By Jared Verbeke
Five years ago when I first started cycling, I often rode with a bike club in Champaign Illinois. I used to love going out on the back roads with the local bike club to ride bikes with two dozen other people because I would stop constantly worrying about my safety and enjoy the scenery and comradery. After all, who wouldn’t be able to see a huge pack of cyclists, all donning bright clothes riding two abreast down the roadside? It was such a peaceful way to get into cycling and ultimately riding with the group is what made cycling so much fun for me. It was safe and, of course, the miles flew by faster because riding with the group was so social.
When I moved to Chicago and started commuting to work by bike I remember wishing that I could ride with a group of people to and from work every day. In the couple of years since I’ve learned the best ways to get around the city and I now feel fairly safe on my commute. However, I know a lot of people who would like to feel safe riding through the city but just don’t.
Lately, I’ve started to ask my coworkers at Jellyvision, a small tech company with mostly 20 and 30 year olds, why more of them don’t ride their bike to work. Most people live within a 10 mile radius of Jellyvision and most of them would save time, improve their fitness, and save money by biking to work. We have showers and an indoor bike storage space, so it seems like the perfect commute-to-work situation. The overwhelming answer that I always seem to get is, “I don’t feel safe riding my bike in the city,” or “I don’t know how you ride next to all the cars!”
I totally get that answer because I can remember visiting Chicago when I was 18 and being freaked out driving alongside cyclists. It’s a daunting task thinking about getting into cycling, especially in Chicago. You need a bike, a helmet and you’ll have to learn the best roads and the best routes through the city.
What if we had something to help people make this leap? What if we could slowly start converting everyday drivers into every day bike commuters? In my mind, even if we only convert a few people, then we will have made a difference.
I’d like to start a Chicago chapter of what are known as “bike trains.” A bike train is a social group of cyclists that commute along a specified route. Bike trains have a conductor that is the ride leader. They make sure everyone follows the rules of the road, they follow the specific route that is safe, and they are trained to help anyone from a beginner to an advanced cyclist make it to work safely. A great example of a bike train organization is L.A. Bike Trains. Check out their website at www.labiketrains.com.
I’m looking for anyone that might be interested in learning more or helping to get this effort of the ground. In the next few weeks, I’ll be speaking with the team at L.A. Bike Trains to learn more about their organization and I’ll be putting together a specific business plan that will help us get organized. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from anyone that has any thoughts on starting a Chicago Bike Trains chapter.
Enjoy biking in this beautiful weather and let’s start getting some of our coworkers to bike to work!
Please comment below if you are interested in this possible program. You can also contact Jared directly.