When Peter Strazzabosco moved to Chicago from Milwaukee in 1989 he did what any avid mountain-bike rider would do: set out to find the most tantalizing local off-road trails. He couldn’t get much information. Most of the mountain-bike owners he met seemed content to roll their knobby tires over asphalt.

It wasn’t that the trails didn’t exist. “There are a ton more trails in the Chicago area than there are in Milwaukee,” he says. “It’s just that most people don’t know where they are.”

So Strazzabosco–a Lerner reporter who also writes biking columns for Windy City Sports–wrote, designed, and in August published the Chicago Mountain Bike Trails Guide, an 85-page book that details 31 riding areas in northeastern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, northern Indiana, and southwestern Michigan, and offers capsule reviews of 25 others. (It’s available at bike shops and bookstores for $10.95.)

Two-page spreads offer an overview of each site–length, trail surface, technical challenges, historical tidbits. Photos give a hint of what riders can expect in places such as the Palos/Sag Valley forest preserves, one of the largest and most popular local biking destinations, and the Greenbush Recreation Area in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine state forest.

The book isn’t the first on local mountain biking. “There are books available, but they aren’t geared toward what I believe active mountain bikers are interested in knowing about a trail,” he says. “They want to know how challenging an off-road trail is, not where they can stop with the family for a picnic. And there were no books that could direct a mountain biker to a place where he could push his bike to the extremes it was built for.”

Of course Chicago isn’t renowned for its challenging terrain. “‘Mountain’ biking is kind of a strange term in Chicago,” he admits. But he says several nearby trails are worth the pedal. Top on his list within riding distance of downtown are trails along the Des Plaines River, which cover about 20 miles between Madison Street and Lake Cook Road. (Near the bottom is the lakefront path.)

Strazzabosco urges riders to follow the rules of the trail set by the International Mountain Biking Association, particularly the one that says leave no trace of your travels. There’s now talk of closing the single-track trails at Palos/Sag Valley and of extending the restriction across Cook County because of the damage some riders have caused. “Mountain bikes don’t cause damage,” he insists. “Uneducated riders do.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Alexander Newberry.