Chicago. It's home to 2.7 million people, boasting a stunning coastline along the 7th largest source of fresh water in the world. The Chicago Art Institute hosts more than three hundred pieces of Picasso in its permanent collection, and there are twenty-two restaurants with at least one Michelin star. There are more than fifty craft brewers and just as many coffee roasters. Oh, there are also more than two hundred bike shops where Chicagoans get their squeaky brakes fixed.
Chicago. At the time of writing, it has one of the largest, most rampant gun violence problems in the country. It's a city geographically divided amongst the haves and the have-nots. It's almost bankrupt. It's notorious for corruption and its misuse of public funds and good will.
Engrained like a root system inside this city of contrasts is a bustling cycling community. There are more than two hundred miles of bike lanes leading to unique escapes in every direction except east. There are at least one hundred USCA-licensed cycling clubs supplying the nation's largest series of cyclocross races and the broader region's ample road, gravel, and criterium racing events. There are tens of thousands of commuter cyclists braving the winter elements in gear most aptly described as "also useful for mountaineering pursuits." Chicago's cycling scene is alive and kicking.
Like any region, the geographical realities of Chicago help define its cycling culture. Chicago is flat, and you can't go east because of the lake. Cycling in Chicago, as with any urban center, means negotiating with cars and earbud-wearing pedestrians as we spin along our escape routes. But tune into Chicago's urban song and we experience the unique rhythm of the city - a composition ideally relished on a bike.
The city wakes up and yawns in the morning with a beautiful sunrise over the lake. As the day winds down, the city's skyscrapers look aflame as they reflect the west-bound sun flickering on the horizon. People flow into the city by car, train, bike, by foot. They flow out like wild animals, bustling into bars, restaurants, gyms, and trains. As cyclists, we negotiate it all as quiet observers; keepers of the cool. We pedal along our route, maybe stretching it out with some sunrise miles before work, or joining up with comrades after hours for a beer or two.