The Chainlink

Graffiti and Gears: City Touring for Chicago's Youth

A view from the front of the June 2017 Pedal to Pullman Adventure Cycling Tour, Photo courtesy of Tom Limon

By Sarah Dandelles


Tom Limon started his city bike tour company, Adventure Cycling Tours, somewhat by accident. With an entrepreneurial and IT business background, he was looking to help other bike tour leaders by developing an app for routing, registering, and running rides. So in 2015, he started doing longer rides himself, because, he said,  “If I was going to write a cycling tour app, I needed to start doing tours!” and as he posted photos on social media from the rides, friends began asking to ride along. In 2016, Adventure Cycling Tours became official.


First a Meetup group (now with 486 members), Adventure Cycling Tours also has a Facebook group and most recently, a website, from which Limon will launch five more rides this year. Now, due to a few inspirational “epiphanies” on recent tours and amazing rider stories, plus his own continued enjoyment, Limon is even starting to think that leading rides might be a calling for him, and the tour he has put together for this weekend, Grafitti and Gears Adventure Cycling Tour, on Sunday, June 16, seems to be evidence.


Tom Limon, Adventure Cycling Tours founder, Photo by Adonis San Juan

As the first part of an ongoing look at ways to enjoy Chicago on two-wheeled city tours this season, I sat down to talk with Limon, a Chicago native, about what sets his rides apart from other city tour experiences like Bike and Roll, Bobby’s Bike Hike Tours, Out Our Front Door, or Chicago Velo’s neighborhood tours (on which Limon is a regular), plus get a little bit of background on this weekend’s Tour, which is a benefit for West Town Bikes. While Adventure Cycling Tours averages 25 riders per tour and attracts riders from neighboring Indiana on occasion, most of his tours take Chicagoans on a deeper, day-long look at an aspect of each tours’ area that one might miss if driving by.


Limon not only does extensive pre-riding (three times per ride!) to check out the routing and street conditions, look for points of interest, and get riders exciting by posting gorgeous photos on his Facebook group, but for each tour, he connects with local experts who lead off-bike portions of the tour, provide insight, do demonstrations, or otherwise turn a ride anyone can do with a map into something special for attendees - an inside look, if you will.  


Most of the tours begin at 9 am on weekend days at either the South Loop Spoke and Bird cafe/restaurant at 18th and Indiana, or Downtown at Daley Plaza, and Limon especially enjoys showing riders the south parts of city, often ending rides with a relaxed and self-guided return. There’s a lot going on in the late afternoon, and Limon doesn’t want to cause additional delays or have tired riders fight with Chicago weekend traffic. “Because my rides go until the end of the day,” he explained, “I kind of end at the South Shore Cultural Center. If they need help getting back, I’ll wait and ride with them, but it’s at a relaxed pace and I hang back. Sometimes people are tired.”


Graffiti and bikes at one of the stops for this Sunday’s ride, Photo courtesy of Tom Limon


The “Graffiti and Gears” Tour begins instead at three different starting points throughout the day:


Start Time 1 - 9:00 am at Eckhart Park - 1330 W. Chicago Ave.

Start Time 2 - 11:45 am at West Town Bikes - 2459 W. Division St.

Start Time 3 - 2:30 pm at the “Chicago Mural” - 2226 N. Milwaukee Ave.


Depending on how long riders would like to participate (we of course recommend the whole tour), the three length options are 10 miles, 20 miles, and 50 miles round trip, rather than the usual Adventure Cycling Tours 40-50-mile length “with exit points” for riders who are tired or have to leave for other weekend commitments (though the majority of Limon’s participants, even if less experienced, tend to stay for the entire tours).

Adventure Cycling Tours are “no drop,” the average riding speed with planned rest stops is about 12 miles per hour, and, as Limon likes to say, the rides are “semi-supported” - this spring he was certified as a bicycle mechanic by taking a course at the United Bicycle Institute in Portland Oregon, plus he has seasoned cyclist helpers on each tour helping to keep the riders together and troubleshoot if issues arise.


This tour is different from Limon’s previous rides in other significant ways as well. “Graffiti and Gears” also has three prices that riders can choose to donate when they register (these do not necessarily correspond to the ride length chosen, Limon is quick to point out). Also, on this ride, instead of choosing a lunch spot - Limon generally brings his ride to a local restaurant - he found and confirmed three food bikes (you read that right: not food trucks, but pedal-powered food businesses!) to meet the ride and provide lunch options. So, if you plan to go, don’t forget to bring cash. Once registered for Limon’s tours, riders receive extensive pre-event instructions and reminders.


Graffiti wall in progress by Flash, Photo courtesy of Flash


Limon specifically wanted this tour, focusing on the city's murals, graffiti walls, and street art, including the people and culture that surround it, to be a benefit ride for West Town Bikes, a community bicycle learning center based in Humboldt Park and founded in 2004. West Town Bikes serves Chicago with programs that promote bicycling, emphasize entrepreneurship, and healthy lifestyle choices for Chicago’s underserved youth as well as adults. Limon worked with Flash, a revered Chicago graffiti artist and passionate bike enthusiast, who is also a member of the Classic Cruisers Club. Flash donated his time in planning (and will present) the graffiti history portion of the Tour, plus a wall he is working on to be completed for Sunday’s ride.


Also coming up soon is one of the largest annual fundraisers for West Town Bikes, New Belgium Brewing Company’s Tour De Fat; a one-day, traveling festival that celebrates biking, bike people, good beer, and offbeat performance culture, and until 2016 was held in Palmer Square Park. This year, Tour de Fat will take place on Saturday, July 29th at 4 pm and features The Roots, Chicago local Battle of the Bands winner Ric Wilson, and Fire Leopard (and don’t worry old-schoolers; the Le Tigre Tent will be there, too!) at Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island. It’s a ticketed event this year, at $25 per person. West Town also has been hosting Tour de Fat pre-parties, and the next one is on Saturday, July 22 from 12 noon to 3 pm at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave.


The mission of West Town Bikes is to promote bicycling in the city of Chicago, to educate youth with a focus on underserved populations, and to foster and serve Chicago’s growing bicycling community. Funds generated from pre-party events, the “Graffiti and Gears” Adventure Cycling Tour, and Tour de Fat are used to develop the creativity and self-sufficiency of youth from diverse backgrounds through hands-on programs for workforce participation and civic leadership.


For more information on the “Graffiti and Gears” Tour on its Facebook Event:


About the Tour de Fat Chicago stop, performers, or to purchase tickets:


And for more ways we can support West Town Bikes:

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Comment by Juan 2-3 or more mi. on July 13, 2017 at 9:49pm

Let's go ride :)

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