Bike-assisted walking is a great way to spend a lazy afternoon meandering around a neighborhood. Especially a neighborhood that is a little too far to reach on foot.
I don't know about you, but I am a fanatical walker. I would rather walk than use any other form of transit. Unfortunately, walking isn't the fastest way to get around, and I get pretty tired of wandering around my own neighborhood. Maybe where you live is a little more exciting, but sometimes we all just want to be somewhere else.
Being somewhere else in Chicago is very easy. The city is a veritable United Nations. A trip down any major thoroughfare exposes you to a myriad languages: signs in Spanish give way to Polish, Russian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Korean, Hebrew, Thai, Hindi, and many, many others. A short bike ride opens up dining options from cuisines around the world. Look at a map, and see where a two to three mile bike ride will take you. I've ended up in all sorts of areas: Edgebrook, Lincolnwood, Devon Ave., Andersonville, Lincoln Square and Avondale, and enjoyed menu samplings from Ireland, Poland, India, Sweden, Germany, Greece, Middle East, Brazil, Ethiopia and Thailand, to name a few.
Of course, many people drive to these destinations, and then walk. But there is something removed about getting into a self-contained car on a glorious afternoon and sitting in traffic, and then looking for parking when you get there. You might as well be going to a mall. I'm talking about exploring real neighborhoods at your own pace, and with wind in your hair.
You don't need a very fancy bike to do this. In fact, the more basic your bike the better. Old three-speeds work really well, especially with front or rear baskets attached. You can use any bike with panniers, baskets, milk crate, or a backpack on your back, and you'll have a way to carry home souvenirs, leftovers, or baked goods from other cultures. And forget about bike clothing. Just wear your regular stuff and shoes you can walk in.
A bike really expands your roaming range. For example, the closest little neighborhood shopping area to where I live is about two and a half miles. Yes, I can get there on foot, and often do, but a round trip is a fairly long walk, and I rarely have the time, leisure and energy to go much beyond that. With a bike, I can ride that distance very quickly, lock up, and explore the offerings of the neighborhood: library, hardware store, consignment shop, toy store, local grocery store. At this point, after fortifying myself with a latte, I still have plenty of time and energy to wander another mile and a half to an area that has two bookstores -- new and used one -- and several other establishments I like to frequent.
A bike also expands your carrying capacity. I don't have to worry if I buy too many books, or take too many from the library, even if I also need some groceries. If you throw a couple of bungee cords into your bag, there is really no limit to what you can carry, be it a pair of shoes, a ream of paper, a bulky toy for your kid, or a thrift-store find.
After walking back, I might get lunch at one of the local restaurants, or treat myself to ice cream at the corner shop. And, even if I'm a little tired at this point, I'm glad I made room for a long, unhurried walk, and now am only a short bike ride away from home.