Nooks and crannies in Bridgeport and Armour Square

A column at the entrance of the On Leong Merchants Association Building

A column at the entrance of the On Leong Merchants Association Building

One of the reasons Chicago’s architecture is so fascinating is the quaint little details that escape every day notice.  In the facade of a false-fronted two-flat, you might find a family crest, or a seal or mark of a nationality.  Sometimes in an otherwise normal worker’s cottage you can spy a bit of Flemish brick-work, or a glimpse at the builders country of origin by way of decoration.  Little hints and bits of decoration abound in the residential streets of our city.  Sometimes it is subtle in a building with no particular pedigree and sometimes it is bold and prominent in a noteworthy building like the column at the entrance to the On Leong Merchants Association Building in Chinatown pictured above.  Bridgeport and Armour Square on the city’s near South Side are exceptional communities in the abundance of hat tips to ancestry in the built environment.  With a bit of investigation, one can trace the immigration patterns in the neighborhoods throughout the post-fire era just by examining the native hints left in the indigenous building styles of the time.

Chicago is a masonry town.  The Great Fire forever changed the building code and wiped out all of the previous generations of architecture, leaving few surviving structures standing inside the fire line, each of them, a masonry structure.  Post-fire laws and code changes systemically changed the pattern of what would be built and served as a clean slate of lots to develop after the tragedy leading to multiple generations of sturdy building styles and methods.  The resulting decorative arts for buildings after the resulting changes brought out the most skilled and rare crafts and trades.  Carved stone, poured concrete and terracotta all were utilized across architectural and decorative styles.  Their durable nature has helped them weather the decades of weather extremes and city pollution even when the buildings themselves suffer from neglect, lack of maintenance and poor care.

In Bridgeport and Armour Square, the streets are filled with a wide variety of architectural styles and ages.  The homes are largely worker’s homes, but amidst the residences are grand public buildings, churches, parks and other city treasures.  This Saturday we will glide through the two adjoining communities to take a look at some of the nooks and crannies in the pedigreed and anonymous sites alike.  I hope you will join us.

Tour of Bridgeport and Armour Square
Saturday May 9, 2015 at 11:00 AMat McGuane Park at South Halsted Street & West 29th Street



Postponing the Tour of Dunning and Montclare and the Summer Tour Schedule

The Tour of Dunning and Montclare has been postponed until August.  All prepaid tickets have already been refunded.  Instead, I will be running the event on August 8, allowing me more time to prepare.  This Spring has been particularly brutal schedule-wise and my inability to complete the work necessary to provide a good tour force me to push it back. This will result however, in a summer of four all new-tours to help make up for that.

On Monday June 15, 2015 at 6PM we’ll meet up at Buckingham Fountain for the Mini-Tour of the Near South Side.  This is a free tour to help kick off Chicago’s Bike to Work Week.  More info on the Bike to Work week activities are available here.

That Friday, we’ll use the filter of the night to help select the best night-time sights for the Night Tour of the Near South Side.

July will finally see the running of the Tour of Evanston on Saturday July 11 and on August 8, we will hold the rescheduled Tour of Dunning and Montclare.

I look forward to seeing some of you this Saturday at McGuane Park.  Thanks for taking a moment to read.

Touring Austin

Getting set to tour Austin at Columbus Park

Getting set to tour Austin at Columbus Park

The Austin Community Area is the most populated and one of the largest by area of Chicago’s 77 different Community Areas.  It has a fascinating history integral to Chicago’s own. Austin’s resulting built environment is like testimony about the passing years, and the comings and goings of different groups populating its streets and homes.  Pedaling through the community gives one an opportunity to witness architectural styles of great variance.  Queen Anne, Gothic, Prairie, Arts and Craft, Italianate, Georgian, Art Deco and other revival styles all co-exist.  Time, disinvestment, preservation, decay, grand wealth and startling poverty co-exist as well.  We first toured the area in 2009 with a big group of riders, 150 plus and to date, our largest ride ever. In the intervening years, we’ve come back to the area for three additional tours before this Saturday’s visit back and it remains one of my favorite tours.

One of the goals of the Chicago Neighborhood Bike Tours is to introduce anyone that is interested in the Chicago beyond our immediate horizons.  I’d like to take you to places you haven’t been.  Sometimes that means to new parts of the city and sometimes it means showing you things you’ve never seen in places you’ve been a hundred times.  I want people to experience the  great stories of our city and its suburbs, see the architectural beauty of its past and learn how it passed time, and why things are the way they are.  In Austin, we are given so many different views, so many different time periods and such a varying narrative of the populations, that it becomes one of the most intriguing and important stories of our city.

