Escape into the country — by bike

Barrington Hills and South Barrington area offers scenic roads that are just right for plain old cyclists

When you go on vacation, do you ever rent bikes and enjoy rides on quiet rural roads?

Do you ever wish there were some quiet rural roads closer to home so you wouldn't have to wait for vacation?

Say hello to the Barrington Hills and South Barrington area.

Perfectly smooth roads take you past horse farms, grand estates and corn fields beneath sun-dappled trees. The gentle hills are enough to push your heart rate up — OK, I was panting — in one direction while providing a sweet push on the way down. The quiet stretches into the skies, blessedly free of planes.

Road bikers have been flocking to this area for years. But though I once dipped a toe into road biking with a friend in the Three Oaks, Mich., area, I'm no high-mileage, Lycra-wearing road biker — just a plain old cyclist and occasional bike commuter in shorts and a T-shirt.

I didn't know where I might find a scenic, low-traffic road close to home. Also, I would have to transport my bike on my car, and I'm always terrified that my 30-year-old bike rack will disintegrate and drop my bike onto the highway, leaving me to drag it by a bungee cord at 65 mph.

The Active Transportation Alliance can't help with my bike rack. But it just published its 2013 Chicagoland Bike Map, replacing its 2010 edition, and that did the trick.

Using the map, I came up with my own low-mileage but highly scenic route. It was so delightful that I'm planning to use the map, which covers a large multicounty area around Chicago, to venture farther afield.

Because it turns out that a plain old cyclist can indeed take to the roads, even if my new skin-suited friends kept breezing past me.

The hardest thing about road biking in the Chicago area is finding low-traffic roads, said Ted Villaire, author of "Road Biking Illinois: A Guide to the State's Best Bike Rides." He includes several in his book, including a 29-mile route through the Barrington area.

First, a few words about safety and courtesy.

Cyclists have the right to ride on roads, and they may ride two abreast as long as they are not impeding traffic. But they must follow the same rules as if they were driving a car.

But too few people — cyclists and motorists alike — know the rules of the road, said Ed Barsotti, executive director of the League of Illinois Bicyclists.

"We believe the lack of education by both cyclists and motorists leads to mistakes (and) some bad behaviors," said Barsotti, who rides some 3,000 miles a year across the state. "There's a lot of tension out there, a lot of resentment."

The League of Illinois Bicyclists in June launched the Illinois Bicycle Safety Quiz Challenge, an interactive quiz (bikesafetyquiz.com) in which children, adults and motorists can test and improve their knowledge.

In response to increased tensions between motorists and cyclists in the DeKalb area, Axletree, a local bike advocacy group in DeKalb, recently unveiled a voluntary responsible riding pledge.

"There is a kind of 'We get the road too, we deserve to be here, make room for us' attitude that isn't getting cyclists anywhere," said Tobie DePauw, manager of a DeKalb bike store and founder of Axletree.

The pledge "comes from a more humble perspective than an entitled perspective," he said. "Let's be predictable, let's be safe, let's honor the cars."

If you want to ride in the Barrington area, be aware that there are additional rules for riding on village of Barrington Hills roads. Regulations passed in 2009 require cyclists on village roads to ride single file and prohibit negligent riding.

"The roadways out here are very rural, and it's very hilly, which makes for kind of dangerous riding for both bicyclists and motorists," said Rich Semelsberger, deputy chief of the Barrington Hills Police Department. "It's just a matter of safety."

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