I started Chicago Bike and Brew in 2015 as a way to combine two of my passions: long bike rides and craft beer. Since then, the informal social club has ridden to dozens of Chicagoland breweries (and a few in Indiana and Wisconsin), introducing cyclists to new brews and beer aficionados to the saddle.
I’ve received the kindness of strangers while stranded with a flat on the Prairie Path, taken my bike home on the Metra train when those 6 and 8 percenters snuck up on me, and met some amazing brewers and friends along the way. Unfortunately, all we’ve been able to do so far this year is reminisce about the past. Our last organized ride was November 2, 2019.
For member John Kerrigan, the Bike and Brew trip that comes to mind was one April when we cycled the 606 Trail to Off Color Brewery, just over half a mile from the trail’s western terminus. “It was memorable for a couple of reasons,” he says. “Number one was the weather. I remember it was blizzard-like conditions for part of the ride.” Kerrigan, who works with the National Guard and calls Chicago home when he’s not deployed, was one of only five riders who braved the Windy City’s elements for that ride. While summer rides can draw upwards of 25 people, the colder months are more sparsely attended.
“Nearly every Off Color employee, both brewery and taproom, is a biker rather than a driver,” says outreach director Ben Ustick, pointing out that bicycle racks out front encourage visits from riders. “I think that lower ABV stuff connects a lot with the more fitness-centric crowd,” he adds, noting that a 16-ounce can of beer conveniently fits into a bicycle’s water bottle holder.
“One of my favorites was a 50-mile bike ride from Chicago to Kenosha, [Wisconsin] to Border Wars, which is a war of Illinois versus Wisconsin craft beers,” says Diana Oberman, an active member since 2015. As Oberman describes it, the chance to spend an afternoon sampling ales and lagers caught her attention, but wasn’t the only draw. “It’s a fun social ride, we go at the pace of the slowest rider, we stop to have breakfast—it’s such a great bonding experience.”
While the 2020 Border War Beer Fest was canceled due to COVID-19, plans for the 2021 festival are in the works. If it happens, Chicago Bike and Brew will probably be there. “People like it because they appreciate the theme and attendees get behind their state’s brewers,” says Curt Foreman, founder of event promoter BrewFest Partners.
“I had a bike, I was looking to meet some people, and I like beer,” says Alanna Geoghegan, a college friend of mine who I invited to join the club in 2015 when she moved to Chicago from Portland, Oregon (another city known for cycling and craft beer). Her first ride was 35 miles from Lakeview to 3 Floyds Brewery in Indiana. “There’s nothing more refreshing and delicious than a cold beer after a long bike ride because you’re so exhausted and hot and sweaty. That first sip just takes the edge off,” she says, explaining that while she doesn’t know a ton about brewing, she knows what she likes: lighter, fruitier, refreshing beers like 3 Floyds Gumballhead.
As Chicago beer businesses slowly reopen, the future of bigger group rides remains uncertain. Smaller meet-ups of three to five cyclists might be the norm for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, members like Carrie DeVries are optimistic. “I’m hoping to do Bike and Brew rides nearly the same as usual, with the exception of not being able to dine- or drink-in once we reach the brewery,” she says.
With social distancing still in effect, I think small group rides to pick up craft beers from the source is a win-win. For cooped up enthusiasts missing the taproom it’s a chance to visit those familiar places again, and for small breweries pivoting their business model during the pandemic, it’s a lifeline when other revenue streams are drier than usual. I’ll drink to that. And while I’m at it, maybe I’ll check the air pressure in my tires, too.
Gina Beach is a writer, artist, yoga teacher, and frequent cyclist based in Chicago.