mike at essanay

NOTE: This article is a review of the 2005 ride. 

I’ve always heard that you can never REALLY see the countryside until you’ve ridden through it by bicycle. I love Chicago, and so I decided to see if this would be true for Big City Urban Exploring. Thanks to the Chicago Cycling club (www.chicagocyclingclub.org) I got my chance. I registered early, and was rider number 4.

This year was the 5th year for this event. Held on July 8 this year, and starting from North Park Village on Chicago’s north side, this tour offered ride distances of 20 or 30 miles, the requisite Really Cool T-shirt, and the optional docent tour. For $1 over the regular ride fee, a CCC member would escort you on the ride and explain exactly what you were riding through. Sorta like a city-site-seeing-tour by bicycle.

There were several docent tour groups at the ride, each with 10 - 15 riders. The average riding speed for our group was between 12-14 mph, allowing us to look around and see the neighborhoods, including Old Town, Wicker Park, Lakeview, St. Bens, Andersonville, Uptown and many more. As we’d ride through the neighborhoods we would stop at various places of interest and our docent guide would explain what we were looking at. After this brief stop, it’s onwards to the next spot. And there were many spots too! The background sheet our docent had was 16 pages long and there were multiple stops on most pages.

buildingsTraffic was virtually nonexistent in most places on this Sunday morning, and even when we rode in downtown the traffic was generally light. Actually, it didn’t seem any busier than Fort Wayne. Another plus was that the driver’s weren’t a bunch of rednecks trying to exert their (limited) manhood by running cyclists off the road.


What did we see? I am certainly going to leave a lot of the sites out, but I’ll try to hit the highlights. Believe it or not, by 1910 Chicago was the center of America’s new moving picture industry, and Essanay Studios was a pioneer in the field. Before the industry moved on to Hollywood, a number of movies were filmed there, including Charlie Chaplin’s “His New Job”. That’s me in the doorway of the studio. In Uptown, there was the Uptown Theatre, built in 1925, with 4,381 seats. The only place with more is Radio City Music Hall. Near the Theatre is the Green Mill Lounge, still one of the hottest jazz club’s in Chicago. The story goes that Al Capone had a table there, located in the middle, up against the wall (of course), where he could see both the entrance and exit of the joint. The building to the left of this paragraph is the Uptown Broadway Building, which is a visual encyclopedia with human faces, animal heads and foliage on the terra cotta, built in Spanish Baroque style.


urban bikesThis brought us to the first of four rest stops along the way at Urban Bikes. The shop is located really close (see picture) to the “L” train. Scream the following: “IT IS VERY LOUD HERE!!” every 10 minutes or so and you’ll know what it was like at the stop. They even had a bicycle taxi there. Fun.


From there we went by many more wonderful old homes, all with various styles, and arrived at the Alta Vista Terra, a re-creation of the row houses in London. There are 20 houses on the street, 10 on each side, and mirrored, so the first house on the left matches the last house on the right, and so on, until the last house on the left matches the first house on the right. Beautiful! Expensive! Shortly after that was Wrigley field, second only to Boston’s Fenway Park in beauty and history (heh heh). Unfortunately, the Cubbies weren’t home that weekend so I couldn’t see park from the bleachers.

We went through neighborhoods that were burned down in the Chicago fire, saw wooden houses that didn’t burn (after the fire, Building Code changes made it more economical to build with brick), the “No Two Alike” neighborhood where, er, no two buildings are alike in style or appearance, St. Alphonsus parish, a focal point for the German Catholic population, and many more interesting buildings.


me at wrigleyOne of the funniest things I saw, which I didn’t have time to stop and take a picture of, was the most unique road hazard I think I have ever seen. In the middle of the road, expertly circled and with the appropriate warning label was: “RAT!”. Yup, dried up and flat as a pancake, one medium sized Chicago rat. Oh stop, it’s the middle of a major metropolitan city. Like you’ve never seen one.


One thing I would do to prepare for this ride in the future is to hit the gym and work on the hand grips. My hands were so sore and tired by the end of the ride I couldn’t believe it. Now, this ride was only 30 miles long, but it wasn’t any ride in the country folks. According to the cue sheet, there were nearly 100 turns! Hey Gene, how’d you like to mark that course? In fact, Rob, our docent guide, said that marking the course was the biggest challenge of putting this ride together.


The Chicago Cycling Club is to be commended for putting together such an interesting, well run and supported tour. The road markings were excellent, the roads we road on were actually better than most of Fort Wayne’s (not saying much), the sags were great, and the volunteers were plentiful and pleasant. There were volunteers out at every intersection that might have been a little tricky to point you in the right direction.

Best of all was Rob’s suggestion for an after ride recovery meal, Chicago style: SUPERDAWG! Superdawg is a drive-in style, ala A&W, spot with real Chicago style hot dogs. They’ve got Super Burgers too. Great fries, and wonderfully thick milkshakes. A great way to end a great ride!