Join us on Saturday for a bike ride on Chicago’s West Side Community, Austin.

Tour of Austin
Saturday April 25, 2015 @ 11:00 am
Columbus Park @ 500 South Central Avenue in Chicago

Facebook | Chainlink


Liar’s Ride 2015 Rules of the Road

Liar's Ride 2015

Liar’s Ride 2015

Liar’s Ride 2015

As with all of the previous Liar’s Rides, this year, we had to do a few tweaks of the rules in order to ensure everyone’s safety. To make sure that you are fully in compliance and understand the procedures, we are asking all of the riders to have the following guidelines tattooed on their person in a place that they can readily refer to as needed. We will leave precise locations up to the individual user.


1 – Every bike must be UCI compliant. There will be a UCI representative to weigh and x-ray each bike before and after the ride. This should dissuade anyone planning on mid-ride swaps. We will be swabbing all bikes and components for EPO and trace elements of powdered sugar. Anyone found holding donuts without sharing them will be docked 4 days on their time. Here is a link to all of the current UCI regulations:

It would be unreasonable of us to require that each of the subsets, clauses and bylaws in each individual area be tattooed on each rider as well, so you may bring along a companion animal that has been suitably shaved, de-scaled or de-feathered and have the UCI rules tattooed there instead. No animals may be harmed in the process.

2 – This is a bike ride. Therefore please don’t wear bike clothes or you will be made fun of.

3 – Front tire pressure must be 12 psi. You may only ride tubulars. You are required to blather on about traction vs. friction for a minimum of 5 minutes. Rear tire pressure must be 380 psi with a maximum tire width of 14mm. You are required to site straight-line rolling resistance studies verbatim if anyone should comment on your repeated blowouts.  You are required to handle all of your own tire changes.  You will have 30 seconds per wheel.  You may bring Rae Dawn Chong along to assist you.

4 – We are going to ride south into Indiana. We are going to frequent many businesses in the state, spending millions of dollars and creating generational prosperity for every Hoosier.

5 – There will be no drinking before, during or after the ride. Of anything. This means that if you have already drunk anything at all prior to this point or from this point forward you are already in violation. Violators will be treated to a recreation of the scene in Breaking Away where Team Cinzano puts a frame pump in Dave’s front wheel. You will be Dave.

6 – We will be visiting the former Cribben and Sexton Company factory and will scavenge any remaining iron tubs we find there. Back in the day when Cribben and Sexton were still making bath tubs and enameling tubs, sinks and bathroom fixtures the average cast iron tub weighed about 400 pounds. If we don’t find any we will break into as many homes and businesses as necessary to procure a tub per rider. Be advised that if your procured tub does not weigh a minimum of 300 pounds you must gather an equitable weight in multiple tubs. You will then tote the tub(s) on the remainder of the ride. You are welcome to use any method you like to port your tub(s). All tubs must be returned at the end of the ride. (Hey….we’re not thieves or jerks here.  We’re just borrowing them.)

7 – During the ride, there will be profound and life-altering information delivered by the handsome genius tour leader. As such, there will be no talking by ride participants, except as other rules indicate it is required.

8 – During the ride, fresh off its SXSW debut we will be screening the indie film “Gabe and Bedno….a Love Story”. You may be asked to carry either the screen or projector in addition to your previously described bath tub(s).

9 – We will be joined on the ride by several luminaries including Governor Bruce Rauner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Presidential candidate Ted Cruz. All riders are encouraged to recreate the previously described Breaking Away scene with Rauner, Emanuel and/or Cruz in the role of Dave.

10 – Anyone found live tweeting, instagramming, facebook posting or broadcasting via GPS their location during the ride will be required to add the hashtag
to any post.


They predict a very nice day this Wednesday.  I am not fooled.  I personally predict -30⁰F with accompanying fire-tornados and a drenching acid rain.  Dress accordingly.

See you there.

Liar’s Ride
April Fools Day, April 1, 2015 at 7PM
In front of Ciclo Urbano/West Town Bikes at 2459 W Division*


*Unless Alex Wilson catches wind of any of this.


Finally, please note that the ride ENDS in Jefferson Park.  Make any necessary plans when considering your attendance and getting to and from the start some 8 miles away or getting your self home afterwards.


