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The Road Less Taken: Bicycling in Kenosha

5/22/2020 - Frederick Butzen

Biking Kenosha Wi

As I write this, in late Spring 2020, the world is struggling with the global coronavirus pandemic. All residents of Illinois are quarantined; and while things are not as quite dire here in Wisconsin, our gatherings are still limited. What the immediate future will bring is difficult to say.

Even when the situation begins to improve and Illinois quarantine is lifted, social isolation, or at least social distancing, may well be practiced for some time to come. Fortunately, with the arrival of summer, there are many outdoor activities that we can enjoy even while socially distanced.  Kenosha’s parks and lakefront have free outdoor wifi. So, once you’re able to travel, you can sit in one of our lakefront parks and log into work, while enjoying takeout from one of Kenosha’s many fine restaurants. There are worse ways to spend a day!

Another socially distanced outdoor activity is bicycling. Unlike Chicago, Kenosha’s bike trails are not crowded, so a bicyclist can enjoy a ride yet be safe and responsible.

Kenosha County is bicycle-friendly. It has more than 130 miles of trails and paths for bicycling. Many of the streets in the city of Kenosha itself are welcoming to bikes, being attractive and lightly trafficked; and many of the busier streets have dedicated bicycle lanes.

And once the all-clear sounds and life begins to return to normal, Kenosha offers bicycle shops, bicycle-related events, even the nation’s oldest continuously operating velodrome (or bicycle-racing track), for bikers to enjoy.

The Bicycle in Kenosha

Kenosha has a long association with the bicycle.

According to the Wikipedia, the “safety bicycle” – that is, a bicycle with two wheels of equal size, with the pedals turning the rear wheel via a chain-and-gear assembly – was designed in 1876 by English engineer Henry Lawson. Unlike the old “penny farthing” bicycle, which perched the rider atop a huge front wheel, the safety bicycle was easy to ride, was relatively inexpensive, and, as women found, could be ridden while wearing skirts. The safety bicycle was immediately taken up by young people, especially by young women of the middle class, to whom, for the first time ever, it gave an affordable means of personal transportation. Despite the fulminations of moralists against it, by the turn of the last century the bicycle had become so popular that the “bicycle gymkhana”, in which women competed in stunt races on their bicycles, had become a popular social event in England.

Kenosha joined the bicycle craze in 1879, when manufacturer Thomas B. Jeffrey co-founded the Gormully-Jeffrey Bicycle Company. Jeffrey’s contribution to bicycle technology was his invention of the clincher rim for pneumatic tires, which is used on bicycles to this day. The Gormully & Jeffrey “Rambler” bicycle sold so well that by 1900, Gormully & Jeffrey had become the second-largest manufacturer of bicycles in the country.

The story continues even after bicycle manufacturing in Kenosha began to take a back seat to automobiles. In 1897, Thomas Jeffrey sold his stake in Gormully & Jeffrey, and started the Jeffrey Automobile Company. Always the innovator, Jeffrey’s “Rambler” automobile was the first to use a steering wheel rather than a tiller. When Thomas Jeffrey died in 1910, his son Charles took over the company and concentrated on producing heavy-duty trucks, many of which were used by US forces during World War I. After the war, Jeffrey sold the company to Charles Nash, former president of General Motors. The company, renamed Nash Motors, continued to make the Rambler in Kenosha. Nash Motors later became part of American Motors, then Chrysler Corporation, the plant closing in 2010.

As you can see, bicycle riding and bicycle manufacture have played a major part in Kenosha’s history, and Kenosha remains a bicycle town to this day.

Bike Trails

Kenosha County has more than 130 miles of bicycle trails. To download maps of the trails, click here. For a guided tour of the trails, click here.

There are two principal areas for biking: the area east of I-94, and the area west of it.

Eastern Trails

In the eastern part of the county, two bicycle trails are converted railroad right-of-ways.

The South Bike Trail starts at the northern end of US Bicycle Route 37 in Lake County, Illinois, then runs north for 3.5 miles through the village of Pleasant Prairie, to the intersection of 30th Avenue and 89th Street in the city of Kenosha.

The North Bike Trail starts at the intersection of 35th Street and 28th Avenue, then runs north for 4.4 miles to where it connects with the Racine County bicycle-trail system.

