Along for the ride: Shake off winter doldrums with bike paths featuring colorful murals, sculptures
Winter's dull grays getting you down? Colorfully scenic rides don't have to wait for spring's splashy palette. More bike routes than I imagined retain an energizing, visual appeal year-round.
Several communities claim extensive public trail art to satisfy one's craving for outdoor color and creative shapes. Skokie, St. Charles, Schaumburg and Evanston's Northwestern Campus offer permanent art displays for passing cyclists, even better for those stopping to admire.
A colorful community mural inspired this column. Samira Alhosini, a local 3-D animator, and her 10-year-old daughter, Jasmine, an avid artist from an early age (I'm told), conceived the project after observing inappropriate graffiti inside the Palatine Bike Trail tunnel on a spring 2021 family walk.
When asked, "Can we spray paint over it?" the police department referred them to the Palatine Park District, which had tunnel jurisdiction. Rectifying the problem landed with Jim Holder, superintendent of Parks and Planning. Alhosini's mural idea, he recalls, gained quick approval from a supportive park board.
Home Depot delivers
The project, a mural for two tunnel walls, each measuring 8-by-about 100 feet, occupied two weekends, 10 adults and four youth volunteers. Palatine Home Depot made it a reality.
"Parks Division Manager Ray Esunis has a good relationship with Home Depot's paint department manager," Holder said. "They donated all materials, close to $1,000."
Eleven-year village resident Alhosini designed the south mural, while daughter Jasmine did the north -- a series of six enormous eyes with different iris colors, representing Palatine's diversity.
"As artists, we recognize that art is universal, transcending spoken languages. We want to use our art to leave a positive imprint on the world," Alhosini said.
For a tunnel repeatedly defiled by graffiti, the attractive murals have delighted first-time viewers since completion last June. Surprisingly, tunnel defacings have reduced.
"We've had a couple tagging issues, but we've been able to touch it up quickly," Holder said.
Alhosini's recommendation to others?
"Go for it! Sometimes people have great ideas but are hesitant to take action. They think of all the limitations and are afraid of pushback. Sometimes all you have to do is ask and you shall receive."
Public art across the Chicago area
Public trail art is just as colorful and bike-accessible in other villages. Jeff Axelrod, a member of Evanston Transit Alliance and Bike Wilmette, points out the 13-mile North Shore Channel Trail displays numerous sculptures.
Extending from Evanston into Chicago, it parallels the two-mile Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park between Dempster and Touhy. Open year-round with free admission, this park welcomes bikers and joggers, is fully accessible to people with disabilities, and boasts more than 60 sculptures by local, national and international artists.
Mount St. Mary Park in St. Charles displays a permanent sculpture collection supplemented yearly, May to September, by about 15 new pieces, many for sale.
The park's 30 acres, purchased from the Sisters of St. Dominic in 1971, are located downtown on the Fox River's west bank. According to one visitor, it's "a good area for joggers and the odd cyclist," meaning I'd definitely like it.
Besides other cultural amenities, Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles, on the east bank of the Fox River, also features a variety of sculptures. My favorite, "Cycle Fox," is a lively rendering of "vulpes vulpes" fashioned from bicycle components.
Although no biking is allowed, bike racks are conveniently located at various locations on Naperville's Riverwalk. Created in 1981 to celebrate its sesquicentennial, the Riverwalk features several major art pieces honoring Naperville's heritage.
Among them is a nine-foot Dick Tracy bronze as a tribute to now deceased resident cartoonist Dick Locher, who succeeded Chester Gould in drawing the iconic comic strip.
The Block Campus Art Walk on Evanston's Northwestern University is accessible to the biking public, albeit at a slower campus speed. Donated by Mary and Leigh Block and other supporters, 16 sculptures are located in public spaces around the Arts Circle, including a sculpture garden designed by renowned Chicago architect John Vinci.
Joan Scovic, director of marketing and communications at Northbrook Park District, suggested several of these venues, including the Chicago Athenaeum's International Sculpture Park. This Schaumburg park, 20 acres of meadow and prairie near the Al Larson Prairie Center for the Arts, is also home to 16 sculptures accessible by bike.
While she didn't comment on the biking, Scovic affirms, "Schaumburg's sculpture garden is beautiful. Several of my children have traveled there to take their group prom photos over the years."
Biking in outer space?
Think 25-30 degrees is too cold to bike? International Space Station astronauts consider that temperature absolutely balmy. At -454 Fahrenheit, outer space is truly unbikeable, even without the occasional errant asteroid.
On an April 2021 Zoom call with Commander Mike Hopkins, I learned that ISS astronauts stay fit with a weight machine, treadmill and exercise bike, officially the Cycle Ergometer with Vibration Isolation System (CEVIS).
CEVIS is not your ordinary stationary bike. It has snap-in pedals, resistance adjustment and seat belt, but no handlebars or seat -- not needed in microgravity.
A control panel displays real-time data: heart rate, speed and workload. A vibration isolation and stabilization system prevents the exercising astronaut from imparting loads on surrounding ISS systems.
Hopkins, 1991 University of Illinois football team captain, explains the vibration isolation system in a fascinating NASA CEVIS video. Spoiler alert: it involves balled-up socks!
Even without a seat or handlebars, just imagine the Strava personal record you could record at 17,500 mph.
• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at firstname.lastname@example.org.