Bike the Drive is coming right up this weekend, early Sunday the 29th. If you are wondering if it might be fun but have never given it a go this could be the year to try it. We've had a great time each year with everything from a little baby on the back of a bike to the whole crew mixed on their own bikes and riding on ours. Our guys love the feeling of having an expedition that they get by sneaking out of bed early and taking to Lakeshore drive in the morning air with no cars.
We've had the best time taking it easy and enjoying the feeling of having the road all to bikes -- not being in a rush to get from the top to the bottom of the route. It's good to know that
Active Transportation charges admission only for kids who are actually pedaling -- that is riding their own bikes. It's free for babies or children who are passengers. They require a helmet for everyone.
Here are our Bike the Drive Top Tips for a relaxing family time! For the official brochure in pdf click here.
Getting Ready for Sunday Morning
Riders can start entering Lakeshore Drive at 5:30 a.m. and go until about 9 a.m. It's much less crowded the earlier you get going so getting an early start can help keep the mood fun. Getting ready before Sunday morning goes a long way towards having a good time.
When you sign up for the ride you are assigned a packet that has your bracelets, t-shirts and helmet numbers inside. Pick your packet up before the morning of the ride at one of the pick-up spots instead of waiting till the morning of the ride. Picking up your packet the morning of the ride can be hectic and if you already have everything you can just head off. ***Bike the Drive does not allow getting onto Lakeshore Drive anywhere but at Grant Park!
Check out your bikes a few days ahead of time so you can take care of anything that needs to be fixed. Really. Pump up tires. Size those kid bikes since kids get big over the winter.
Bring a lock for the kid bikes (if you have a kid seat on yours) so you can bail out if they get too tired, lock their bike somewhere you can get to later when the traffic is open, and continue your ride together.
Get to bed early the night before and head out as early as you can muster. Pack as much as you can the night before. This lets you enjoy the magic of the early morning without cars on the lake. Drag your kids out of the house with a little snack in their hand and ignore the complaints. It will be worth it once you're riding.
If you live outside of the center of Chicago consider leaving your bikes locked in town (well, to a strong object) or at a friend's house the night before, and just bring yourselves in for the ride.
Bring lots of water, water, snacks, drinks, sunscreen and extra clean-up stuff. The snacks provided at the rest areas are green bananas, water/electrolyte drink, and little muffins. You can do better. Sunscreen is important as it can get very sunny even early on because of the reflection of the sun from the road. And the lake. And the skyscrapers.
We have gone anyway when it was raining. Sometimes the weather changes all morning. It was still fun and it got sunny, and it was less crowded.
Don't drive into town if you can help it. It will be Sunday morning so bikes are good all day on the El train, or two to a bus. Parking in a panic as you try to get going downtown is not very fun, cheap or relaxing. Notice all the other people downtown unloading bikes from SUVs: it's sometimes called Drive the Bike.
Hit the portable potty before leaving to get on the ride wherever you decide to get on. There are not many potty spots on the ride.
If you are starting from Grant Park with a very small rider consider going south toward the Museum of Science and Industry since it's flatter at first. Otherwise, going north gives you the best views on the ride, at the top of the bridge above the Chicago River, and you can just stand on the side of the road there and enjoy them. You might want to walk and ride up the grade slowly with your child so they don't get disappointed by the long hill. The view is worth it (especially going south). It's the same distance (7 1/2 miles) either way.
Ignore the lycra speedsters (the ones 'on your left!') and relax- they are having a different kind of fun and there is plenty of room on that road for everyone!
Eating and Relaxing After the Ride:
If you live north or south of the Loop consider pacing your ride to get off for breakfast near where you live or in a favorite neighborhood on the way instead of going back to the Grant Park exit. Though the big post ride celebration downtown can be fun there isn't much there for kids, it's crowded and the food isn't terrific unless you like free sports electrolyte gel samples. Celebrating your ride together is special and you'll have an early start on the neighborhood breakfast crowd since they clear the Drive between 9:00 and 9:30. You could bring a picnic, too, and eat it near Montrose Harbor or at the Museum Campus or The Point and enjoy the view of the city, or at Daley Bicentennial Park behind the strange painted orange trees at Randolph street, good for quietly hiding from the crowds.
If you do get off at the Grant Park exit and want to get away from the crowds, Millennium Park and the Art Institute are close by. The restaurants along Michigan Ave. are usually mobbed despite the breakfast in Grant Park so be ready to wait. The Art Institute's education center at the Modern Wing entrance is always free for everyone and there is a nice library for children inside that is usually fairly quiet when the museum first opens. There is a lovely park in the courtyard of this wing that is fun to sit in. There are bathrooms in the education center, too.
There are a couple of playgrounds (which may have the bathrooms open) on the ride route -- a good one at Daley Bicentennial Plaza just east of Millennium Park, one near the MCA museum, a big one at Margate Park up north, and a not so nice one at 55th street or so.
PS - Active Transit recommends making sure your child has ID and a way to contact you with him or her in case you get separated. It's a good idea to have a plan just in case. There are a lot of people there.