Your family probably has a few summer bucket-list items to get excited about: a trip to the zoo, a pool day, a night at the baseball park. But how about some family bike rides thrown in the mix? Whether you start a new tradition of post-dinner bike rides around the neighborhood or take weekend adventures to discover your favorite trail in this bike-friendly city, biking is a quintessential summertime activity.
Another reason to trade out four wheels for two? Chicago is extremely bike-friendly. In fact, this city ascended to the No. 1 spot of bicycle-friendly cities, as ranked by Bicycling Magazine. And, there’s no cooldown in sight as the city plans to add even more trails to the already-existing 200 miles of on-street, protected shared lanes. (That doesn’t even include all of the off-street paths, like the famed 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail.)
Need some incentives to get you rolling?
After the up-front investment in biking and safety gear, getting around by bike can save you money on gas and parking expenses. Plus, Mother Earth thanks you for two-wheeling it because you’re lessening your carbon footprint. Biking also counts as a heart-pumping cardio workout, not to mention it’s way more fun to whizz down a hill or explore a new trail than sit in traffic.
It gets even better: Taking family bike rides is also a great way to bond with your family.
Lesley Tweedie, co-owner at Roscoe Village Bikes in Chicago and the mother of two children, ages 1 1/2 and 4 1/2, takes frequent rides with her family. Her eldest is now starting to ride on her own.
“We prefer to go places by bike because then the journey itself becomes part of the activity,” Tweedie says. “Riding gives us fresh air, exercise and an opportunity to experience the world more closely than we do in the car.”
3 Great Bike Rides
Looking for a fun route? We asked local bike and rental shops to share their favorite routes for families.
The Ride: Bike to the Chicago Botanic Garden
The Route: Along this route, you can stop and smell the roses … or the tulips or the lilacs. The North Branch Trail of the Forest Preserves of Cook County extends 20 miles north from Chicago, but you can make this ride as long or as short as you want. A multi-use path connects the North Branch Trail with the Green Bay Trail at the Braeside Metra station in Highland Park, and then the path winds down the south side of Lake Cook Road to the entrance to Chicago Botanic Garden. Bike racks are near the parking lots if you want to take a garden stroll.
The Recommendation: Jim Versino, an owner at Wilmette Bicycle & Sport Shop, likes this nature trail as it rolls through the Turnbull Woods as well as Chicago Botanic Garden’s McDonald Woods. Versino, who has logged many rides with his children, and now his grandchildren, offers this pro tip: “When the kids were young, I’d try to pick a spot out where we could get doughnuts or ice cream or a fun destination or park to play at.” Those incentives can help break up a long ride, he says.
The Ride: The Chicago River
The Route: You can pick up a trail that starts near W. Argyle Street and North California Avenue and ride it all the way to W. Petersen Avenue without having to get off to cross streets, says Tweedie. That ride is about 1.5 miles, but you can take the trail farther north or south if you’d like, she says.
The Recommendation: Tweedie classifies this as an easy ride. She and her family love it because there are playgrounds along the way, including River Park, which has a splash pad and pool if you’re in need of a cool down.
The Ride: The Lakefront Trail
The Route: Chicago’s lakefront boasts 18.5 miles of car-free bicycle paths, which are a fun way to play tourist in your own town. Bike and Roll, a Chicago bike rental and tour company, leads an easy ride that’s less than six miles, but takes about 2.5 hours because of stops at cool places like the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory.
The Recommendation: Ryan Lawber, general manager at Bike and Roll, says those who go on this guided ride especially enjoy the stop at the zoo, where you’re greeted by polar bears and rhinos. “Our tour guides know the city and love telling people about the history and architecture,” he says.
Keep Kids Safe
Before you get those little ones pedaling, make sure these safety tips are being followed.
- Wear a helmet. And, make sure it fits. It should sit on the top of the head in a level position, not rocking backward or forward or side to side. Safe Kids recommends kids take the Helmet Fit Test at SafeKids.org.
- Make sure the bike fits. When children are sitting on the seat of a bike, their feet should be able to touch the ground. Before the ride, make sure reflectors are secure, brakes are working, gears shift smoothly and the tires are properly inflated and secure. Also, long or loose clothing can get caught in bike chains or wheel spokes, so make sure kids are appropriately dressed.
- Supervise the ride. It can be hard for kids to judge the speed and distance of cars until age 10, so limit riding to sidewalks, parks or bike paths. Children should be able to demonstrate riding competence and know the rules of the road before cycling with traffic.
- Model good behavior. Wear a helmet; teach your kids to ride on the right side of the road with traffic, not against it; use appropriate hand signals and obey traffic laws. Also, stop and look left, right and left again before entering a street, crossing or intersection.
For more tips, visit SafeKids.org
Stay tuned for more tips on bike gear, rides for a cause, and workouts next week!