The Chainlink

New member here. My wife, two sons, and I are moving back to the Midwest next year after 17+ years away, and I was happy to come across this site to help answer some questions that I have about cycling options in the Chicago area.

We've been in California most of our time away (mostly SF/Oakland..Sacramento the last 18 months) and have been spoiled for cycling options (Oakland especially). While I realize hills are going to be hard to come by near Chicago, I'd like to have a decent two to three hour ride without a lot of congestion/stoplights close to our new home if possible. We're looking at Oak Park/Forest Park/River Forest along with Andersonville/Edgewater but leaning towards Oak Park.

Are the Prairie and Des Plaines River trails the main/only good options near Oak Park? And are they generally not so congested that you can ride at a healthy clip (20+ mph)? 

If we do end up in Andersonville/Edgewater, is the lakefront path north of there generally not too congested as well -- even on weekends? 

Thank you, 

Patrick

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Welcome to the Chicagoland area, Patrick.  But I'm afraid that your cycling options are going to be somewhat limited compared to what you've experienced in the Bay Area and Sacramento.  The only "hills" you are likely to encounter are those where MUP's climb up from river valley areas such as the Fox River Trail.  Also, from what I've read in these chainlink.org blog threads in the past, you are likely to encounter much greater contentiousness with automotive traffic than you were used to in California.

Yes, those trails you mention (Prairie Path and Des Plaines River) are good, but as to the matter of how congested they are and how fast you can ride are dependent upon things like time of day, weekends, etc.  Weekends on some of these trails may be filled with a potpourri of "freds" (bikers who like to think they're riding in some kind of race and are apparently all by themselves on the trail), walkers, joggers, inline skaters, people walking with strollers, etc.

Also note that the Prairie Path, in particular, is constructed of "limestone screenings," that is, the smallest of the crushed limestone from local quarries compacted into an "acceptable" riding path.  Problem is that this kind of surface, while great during late Spring and early Autumn months, becomes very dry and dusty during the Illinois mid-Summers and very soggy and muddy during early Spring/late Autumn/Winter months.

Thanks, George. Appreciate the tips. 

The Prairie Path near Oak Park, in Maywood/Bellwood, is paved but has numerous street crossings. Farther west, in DuPage County, it's limestone and has more infrequent street crossings.

The DesPlaines River Trail is a dirt path. The only time I tried it, it was terrible. The Salt Creek Trail is much better.

The Lakefront Path is very congested.

The kind of trails you're looking for would be the Centennial Trail in the southwest suburbs (parallels 171/Archer) and the Cal-Sag Trail through the south suburbs. Plus, they're not congested.

Thanks for the suggestions, Shawn.

Early weekend mornings you should be able to get going at a good clip on the Lakepath.

Weekday mornings and evening rush hours it is more congested--though they are separating the bike and walking paths, as you can read about elsewhere on this site.

South of downtown the path is much less congested even during rush periods.

The crushed limestone surface of much of the IPP is, I think, perfectly fine - not much different than dirt roads I have ridden in the hills in California.

There is very little of the LFP that is north of Andersonville - it ends at Ardmore. For the kind of ride you seem to be after, from there your best option is probably Sheridan Rd. on the north shore. It is very popular with the weekend peloton. If you go far enough north (I am forgetting which suburb it is) you can get good hill repeats in going up and down the ravine that goes down to the lake from the bluff. As mentioned, the south LFP (let's say from 18th St. to Marquette) is very uncongested and it is relatively easy to maintain a good clip there.

I absolutely love riding in California and you won't find anything as nice here unless you go to Wisconsin, and even that isn't California :)

Thanks for the advice, David. Outside of the friends we're leaving here in CA, I'm going to miss the riding most! 

Once the temps drop below 50 degrees, the LFT really opens up.

Good point!

You didn't tell us how old your kids are.  But to enjoy a 2-3 hour bike excursion with kids or teens, I'd move to a house within a few blocks of the North Branch Bike Path.

This is a fully-paved 33.5 mile bike path that winds through the north suburbs from the Albany Park and Saganash neighborhoods in Chicago, through Niles, Morton Grove, and Glenview to Northfield, the Skokie Lagoons and the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

And the Path roughly follows the NW Metra tracks, so you could use the hourly trains to return home with your bikes in the event of rain.   I'm also an escapee from the Bay Area.  And for my money, drivers here are MUCH more considerate of cyclists than in California, where the car is King, and cyclists wear huge flame-orange reflectors and vests to make sure drivers see them.

And thanks to a strong agricultural lobby in Illinois and Wisconsin, these states are blanketed by good quality, lightly-used paved rural roads.  The Milwaukee Map Service has the best bike maps of all sorts; for instance, their map of SE Wisconsin shows every paved road allowing you to plan a quiet but unique route.  And the Kettle Moraine system has some of the best mountain biking (and XC skiing) in the US, bar none!  Good luck!

Great suggestion.

Seconded.  I live in Albany Park, and can easily take the North Branch Bike Path for ~20 miles one way (with easy extensions to keep going much further in Skokie Valley Trail).  The North Shore Channel Trail starts here, and goes quite a bit north til it meets with the Green Bay Trail, which also continues for quite awhile. So without two much effort there's a few routes to do 20+ miles on trails.

I bike to work downtown on the lakefront trail most days.

I know picking a place to live is complicated, and involves tons of trade-offs.  But if the only way you're picking where to live, the areas adjacent/between the two northern branches of the river (Skokie, Chicago, Lincolnwood, Glenview, etc.) have lots and lots of places to bike.

Good luck!

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