Thursday, June 4, 2009

New online biking resources for Chicago

Posted By on 06.04.09 at 01:01 PM

Two new biking resource sites launched recently: Ride the City, designed to help cyclists find the safest route between two points, and Bikewise, which logs reports of bike crashes, hazards, and thefts and plots them on a map.

Bikewise is a national site; it launched less than two weeks ago and so far has only really caught on in Seattle, where the founders are based. Chicago has only two points plotted so far--one crash and one hazard--but once it logs more reports it looks to be a useful tool for avoiding dangerous routes. It's nice that the reports are detailed, so you can decide for yourself whether a crash involving a cyclist riding with no lights on a rainy night means the route's unsafe or the theft of an unlocked bike means a neighborhood's unsavory.

The hazard reports already look like something I'd check regularly: I discovered for myself the one hazard that's been reported, a section of Damen stripped of its pavement, and it's indeed a "high annoyance" that I've been avoiding ever since. Hazards reported in Seattle, the only city so far with more than a few reports, include potholes, poorly designed bikeways, and areas with limited visibility; people can also report the level of threat they pose to cyclists.

Ride the City has been around for a while in New York, but the Chicago version only officially launched on Monday (it started up about a month ago in "testing" mode). Its promise of finding the safest bike ride between two points sounds--well, promising--but based on my experiments with it so far I'm a little leery of its routes. The site has a tendency to send me along roads I usually avoid on a bike at all costs, like Ashland or Michigan Avenue. And when I looked to it for help getting from River North to McCormick Place, a route that recently gave me trouble, it advised me to bike through the building.

Still, it does have some nice features, like the ability to drag and drop your starting and ending point instead of having to find the address, and should be useful if and when the kinks get worked out. (The "feedback" section should help that happen.) For now I'm going to keep relying on the City of Chicago's bike map for areas I'm not familiar with, but I've bookmarked Ride the City and will keep playing with it to see if it improves.

One other site that's not super new but still worth mentioning is The Chainlink, which launched last year. It's designed as a "one-stop resource for Chicago cyclists to find rides and routes, share information and connect with other cyclists" and features forums (with topics like favorite biking Web sites and discussions of routes), a calendar of biking events, social groups, links, and a feed of biking-related missed connections from Craigslist and news from Google. Users can create profiles to join groups, comment, and get notifications of upcoming events. For those looking to connect with other cyclists in Chicago or just get more information about biking here, it's a pretty useful site.

On a related note: if you're worried about how to find fashionable, bike-friendly clothing, check out Heather Kenny's post on the topic on the Reader fashion blog. I've never been particularly concerned with fashion--on a bike or off--but it's interesting reading anyway. I'd agree with her that it's easier to bike in heels than walk in them, though I don't do a lot of either.

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