Family, Cycling, the Tours and Humboldt Park

On the corner by the Church of God

On the corner by the Church of God

Earlier this month, I canceled the first spring tour of 2015 when our son Jackson went back into the hospital with another incident of respiratory distress.  Thankfully his latest hospitalization was a very brief stay, but it was impossible to say just two days before the tour whether we’d be in for another weeks long visit, or a quick tune-up.  Reluctantly, again, I had to pull the plug on the tour.  Jackson was discharged less than 24 hours after his arrival and was prescribed a rigorous regimen of respiratory therapies that we did at home over the weekend.  On that Saturday when I should have been leading a group of cyclists through the boulevards and streets of Logan Square, I was at least still able to get out for a nice road ride with two of my best riding buddies, helping to make up for the tour cancellation.  We had a lovely ride along our usual route past the Skokie Lagoons and through the north shore suburbs of Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park and Kenilworth, but when I got back home, I had a bunch of missed calls, two voice mails and a text from people that did not get the notification that the tour was cancelled.  I felt terrible for anyone’s inconvenience and the incident revived my concern about the ongoing viability of doing the tours.

Jackson has a litany of medical challenges and special needs.  He was born a normal boy with no particular concerns.  When he got his 18-month vaccinations, he had an adverse reaction to the DTaP booster, specifically the acellular Pertussis component.  The day after he got his shots, he stopped breathing at day care and our world and his life turned completely upside down.  Today, he has Cerebral Palsy (an overarching description of his problems), encephalopathy, he is non-verbal, he is tube-fed, he is in a wheel-chair, is quadriplegic, he has profound respiratory distress and suffers from dysautonomia, scoliosis, and a host of other medical conditions.   He occasionally requires respiratory assistance, gets oxygen and bi-pap every night and is on a host of medications, therapies, tube feeding and occasional ventilation that are administered by a school nurse during the school day and by us at home.  He requires regular physical, occupational and speech therapies, all of which he receives at Park School in Evanston, where we moved in 2009 so that he could attend what is widely considered the best school in the area for children with special needs.  After his adverse reaction, he spent three months in hospitals before he went home a completely changed boy from the one who could run, talk, hug, scream, tickle, play hide and seek and do the things that most young boys do.  For the next nine and a half years, he had a host of medical concerns of course, but avoided any hospitalizations until May of 2014.

Since then, he has spent almost 9 weeks in the hospital over the past 10 months.  During that time, I have cancelled more tours than I have run.  The year has been extremely difficult for him and our family, and has prompted me to take stock of many aspects of my life.  I have been organizing, researching, photographing, route-planning, writing and leading these tours since 2007.  The tours have introduced me to a hundred different Chicagos.  Each community area, each suburb, each neighborhood, each tour has shown me wondrous things and increased my love of the city and its burbs and burgs.  Its every days, its pulse, its extraordinary architecture, its uplifting and heartbreaking stories, its people, its founders, builders and leaders. The tours have introduced me to thousands of people over the years, many who have become my friends, tour regulars, ride marshals and clients of my real estate business.  The tours are an intrinsic part of me at this point and I identify myself with them, and many others do as well.

The process of doing the tours is rewarding, but also very time consuming and a lot of work.  Each tour is the result of hundreds of hours of research, riding, photographing, writing, planning, testing, promoting and organizing.  As I do more and more of them, instead of saving time by building on the foundation of knowledge I already have about particular architects, building styles, architectural movements and history of our area, I find I spend even more time digging to find out as much as I can about the homes that lack the pedigree of an iconic landmark, but are steeped in the every day brilliance of a city who is second to no other for architectural riches.  Each tour is its own adventure.  Each community is its own treasure.  Connected to the whole, though forgotten and neglected in too many cases.  Some areas are as sad to bike through as they are amazing.  When we bear witness to what we lost, to areas that suffer from divestment and poverty and to communities struggling for their share of resources, it can overwhelm and freeze us, stopping us from working to improve our neighborhoods.  It becomes easy to retreat to our safe corners rather than face the disparity around us.  It can, on the other hand, remind us of our connection, our mutual responsibility and our challenges in an inspirational way as well.

I have often considered writing books about the different communities in Chicago, but opted instead to do this website.  The website started in 2009 and after building the site on a very poor platform for several years, it became obvious that I had to scrap the whole thing and start over.  I worked with the very talented Juliet Gray of ThoughtShaping and spent another two years completely rebuilding the site.  My first email from Juliet after a recommendation from a friend came to my inbox two years ago today, on March 25, 2013.  What I originally envisioned was a quick transfer of my existing content to a new, more robust, easier, friendlier Word Press platform, turned into a rabbit hole.  This is no fault of Juliet, but of my own expectations and inexperience. I still think she is the best web designer in the world, but I should have educated myself far more on what would be involved. Even so, the project grew and grew and the scope of what I wanted revealed itself as each new piece added more possibilities and pulled me in deeper.

