The Chainlink

Cyclists of Chicago

By Marcelo Marcos

This is by far the weirdest project I’ve undertaken. I’ve started photographing cyclists in Chicago at random (#ChiCyclists). Aside from taking in more rejection than I’m comfortable with, it’s been an overall positive experience so far. The last time I wrote back in November I shared how I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the diversity within the Chicago cycling community during my first year living here. Now, photographing and getting a little insight into fellow cyclists that I commute and mountain bike with has been a treat.

Kathryn has some great women's MTB classes coming up for REI including one at Big Marsh this weekend 5/6.

About Cyclists of Chicago

Such an awesome project! I think this is a great way to highlight how many different uses there are for bicycles, and that although we may be different, cyclists can all find common ground in our love of two-wheeled machines! 

Where were you headed at the time of the picture?

My husband, Mike, and I were just wrapping up a quick rip at Palos Forest Preserve. This has been our stomping grounds for the past six years while we lived in the Chicago suburbs.

What do you do for work?

This is an exciting question at this moment in my life. I recently "retired" from my desk job as a product development engineer. For the second season I am working part-time as a Mountain Bike Instructor for the REI Outdoor School in Chicago (https://www.rei.com/outdoorschool/cycling-classes.html). Mike and I plan to take some time off from our professional jobs to build a custom adventure-mobile and travel the country in search of amazing trails. We hope to use this time to find new careers in the outdoor education/adventure industry and spend our working hours showing others how rewarding a life outdoors can be.

Why ride?

How long do I have to ramble? Riding a bike has taught me so much about patience, determination, commitment, dealing with frustration, overcoming obstacles, when to be brave, when to walk, humility, kindness, empathy, good judgement... I could go on forever. Teaching others how to ride has allowed me to share my passion of playing outside, as well as taught me how to slow down and think about all the little details that go into something as seemingly simple as riding a bike on dirt. But mostly I ride because it never gets boring - there are always new trails, new challenges, and new friends around every corner.

Favorite place(s) to ride?

I have two favorite locations to ride: 

#1 is all of the fun trails in southeast Michigan. This is where I first learned to ride mountain bikes and these trails have never let me down. There are just so many of them - there is a trail for every mood you may have or any skill level of rider. Steep, rocky uphills; long flowy downhills; blown out hand-cut trails through roots and small boulders; super twisty; or smooth flat sections perfect for beginners or kids. Come and explore all that metro Detroit has to offer!

#2 is Brevard, North Carolina, which sits between Pisgah and Dupont National Forests. Brevard has an amazingly friendly riding community and was my first experience in real mountains. You definitely earn those long downhill sections with seemingly endless climbs, but it is oh-so-worth-it! Some of the both the best flow trails and the best technical trails can be found in this area, if you just stop in the local bike shop (the Hub) and inquire where to ride.

Anything interesting that happened when you were riding?

Mike and I were married on bikes! Well, technically we were married off bikes... but we replaced a walk down the aisle with a ride down Brockway Mountain on our trusty steeds up in Copper Harbor, Michigan.

How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or be more bike friendly?

For mountain biking in particular, something unique to Chicago is that most of the green areas are Forest Preserves, not parks, and therefore are more focused on simply preserving what's left of the natural spaces here instead of providing it's citizens opportunities to recreate outside. This has led to limited places to ride and created some conflicts between user groups and even within the mountain biking community itself over what is best for this land. There are also limitations on where to ride because of land owners' fear of the dark (all trails close at sunset) and liability for injuries (log rolls and wooden features are prohibited, and all bike trails in Dupage County must be 8 feet wide and made of limestone or pavement). If there were a way to set all of our differences and frustrations aside and have open and honest dialogue where everyone was actually listened to without spewing hate, land owners and trail users could find a lot of ways to add more opportunities for folks to enjoy being outside in nature near Chicago.

And other tips or stories?

No matter how tough or challenging the trail may be, don't forget to smile while you ride - bikes are fun! :)

A Family That Bikes Together Marches Together.

We love our community - in all the forms it takes. We try to expand what we consider our community and wish more of the world felt the same way.

