Talking 'bout a revolution
Bikes in focus at new Nature Museum exhibit
04/25/2012 10:00 PM
Chicago is a bicyclist’s dream.
Geographically, the city is perfect. The area’s naturally flat expanse is home to hundreds of miles of pavement, creating a track that seems to have been made specifically for pedal-powered transportation. Eighteen miles of pathway lining the lakefront from Hollywood Avenue on the north side to 71st Street on the south adds to the cycle splendor.
Local government has done much to further Chicago’s reputation as a bike-friendly mecca. At present, the city boasts 117 miles of designated bike lanes along its motorways, more than 30 miles of marked shared lanes, more than 12,000 public bike racks and sheltered bike parking areas at many CTA rail stations for commuters.
As the city looks to the future with its ambitious Bike 2015 Plan, a new exhibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park is looking back at Chicago’s bike origins.
Bikes! The Green Revolution looks at the evolution of bikes and biking with a focus on Chicago’s important role in the process. The history lesson is augmented by presentations that explore the city’s current bike-friendly offerings, as well as opportunities that increase biking’s reach as a form of sustainable transportation. Though designed to appeal to younger children, the exhibit proves fascinating for all ages.
Bikes! opens strong, displaying bicycles dating from the late 1800s to the present, complete with explanatory histories on each. Presented chronologically in order of production, the selections offer an interesting, wide-angle view of bicycle development both in terms of construction and public use, from the towering high-mount bike with its exaggerated front wheel that was popular in late 1800s high society to the modern-day everyman street bike. The older bikes dominate, of course, looking as much like antique works of art as they do utilitarian devices.
Revelations about Chicago’s cycling past are fascinating, as well.
By the 1890s, Chicago was a busy bicycle manufacturing hub, with over two thirds of the United States’ bikes being produced within 150 miles of the city. Velodromes for racing stood in Garfield and Humboldt Parks. And from 1895 to 1983, the city was home to Arnold, Schwinn & Company — a company whose advancements would revolutionize the way the world perceived and rode bicycles. Brief, but extensive displays detail all of these developments and more.
Moving into the present and future, Bikes! takes a decidedly kid-focused turn as it runs through current Chicago biking highlights, bike repair and construction and sustainability issues.
A virtual reality-like ride through Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Humboldt Park, Garfield Park, Washington Park and Hyde Park, a mini bike shop complete with wooden bikes to build, an amplified bike-horn station and a “bag your groceries on a bike” speed game will delight kids, but adults may find them overlong and rather loud. Luckily, Bikes! offers big kid fun, too.
Displays on area bike trails, like the in-progress Bloomingdale Trail, the Burnham Greenway, the Illinois Prairie Path, the Lakefront Path and the I & M Canal Trail, large-scale Chicagoland bike maps, a photo essay on Chicagoans and their bikes and statistics-heavy features on the positive impacts of cycling will occupy adults fine while their kids go wild.