Power to the pedal

The practical pleasure of cycling

bikingpaths image
The author and his wife (second and third from right) touring with friends on the east coast.

Rolling on two or three wheels under your own steam on a trusty bicycle or trike is pure, simple fun. It's good for you, too.

Whether you ride across town or across the country, cycling gratifies the senses: how the sky looks, depending on the weather and time of day; the scent of lawns, woods, and fields depending on the season; the changing cityscape depending on neighborhood, architecture, and population.

Biking is physically nurturing without grueling (but if you want a hard workout, a bike can deliver that, too). Whether you ride fast or slow, you build strength and cardiac conditioning.

Bicycles are engaging. They are the last fully analog devices in our digital lives. There's joy in a bike's tactile feel--the rotation of your pedals, the leaning into corners, the timing of your shifts, the application of your brakes.

Enjoyable also are the breaks you take during a ride, be it solo, with a partner, or with a group of friends: the coffee and pastries; the picnic lunch by the lake.

We in metro Chicago live in an area endowed with a good--and steadily improving--cycling infrastructure. Snaking through the city and suburbs are excellent bike paths, designated bike routes, and more protected bike lanes, all making most parts of the area safely accessible by bike. Witness the growing number of commuters and recreational cyclists.

Biking also is an adventurous way to get away. Why not put your bike on a rack and make a day of it around the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit in Wisconsin? Less than two hours away, the area has superb farm-to-market roads. With gently rolling terrain, scenic views, and light traffic, these roads boast some of the best cycling in the world.

After enjoying day trips, consider taking it to the next level--multi-day bike touring. A plethora of organized bike tours in Illinois and the Midwest welcome cyclists of all ages and all levels. Tours like the Grand Illinois Bike Tour and Pedal Across Lower Michigan are a great way to see new territory, enjoy the outdoors, increase your fitness, meet new people, and plaster a smile across your face.

When you're finished cycling in the Midwest, head over the Middle East. Over the past decade, cycling has grown by leaps and bounds in Israel, which has become a world-class destination that combines love of the land and love of the bicycle.

Biking is easy and inexpensive to get into. All you need is a bike, any bike, that's in good, safe working order; a good helmet that meets MIPS standards; a lock; and bright lights, which you should use religiously in daylight and of course at night, too.

If you're new to biking or coming back after a long hiatus, the choices can seem overwhelming: road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, electric bikes, recumbent bikes, folding bikes, trikes, costing $500 to $5,000. Exploring the options is part of the fun. Whether you fix up your old fixer-upper, or pop for new wheels, support your local bike store. Excellent shops staffed with good mechanics and helpful sales staff abound. They'll help you decide what to buy and give you a fair price.

Safety in the age of distracted drivers is a real concern, but if you watch where you're going, make yourself visible, and follow the rules of the road, you can pursue this most pleasant of all recreations with confidence. 

See you down the road!

Aaron B. Cohen has used pedal power since his first trike ride when he was three. He and his wife have enjoyed 10 self-organized and group bicycle tours in the US, Canada, and France.

For resources and information about cycling, visit your local bike shop. Also check out Ride Illinois, rideillinois.org, and Adventure Cycling Association at adventurecycling.org  

 



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