Where are you going? 
We were headed home from the Women’s March. Nap time!
What do you do for work?
I’m self-employed.
Why ride?
It’s the only way to see Chicago.
Favorite place(s) to ride?
Chicago River Trail, boulevards, Humboldt Park, anywhere.
Anything interesting that happened when you were riding?
Smiles. We got lots of smiles.
How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or be more bike friendly?
More protected bike lanes and more traffic calming devices in heavy traffic areas.
And tips?
Ride with other cyclists. It’s an obvious one but rarely have I ever regretted riding with other people.

Alex. Software Engineer. Winter Cyclist.

Where am I going?
I’m going home, in Wicker Park.

Work?
Software Engineer for a trading company.

Why Ride?
No schedule. Makes you physically fit and gets you outside. You also get to see the city in more detail.

Favorite place to ride?
I really like riding around in side streets in Wicker Park and Logan Square.

Interesting?
I would love for the most interesting that’s happened to me to be a good thing, but it’s a bad thing. While I was riding home in this same path, a truck was in the bike lane. They started accelerating when I went to go around them and they ended up chasing me and yelling at me. The guy got ahead of me and jumped out of the truck to try to scare me. Not fun, but it was interesting.

Infrastructure?
More bike lanes for sure. Better signage. Anything they can do to make cars comfortable with cyclists.

Bike tips?
Ride as much as you can. Be patient! Being too rushed can make everybody's time on the road more frustrating. Those 30 seconds lost behind a slow car or bike aren't that important. In addition, be really aware and really careful. Try not to antagonize cars because in the long run it only makes them hate cyclists even more. 

Cassandra. Winter Commuter.

We (cyclists) come in all shapes and sizes. You have riders who are new to cycling and just starting to learn about the sport. And you have riders that are experienced and have all the right gear. Also, in the middle, you have those who are just trying to get to and from work.
 
I particularly love that they rolled out the Divvy program because even though it was maybe a little rough at first and people not necessarily knew the rules of the road (I wish everyone knew them), I think it was a great way to get more people into cycling.
 
As an example, my roommate used to be terrified of riding on the road, and now she has a year membership with Divvy.
 
Where are you going?
I´m going home. I live in Wicker Park. Coming from work in the Mag Mile.
 
What do you do for work?
I’m a video editor based out of River North. I’m a designer/creator/artist.
 
Why ride?
Oh god, why not!? Its better for the environment, more economical, better for your fitness, and it makes you healthier. It’s also a better way to see the city and get to know the neighborhoods. You are not tied to any schedule. Overall, I feel so much better for riding my bike. It´s liberating!
 
Favorite place(s) to ride?
Anywhere on the lake. I love when I have a reason to go up to Lincoln Park just so that I can take the lakefront trail. Even if it’s the middle of winter, it’s such a pretty view.
 
Anything interesting that happened when you were riding?
I’ve been hit twice, coincidentally, in the same intersection. Luckily, I’m fine. However, both times were the driver´s fault and both times they tried to blame it on me.
 
On a more positive note, I used to work for Jimmy Johns doing bike deliveries and I met a lot of great people that way.
How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or be more bike friendly?
Well, I would love to see more enclosed bike lanes and more bike lanes in general. Living in Wicker Park, it’s really hard for me to ride east. I think the city has made a lot of strides in bike infrastructure but there are still many opportunities for improvement.
 
And other cool/funny tips or stories?
Make yourself aware of the rules and regulations of the road. It’s not just the driver´s job to be aware of you but it’s also your job to be aware of drivers and pedestrians. You have to follow the rules of the road, the same as anyone. More importantly, you have to know your rights, so that if you are in an accident, you can stand your ground and not get taken advantage of. 

Emily. Freelancer at the Women's March.

What do you think of Cyclists of Chicago?
It's a great idea and network! 
Where are you going?
Yoga Six South Loop. Time to practice handstands!
What do you do for work?
Haha, we'll say a freelancer. I work retail, teach yoga, sometimes real estate.
Why ride?
Convenience, the rush, fitness!
Favorite place(s) to ride?
River North, River South, River West! The River paths give you a good taste of the city.
Anything interesting that happened when you were riding?
The Women's March!  En route, I March in spirit with everyone - I love how respectful every one was as we crossed paths. You don't get that kind of interaction every time as a biker on the streets!
How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or be more bike friendly?
More bike lanes! Wider Bike Lanes! Bike traffic lights! Anything to raise more awareness for commuters that we're speeding by on the road alongside everyone.
And tips to share?
Look four ways - front, back, left, right! Hone in to your alertness as a biker.


