Traveling en masse with 25 other bikers creates a certain right-of-way in the streets of Oak Park. They blow through traffic lights and stop signs, as long as there's no other traffic, and a ripple of hands indicates every turn before it happens.
"The bikers are coming through," blared a loudspeaker at the Oak Park sidewalk sale. "Don't know where they're going, but get out of the way."
On Saturday, July 16, the bikers were heading for food. The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation put together a progressive "bike and dine," where bikers ate their way through the western suburbs, sampling appetizers, dinner and dessert at different local restaurants. Between courses, they saw the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and got a view of the back roads of Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park.
The swarm of bikers started with a hummus, cracker and cheese appetizer at Whole Foods Market in River Forest, progressed to a baby green salad at Vivaldi's in Oak Park, tucked in a main course of chicken and pasta at Mancini's Restaurant in Oak Park and ended with an icy, sweet treat at Forest Park's Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlour.
Connie Brown, who owns Brown Cow, said that her store participated in the event because so many of her patrons ride bikes. Whenever the shop's full, the bike rack is full, she observed. "I think people who cycle are more leisurely, and they enjoy places like this," she said.
"You want an active street life, you don't want a dead downtown," said Pamela Brookstein, the west suburban organizer for the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation and the woman behind the Bike and Dine. The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation sponsors many similar rides, although not always in the western suburbs; see www.biketraffic.org for more summer events.
Brookstein started planning food and bike routes for the Progressive Bike and Dine early in the year and has been hard at work on other federation projects to make Oak Park better for bikers, including the West Suburban Bicycle Ambassadors, the equivalent of driver's ed for bikers, and a punch-card campaign for Oak Park and Forest Park, where bikers can enter a raffle if they patronize certain bike-friendly shops and show their punch cards. "If I'm on my bike, I stay local," Brookstein reasoned.
Throughout the ride, the bikers spouted even more reasons why people should bike instead of drive.
"There are things you can see on bikes that you can't see in the car," said Marcia Wilson, a biker from the Chicago area who enjoys studying architectural details on houses or flowers and ornaments on lawns.
"The only muscle that you use in a car is your fingers," said Ryan Veeneman, a biking enthusiast from Grand Rapids, Mich., who hit the Progressive Bike and Dine on his Chicago business vacation.
"We love to see the gas prices go up," joked his wife, Julie. They're diehard bikers?#34;Ryan has even ridden the four miles to his work in temps of 10 below, she said. He only quits when the snow piles higher than the bike gears.
"I think it's better than jogging," said Dave Mausner, an Oak Park resident and a member of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. "It's a smoother, more continuous action." Mausner has been biking about 30 miles a day since his heart surgery in 2002, when doctors warned him that he'd better get active.
The Progressive Bike and Dine inspired Judy Goldberg to join the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. She usually bikes "once in a blue moon" but enjoyed chatting with the other bikers at the back of the group throughout this ride. "I got to meet some new people," she said.