I write this article to all college students who choose to bike to class this semester (and any future semester). This post is a bit Chicago-centric, but can be applied universally.


If you haven’t yet chosen to bike to campus, don’t read this – I’ve got another article in the works for you. Essentially, I gained my advice and education from information I found in multiple documents published by the Chicago Bicycle Program. But you can read my post in less than 10 minutes. I give my friends the same spiel, and now I’ve finally published it for everyone’s benefit.

My credentials: I’ve been commuting safely and effectively to the University of Illinois at Chicago campus for four years, attending undergraduate and graduate class. I’ve been bicycling all around Chicago (I can prove it with these maps) for the same period.

I divide my advice into three sections: Safety, Getting There, and The Right Equipment. You should have a copy of the Chicago Bike Map at your side (download as PDF; tambien disponible en espanol; request one to be mailed).

Safety is a combination of skills, following the rules of the road, and being alert.

You gain safe cycling skills by practicing safe cycling at all times on all roads upon which you cycle.
You most likely learned the rules of the road in high school driver’s education.

Bicyclists must follow the same traffic regulations as motorists (including stopping at yellow and red traffic lights). Additionally, you should practice several additional behaviors (found in the Sharing The Road section of the Bike Map):

  • Never ride against traffic. Bike Snob NYC calls this “bike salmoning.” No other road user expects vehicles to travel in the wrong direction, making this one of the most risky maneuvers.
  • Don’t ride on the sidewalk. You’re disrupting pedestrian traffic and it’s illegal.
  • Know about the door zone: the 4-feet invisible space on both sides of every vehicle that represents the width of a door swinging into a bicyclist’s path. Watch for recently parked cars and cars with people inside.
  • Lastly, ride in a straight, predictable line, and not weaving between parked cars in the parking lane. Passing motorists and bicyclists can safely travel past you because they know where you’re going.

Staying alert will help you avoid collisions and prevent you from getting boxed in by CTA buses. Part of being aware is being able to hear: Don’t use headphones while bicycling (this too is illegal).

Wanna see these tips in action? Watch the CDOT/Chicago Police video on traffic enforcement for bicyclist safety.

Getting There
You can journey safely by determining the best way to get to your destination. Mark your origin (home) and destination (school) on the bike map and then follow the bike lanes, marked shared lanes, and recommended routes to the end. Practice your trip with a friend during the day.

Indoor, sheltered bike parking at the recently reopened Damen Brown Line station.

Also consider making a multi-modal trip using transit. All CTA stations in Chicago have bike parking, and most Metra stations have bike parking. A bus will carry your bike for you at any time, and you can take your bike on the L outside of rush hours.

*More information on bikeway facilities in Chicago below.

The Blue Island bike lane on my way to class from Pilsen.

Try your hardest to never let a motorist scare you off the road with their hurtful and pointless words (or honking). You have the right to bike on the street. If you get into a verbal altercation with a motorist, TAKE A BREAK. Your adrenaline and heart rate will have increased, and emotions may decide your next move. Pull over and breathe. You need to stay in control of you, your bike, and your trip. If the motorist is operating their vehicle that’s a danger to you or other street users, pull over and immediately call 911 to report reckless driving.

Additionally, college campuses often have a lot of buses (either public transit or shuttles). Let the bus driver “do their thing” and don’t try to compete for space with the bus. Wait or signal and pass safely in the adjacent lane.

The Active Transportation Alliance, the Chicago bike advocate, has a crash support hotline: 312-869-HELP (4357).

The Right Equipment
To bike somewhere safely, you need the right equipment:
LIGHTS and a LOCK. Right now, throw away your cable lock. It’s completely useless unless part of a locking scheme that includes a high-quality u-lock.

Buy the most expensive, new u-lock you can afford. You spent a lot of money on your bike, so you should spend a little money on the device that will keep your bike yours! Once you buy, learn how to use it by following these depictions.

Chicago law requires a headlight, and a rear reflector or taillight. Forget the rear reflector – it’s close to worthless. You want road users to see your presence. So get two blinkies: a white light for the front, and a red light for the rear (with a rear light, you’ll be honoring the law). These two accessories will make you visible. Bike shops shouldn’t let you leave until you buy these or prove you already own a set.

If you want be really visible, you can get cold cathode fluorescent lights for your bike. I built this setup as a fun, DIY project.

More equipment you may want:

  • Fenders. Keep your feet and pants dry.
  • Water bottle cage. Being outside and active dehydrates your body.
  • Rear rack or front basket. Shuck your backpack into a basket to keep sweat off your back and reduce back pain.

I built a pannier from a kitty litter bucket. My Nishiki Prestige parked at the UIC Richard J. Daley library.

Please comment on this blog, add me on Facebook or email me with questions.

*The bike map’s road designations are based on actual field observations completed several years ago by City and Active Transportation Alliance staff. Bike lanes, indicated by two white stripes, a bicycle symbol, and an arrow, are for the exclusive use of bicyclists. Marked shared lanes, shown with a bicycle symbol and two chevrons, tell motorists and bicyclists that this is a shared lane and motorists should expect a higher number of bicyclists than most streets. (All lanes in Chicago are shared lanes and bicyclists ALWAYS have the right to use the entire lane when the bicyclist feels they cannot safely share the lane with a motorist, or when changing lanes.)

What a new bike lane looks like (this is Clinton Street at the railroad crossing between Kinzie and Fulton).