Girls on the Illinois Prairie Path
Resources on the web
Where to Bike Chicago: wheretobikechicago.com
Illinois Department of Transportation bike trail maps: dot.state.il.us/bikemap/STATE.HTML
Where do you love to ride?
“The (Morton) Arboretum. The Fox River Trail is a nice place to go. I love the (Illinois) Prairie Path — the prairie path is always nice. Go to Fermilab, and you can see the buffalo.”
“City centers are the best around here — quaint little downtowns, downtown St. Charles, downtown Geneva. A trail called the Geneva Spur runs into downtown Wheaton. They’re all pretty well connected.”
“I do group rides every Sunday. We start at Spokes in Naperville, head west of here, go on the streets west of (Route) 59. They’re all country roads — good for a guy who likes to do road rides. For trails, the I and M Canal — good scenery, good workout. It’s paved. And customers love the trail along the DuPage River, from Knoch Knolls through Whalon Lake. That’s a really nice trail now.”
Updated: June 6, 2011 11:22AM
Chicago journalist and historian Greg Borzo uses his family car about once a month for bulk grocery shopping.
Everywhere else, he goes on his bicycle.
As author of the new book, “Where to Bike Chicago,” Borzo has plenty of suggestions for places to see on your own two wheels.
“It’s much easier to explore at 15 miles per hour than at 65 miles per hour,” he said. “I’ve found biking was the right amount of speed and thoroughness. You cover much more ground than on a walk, and you’re not bothered by the mosquitoes, but you don’t miss it.”
He said cars are designed to mask your surroundings, but bicycles allow you to experience the wind, the sounds, the smells. So naturally, the first destinations he shared were out in nature.
For natural beauty
A lot of people are surprised they can bike at Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Borzo said. The arboretum used to ban biking, then offered it only a few days and nights per year. Now its 7.8 miles of roads are open to biking whenever the arboretum is open.
“The drivers are slow and kind, and … during the week, you almost have the roads to yourself,” he said.
He also recommends Waterfall Glen and the trail that encircles Argonne National Lab outside Darien, a loop just more than 10 miles around. Experienced cyclists can get a good workout without the scenery repeating much, he added.
“There’s hills there, which is a treat in Chicago,” he said.
Along the Fox River Trail, bicyclists can visit sites of natural beauty on each side of the river — Red Oak Nature Center in North Aurora, and Fabyan Villa and Japanese Garden in Geneva.
Waterways played an important role in Chicago’s history. To stand on one of the most important sites, Borzo recommends biking to Lock No. 1 along the Illinois and Michigan Canal trail, near Lockport.
“It’s like going to Gettysburg if you want to study the Civil War,” he said.
“That’s the first lock of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which opened in 1848 and really put Chicago on the map because it linked the Chicago River and Lake Michigan with the Illinois and Mississippi rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.”
Along that short stretch of the I and M Canal are three museums: the Illinois State Museum and the Illinois and Michigan Canal Museum, both in Lockport, and the Isle a La Cache Museum in Romeoville.
Borzo said one place to take the kids along the Fox River Trail is the Dutch style windmill, built in the 1870s in Batavia.
“You’re just biking along and boom! There’s a windmill,” he said. “It’s like you’re in Holland. It’s a great surprise. And kids remember things like that. You can also compare that old style to the wind turbines of today.”
Another good place to bike with young ones is Herrick Lake Forest Preserve in Wheaton. With five miles of trails and no on-the-road traffic, families can go at their own pace and focus on nature.
“It’s very bike friendly,” he said. “A lot of forest preserves have a lot of road intersections, and that’s what makes Herrick Lake so special.”
For experienced cyclists
On the other hand, bicyclists who have long dropped the training wheels would enjoy the Illinois Prairie Path. Borzo recommended the trail — spanning 61 miles from Forest Park to Elgin and Aurora — for its long straightaways where experienced cyclists can build up speed.
Farther south, the 21.5-mile Old Plank Road Trail connects Joliet to Park Forest. Borzo suggested visiting one forest preserve on the trail, then biking a little to visit another. The whole way is paved.
Of course, bike rides don’t always have to be workouts, and destinations don’t have to be special. Borzo said people can go on everyday outings by bike if they just change their mindsets.
“I was amazed at how many people were using the trails and paths to go to work, go to school, pick up the kids, go shopping,” he said. “Use that tie-in with recreation and an errand, so it’s a sense of accomplishment.”