"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


The Hidden Side of Chicago's Bike Routes: The House of Bing

When I first started riding in Chicago, the "everyday" rides were less than ten miles...from where I lived in Andersonville to maybe Diversey and back. The longer rides would take me a day just to plan. 30 miles was an event. I'd even make a couple sandwiches. It would take me at least 90 minutes to reach Promontory Point. I'd take my lunch and book and spend half the day getting there and then staying there, relaxing on the green lawn and reading or napping.

My first ride to Kenosha turned out to be a journey of Columbian proportions. I set out one Saturday morning, Memorial Day Weekend, in 2004, with one Clif Bar and no rain gear. I almost called them from the Great Lakes station, but 6 hours later, soaked and shivering, I pulled into my Aunt and Uncle's house and promptly fell asleep for 4 more hours.

Things have changed quite bit. Now a full ride on the path round trip from Irving to the Cultural Center at 75th takes about 2 hours, including 4 miles each way to get there. Last week I did a team ride of 90 miles in under 5 hours.

In other words, less than 4 years ago, a bike trip to the south side could literally occupy half of my weekend. Tonight, I rode there in under an hour, to have dinner, on a weeknight.

Which leads me to say, that as we grow as riders, so should we grow as people. For so many of us, the destination is the bike. It's only the route. We ride past the same scenery day after day, chatting with our friends and teammates, barely giving what's on the periphery a second thought. Funky restaurants, Frank Lloyd Wrights, world class temples, archaic icons.

I think it's time to take a closer look. Less than 200 years old, Chicago is a city with a far richer history than most people realize, and a diverse underbelly that would give any social scientist pause. It deserves more.

This new series, The Hidden Side of Chicago's Bike Routes, was born out of that impulse to go deeper than just the ride.

So it is only fitting that I begin with the twinkle that started it all, a wondering question about the nondescript, beer-sign lit windows of House of Bing. That strange little Chinese restaurant at the very end of the lake front path, across the street from the South Shore Golf Course and the Cultural Center, where so many Chicago-area cyclists stop to turn around on their perfunctory training rides.

House of Bing

I got home from work around 6:15 and barely had time to take the dog out and change into my riding gear. I rode west from Logan Square to Elston and took my usual route downtown via Courtland to Clybourn to Wells, and over to the path via Illinois. Once there and in the stiff tailwind, I was at the end of the path in less than 30 minutes.

Mark and I met out front at 7:30. The waitress actually let us bring the bikes inside. And even though I'd brought jeans and a shirt for both of us we sat down down within the somewhat Spartan surroundings in full kit.

Mark Bing

It was very quiet, with some locals sitting at the bar, having a drink and watching the news, waiting for the basketball game to start. It actually reminded me of the suburbans, or maybe downstate, or even from home in Alaska. Last refurbished at least 30 years ago, with tight, brick red, berber carpeting and generic restaurant supply chairs and tables, the mostly bare white walls said "southside," all the way. Far removed from the aesthetic demands of any hipsters or yuppies.

The bar

What's a Chinese dinner without a tropical drink?!


The food was actually pretty good, and the service was very personable and prompt. The veggie egg rolls were not too fresh, a bit mushy, yet still tasty. Better were the entrees we had, kung pao beef and tofu. A bit heavy on the gravy, they had a deep spiciness and were made with plentiful, crisp, fresh veggies, and served in generous quantities.

Kung Pao Tofu

Our waiter, Jason:


The entire bill, including the drink, was under $30.

So there it is, the first bit of Chicago by bike, exposed to the light, out from under the rock.

And there is much, much more that our everyday bike routes have to show us. It was our spirit that first got us out there, so let the bike show the potential of your spirit. One of the qualities I've always prided myself on is never being afraid to try new things. To never judge a book, or in this case, a restaurant, by it cover. Or even lack of one. A quality, I've found, that it takes to be a cyclist in the first place and stay one over a lifetime.

We'll stay on the path for now, working our way north, but look out for places, buildings, and historical oddities throughout Chicago you'd never even noticed as you rode past on what you thought was your everyday route.

Next week: A Friendly bit of Fascism.

1 comment:

Biciklista said...

I did another loop on the southside after I ran into you (and Mark moments earlier), and was wondering where the f$%^# you went, Gary IN ????