An Elgin couple is organizing bike rides to encourage families to get out and get to know the city's neighborhoods -- and each other.
Parker and Katie Thompson started Elgin Bike Hub, a community project designed to host "fun, social rides to explore our neighborhoods and their different opportunities." The first ride last month featured about 35 people.
"It was a great turnout. It had a really nice cross-section of ages, gender, abilities and racial diversity," Parker Thompson said.
"Elgin, because it's an old city, has smaller blocks. We have busy streets here and there, but we also have neighborhood streets," he said. "You can move through most of the historic neighborhoods and it's approachable bike riding for people, whether it's going by schools, public resources or grocery stores."
The next Bike Elgin Ride -- up to four miles at a "slow roll" pace -- is 2 p.m. Sunday starting at Festival Park.
Resident James Harvey said last month's ride was a "fun and relaxing experience" during which he enjoyed chatting with new people. He typically doesn't ride on busy streets, he said, but felt comfortable doing so in a large group wearing a helmet and reflective equipment.
When you bike, "you see things," he said. "When you ride in your car, things go so fast."
Elgin Bike Hub has hosted "full moon rides" since last summer -- full moons occur every 29.5 days -- that start at 9 p.m., go longer and at a faster pace, and are not open to children. The full moon component is "a fun element that happens to be once a month," Thompson said.
He is chairman of the city's bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee, and his wife is the pastor at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren. The committee also organizes occasional public bike rides, but those are separate from the Thompsons' project.
Parker Thompson said his family has made a commitment to using active transportation -- walking, biking, using buses and trains -- as much as possible. The family sold one of their two cars in September 2016 and bought a "cargo bike" with an extra long back rack for their children, ages 3 and 5. The kids also have their own bikes.
Katie Thompson wrote about the experience on her church's website. "We see it as a more equitable means of transportation for everyone regardless of income level, because of how much we get to meet and chat with our neighbors, because it's a great stress reliever, because it's a great physical, mental, emotional health builder, because it's a lot lighter on our wallets, because it's a lot lighter on our environment, because we think more eyes and feet on the street make our neighborhoods a better place, and because it's just so much fun."
Elgin Bike Hub -- which the Thompsons hope to eventually turn into a nonprofit -- will debut in June a public program Saturday mornings involving four "balance bikes" for kids -- with no pedals but with hand brakes -- thanks to a $500 grant from Active Transportation Alliance.