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Bike the Drive: A beginner’s guide

Cruising down DuSable Lakeshore Drive on a bicycle with thousands of other riders in Bike the Drive is an event that many people look forward to every year. It’s an unforgettable experience that offers a unique view of the city and the lake shore.

One of the great features of the event is that it welcomes riders of any skill level from beginner to elite.

In order to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone, it’s important to prepare adequately. If you’re new to cycling or a just getting back on a bike, here are a few tips to help you have a great time.


Before the Event

Begin training well in advance to increase your confidence on the bike

If you spend a few weeks training, you’ll be able to gradually increase your endurance and bike handling skills.

Skills such as starting and stopping, maintaining a straight line, and navigating obstacles will allow you to bike confidently while in close proximity to others.

It’ll also allow you to avoid obstacles like the occasional pothole during the event.

You can start off practicing these skills in a controlled environment such as a parking lot or quiet trails in your local forest preserve before progressing to streets or busier places like the Chicago Lakefront Trail.

For some, receiving help from an instructor can be a good idea. One way to do this is to take advantage of Chicago Department of Transportation’s free “Learn to Ride” Bike Riding Classes for adults and children.

The two-hour long summer classes are led by the SAFE (Streets Are For Everybody) Ambassadors and there are multiple classes designed for all experience levels.

There are classes offered in English and Spanish and take place at four Chicago Park District locations: Washington Park (5531 S. King Dr.), Seward Park (375 W. Elm St), McKinley Park (2210 W. Pershing Rd.), and Piotrowski Park (4247 W. 31st St.)

Furthermore, League of American Bicyclists Certified instructors offer private instruction, but this option requires a fee. Lessons are held in a variety of locations within the Chicago Metropolitan Area. REI stores also offer classes in biking and bike repair.

If you choose to train on your own, remember to gradually increase your mileage and intensity overtime to avoid overexertion or injuries. Riding with friends, local bike groups, or clubs will also help you learn essential skills.


Make sure you have a bike that fits your height and riding preferences

Not all bikes are built the same, and you deserve to have a bike that meets your unique needs and preferences.

Consider visiting a local bike shop for expert advice on selecting the right type of bike and getting it properly fitted.

If you don’t already own or a bike, you can rent a bike from local outfitters such as Bike and Roll Chicago, Bobby’s Bike Hike, Divvy, and On the Route Bicycles.


Make sure your bike is in good working order

To make sure your bike is working properly, bring your bike in for a tune up at a local bike shop or inspect your bike yourself with an ABC quick check:

  • Check the air in your tires to make sure that they are inflated to the maximum-rated PSI listed on the side of the tire or until they feel as firm as a fully inflated basketball.
  • Check to make sure the brakes stop when pushed forward or pulled backwards. Brake levers should stop short of reaching the handlebars when pulled.
  • Check to make sure the chain moves freely, is free of rust, and is lightly oiled.
  • Check to make sure there aren’t any loose parts that may need attention.

In case of any misfortunes on the day of the event, there will be ride support stations positioned along the route where bike mechanics are available to provide free safety checks and minor repairs such as fixing flat tires.


The Day of the Event

Wear comfortable clothes

Workout clothes or sweat-wicking polyester fabrics will add to your comfort while riding, and dressing in layers will help prepare you for a cooler morning that will warm up throughout the ride.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to check the weather as the day approaches, so you’re prepared, rain or shine. Sunscreen is also highly recommended.


Ride predictably and visibly

The abundance of riders sharing the road together is one of the reasons Bike the Drive is so well loved.

But the large number of people in one place unfortunately has the potential to lead to conflicts.

To reduce the chance for conflicts, communicate with other riders by directly calling out or signaling your intentions using hand signals.

  • Placing your left arm out horizontally to your left signals a left turn.
  • Placing your right arm out horizontally to your right signals a right turn, however, raising your left arm with your elbow bent also signals a right turn.
  • To signal a stop, position your left arm down with your elbow slightly bent.

Here are some more basic riding tips from our partners at REI.


Protect your head

To keep everyone safe, the event requires all riders to wear helmets.

Your helmet should cover the top half of your forehead and sit on the top of your head.

Adjust the buckles on the side straps so that they form a “Y” with the junction directly below the earlobes and buckle the straps under your chin.


Riding with kids

Bike the Drive is a family tradition for a large number of our participants. To ensure riders of all ages have a positive experience, here are a few tips for families.

  • Before arriving at the event, remind younger riders that they will need to stay close to you at all times to prevent getting separated.
  • Remind them that this is a “just for fun” ride and they are encouraged to take breaks for water or rest when needed.
  • Encourage them to use hand signals and their voices to let other riders know they are slowing down and stopping off to the right side of the Drive.

New for 2023 – we’ve added a Youth Medal that can be purchased during registration. It’s a fun day and no matter how long kids ride, and they deserve to be rewarded!


Pace yourself

You might be tempted to test your skills by keeping up with faster riders, however, riding at a more comfortable pace will allow you to maintain control, especially if you’re not used to longer distances.

Start slow and gradually gain more speed as you gain confidence and experience.


Take breaks

During the event, give yourself and your family time to rest, hydrate, and recharge by taking frequent breaks. Listening to your body and taking breaks as needed will prevent you from experiencing overexertion.

There are three rest stops with water, snacks, and restrooms located along the route at Bryn Mawr Avenue, The Museum of Science and Industry, and at the main festival area in Butler Field.

Taking advantage of these rest stops in addition to bringing your own water and snacks is recommended for a comfortable experience.


Hydrate properly

Before, during, and after your ride, stay well hydrated.

Carrying water bottles or hydration packs can ensure you have access to fluids throughout the event, but being able to recognize the signs of dehydration and adjusting your water intake accordingly will also be beneficial.


Have fun

Once you’ve prepared to have a great day, all that’s left to do is experience it. Take the time to enjoy all that Bike the Drive has to offer!

Want to learn more? Check out Active Transportation Alliance’s Everyday Biking Guide!


Olivia Borowiak is an intern for the Active Transportation Alliance.