More photos from the March:

Previous Cyclists of Chicago

Jack. Project Manager. Loves Mountains. Raced a Train. 

What do you think of Cyclists of Chicago?

The Photo: I think it's pretty representative of how cheesy I am

 

The Project: It's cool! Basically what I do whenever I meet new cyclists in Chicago!

 

Where are you going?

About to go home from a cycling social event. Pretty typical, I love just wandering around town.

 

What do you do for work?

I'm a Technical Product Manager for a software company! I used to be an engineer but I wanted to work with people more.

 

Why ride?

It's fun and uplifting and it gets me places! And I can go travel lots of remote places.

 

Favorite place(s) to ride?

Mountains, coasts, Canada, Earth (all of it)

 

Anything interesting that happened when you were riding?

I raced a train in British Columbia once. I was keeping up until the conductor pointed behind me and I realized he was signaling that I had lost a tarp that was tied to my gear.

 

How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or be more bike friendly?

More ramps to get mad air! But seriously, curb separated bike lanes and islands around neckdowns. Also, connecting long bike lanes through the city and not allowing construction and traffic to let stretches of lanes disappear.

 

And tips to share?

- Metal framed glasses feel pretty cold when it's below 20° F. Try plastic frames.

- Fenders make all of our lives better.

Michael. Mountain Biker, REI Instructor, Cycling Advocate, and Taco Lover.

What do you think of Cyclists of Chicago?
A project like this is great. The cycling community here is very diverse, with many people existing across various "categories" of cyclist. I like that you've provided voice and audience to people who share a common interest, but who may not otherwise have a chance to interact.

Where are you going?
No place in particular. If all goes well I'll make it back to where I began.

What do you do for work?
I am currently on a bit of a self imposed sabbatical. Historically I have been a mechanical engineer with experience developing products for the automotive, aerospace, defense, mining and industries. I'm also a part time instructor for REI's Outdoor School where I help introduce people to the sport of mountain biking.


Why ride?
Adrenaline. Serotonin. Socialization. Tacos.
"Play" isn't a thing that appears on most adult's Google calendar. That's what riding has always been to me. Every moment on a bicycle is met with the same excitement and curiosity that I had as a child. There's always some new challenge. Go faster. Go farther. Ride smoother. Do a new trick. Do an old trick better. Appreciate the view, the sounds, the smells, the freedom a little more.
Mountain biking has introduced me to some the most interesting and kind people I've ever known. There seems to be something shared between souls that find solace dodging trees on bicycles.

Favorite place(s) to ride?
Locally, I ride the trails at Palo Forest Preserve quite often. I love to travel to ride and there are some real gems within weekend-trip distance from here. Namely Kettle Moraine and Levis Mound in WI, Brown County in IN, and Marquette and Copper Harbor in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Wherever I am riding will be my favorite place at that moment, assuming decent weather and useable trail signage/maps.
I think Chicago riders should be really excited about the new Big Marsh Chicago Park! The city and private donors have put a lot of time and money into the beginning stages of a super cool resource for people who want to develop their riding.

Anything interesting that happened when you were riding?
An amazing woman picked me up on a bike forum and we started meeting up to ride bikes. Some years later I proposed to her trailside on a late night ride. Our wedding took place in Copper Harbor, MI and wrapped up with a great rip down one of our favorite trails.


How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or be more bike friendly?
From a Mountain Biker's perspective, there are not nearly enough off-road, single track, natural surface trails in the area to support the number of riders here. The local trail organization (CAMBr.org) does an unbelievable amount of work advocating for and building new trails, while maintaining and improving existing trails in the Chicago area.


