever amount of guidance you provide for the would-be cyclists around you, don’t forget to brag about your efforts with your cycling friends.

This article first appeared in the July 2008 issue of Windy City Sports magazine.

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