Four Star Tour 2013 : 35-mile Route

Background Reading


View from the outdoor eating area of Native Foods Cafe in the Loop.

View from the outdoor eating area of Native Foods Cafe in the Loop.

The Four Star Bike Tour 2013 was an interesting blend of experiences. On the one hand the early portions of the ride were quite interesting because of the scenery. Some of the neighborhoods reminded me of the North Shore Area with large homes on large lots and well-manicured lawns.

But some portions of the route were downright mystifying. They were neither scenic nor really suitable for riding in a group event such as this. In fact some portions were downright dangerous to ride. I got the impression that these would have been better tackled on a mountain bike rather than a road bike. And given that I was riding a LWB recumbent it was not a fun experience!

Experience Is Key

My very first Chicago Bicycling Federation ride was in 1992 or 1993. It was then called the Boulevard Lakefront Tour. As time passed it seems that portions of that ride morphed into the modern day Bike The Drive. As always rides like these can be improved up, but there seems to be some difficulty with this new version of the Boulevard Lakefront Tour that are troublesome.

The most prominent point to be addressed is the route marking technique being used. On several legs of the ride participants missed key turns because of the placement of the route markers. Having these in a consistent place on the roadway is important. Sometimes they were stenciled onto the pavement along what might be considered the position ordinary taken by a cyclist. At other times they were actually hidden under automobiles that had parked over them.

One route marker (intersection of Wilson and Magnolia) was placed directly over the double yellow line and could not be seen if you were scanning the righthand side of the street where the previous markers had been situated. I chalk this up to there being more than one person doing the route marking perhaps?

The other rather odd bit was that sometimes the route markings were actually tape arrows. They were bright pink as were the sprayed versions but it was confusing at first until I realized that they were being used in places where perhaps spray paint was not allowed.

A HodgePodge Route

The latter half of the route was miserable. We needed flaggers at for instance the Logan Square roundabout. You could hear riders calling out to one another because the markings were not visible if you were not in the correct lane and finding that position was difficult when traffic was whirring all around. All those folks who were needless at much more mundane locations should have been working that one for certain.

But one got the impression that the latter half of the route was simply tossed together in a hurry. It was not scenic and it could have been. But again experience is key. I hope that each year the persons who worked on the ride the previous year are being debriefed and their findings collated and archived for future workers. If not then now is the time to begin!

Four Star Tour 2013 – 35 Mile Route from Beezodog’s Place on Vimeo.

Rider Traffic Volume Can Make Or Break A Route

Where Berwyn crosses Sheridan Road to bring the riders onto the Chicago Lakefront Path we encountered one of many places not designed for ‘herd migration volumes‘. The pavement leading onto the trail was half as wide as it should have been because of some lack of repair issues. It frankly was dangerous to have that many individuals (some on tandems) trying to squeeze onto this narrow ribbon of concrete and then fan out onto the trail ahead.

In fact when coming out from the overpass tunnel to reach the trail, there were near collisions as first folks were confused as to which direction to travel and then unable to easily negotiate entry onto the trail because of its existing traffic pattern. This was definitely a place where a flagger was needed to help conduct traffic and given directions.

On our way into the water rest stop we encountered an ambulance in the street and someone was being placed in it. Off to the other side of the roadway bikers were on phones presumably telling others about the mishap. We did not stay to find out more about the situation but instead moved on to let the EMTs do their jobs.

But coming in an out of the park where the water was being dispensed we ran into riders on the 65-mile loop trying to negotiate more lousy pavement while those on the 35-mile route were attempting to enter. Not a good situation. There were flaggers here sitting on their fannies who probably should have been directing traffic to help avoid mayhem.

My general impression of the help being provided is that is was spotty in quality. Either you had folks who were basically going through the motions of trying to help direct traffic or you had others who merely sat and watched as the riders went by. It might be time to get some training for the volunteers that occurs out in the field and is not arranged over a table at the Active Transportation Alliance offices. In fact video capture of this years ride would be instructive for future volunteers who need to be alerted to the problems that can occur.

My Legion Park experience was mixed. This should have been a nice scenic portion of the route but the entry into the park was over a narrow sidewalk with a hard right turn that even people on upright bikes were complaining about. But once into the park you came to a bridge which again required a hard right up a very short steep incline. Really?

Who thought this was suitable for a group as large as this? And once again at the end of the crossing of the creek just after rounding behind a school there is a volunteer sitting on his fanny waiting for folks to arrive and directing them across the intersection. Very poorly handled situation folks. Clearly the volunteers were either bored or going through the motions and should have been strategically placed where they could do the most good.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

As I rode along the 35-mile route and noticed the paucity of clear markings at various points I started to get the giggles. If you enter the ChainLink Discussion Forum you invariably find someone like Adam Herstein ranting and raving about pavement marking conditions or the lack of them altogether. And then there will be the inevitable promise by someone from ATA that a 311 call will be made to rectify the situation. So why then are the folks who haunt the ChainLink Forum and are serving as volunteers and the group that supposedly whips lazy and ineffectual City Hall workers doing such a bad job all on their own?

I frankly was embarrassed for them. But then again they deserved having the scab ribbed off and the wound of lack of good preparation allowed to show. I still am trying too to understand why a mixed gender tandem team of Ride Marshals is unable to demonstrate how to come to a halt at stop signs or honor red lights. It seems to me that of all the participants Ride Marshals should have their act together. But frankly I suppose that in today’s bicycle culture their behavior fits right in. My guess is that most of the groups like Chicago Area Tandems no longer stress the Rules of the Road.

