Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Spaces Between nighttime bike tour

Mary Bartelme Park in the West Loop

By John Greenfield

[This article also appears in Time Out Chicago magazine, timeoutchicago.com.]

Time Out recently invited me to test ride the following bike tour which you can ride in later this month:


GUIDE Martin Hazard
LENGTH 12 miles, 2.5 hours
STARTS Billy Goat Tavern (430 N. Michigan Ave.)
TOC EXCLUSIVE TOUR June 18 at 8:30 pm; free. Bring your own bicycle, helmet and lights. Future tours TBD. (Call Hazard at 773-885-0900 to sign up, or just show up.)

“We’re going on a tour of places that are all around us but are two steps off the beaten path,” says Martin Hazard with a Marlboro clenched in his teeth as we unlock our steeds outside the subterranean Billy Goat Tavern (430 N. Michigan) on a Tuesday night. He’s president of the Midnight Marauders, a nighttime cycling group that does saucy late-night excursions on the third Saturday of every month, including the notorious Porn Ride tour of strip clubs, sex shops and S & M dungeons.


Soon Hazard is leading me through the labyrinth of the Loop’s multi-leveled streets including Michigan, Wacker and Randolph. We whiz up and down ramps, around steel pillars, past ragged homeless people and lonely security guards outside loading docks. After a brief jaunt on a path along the Chicago River, we’re at a pretty little green space at the center of the new Lakeshore East development (430 E. Waterside Dr). “I love this park because you can’t see it from most of the surface streets so nobody knows it’s here,” Hazard says.


Climbing a hill past the development’s gateway, a pair of stainless-steel sails, we cruise across the eerily calm Central Business District to Mary Bartelme Park (115 S. Sangamon), opened last year in the West Loop. It boasts an undulating landscape and huge gateways that look like tilted silver picture frames. “They spray mist during the summer so it’s a great place to cool off,” says my guide.


Returning east, as we wait for a red among the neon signs of Greektown someone asks us for spare change. “I’ve never been panhandled on a bike before,” I note. We head down Wells street past Bertrand Goldberg’s curvy River City condo building (800 S. Wells) and peek through a fence underneath arching Roosevelt Road. Just beyond it is a large piece of barren earth bordering the river which Hazard calls the Brownlands – a popular spot for bonfires.


We make our way under the half-moon to Roosevelt and Michigan and the creepy 9’ trunk-less legs of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s “Agora” installation. We take the pedestrian bridge at 11th Street and a series of curving paths under Columbus and Lakeshore Drive to the Shedd Aquarium and then over to the Children’s Garden (1330 S. Museum Campus Drive) in the shadow of Soldier Field, featuring a geodesic climbing net and a large stone sphere that you can you can spin slowly with your hands. “I like that this park is hidden by the surrounding dirt embankments,” says Hazard.


As we roll down Solidarity Drive to Northerly Island Park, a coyote crosses our path(fear not: The animals roaming the city help control our rat population). We take a lap on the paved paths circling the former Meigs Field which will forever symbolize Richard M. Daley’s love of parks and autocratic governing style. “There’s no better place to check out the skyline at night,” Hazard says.


Soon we’re zooming back up the Lakefront Trail with a tailwind and cutting west on the riverside bike path back to the cozy confines of the tavern. With mugs of Billy Goat Dark we toast the end of an awesome urban assault.

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