Bike tour: The Spaces Between

The leader of irreverent cycling group Midnight Marauders takes you on a spin to hidden parks and more.

Photograph: Brent Knepper
Adams/Sangamon Park, 150 S. Sangamon

GUIDE Martin Hazard of the Midnight Marauders
LENGTH
12 miles, 2.5 hours
STARTS
Billy Goat Tavern (430 N Michigan Ave)
TOC
EXCLUSIVE TOUR
June 18 at 8:30pm; free. Bring your own bicycle, helmet and lights. Future tours TBD. (Call Hazard at 773-885-0900 to sign up, or just show up.)

With a Marlboro clenched in his teeth, Martin Hazard unlocks his aluminum steed outside the subterranean Billy Goat Tavern on a Tuesday night. “We’re going on a tour of places that are two steps off the beaten path,” he says. He’s president of the Midnight Marauders, a cycling group that does saucy late-night excursions on the third Saturday of every month, including the notorious Porn Ride tour of strip clubs, sex shops and S&M dungeons.

UNDERGROUND AFFAIR Hazard leads me through a labyrinth of multileveled roads, including Michigan Avenue, Wacker Drive and Randolph Street. We whiz up and down ramps, around steel pillars and past ragged homeless people on Lower Wacker and lonely security guards outside loading docks. After a jaunt on a path along the Chicago River, we’re at a pretty little green space at the center of the Lakeshore East development at Waterside and Harbor Drives. “I love this park because you can’t see it from most of the surface streets, so nobody knows it’s here,” Hazard says.

KEEPING OUR COOL Climbing a hill, we cruise across the eerily calm Loop to Mary Bartelme Park, opened last year in the West Loop at Sangamon and Monroe Streets. It boasts huge gateways that look like tilted silver picture frames. “They spray mist during the summer, so it’s a great place to cool off,” Hazard says.

FIRE WHEN READY Returning east, as we wait at a light among the neon signs of Greektown, we’re asked for spare change, marking my first time being panhandled while cycling. We head down Wells Street and peek through a fence underneath arching Roosevelt Road. Just beyond it is a large piece of barren earth bordering the river that Hazard calls the Brownlands—a popular spot for bonfires.

GARDEN STATE We take a series of curving paths under Columbus Avenue and Lake Shore Drive to the Shedd Aquarium and then over to the Children’s Garden in the shadow of Soldier Field. Hazard likes this park because it’s hidden by the surrounding dirt embankments. It features a geodesic climbing net and a large stone sphere that you can spin slowly with your hands.

COYOTE PRETTY As we roll down Solidarity Drive toward Northerly Island Park, a coyote crosses our path (fear not: The animals roaming the city help control our rat population). We take a lap on the paved paths circling the former Meigs Field, which will forever symbolize Richard M. Daley’s autocratic governing style…er, love of parks. “There’s no better place to check out the skyline at night,” Hazard says. Soon we’re zooming north up the lakefront trail and back to the cozy confines of the tavern. With mugs of Billy Goat Dark, we toast the end of an awesome urban assault.

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