A few major issues limit access to the sport:

  • Palos is the only Cook County forest preserve that allows Mountain biking on singletrack.
  • And Singletrack riding is outlawed in Dupage County because of an absurd rule stating that a bicycle cannot be ridden on a path narrower than 8ft wide. For real. 
  • Heavy fines for trespassing are handed out if you're caught with a bike on these unsanctioned trails, where your presence is perfectly fine, as long as you're on foot or riding a horse. If caught trying to maintain or improve the safety of these trails, heavy fines are imposed for destruction of natural resources.
  • Also, the Cook County Forest Preserves close at Sunset. Not dark, Sunset - which can be a half hour earlier than actual darkness depending on time of year. That means, the largest trail system in the Chicago land area is essentially off-limits for 25% of the year to people who work typical daytime hours. If found on park property after sunset, you can be cited for trespassing. Appropriate lighting systems have existed for years to make it safe (and fun!) for individuals to enjoy riding trails in the dark. This is allowed all over the world, but not in Chicago where the Forest Preserve Police are apparently afraid of the dark.
  • People need to join CAMBr and help make as much noise about these things as possible, in a constructive way of course.
  • I grew up in Michigan, where outdoor recreation space is abundant and mountain bike trails exist in every park and forest. And the parks close at a consistent time year-round, so you can actually enjoy the outdoors all year even if you have a job. It's actually overwhelming trying to decide which trails to ride when we visit. Metro Detroit has 100s of miles of singletrack. I really took that for granted when I lived there.


And other cool/funny tips or stories?

  • Go play outside as often as you can.
  • Be nice to people.
  • Join an advocacy group to create more opportunities for people to be nice to each other while playing outside.
  • Help build a trail, then ride it!

If you're new to riding off-road, take a lesson! People take lessons for every sport imaginable, but the idea of taking a mountain biking lesson somehow escapes people. Do it for your own safety and to decrease the time it takes you to really be able to enjoy the experience. No one ever broke a collarbone swinging a golf club, but people happily pay to get their golf swing coached... Time spent with a qualified instructor or coach will really improve your overall experience in the sport at any skill level. A plug, if I may: https://www.rei.com/outdoorschool/cycling-classes.html

Trisha. Cyclist, triathlete, and supervisor at Starbucks.

What do you think of Cyclists of Chicago?
I think what you're doing is great. Bringing all sorts of cyclists together. There seems to be a divide of different types; commuters, racers, group riders, triathletes. It's awesome to hear from every aspect. 

Where are you going?
In this particular photo I was heading home from one of The Chainlink's social nights. A great way to meet the members and catch up with friends.

What do you do for work?
I work as a shift supervisor at a Starbucks. Once upon a time I was involved with theatre.

Why ride?
I started riding for commuting purposes when I was still living in Ohio. I've been in Chicago since fall 2012 and have been commuting ever since. This past year was the first year that I started riding for sport. I decided I wanted to do a triathlon so I raced at the Skyway Classic crit series in April in hopes of that helping my riding skills. And then started doing group rides with local teams and shops.

Favorite place(s) to ride?
As far as paths around here I like the North Branch. All the local shops and groups pretty much take the same or similar routes but I think Igbo had to choose the Johnny Sprockets routes are my favorite.

Anything interesting that happened when you were riding
Nothing that I can come up with off hand. Except maybe it has been very interesting how fast and how much my riding skills have changed. Going from commuting to sport has made a big difference in every way I've ever viewed cycling. I couldn't have done any of it without the strong community we have here.

How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or be more bike friendly?
I'm always surprised by the lack of knowledge of the law and rules of the road that drivers have. I would like to see a better way of enforcing and educating. Right of ways, bike lanes, etc.

And other cool/funny tips or stories?
The Chicago skyline never gets old. Get up. Grab your bike. Go look. Repeat.

Anna. Chainlink Ambassador and Races for Spidermonkey Cycling.

What do you think of Cyclists of Chicago?
This idea is super rad! Not only will this help our cycling community come together as one, but it will also help highlight cyclists names/voices/faces in the Chicagoland area. In turn, hopefully by seeing and connecting names/voices/faces to cyclists, more drivers will be more inspired to successfully share our roads. 

Where are you going?
In this photo or in life? In this photo I was leaving Dovetail Brewery with a few fellow cyclists. In life, nobody really knows. I just want to be a better human being and create more good in the world.

