Where can you ride your bike and ponder the secrets of the universe? Well, anywhere frankly. But where can you ride your bike by being surrounded by scientists researching the secrets of the universe? There aren’t too many places outside of Fermilab, which dubs itself “American’s particle physics and accelerator laboratory.”
What Makes It Great
And it’s got a pretty good bike path to boot.
Fermilab, which was founded in 1967, is home of the Tevatron, a particle accelerator that basically shot atoms at each other so scientists could see what happens. (They have a more technical way of saying that, I’m sure). The devise was used to help prove the existence of the top quark and five baryons, which I’m told was important in the understanding of matter, energy, space and time. I’ll take their word on it.
This Tevatron is big, measuring 3.9 miles in circumference. The road over the accelerator gets little use on weekends, and has become a popular spot for road cyclists. In fact, Fermilab was the site of a duathlon for several years, and the circular road was used for the bike course.
For cyclists, the quiet roads inside of Fermilab can be used on their own—if you don’t mind doing loops—or as a way to get from the western suburbs of Wheaton and Naperville to the far western suburb of Batavia, the Fox River Trail and the wide-open spaces of Illinois west of the Fox River Valley.
For more recreational cyclists, Fermilab also features a paved bike path that shows off the natural areas around the lab, including a herd of bison that have become a bit famous. (The rumor—which is false—was that the bison were brought in to serve a canary-in-a-coal-mine role, informing scientists of any dangerous radiation leaks. One of the lab’s first directors brought them in to emphasize the area’s prairie heritage.)
The first bison were brought to Fermilab in 1969—a bull and four cows. The Illinois Department of Conservation delivered 21 more in 1971, and the current heard are the descendents of those originals. Fermilab is also working to restore native tall-grass prairie on the property.
Paved Path The bike path starts along side Batavia Road, just north of Butterfield Road and northwest of the McDowell Grove Forest Preserve. That’s also just north of the Illinois Prairie Path, which runs parallel to Butterfield Road. The trail follows Batavia Road, crossing Route 59, until entering Fermilab at the Batavia Road entrance. There is a guardhouse at the entry point, but a quick hello to the guard is all you need to get in. (The website says you need a photo ID to enter, but I’ve never been asked to show it while on my bike.) Once inside Fermilab, you can follow the path through the facility all the way to the Kirk Road entrance, for a total length of just under 6 miles.
Who is Going to Love It
Recreational and serious cyclists alike will enjoy the peace and quiet on the campus.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
You can park on the Fermilab campus at both the Batavia Road and Pine Street entrances.
The lab is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from mid-April to mid-October, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the rest of the year.
Bring a photo ID to show the guard at the gate just in case.