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Perfect Places to Pedal

Inviting trails and rural roads for cyclists of every skill level wind around McHenry County. Get rolling today!unknown.gif

Cycling is a favored activity of many McHenry County residents – thankfully they have a number of ideal venues in which to ride.

Most avid cyclists begin riding casually only to find that they very much enjoy the activity and want more. Kevin Galloway, a Crystal Lake resident, United Airlines pilot and self-described recreational bicycle rider, explains.

“I started riding when we first had children, 28 years ago, as a way to baby-sit our oldest daughter,” he explained. “When she was old enough to sit up, I put on her Styrofoam helmet, strapped her into a baby seat and took her for a ride. She was quiet and enjoyed the scenery. She loved it! That became a way for me to entertain our children. I found I also enjoyed it very much and when they were older I continued to ride on my own.

Not to mention, what a great example Galloway set for his children by fostering an active lifestyle.

It took Huntley resident Peter Lilly, coordinator of media development and technology training at McHenry County College (MCC), the right bike to get him hooked.

“I started cycling about six years ago on a bicycle that my brother-in-law gave me,” he said. “It was a sturdy bike, but I’m a large man, so it just didn’t hold up. So my wife bought me a Trek hybrid sport bike that is very heavy duty and has a basket in the back. I’ve been riding that bike ever since. I started riding to work occasionally and sometimes to the grocery store, but then it got to the point where I was trying to ride every day to work during the summer months.”

He continues to do so, weather permitting, as long as he can make the commute in daylight.

Crystal Lake residents Jack and Ann Wall began riding about 25 years ago. “I started as a means of exercise and found it very relaxing because, when cycling, you’re not competing with anyone,” Ann said.

Added Jack, “We had a favorite ride then, about 27 miles long, that had a stop at the halfway point, Papa G’s restaurant in Huntley. It featured a great spinach and feta cheese omelet, which made a great Sunday morning breakfast. We made that ride frequently for several years.”

Choosing a Bike

What kind of bike a rider selects will depend on the kind of riding he or she expects to do.

Katie Bobrow, manager of Crystal Lake’s Lucky Brake Bicycle Specialists shop, said, “We’re able to supply just about any kind of bike. It all depends on what the customer plans on doing. We have mountain bikes for people who want to go off the roads. We have road bikes with the familiar dropped handlebars that are much more road friendly. They’re a bit taller and have narrower wheels making them more efficient on the road. We also have hybrids, which are a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike.”

Safety is a universal concern of cyclists because an accident while riding can be very serious. A helmet, therefore, is a must as are lights if you’re riding anytime after dusk. Patience with aggressive drivers is always a good idea, as is a properly sized bicycle.

“A bike that fits will be more comfortable and reduce the chance of injury,” Bobrow said. “A bike that’s too small can cause knee pain. A bike that’s too big can cause hip pain. Sitting on the seat with the ball of your foot on the pedal should cause a slight bend at the knee. When sitting on the seat with your feet on the ground, you should be on tip toes.”

Picking a Route

Most cyclists prefer some particular kind of route for their rides. Galloway, for example, favors bike trails over roads.

“I like to stay away from traffic whenever possible, so I very much enjoy the trails available in McHenry County,” he said. “I’m very much looking forward to using the new bridge over Rakow Road [just east of Pyott Road] when it opens this year. I also often ride on errands around Crystal Lake if I can fit whatever needs to be carried in my backpack.”

The Walls, on the other hand, generally make good use of the area’s country roads. “We like to ride on the country roads instead of trails,” Ann said. “Rural roads in McHenry County west of Highway 47, where the traffic is relatively light, are very bike friendly.”

On his commute to work to MCC, Lilly prefers bike trails whenever possible. “I actually add a half-mile to my trip so I can take a bike path,” he said. “Most of my ride is either on a bike path or roads on which traffic is running quite slowly. The roads I use are also quite wide with good shoulders on which to ride. I don’t like being around traffic.”

Disrespect for cyclists on behalf of some drivers is a reality on the road, unfortunately.

“I’ve had nothing very bad happen to me on the road, but I’ve had people beep at me as they pull up alongside to pass,” Lilly said. “I had people really close to me as they pass. I’ve had people yell out their window at me.”

Thankfully, laws are in place to protect bikers.

“Legally,” Bobrow added, “a bicycle is considered to be a vehicle, so a bicyclist must obey all traffic laws. A relatively new law requires drivers to come no closer than three feet from a cyclist when passing.”

McHenry County Bicycle Advocates work on behalf of cyclists to motivate the county “to provide adequate accommodations both on the roads and in the form of bicycle paths.”

This group meets at 7:30 p.m. on the third Monday of the month at the Algonquin Township Building in Meeting Room 1 (3702 Northwest Hwy. in Crystal Lake).

County Bike Trails

The bridge over Rakow Road that Galloway mentioned is part of the 26-mile-long Prairie Trail, which runs the entire north-south length of the county. The south end of the trail connects directly with the Fox Valley Trail in Kane County. The north end connects with the Hebron Trail, which runs in a westerly direction about seven miles.

“The Prairie Trail links eight different communities making it very convenient to use for much of McHenry County’s population,” according to Wendy Kummerer, McHenry County Conservation District’s communications manager. “We are also pleased to have a very active volunteer group called the Prairie Trail Safety Watch that patrols the trail, providing both a measure of safety and a face to the conservation district as ambassadors. They are usually active from April through October depending on the weather.”

The Social Aspect

“Biking is not only exercise, it’s also a social event,” Galloway said.

Based in Crystal Lake, the McHenry County Bicycle Club has taken the social aspect of cycling to its logical conclusion by attracting many of the county’s most active cyclists. Geoff Mumford, the group’s ride director, describes the club as a group of riders who get together three mornings every week for rides in good weather. During the winter months, the group hikes, snowshoes or cross-country skis.

“It’s a good group,” he said. “We all get along very well. Most of our members are retired allowing us to ride in the mornings.”

The club was formed more than 30 years ago and welcomes both beginning riders as well as experienced touring cyclists. Its regular rides are designed to accommodate riders of all skill levels from those that like to stop and smell the roses to those aspiring to conquer the Tour de France.

Every year, the organization sponsors the Udder Century Invitational, a recreational ride of multiple distances on rural routes through the county. The event, held on the first Sunday in June, begins at Donley’s Wild West Town in Union and attracts 1,200 riders from six states and Canada.

Whether it’s on dedicated trails or rural roads, McHenry County is particularly nice for cycling because of the rolling hills and farms, even the cows. It’s very scenic, and cyclists frequently spot wildlife. Tempted? If so, strap on a bike helmet and start pedaling.

Cycling Resources

  • McHenry County Conservation District – www.mccdistrict.org/web/re-bicycling.htm.
  • McHenry County Bicycle Club – www.mchenrybicycleclub.org
  • McHenry County Bicycle Advocates –www.mcbicycleadvocates.org
  • Lucky Brake Bicycle Specialists – 470 West Virginia St. in Crystal Lake, 815-459-1833, http://luckybrakebikes.com.
  • Crystal Lake Ski and Bike – 905a Pyott Rd. in Crystal Lake, 815-455-5450, www.crystallakeskiandbike.com.
  • The Bicycle Stop/Prairie Trail Bike Shop – 300 Northwest Highway, Fox River Grove, 847-516-4444, http://thebicyclestop.com.

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