In between these two trails are lightly trafficked city streets designed for bicycle traffic. They first run east, skirting the Chiwaukee Prairie State Natural Area; then north, past the Southport Dunes park area; then east again, past Southport Park, to the lake. From there, the street trail runs north, through the Allendale neighborhood and the Third Avenue Historic District, to the parks surrounding Southport Marina. From there, a multi-use trail runs north through lakefront parks, past the museum district, the harbor, Simmons Island Marina, to Pennoyer Park at 35th Street; then west again along 35th Street to 28th Avenue – all in all, a very scenic ride.

A third off-road bike trail branches from the North Bike Route at 12th Street (Highway C) and runs west to the campus of the University of Wisconsin Parkside; then through the campus and into Petrifying Springs County Park. The trail winds through this lovely park, then north parallel to highway 31 (Green Bay Road) to Racine County. If you’ve built up a thirst on your ride, you can stop into the Petrifying Springs Biergarten in season and have a cold one.

Western Trails

The western half of Kenosha county is crisscrossed by county-road bicycle trails. For details, consult the trail map linked above.

One favorite trail follows Highway F as it meanders southwest through the southern Kenosha County, past Silver Lake and the Silver Lake County Park, through Fox River County Park, then west past several other parks and natural areas.

The Ice House Trail – a converted railroad right-of-way – branches off the Highway F at around 340th Avenue, and runs southwest to the downtown area of the village of Twin Lakes.

In northern part of the county, the Richard Bong Recreation Area, which is a Wisconsin state park, offers both off-road and trail biking. Biking is permitted on the hiking trails north of Highway 42. If dirt biking is your thing, two dirt-bike loops are available on which you can try your mettle. To bike in the park, you will need a vehicle sticker ($11 for one-day admission for out-of-state visitors) and a state trail pass ($5 for a one-day pass).

If you are into mountain biking, Silver Lake Park is home to 10 miles of mountain-bike trails that are maintained by the Kenosha Area Mountain Bike Association. While there is no admission to the park, there is a fee to visit the beach in season if cooling down is the destination of your ride. For information on trail conditions, see the KAMBA web site.                                                     

Bike Racing

Each summer, Kenosha enjoys outdoor bicycle racing in the Washington Park Velodrome, which is the oldest continuously operating velodrome, or bicycle-racing track, in the nation, having opened in 1927 The track is banked, allowing speeds of up to 35 mph, and is open from May through September.

While races are currently on hiatus, Monday nights feature “stock bike” racing – races in which anyone can compete on his or her street bike. Races are organized by age; entire families can join in.

Tuesday nights, by contrast, are for premier fixed-gear racing, featuring bicyclists from around the Midwest who compete in sprints and endurance races. Races are organized by the cyclists’ level of ability.

Spectators can sit on the lawn and watch the races for free. If you’re interested in racing, check the web site for upcoming events, and for information on how you can register.

If you’d like to get into bicycle racing, Kenosha Velosport Cycling is an organization that promotes bicycle racing in all formats – road, track, cyclocross, and mountain-bike – and for cyclists of all ages. It offers coaching, as well as training and development programs, to help cyclists compete in the many amateur cycling events throughout the Midwest.

Bike Shop

If your bike needs some work while you’re visiting Kenosha, or if you’re just looking for a good shop to browse, check out Total Cyclery, which is at 5039 Sixth Avenue (262-652-2222), in downtown Kenosha. Total Cyclery offers repairs, maintenance, and rentals of bikes and skateboards, as well as sales of both new and used bikes.

For More Information

For more information on cycling in Kenosha, see the Kenosha Cycling page on Facebook.

The Kenosha History Center is an excellent source of information on the history of bicycle manufacturing in Kenosha. 

For information on upcoming bicycle events in the Kenosha area, see the Facebook page for the Kenosha-Racine Bike Club, and check the events calendar on this web site.

 

Frederick Butzen

Frederick Butzen

Community Blogger

Recently retired software engineer & technical writer. Essayist and amateur musician, lifelong Chicagoan and newly arrived Kenoshan, enjoying exploring life and culture north of the Cheddar Curtain.

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