What do you do for work?
I'm an Art Director and Creative Consultant at Slalom.

Why ride?
I ride for many different reasons. The biggest reason is how alive it makes me feel. I could be having the worst day ever, but as soon as I'm on my bike, I don't have a care in the world. 

Favorite place(s) to ride?
By the lake and/or with my teammies.

Anything interesting that happened when you were riding?
Last year (during a particularly hard time in my life), I learned I could ride my bike no-handed. This small feat taught me a large life lesson and posed a particularly profound question -- what else have I been telling myself I cannot do? I now make it a point on almost every ride to take my hands off my handlebars (sometimes for 2 seconds, sometimes for 30 seconds) to remind myself of where I've been and to imagine where my future will take me if I continue to be open, transparent and willing to learn.

How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or be more bike friendly?
This is a loaded question. The biggest way Chicago could improve bike infrastructure and become more bike friendly is by starting and initiating these sorts of conversations BEFORE someone else gets hurt. Often times these conversations arise after an injury or death occurs in our community. By being more pro-active earlier on, I think we could start to develop more life saving improvements throughout the city. More structured bike lanes and more bike-friendly awareness campaigns/education would be a good start.

And other tips or stories?
Fun fact and true story (look it up on the internets): there is NO scientific proof why we are (human beings) able to ride our bikes. Basically this fact proves that riding a bike IS MAGICAL. :)

The first cyclist I've managed to interview for the more encompassing Chainlink feature is Catherinne, a super cool fellow commuter with humble beginnings in cycling.

Where are you going?
Just heading home from straps class (an aerial circus apparatus).

What do you do for work?
I'm an art therapist in private practice.

Why ride?
Why wait for the bus? Riding gives me tremendous freedom and time to just be in the world - no phone or distractions. Just me, my bike and the world.

Favorite place(s) to ride? 
The city late night or early morning when it's quiet and there is a sense of connection to the few other people who are out; we're the only ones.

How can Chicago improve bike infrastructure or be more bike friendly? 
The bike lanes are pretty fantastic! I ride through the winter and I wish they were consistently plowed.

And other cool/funny tips or stories? 
Kudos to Divvy for getting me on a bike as a logical step for commuting. But I really owe it to someone I met for pushing me to get my own bike, change it out to make it mine and push me to ride through the winter.

Flip Bike Travis

Since deciding to take my big camera out on my commutes and taking the step to ask people for a photograph, I've realized there's a lot more depth to the people I commute with. Following are some examples of characters I've encountered. You can find more people on the website and on the Instagram. If I've met you, you're on there. 

I met Robbie while cycling down N. Milwaukee and catching him out of the corner of my eye trying out some tricks in a parking lot. Now I know Robbie is a Japanese American designer & artist from Washington, Oklahoma who also gets excited when he buys a new bike (www.robbietanizawa.com).

Chris shared his enthusiasm on the mountain bike trails with very few words. After I gave him my whole spiel on how I thought this project would help shed light on the character and diversity of the cycling collective in Chicago, he simply said "Bikes are fun".

Aubrey was sitting outside Union station when I hopped off the Metra on my way back from the trails.Turns out he just sold his San Francisco based refurbished bikes shop to travel across the country. Not to mention his rig was cool af. (https://www.yelp.com/biz/refried-cycles-san-francisco)

For someone who grew up with 3,000 vertical feet of raw mountain bike trails in their backyard, adapting to Chicago has been quite the challenge. From having to commute out to the trails on the El train to figuring out jump lines on the lakefront, its been a process of adaptation. However The Chainlink and the Chicago cycling community has made me realize we all come from different backgrounds and we all bring something different to the table. I hope this turns out into a small tribute to all you Chicago cyclists and I look forward to meeting more of you out there as I try to keep this project going, specially through the snowy winter ahead.

Marcelo Marcos started riding and racing mountain bikes in 2002. Since then, he’s taken on marathon races, bike camping, downhill racing, park riding and commuting. His day job as a finance consultant has led him away from his hometown in Mexico and onto Texas, Florida, North Carolina, L.A. and now Chicago. He currently enjoys mountain biking and photography in his off-time, and also serves as an ambassador for The Chainlink.

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