Bicycling craze is one saving grace of COVID-19
Finding parking at the Great Western Trail lot in St. Charles used to be a breeze.
"I've been going there for years. I've never seen it full," said Jackie Forbes, Kane County Division of Transportation planning chief.
Come summer 2020 and "it's so busy. People are parking on the grass."
Amid all the pain COVID-19 is causing, one silver lining is a cycling renaissance as people make a two-wheeled getaway from their four walls.
Rachel Hyman of Palatine "hadn't biked in decades. The kids didn't even know how," she said. "Now we all ride our bikes. I bought a bike trailer for my car and we ride on the trails for hours, or just around the neighborhood."
There's no exact count yet, but trips to Kane County parks and preserves are up from previous norms, rising by more than 200% some days, according to Google Mobility Reports provided by the Kane County Division of Transportation. And, visits to Lake County Forest Preserve District trails and sites spiked by 67% compared to 2019, officials said.
It's a trend reverberating across the region as jaded adults climb into the saddle and remember "there's this joy to biking that they forgot about," said Maggie Czerwinski, advocacy manager for the Active Transportation Alliance.
"People are looking for those moments of joy, and biking can help provide that."
Jamie Fredericks of Carol Stream started "a new routine in quarantine by going on weekly bike rides -- either solo or with my husband and kids." She bought a new bike in June and now "I'm trying to ride every few days and average 5 to 10 miles a ride."
Joy is good. But so is safety, and that's why prudence is advised whether it's resurrecting your vintage Schwinn with the banana seat from the basement or putting that new 100-speed mountain bike to the test.
"Wear a helmet," Czerwinski said. "Do the ABCs -- check the air in your tires, check your brakes and check your chain to make sure it's greased."
And do snap a bell on your bike or be prepared to call out "on your left!" or "on your right!" when hitting popular trails thronged with COVID-19 escapees.
"There has been more friction between seasoned cyclists and newer cyclists especially on the trails," Ride Illinois Executive Director David Simmons of Elk Grove Village said.
Grizzled veterans "need to welcome the new cyclists," Simmons said, and "hope that folks keep riding" so the resurgence of cycling is "not just a blip."
Some other tips include ride on the right and pass on the left on trails, consider using sidewalks if out with children but check your municipality's rules first, and yield to pedestrians.
In this era of COVID-19, bike experts recommend keeping a social distance from pedestrians and other bicyclists, and wearing a face covering when it's not possible to stay 6 feet apart from others. Speed, weather and proximity to other people can quickly change your circumstances, so it's best to have a mask ready to whip out.
The metro region boasts more than 1,100 miles of trails, but sadly "nearly 200 miles of gaps exist along our major regional trails -- these gaps are sometimes just a few blocks long or can go on for miles," Czerwinski said.
The hope is new cycling converts will use their energy to advocate on issues ranging from trail improvements to safety.
And "show folks that a bike is a perfectly practical and safe way to get to places, especially for short trips," Simmons said.
You should know
True or false? Cyclists have the same rights as motorists and must follow the rules applicable to a motorist.
You picked true? Good choice. In fact, "stop signs, traffic signals, right of way rules, and other laws governing traffic flow all apply to bicycles, too," according to the Ride Illinois' Bike Safety Quiz.
There's a quiz for adults and for children on the group's website plus online maps, events and general advice.
Another invaluable resource is the Active Transportation's Alliance's website with videos, trails, and tips for pedestrians and bikers. The alliance also offers a $10 Chicagoland Bike Map for sale online.
Did we omit a biking tip? Want to share a cycling story? A favorite route? Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some scenic trails to ride in the metro region picked by cycling afficionados including the Daily Herald's Neil Holdway, Kane County transportation chief Carl Schoedel and Terry Witt of Bartlett. Be advised, some trails may be crowded on weekends.
• Busse Woods Trail in the Northwest suburbs
• Captain Daniel Wright Woods Forest Preserve in Mettawa
• Des Plaines River Trail in Lake County
• DuPage County Forest Preserve linked trails that include Hawk Hollow and Mallard Lake, Herrick Lake and Danada, and Blackwell and Warrenville Grove
• Fox River Trail in Kane County
• Great Western Trail between St. Charles and Sycamore
• Illinois Prairie Path (DuPage County)
• Prairie Trail of McHenry County and Fox River Trail
• Millennium and linked trails (Lake County)
• Van Patten Woods Forest Preserve in Wadsworth
• Virgil Gilman Trail between Montgomery and Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove.