Recreational Bikers Enjoy Illinois Trail Mix

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A bicyclist rides at Waubonsie Lake Park, part of the Fox Valley Parks District, in Aurora.

Biking. It’s good for you, good for the environment and fun too. And in Illinois, biking trails abound.

“Several parts of Illinois offer bike trails as a great way to explore the area at an enjoyable pace,” says Ed Barsotti, executive director of the League of Illinois Bicyclists.

So how do you decide the trails you can safely navigate? And which Illinois paths are best for recreational bikers?

Barsotti and other Illinois experts share tips on making the most of the state’s recreational cycling opportunities.

In downtown Chicago the bike path along Lakeshore Drive is a popular destination for bicyclists.

Capability Check

How long can you and everyone in your party safely ride? That is the first question to consider before choosing a path. Barsotti recommends paths totaling up to five miles for young children and 10- to 20-mile trails for older kids and adults “with an average level of fitness.”

Because hills can be challenging, David Johnsen, author of Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides, suggests finding ‘rail trails’ on former railroad right-of-ways.

“They have gentle grades and slight curves,” Johnsen explains. He also advises taking short rides before embarking on a 20-mile trip – something the multiple access points on most Illinois trails allows.

“Start in the middle, ride to one end and back. If you feel up to it, ride to the other end and back. That way you can stop if you aren’t ready for the full distance,” he says.

Also consider how crowded a trail will be.

“Chicago’s Lakefront Trail is usually very crowded on the weekends, so families with young kids who ride unpredictably may want to look elsewhere,” Barsotti says.

Ed Barsotti, age 43, the Executive Director of the League of Illinois Bicyclists, advises municipalities across the state and is a lobbyist to government about bike issues. He rides at Waubonsie Lake Park, part of the Fox Valley Parks District, in Aurora.

Great Illinois Options

Picking a path from Illinois’ many options can seem overwhelming. To get you started, Johnsen shares a few of his favorites below. All have multiple access points, are fairly easy (except for a short, hilly section on the Vadalabene), and are appropriate for reasonably fit kids with basic bike-handling skills, he notes.

  • Mississippi River Trail: Winding its way over 50 miles in northwestern Illinois from Savanna to the Quad Cities, this trail gives riders a view of rivers, historic towns and a working Dutch windmill in Fulton.
  • Rock Island State Trail: Running 26 miles northwest from the outskirts of Peoria, this trail is on an old railroad grade.
  • The Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail: More than 50 miles long, this trail follows the canal through Chicago’s southwestern suburbs to its end in LaSalle. This is a great route for history buffs because the canal was critical to Chicago’s development. Each mile marker includes a fact about the canal, and old locks and buildings along the trail have been preserved or restored.
  • Vadalabene River Road Bikeway (Alton): This 20-mile trail passes beneath Mississippi River bluffs and through Grafton and Elsah on the way to Pere Marquette State Park.
  • Tunnel Hill State Trail: Highlights of this 45-mile trail in southeastern Illinois include the 543-foot tunnel and 23 trestles.

Check out the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Bicycling Information page for maps and other guides to finding a bike trail near you.

Illinois cyclists can cruise dozen of trail options throughout the state.

Safe Cycling

Once you’ve selected some bike trails to try, be sure to teach and follow the rules of safe cycling. A good rule of thumb is to remember that bicyclists have all the rights and responsibilities of a motorist – riding with traffic (not against it), observing traffic laws and signaling turns.

“Please teach your kids about trail etiquette, such as being aware of other trail users, keeping to the right when other cyclists want to pass, and pulling over to the side of the trail when stopping,” Johnsen says.

Dean Schott, outreach director for the League of Illinois Bicyclists, suggests using the ABCs to do a safety check.

A = air: Look for the recommended tire pressure on the sidewall of the tire, then pump up the tire to that level. Under-inflated tires can lead to pinch flats, and no one likes to have to repair a flat tire out on the road during a ride.

B = brakes: Check the stopping power of your brakes.

C = cranks, cassette and chain: Make sure cranks are tight, cassette is clean, chain is oiled.

Also check quick release levers on all wheels to make sure they’re tight enough to keep the wheels in place.

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