2012 can unofficially be called "The Year of The Bicycle" for Chicago. Like the bicycle boom the 1970's and 80's, cycling has come around again as being an affordable, resource-friendly means of transportation. It's also a fairly-safe way of staying in shape, depending on where one bicycles to begin with.
From the long-utilized Lakefront path, to the Midway Plaisance, up to Logan Boulevard, cyclists are now seen year-round in a variety of forms: the "fixie rider" on a vintage bicycle with expensive Ray Ban sunglasses and accompanying wardrobe, the "exercyclist" in Spandex, and heavy-duty cyclists in bicycles that are custom-fitted for a variety of terrain and weather conditions.
The city of Chicago has made great strides to promote bicycling and bicycle safety, especially within this year alone. Not only have miles of bike lanes been painted on major arterial roads, but secure bike lanes (complete with pylons to ward-off wayward motorists) have also been erected, most notably along Elston Avenue.
The Northwest side is no exception as well. A bicycle lane is handily present along the entire length of Elston Avenue, up from its inception at Milwaukee Avenue in West Town to its end, again on Milwaukee Avenue, in Norwood Park. Milwaukee Avenue also has a bicycle lane, starting in front of the police station where the road becomes wider near Foster Avenue.
This area, northwest of Old Irving Park/Mayfair, not only has relatively low vehicular traffic, but also contains Caldwell Woods. One of the few forest preserves located within the city of Chicago, Caldwell Woods contains miles of bicycle path, including the Skokie trail, following the North Branch of the Chicago River.
Northwestsiders (and cyclists pedaling through that area) can easily enter Caldwell Woods from the intersection of Milwaukee and Devon Avenues (resist the urge to stop at Superdawg when bicycling off calories). Cyclists also have the option of a scenic route through one of Chicago's most beautiful and unknown neighborhoods: Forest Glen.
Touching Caldwell Woods at its end where the golf course is located, Forest Glen is a little slice of suburbia sandwiched between the hustle of Milwaukee and Elston Avenues, north of Bryn Mawr Avenue. Streets in Forest Glen do not follow the Chicago grid pattern, and contain many spectacular post-and pre-war homes, especially those that overlook the forest. Some of these homes are actually not located on a street at all! Several blocks, including Indian Avenue, contain massive Mid-Century Modern homes that have a front lawn that extends right into the woods. This is the only neighborhood within the city of Chicago where residential homes are only accessible by an alley.
After emerging from Forest Glen into the actual forest of Caldwell Woods/Bunker Hill, cyclists are greeted by the bike trail's inception in the parking lot on Devon Avenue. Bucolic hills and fields will roll along with cyclists as they follow the trail that winds with the Chicago River bends.
In some neighborhoods, the more haute couture-inclined cyclists tend to choke roads already congested with parked cars and stop-and-go traffic. It's incredibly easy to pedal just a few minutes north of Wicker park, Logan Square, etc, and find space to be that velodrome star, burn off Christmas and Thanksgiving, or show off those new Wayfarers and hipster haircuts.