In my mind, there would be virtual tours of all of the neighborhoods and community areas I had built tours of, and a quick and easy way to present them to the world.  The idea of the website seemed more built for how many of us ingest knowledge in our connected world of pervasive identity than a series of books.  In my naivety, the website was an easy way to offer a compendium to the tours so people that lived anywhere could experience our brilliant Chicago and its neighboring suburbs.  People that were on the tours could read more about the things we biked by and didn’t cover on the ride.  People that wanted to know more about Chicago, architecture, history, where to live, where to go, cool things to check out, or find out more about cycling could use the site as a unique resource that would help them learn, while it helped the city shrink in their minds, to a manageable, understandable place.  Little did I know how much minutia would go into the creation of events, e-commerce, poster images, thumbnails, product pages, shipping rates, tax tables, images, security, hacking, and seemingly every possible e-problem ever known.

Man…should have done those books.

The site went up and life went on.  Work, home life, social life and the challenging year our family has had all took priority to the tours, to Chicago Velo and the dreams of what I wanted to build.  My rediscovered fitness evaporated as logging hundreds of weekly training miles disappeared into lengthy hospital stays, poor diet, driving instead of riding and the stress of hospital life.  The goal of multiple blog posts and posting thousands of pictures, hundreds of stories and dozens of virtual tours zoomed and crashed into the reality of the finite nature of time and the human need for rest.  The site is still up, but it isn’t the resource I dreamed it would be.  The tours still go on, unless they get canceled.  Life happens, and we adjust, we work around, we move on.

Each year, I spend far more on Chicago Velo and the tours than I make, but the rewards are knowledge, friendship, clients for my business, exercise and adventure, and all of those things are worth the cost, time and effort.  Promoting and marketing the rides has always been my least favorite part of the process and I always struggle with the use of social media, email lists and time management of all of that.  Lately, the frequent cancellations of the rides has posited a new challenge.  Attendance is down, and it is a struggle to get posters out, notices up and balance promotion with the back-of-the-mind concerns that I might have to cancel the rides at any point.  To be sure, the lack of reliable scheduling affects the attendance, but so does the reduced time frame to promote the rides, the struggle to work when we are the midst of our hospital routines, and all of the compression of many to-dos into reduced time frames.

I stopped doing the rides back in 2010 for about half a year before re-inventing them, adding a fee and relaunching them.  I have thought repeatedly about stopping them, discontinuing the work on Chicago Velo, and figuring out a way to create an outlet for my own needs.  I have received several offers from friends and riders that have offered to fill in for me on cancelled rides, but the truth is that it would be impossible to give people all of the information that is not written in the notes.  Only about half of what I cover is written down on note-cards and the rest is in my brain.  I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to train a substitute, so it doesn’t represent a viable solution when a tour needs to cancel.  I still may end up ending the tours, but for now, I have reached a compromise solution.

From the summer forward, the tours are going to be scheduled monthly instead of twice a month, with the occasional extra tour for the city or a special event.  I am debating ending the winter rides as well.  I love promoting events for winter riding and encouraging people to ride all year, but it is also extremely frustrating to spend the time necessary to do the rides and spend several hours in lousy weather with two tour attendees.  Maybe I should take the hint.

I hope that the extra time to prepare, and the reduced demands of my time will enable me to keep the tours going, work on the website more, and be there for my family when they need more of my time and attention.  In the coming days, I will consider other changes in price structure, promotion, and the virtual tours yet to be completed.  I hope that these changes will enable the tours and Chicago Velo to go on indefinitely.

But, as we find out over and over again, life happens.

You move on.  You adjust.  You regain your balance.  And you rediscover what is most important.

_    _    _   _

I hope that some of you will be able to join us this Saturday for the Tour of Humboldt Park.  It is a truly amazing community in Chicago and features one of the city’s finest parks.  It is the birthplace and home to many of our city’s most famous citizens and to a brilliant built environment.  I hope you can join us and my apologies for the lengthy diatribe and thanks for taking some time to follow along.

The Tour of Humboldt Park
Saturday March 28, 2015 at 11:00 AM
Meeting at the intersection of Division and California in the corner of Humboldt Park

The Tour of Logan Square is cancelled

Shrine at St. HedwigChurch.

Shrine at St. Hedwig Church

Hi everyone,

Unfortunately I have to cancel the Tour of Logan Square scheduled for Saturday 3-14-15 at 11:00 AM at the Illinois Centennial Monument.  Our son Jackson was briefly hospitalized and though he was released today, we have a weekend of lots of respiratory treatment ahead of us and I will have to bail on the ride.  My apologies to all and I look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks for the Tour of Humboldt Park.

Thanks very much for your understanding – Lee Diamond