And all the while we are being asked to contribute monies to help drive forward the implementation of more Protect Bike Lanes to promote rider safety. I doubt very seriously whether all the bike lanes possible will ever cure the current crop of riders from disobeying traffic controls. Instead groups like the League of American Bicyclists will attempt to appease them with a push for an Idaho Stop Law.

This reminds me of something that really brought laughter. There were two gals and a grungy-looking fellow riding the route just past the old Playboy Mansion. The two gals started crossing westbound an intersection (on North Avenue) which was a multi-street affair on a red light. The guy followed and got out into the intersection before he realized that his bike’s rear cassette was not working properly and he nearly fell down while trying to hop off the bike.

Meanwhile traffic is whizzing past on either side and I was waiting and watching and wondering why he bothered to venture out without knowing about the gearing problem. He got steadied and this time moved over to the pedestrian walkway and tried again to cross on the red light again he failed because of this bikes condition.

He kept bouncing the bike (I suppose to get his chain reseated) and finally gave up. The light turned green and we took off shaking our heads. This is the kind of situation that an Idaho Stop Law would make even worse. Cyclists are among the very worst folks to attempt judging whether crossing an intersection is safe or not. We saw countless riders approach stop signs and blow past groups of riders on the right and never look to see if a car was crossing. I cringed each time this happened.

An Idaho Stop Law is only going to encourage dumb behavior from a group that is already showing signs of having reached its limits of stupidity proceed beyond that point legally. And someone is going to pay for this with their lives or physical well-being.

Cue sheet for Four Star Bike Tour 2013 (PDF)

More Chatter On The ChainLink Forum

Evidently the ChainLink Crowd was busy congratulating itself on having sent its “ATeam to do the route marking. Julie Hochstadter wrote:

Reply by Julie Hochstadter 14 hours ago
I love seeing markings like that all over the city and even in Indiana and Michigan (for Tour Le Shore) and in northern Illinois and Wisconsin (for North Shore Century). Makes me smile thinking we have some space on these roads just for us and that a whole large group of cyclists rode over this space :))

Also reminds me of route marking when the ride was called BLT (boulevard lakefront tour) back in 2008 or so.

Four of us were out pretty far south and west in the middle of the night (when traffic was lightest) and we wore orange jerseys so we sort of looked like city workers. A few people looked at us, but left us alone.

It was a pretty surreal experience and also quite fun. I was happy when we got to Garfield Park, which was towards the northern point and close to the end of our route.

I highly recommend if you have the opportunity to volunteer with a bike org (ATA, EBC, etc) to route mark you should try it out if you like some adventure and a unique way of helping out a bike ride.

Reply by Active Transportation Alliance 13 hours ago

Team 5 Fauna

Team 5 Fauna

Thanks for saying that, Julie, we are actually planning on focusing on bike people and bike groups for future route marking projects. Marking volunteers are a special, under-the-radar breed who are highly valued with bike orgs.

I hope this doesn’t deter anyone from volunteering but Chainlink’s own Kevin C snapped this shot while marking for Four-Star.
Special shout out to anyone on Chainlink who did route marking this year (Anne Alt, Kevin, etc.)…you are amazing! And, survey feedback is showing people really appreciated the marking this year.

Ethan Spotts, Active Trans

Reply by Lisa Curcio 6.5 mi 12 hours ago
Leave it to Kevin! Good idea. There were some surburbanites enjoying the tour, and they might not have recognized the little furry creature that we city dwellers encounter so frequently. 🙂

I said this elsewhere, but I want to say it here so everyone understands that it was not just putting little pink things on the road. Some of you might have noticed that some of our city streets have somewhat less than smooth pavement. The route markers put bright orange paint around all of the very scary stuff and it was truly appreciated.

Reply by Anne Alt 12 hours ago
Thanks for the appreciation, folks!

Well wasn’t that special. We now know that Team 5 was out not only ‘marking the route‘ and ‘denoting the pavement hiccups‘ but evidently helping the rubes from the suburbs that pay the bulk of the freight for this wobbly train known as the Active Transportation Alliance. I certainly do not mind that Kevin C found the time to ‘light up‘ the ChainLink Forum Mascot. I suppose we could call him Cheney but that would be an incorrect pronunciation. So we’ll have to allow the Ride Marshal I encountered at the ‘water stop‘ to have the honor of naming the mascot.

However, what I do object to is not being able to get the business at hand done properly before you start playing Picasso with dead rodents.

He certainly was ‘spot on‘ when he called my front fairing a ‘bug shield‘. It’s hard to tell whether these folks are just ignorant or trying to keep their women folk happy, but either way they suck at it. He was obviously playing to the two females who were riding along with him. I should however have answered when he exclaimed ‘I wish I had me a bug shield‘ by saying ‘I wish you had one too‘. But what I really wished was that he had not missed so much stubble when he was shaving his legs that morning. But hey, you can’t have everything.

Remind me some time to get these guys some deodorant sticks and razors. And by the way, the folks from the suburbs are more than a bit acquainted with fauna. We have a hawk that circles our area hunting rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks no doubt. And the number of possum, badgers, beavers, deer, coyote, turtles, and birds of all sorts that wander our neighborhoods would make a city dweller envious.

And despite all that wildlife we still find time to talk walks in our forest preserves, paddle our lakes and occasionally have city dwellers who fancy themselves as writers lower their standards to come and enjoy a slower pace of life. I certainly can’t imagine why they do but I guess the vaunted shallowness of suburban life is what keeps John Greenfield coming back for more? Anne Alt’s excuse is that she has family in the next town over. Oh, well.

Cyclometer Info

Distance: 39.5 miles
Time: 4h 58m 36s