The only traffic shut-down that the city of Chicago embraces happens once a year, when Bike the Drive closes iconic Lake Shore Drive to motor vehicles in favor of bicycles for five hours on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. (This year, that’s May 25th).
More than 20,000 riders participate in the annual recreational ride, which extends 30 miles—almost the entire length of the roadway that hugs Lake Michigan, from the north to south sides of the city--offering stunning waterfront and skyline views (and a sunrise if you start early enough). A mix of hardcore road racers, leisure riders, hand cyclists and families take advantage of this unique opportunity for an urban cycling adventure, thanks to an all-inclusive atmosphere that allows riders to bike whatever distance they like at a pace that suits their comfort level.
It’s an unofficial start of summer cycling season for many Chicagoans, who take advantage of the chance to cruise along one of the most famous roads in the country from a fresh vantage point. (The adjacent lakefront path is open to bikes but is narrow at points, and often congested with the addition of walkers, runners and inline skaters). The course runs alongside skyscrapers and beachfront & city neighborhoods, and showcases some of the most beautiful parts of Chicago. Bike the Drive is held rain or shine, but a few rain drops never seem to diminish the fun and novelty for thongs of cyclists who return year after year.
The event was started in 2002 by the Active Transportation Alliance (then known as the Chicago Bicycle Federation) to raise money to add more bike lanes and improve conditions and support for cyclists in the city. Today, the nonprofit transportation advocacy group uses money from this event and others it hosts to encourage better biking, walking and mass transit around Chicago.
Rest stops along the route provide water and snacks, and volunteers are situated along the route to assist with flats and other issues. But the center of the action is a festival mid-route in downtown Grant Park, with live music, a pancake breakfast, contests and giveaways.