It's last call for a fall bike ride. Want to belly up to the bar?
If the weather takes a warmer turn and you're in the market for a final ride before putting your bike away for the winter, consider these options — a city mouse/country mouse pair of routes, one accessible by CTA and the other out in the farmland outside Kankakee.
Should there be a brisk but sunny day with the fall colors peaking, off you can go. And if the weather stays blustery and you like to stay warm — just hold these thoughts till spring.
This one comes courtesy of Al Cubbage, an avid cyclist who does the North Shore Century ride every year with his wife, Charlotte Cubbage. After I wrote recently about the delights of cycling in Barrington Hills, he invited me to join them and their neighbor Grace Lehner on a ride he has come up with through the North Shore.
It's a beauty. A ramble through some of the most spectacular scenery and real estate of Winnetka, Kenilworth and Glencoe — I call it the 1 Percent Tour — it is gorgeous, relaxed and amazingly traffic-free.
The secret — and apparently it is one, since we saw almost no other riders — is that it skirts Sheridan Road, but never goes onto it.
Cubbage zigzags the area on small streets just west of Sheridan. They are often just a block away from the busy road, but are so quiet they might be miles away.
We set out on a mind-bogglingly gorgeous day from the campus of Northwestern University, where Cubbage is, appropriately enough for a cyclist, the university spokesman.
He led us on a complex series of twists and turns that we would follow all the way up to Glencoe. A sample, starting at the CTA's Purple Line Linden stop in Wilmette:
West on Linden Avenue to 7th Street. North on 7th Street to Forest Avenue. West on Forest Avenue to 10th Street. North to the back side of the Plaza del Lago shopping center, and then through a little open gate on the left and briefly onto a sidewalk and into Kenilworth.
And so on.
I had no idea where we were going, and despaired of ever managing it on my own. But Cubbage assured it's easy and can be done with all sorts of variations.
"Basically, as long as you keep the lake and Sheridan Road on your right, and Green Bay Road and the railroad tracks on your left, you can just wend your way up, all the way to Lake Bluff," he said.
We wended our way, chatting and admiring the magnificent houses, with grounds that looked like small parks. The roads were smooth; the streets were almost empty. In 20 miles, we were passed by only a handful of cars.
It's not a ride for everyone. The constant turns make it impossible to build up speed. Cyclists who like to ride fast would want to take Sheridan Road, not avoid it.
For the rest of us, however, it's a peaceful pleasure with creature comforts that can't be beat.
"You're never more than a mile from a coffee shop," Cubbage said. "The train stations all have bathrooms in them. There are city parks all the way up with bathrooms and water fountains."
And if you get a flat, "you put your bike on the Metra and come back," he said. "'Oh, gosh, I have a flat tire. I have to sit in Lake Forest for an hour and drink coffee and take the Metra back. What a burden.'"
We turned around at the bluffside park overlooking Glencoe's beach, a gem at the end of Park Avenue with benches overlooking Lake Michigan. On the way back, I fantasized about moving to the North Shore. I saw a few houses I liked.
It's a long way to go for a bike ride — 65 miles south of Chicago, outside Kankakee. But your reward is a network of routes along the Kankakee and Iroquois rivers and through surrounding farmland, mapped out by the organizers of the annual Two Rivers Century ride.
My guides were Stephen Linneman, owner of Tern of the Wheel, a Bradley bike shop, and one of the Two Rivers Century's sponsors, and his son Martin Linneman, the store's manager.
"We have beautiful rides here," said Stephen Linneman, who is also a Kankakee alderman, extolling the scenery along the rivers, the absence of traffic and the smooth roads.
We took one he considers particularly scenic — a 24-mile out-and-back along the Kankakee River to the town of Momence.
Off we went, up Sandbar Road, named for the sandbars in the middle of the river. Sometimes we rode alongside the river, a quiet ribbon that glittered when the sun game out. Sometimes the road jutted into farmland, where combines were processing the last of the corn.
We also passed a hazard of country rides — two dogs that hurtled out from a house and into the road, barking wildly. Martin Linneman pulled to a halt so the dogs couldn't chase us and delivered a few stern words to the dogs. They quieted down; we rode on.
The ride was pretty; it was quiet; it was also windy, especially when the route went through open farmland. But feel free to work up hunger or thirst on this ride; we started and finished across from an Irish pub.
If you go
You can put your bike on the "L" and take the Purple Line to the Linden terminus, 349 Linden Ave., Wilmette. If you drive, that's still a good place to start. Parking is $4 a day in the lot, but there is street parking nearby.
Start out with the directions above, then keep going north on side streets, turning west whenever you encounter Sheridan Road. Don't worry if you have to turn around once in a while to avoid a busy street. There is no single right route.
The Kankakee-area ride started in the town of Aroma Park, south of Kankakee. Park in the lot across from Ryan's Pier, a tavern at 112 1st St., Aroma Park. Cross the bridge and head west and then north on Sandbar Road.
Full maps — and video overlooks — of this and other rides used in the Two Rivers Century are available at tworiverscentury.com. We took the Island Park Green Loop, but only the part along the river.
And if you drive this far, consider adding a visit to Kankakee River State Park in Bourbonnais — or, if you save the trip for summer, a paddle trip on the river with Reed's Canoe Trips (reedscanoetrips.com).