More than 20,000 bicyclists from all over the Chicago region flock to Lake Shore Drive every year to take part in MB Bike the Drive — the one day a year when the lakefront thoroughfare is closed to motor vehicles and given over to people riding bicycles.
For 15 years, MB Bike the Drive has offered people of all skill levels the opportunity to cruise along 30 miles of Lake Shore Drive for five hours of car-free — and carefree — biking while enjoying the scenic beauty of the lakefront and the city’s skyline. No surprise that the event -- which this year takes place on Sunday, May 28 -- has become the iconic cycling activity in the city over the past 15 years.
Meet James Lamb. The renewable energy resources engineer and geologist, who is also a volunteer first responder with the Nordic Cross Country Ski Patrol in McHenry County, is an avid cyclist who has taken part in MB Bike the Drive every year since it began in 2002.
We caught up with Lamb to find out why he enjoys the event and what has kept him coming back for 15 years.
Active Trans: What made you decide to participate in the first MB Bike the Drive 15 years ago?
Lamb: I thought, “Is this really possible? How is it going to be done?” I just had to be part of it and see how it would be organized. What an adventure to have the whole lakefront to myself with an outstanding event to support biking.
Active Trans: What were your impressions of that first event in 2002?
Lamb: I enjoyed the freedom to ride with no cross traffic, while being able to take in Lake Michigan and park views at sunrise, ride with people with similar aspirations and share the experience with friends. It worked with all the cars removed, and it worked very well. So I had to continue to be involved and promote it to others all these years.
Active Trans: What brings you back every year?
Lamb: It’s a bicyclist’s dream. Imagine a multiple-lane roadway converted into a wide bike trail, where you can view a world-class city with a shoreline second to none in the world. You can actually see the colors of the sunrise on Lake Michigan continuously change. It also allows me to connect with friends, meet other bike enthusiasts and encourage biking among others. No matter the weather, I'm riding.
Active Trans: How has MB Bike the Drive changed and evolved over the years?
Lamb: I’m always impressed by how much effort is expended to make the event happen. The volunteers are enthusiastic. Much credit for the success of MB Bike the Drive is made possible by the excellent organization and coordination of the police and fire departments and paramedics who manage traffic and monitor the event.
I always volunteer before the event. When riding, I carry my first responder first aid kit and tool kit in my saddle bags. In my other travels, I helped many bikers and others in need.
Active Trans: What are your favorite parts of this annual event?
Lamb: I like crossing the Chicago River, riding along the curves of Lake Shore Drive and riding past the historic museums. At the end of the ride, I like the good food, the celebration and generous vendors that make the whole event awesome.
I also enjoy sharing the experience with friends and seeing it from their perspectives. I savor the excitement expressed by people I invite from out of town who participate in the event with me.
Active Trans: Why do you think MB Bike the Drive is so important for the residents of the city overall?
Lamb: It reminds us of the beauty of having a continuous shoreline park and the importance making green improvements and easy access for all.
My idea for the remake of the outer drive is to replace it with an electric elevated rail or mono rail system with optional circular spurs connecting to attractions in the parks. It will be fed by shared circulating driverless vehicles from major east-west roads. Design extra wide bike lanes that accommodate fast and slow riders with overpasses and merging lanes to prevent any cross traffic with connections to west-to-east feeder bike lanes from the city. A perfect view commuting to work or an outing to the lakefront will make Chicago the most attractive city to live and visit in the world. No more car gridlock at the lakefront on nice days. Futuristic, but let's do it right now since anything else will be obsolete in a short time. An opportunity we can’t pass up.
Active Trans: Will you participate in this year’s event, which will take place on May 28?
Lamb: I will participate in MB Bike the Drive for the rest of my hopefully long life — even if I have to be towed by biker friends.
If you haven't yet signed up for this year's event (the 16th consecutive MB Bike the Drive!) which is held on May 28, 2017, now's the time to register. It's the best biking event in the city that was named the best city for biking by Bicycling magazine in 2016.