[dropcap]B[/dropcap]ike riders in Chicago are getting a fancy new trail to ride on next month. On June 6, a 2.7-mile elevated bike trail will be opening up on the city’s North Side. And with a new bike trail, might come a wave of curious Chicagoans who are looking to get into biking.
Formerly known as the Bloomingdale Trail, the 606 covers up what used to be an abandoned rail line. The elevated line was defined by crumbling walls and overgrown plant life and also attracted a vagrant population. But despite its conditions and the fact it was private property, runners and cyclists from the area used the trail as a convenient way to travel and avoid traffic.
Now the trail has been repaved, set up with lighting, and had many of its bridges refurbished. It will span across six new public parks and be accessible to four Blue Line stations and a Metra station. After four years of construction, with delays caused by winter complications, the $95-million project is set to be complete this year.
Chicago has been praised as one of the bike-friendliest cities in the nation. Walk Score, which ranks over 150 U.S. cities in how bikeable they are, named Chicago the No. 6 city in the country, falling right behind Denver, with Minneapolis topping off the list. Chicago’s last ranking was in 2013 at 10th place.
Many of Chicago’s residents who enjoy the city’s bike infrastructure are non-bike owners. Many of these residents are using Divvy, the Chicago bike-share company which lets users borrow bikes for 24-hour periods. Heralding itself as Chicago’s newest transit system, the program is undergoing heavy expansion in the city.
By June 2015, Divvy will have expanded to 476 stations, making it the bike share system with the most stations in the country, according to the program’s website. The stations will be home to over 4,700 bikes across 33 wards, making it second to New York’s Citi program, which currently offers roughly 6,000 bikes.
With the Chicago bike scene growing at a fast pace, it might be daunting for newcomers who enter the scene. Tomas Ruiz Dominguez is one of those already on the inside. He’s been an indoor cycling instructor for two years and partakes in several events throughout the city.
“There’s Active Transportation Alliance (ATA), an organization which helps promote cycling awareness in the state,” says Dominguez. The ATA offers support and education to its members about bike riding and safety. “There’s the Chicago Cycling Club and The Chain Link,” he said. Both websites allow members to find events, routes and information specific to cycling in Chicago.
The most important tip Dominguez gives however is this, “Go to a bike shop. A local bike shop should know the area that (newcomers) live in and give tips on where they can cycle and how to cycle.”
He also said that going to a bike shop allows buyers to interact with a seller who is more informed about cycling. “Your bicycle is your first step, so you want one that really fits you,” Dominguez said. “So cough up the extra money and go to an actual bike shop.”
Enrique Ortiz is the owner of one such bike shop—Irv’s Bike Shop located at the corner of Pilsen’s 18th Street and Racine Avenue. “First thing is you have to measure what size you want,” said Ortiz. According to him, this first step ensures that riders will be comfortable when riding their bikes.
Ortiz also stressed safety gear as a necessity. “A helmet is definitely No. 1 up there,” he said. “If you’re going to be riding at night, you should have lights on there.” LED lights and reflectors help increase night visibility and reduce collisions with other vehicles or cyclists, he explained.
Ortiz also advised against the use of headphones while riding. “I’m 100 percent against them,” laughed Ortiz. “You can’t hear the person that’s behind you, if they’re honking a horn,” he said. “That’s how a lot of accidents happen.”
“You should have spare inner tubes and a pump too,” added Ortiz. Though many starting cyclists may not consider it, Ortiz said that’s a tip for all cyclists. “If you get caught with a flat and there’s no bike shops open, you should always carry a spare and a pump just in case,” he said. “Otherwise, you’ll be doing a lot of walking.”
Ortiz also recommended the use of U-locks, a type of lock for bikes shaped like the letter “U” instead of a cable.” As long as you have a U-lock, you’re good. Cables, they just cut through that real easy,” said Ortiz.
Paying attention to safety and avoiding unsafe actions such as using headphones while cycling should allow riders to stay safe. “The rules of the road aren’t that difficult anymore,” Ortiz said. “Just respect other cars and respect other bikes. That’s all you need to know.”