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'Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides'          Send a link to a friend

[MAY 24, 2006]  "Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides," 2006 edition. David Johnsen, Trails Books, 2006, 132 pages.

Review by
Richard Sumrall

As the warm weather approaches Illinois, our interests turn to outdoor activities. One favorite pastime is bicycling. You don't usually think of this state as a place for great cycling adventures. Those who don't are missing some great opportunities to enjoy some of the best bicycling trips in the Midwest.

In his new book, "Biking Illinois," author and cycling enthusiast David Johnsen describes some of the best cycling experiences in the Land of Lincoln and includes information on rides for all ability levels, as well as a better appreciation of the nature and history of each ride.

Although the book divides the entire state into four geographic categories, we will focus on three local rides among the 12 rides listed in central Illinois.

"Around the Lake and Down Memory Lane"

This is a ride of approximately 29 miles in McLean County. The peddling time is estimated at about two and a half to three hours and consists of paved country roads and paved trails. This is a pleasant ride involving gently rolling hills and moderate terrain. Since the ride is circular, there are several locations where you can start and finish; Johnsen recommends the city hall in Lexington.

Although the local farmland offers pleasant scenery, the highlight of the trip is Lake Bloomington on Route 8. The ride includes the entire north-south length of the lake and passes over some of the lake's tributaries.

The other highlight comes at the end of the loop -- an original section of the 1926 Route 66 highway. The section is closed to vehicular traffic and is a nostalgic trip down one of America's legendary roadways.


The Havana ride is located in Mason County and, at 37 miles, is slightly longer and more time-consuming than the McLean County ride. This is also a circular loop ride on chip-seal paved roads. The terrain is made up of gently rolling hills and calls for moderate effort from the cyclist. The recommended trailhead is located in Havana, but you can also start from either Buzzville or Goofy Ridge.

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This is a ride full of scenery and history. It begins in downtown Havana and takes you directly past the old water tower. Built in 1889, the tower is still in use and has been granted landmark status by the American Water Works Association.

The natural beauty on this ride demonstrates the geographic diversity that exists in Illinois. Part of that diversity is found as the tour winds past Lake Chautauqua and Clear Lake. This lovely setting contains the Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge and its Eagle Bluff Public Access Area. As you continue northeast by Clear Lake, you pass through the Sand Ridge State Forest. Within the forest on Route 15 is the Jake Wolf Memorial Fish Hatchery. This is the largest fish hatchery in Illinois and offers public tours of its fish production facilities.

The southernmost part of the ride contains a typical mix of Illinois farmland and trees.

"Where's the Bridge?"

The Lost Bridge Trail is a converted railroad line in Springfield. The trail is the former bed of the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line from Springfield to Rochester. Resurrected as a paved bike path, this easy 10-mile journey is a great example of the "rails to trails" reclamation movement. Since this is not a loop, trail riders can turn directly around in Rochester or include a small loop southwest of the town before heading back to Springfield. The trail begins at the Illinois Department of Transportation's headquarters at interstates 55 and 72. Shade trees along the route provide relief from the sun and act as a buffer against the noise of Route 29.

One of the most exciting features of this trip is the South Fork bridge. This former railroad bridge is a steel truss construction and contains wooden deck railings. The route also includes the picnic tables located near Lake Springfield when you conclude your trip at IDOT's headquarters.

"Biking Illinois" is an essential book for anyone interested in bicycling in this state. In addition to the descriptions of the different routes, the author has compiled a handy subject guide of rides, based on individual tastes. Riders can review prospective routes according to subject areas of nature, rails, rivers and lakes, flat trails, challenging trails, highways, cities, or history. According to Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, "‘Biking Illinois' is an amazing resource for serious cyclists and parents looking for wonderful outing opportunities for the family." This book is recommended to anyone who enjoys the sport of bicycling.

[Richard Sumrall, Lincoln Public Library District]

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