Four Star Bike Tour 2012


PDF Maps for all four routes:

Tour Participant (standing) Gets Assistance Fixing Flat

Overall the 35 mile route this year was a bit of a disappointment. The portions of the ride that have been traditionally part of the Oak Park Bicycle Club’s Wright Ride were fine but the transition down to that area was sketchy.

This ride was certainly not as enjoyable as the Bike The Drive (BTD) event. That is still one of my all-time favorites. Part of the fun in doing the BTD ride is that you get a consistently great view of Lake Michigan and even more importantly the ride is virtually non-stop. You encounter traffic controls on each end and of course at the ride start in the middle but other than that you simply fly along at your own pace and you can use the entire width of the roadway. We usually choose the lane next to the median and stay there for the duration.

But city tours like the Four Star Bike Tour (FSBT) are probably better experienced as docent-led rides and not the “cattle calls” that city tours tend to be. In years past there were lots more police manning the busier intersections and allowing riders to cross in clumps. But today’s ride despite the advertised online instructions and then thrice repeated instructions by the announcer at the ride start was anything but a law abiding ride.

I don’t know the attendance figures but it did not appear to be as well attended as the Boulevard Lakefront Tour of years past. Nevertheless it had a goodly number of riders. What I liked was the fact that each group that was allowed to leave had one or more ride marshals in the pack. What was disappointing was that some of the ride marshals were the biggest offenders when it came to running stop signs, riding on the wrong side of the street and even running red lights. Yikes! Fortunately the fellow that was with our group decided to stay legal in the presence of a family with a little girl in tow on a Trail-A-Bike. Running red lights within sight of her would have been very bad form indeed.

My advice to the Active Transportation Alliance is to either refrain from offering suggestions on following the Rules of the Road or if they want to continue then at least find riders willing to obey the law for at least the duration of their service as a ride marshal. At the outset Ron Buhrke emphasized that this was to be a ride where we would be introduced to protect bike lanes. It was clearly his intent to suggest that these lanes would entice folks to ride city streets who would otherwise forego the pleasure because they felt unsafe. But the way in which the ride is being conducted sends mixed messages to newbies.

What did I like about the ride? Lots actually. The scenery in the southwest suburbs was really awesome. It made me miss the Wright Ride which is not being held this year. Boohoo. The cuesheet that the ATA puts out is first rate. Probably one of the best I have seen this year. It is small and easily stowed in a map holder and has clearly marked references to the Points of Interest (of which there were many) and a great visual map of the route. Kudos all around there.

The number of rest stops was more than sufficient. It was what you would expect on a ride geared to attract newbies and casual riders. I counted a half dozen groups stopped along the roadway fixing flats and all of them had someone assisting who either had a floor pump or the expertise needed to get the ride back underway. I saw as well a group of riders being SAGed back in from in front of Malcolm X College. So it appears that the emergency and help systems were functioning.

Finally I have to wonder about the value of the vaunted protected bike lanes. Just after stopping at the last of the rest stops we picked up a few riders who had been sitting at that rest stop. One couple was on a very nice Bike Two’sday Tandem. As we entered the protected bike lane it was soon evident that passing someone ahead of you was difficult. The lane is too narrow. Several of the fastest riders actually left the bike lane and rode alongside the automobile traffic in order to pass a dozen or so riders before dipping back into protected bike lane.

Now if we are to expect some 3-to-5 fold increase in bicycle riders in the next decade then we need to anticipate that riders of differing strengths are going to begin to contend with one another for clear lanes of passage. And if they ride in the manner that I saw on this ride things could get ugly. Faster riders tend not to speak up when passing (I guess they don’t think it either necessary or perhaps not cool) and slower riders are likely to wander all over the place as they did to day dodging the holes in the pavement of the bike lane. It is pointless to have a protected lane where the ride quality is less favorable that in the automobile lane.

That problem is something the City of Chicago is going to have to mull over. But I really do not see a city the size of Chicago being able to do any better job than is currently being done in Portland. They have a similar set of problems with terrible pavement in precisely the lane where the vehicles can least tolerate it.

Final Thoughts

Several months ago the guys from ChainLink decided that mentioning the escalating rate of gun violence in the city was somehow a sign that I was being a troll. It was still early days in the sudden change in the climate of Chicago and it was because of this problem that I bemoaned ChainLink members doing anything that might frighten away suburban riders who might not want to be caught in gun fire.

Well sadly the Superintendent of Police has indicated that we are possibly dealing with the kinds of cycles of violence that are not unlike those caused by drug cartels along the southern border of the US. That is not good news! Something has to be done and soon. If these shootings are indeed drug wars let’s hope that the good guys (our police) are the winners.

In the meantime we need to try and encourage out-of-towners to come and enjoy the bicycling we have to offer. It is a wonderful city and there are few routes as welcoming as the Chicago Lakefront Trail. Suburban cycling clubs should make a point of having a few of their club rides either begin in the city limits or let Chicago be your turnaround point. Today’s ride demonstrated that cycling the west and south sides of the city are doable if you keep your wits about you and ride safely. And let’s make sure that the ChainLink folks who like to describe parts of the city as “shit holes” know that we really do not appreciate their tone.

Cyclometer Info

Distance: 36.9 miles
Time: 3h 54m 15s