Along for the Ride: Grand Illinois Bike Tour explores Madison County

One year in, cycling columnist has plenty of ground to cover

  • Grand Illinois Bike Tour riders enjoy a sunny day at Old Chain of Rocks Bridge near Madison, Illinois. Pictured, from left, are Larry Trollope, Bonnie Martin, Mary Lou Price, Ken Pope, Bonnie Windsor and Jana Reed.

    Grand Illinois Bike Tour riders enjoy a sunny day at Old Chain of Rocks Bridge near Madison, Illinois. Pictured, from left, are Larry Trollope, Bonnie Martin, Mary Lou Price, Ken Pope, Bonnie Windsor and Jana Reed. Courtesy of Ride Illinois

  • More than 50 members, founders and honored guests celebrated McHenry County Bicycle Club's 40th anniversary June 26 in Johnsburg.

    More than 50 members, founders and honored guests celebrated McHenry County Bicycle Club's 40th anniversary June 26 in Johnsburg. Courtesy of McHenry County Bicycle Club

  • Paula Matzek, Rose Pisano and Theresa Walsh ride across the new bike/pedestrian crossing at Wilke and Lake-Cook roads to the Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve.

    Paula Matzek, Rose Pisano and Theresa Walsh ride across the new bike/pedestrian crossing at Wilke and Lake-Cook roads to the Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve. Courtesy of Roger Hitchings/Arlington Heights Bike Club

 
Posted8/4/2021 8:21 AM

Bezos can have his weightless fun. A brisk 15 to 20 mph cycle is excitement enough for me. Re-entry is simple, safe, too, just flicking down the kickstand.

Green lighting this column last July, the Daily Herald launched me into the bike writing ether, letting me report regularly, with biking safety the underlying thrust. Last year my worry was topic, not riding, exhaustion. Surprisingly, my own biking stimulated ideas, not just endorphins. Any anxiety I'd run out simply vanished.

 

Like bikes in an overloaded school rack, ideas soon began toppling over each other from readers, clubs and advocates. My problem became, "How do I cover them all?"

Answer: Herald columnist Burt Constable. He reminded readers recently that veteran journalist Jack Mabley, now deceased, "occasionally wrote what he called a 'junk column,' where he made his point quickly and moved on to another topic."

I'm continuing that fine tradition, though I prefer the term "collage."

Illinois By Bike

Ride Illinois's 18th annual Grand Illinois Bike Tour in June attracted 193 participants who explored Madison County Transit's rails-to-trails system across from St. Louis, quiet roads, and nearby towns including Alton, Lebanon and Litchfield. Routes of 200 to 375 miles offered flexibility on the six-day tour, plus "plenty of scenic and historic locations," per Ed Barsotti, Ride Illinois consultant and GIBT ride director.

Sights ranged from Mary Meachum's Underground Railroad Freedom Crossing, U.S. Route 66, century-old Cahokia Mounds, and St. Louis's Gateway Arch, glimpsed across the mighty Mississippi.

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GIBT originated when "board member Chuck Oestreich and Illinois Department of Natural Resources' Dick Westfall (retired and now board president) envisioned a weeklong tour, camping at state parks near the Grand Illinois Trail, a large network of trails/routes in Northern Illinois," Barsotti explains.

"Over time, GIBT migrated to other parts of Illinois. This was the first year it was hotel-only." The pandemic canceled camping options.

GIBT is the only multiday ride supporting Ride Illinois, the statewide, nonprofit bike advocacy organization, whose mission is to make Illinois better through biking. Executive director Dave Simmons notes, "It's our largest annual fundraiser, representing 20-25% of revenue.

"Ride Illinois was fortunate to be in good financial standing in 2020, and able to withstand the impact of the canceled fundraiser. Donations from some registered for 2020 GIBT were very generous," said Simmons.

It's not too early to start thinking about the June 2022 tour, rolling through Bloomington, Normal and Peoria countryside. Registration on Ride Illinois's website at rideillinois.org will open Nov. 1.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Cycling instructor training

Chicago SAFE (Streets Are For Everybody) Ambassadors/Vision Zero program is sponsoring a League of American Bicyclists League Cycling Instructor (LCI) certification seminar for experienced cyclists interested in training others to bike safely.

The Sept. 24-26 seminar includes classroom instruction, on-bike handling skills, plus exam. Instruction will Zoom online, with on-bike training at a University of Illinois-Circle Campus covered parking lot. The seminar focuses on teaching and demonstration techniques to use with students in class and on bikes.

Candidates must be LAB members, have passed the LCI-led Smart Cycling class at least one month before the seminar, and register on LAB's website, www.bikeleague.org/content/become-instructor. Registered candidates complete an open-book exam using seminar materials.

Larry Mysz, LCI program national coach, will conduct the seminar. Mysz, an Active Transportation Alliance board member since 2011, serves on the Bike/Ped Committee and belongs to Folks on Spokes Cycling Club.

Left on the editing floor

• Cycling Without Age trishawing resurrected great memories for 90-year-old Rita Moody in Arlington Heights, from Michigan's Apple Cider Century to Barrington Hills road bike outings with her husband. She was following the Tour de France when I phoned, interrupting her viewing.

"Watching the tour reminded me of riding with the Wheeling Wheelmen to Lake Geneva," she reminisced. "Coming back we had a tail wind and, boy, we were really traveling then."

• Alan Kooperman, retired high school social studies and shop teacher, refurbishes used bikes for donation. While Chicago's West Town Bikes benefits the most, his volunteering accompanies him to Bonita Springs.

"In Florida many retirees want to bike for exercise," he explains. "After they get older, they sometimes decide it may not be wise to ride any more. Some condos and big apartments end up with abandoned bikes, some hardly used."

At Café of Life, a homeless charity, Kooperman fixes them.

"We donate bikes to people who need them for getting to work, no questions asked."

• A side perk of biking columnists is getting invited to events, including McHenry County Bicycle Club's 40th anniversary celebration June 26. Unable to attend their 40-miler, I Zoomed on the "Jumbotron" screen at the Johnsburg community center luncheon. I felt right at home among the honored guests, including club founders Lon Haldeman, Chuck Howenstine, Erin Hynes, George Mann and John Shiel. More than 50 celebrated fellowship, memories and a meal together. Forty years is a lot of miles, and even more fellowship.

• Bikers and pedestrians can now safely cross busy Lake-Cook Road at Wilke to enjoy 5.5 miles of trails in Lake County's Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve. Cyclists can access the preserve without risking the Schaeffer Road crossing -- no crosswalk or signals -- or the bustling Arlington Heights Road intersection one mile east.

Cooperation among Lake and Cook counties and village of Arlington Heights supported this safety improvement. It included $198,300 in federal funds and $33,717 each from Cook County and Arlington Heights.

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

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