L.A.T.E. bike ride: Chicago after dark

Just after we started pedaling through the streets of Chicago around 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Sue said the experience reminded her of an early-morning RAGBRAI start. There were lots of similarities.

We were on the McDonald’s L.A.T.E. Ride.

We started a few minutes behind the leading “VIP” group with hundreds of other cyclists sporting blue rider tags, surrounded by flashing white headlights and red taillights and all sorts of other flashing things and whooping and hollering. Thousands more would follow in other color-coded waves a few minutes apart.

It really was very much like starting out in a crowd in the pre-dawn darkness on RAGBRAI. Some excitement, lots of jockeying for space on the road, trying to keep our Cedar Rapids friends and our Chicago-based son in sight. (The friends were quickly lost in the crowd ahead.)

There were lots of responsible riders and a fair number of jerks who made it a little more dangerous and scary than it needed to be. I’m not sure what the casualty count might have been, but at least two or three people were taken away by ambulance. Two were lying motionless last time we saw them: one in the middle of a street and one off the side of a lakefront trail a few miles from the finish.

Unlike RAGBRAI, we weren’t leaving some little town and heading out for the Iowa countryside. This was the big city, apparently a pretty bicycle-friendly one, at that. We couldn’t help but notice the bike lanes along much of the 25-mile route, the sharrows and especially the signs that said things like: Shared lane. Yield to bicycles. (I especially liked those.)

If you go next year, be alert for some big, big holes and cracks here and there in the pavement. Be ready to stop at stoplights; Chicago P.D. officers block many intersections so you can just barrel on through, but there is some cross traffic in places. Be prepared to dodge the pub crawlers who walk out into the street looking for a high-five from you at 2:30 or 3 in the morning.

Don’t be surprised if cyclists zip by on both sides without an “on your left” or “on your right.” In a crowd like that, few people bother with such niceties. Just assume someone’s coming by all the time, because someone probably is.

Fun ride, worth doing at least once, but I’m not sure I’d drive all that way to do it again. If I lived in Chicago, I’d probably be a regular.

Oh, yeah: Leave small children at home. Ditto for others who aren’t used to riding in a crowd. This is no place to learn that stuff.

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