Saddle Up And Bike Under The Stars In These Cities This Summer

Nick Nunns, Flickr

Somewhere in Chicago there’s a personal tiki bar on wheels. I’m not talking about the rental “cycle pubs” popular in cities and hipster burgs. This is a five-top cocktail table under a thatched roof, hitched to a bicycle. It passed me around midnight on the streets of Chicago’s South Loop a few years ago. Everyone at the “bar” took a turn on the bike while the rest of the pack chilled on tall stools, nursing longnecks.

These spectacles are part of the reason I love Chicago’s L.A.T.E. Ride. The 25th annual event starts around midnight on June 30 this year from downtown’s Grant Park, and it’s not restricted to extreme thrill-seekers or serious cyclists. Around 8,000 bike riders of all levels (honestly, all levels – I’m living proof) show up to pedal through the city en masse. Most people come on a regular bike and wear everyday workout clothes, but the freaks and weirdos can’t resist the big audience and the slightly nuts wee-hours concept. Thank goodness. It wouldn’t be any fun without them.

Chris Koerner, Flickr

Late-night bike rides haven’t caught on like mud runs, but that’s a good thing. Rather than corporate-branded productions with dates in 45 cities, they’re organized locally and reflect the community. Such rides tend to fall into one of two categories: the nonprofit annual fundraiser on a closed course (meaning police block traffic on most streets along the route), and the unofficial weekly or monthly group ride alongside cars, organized by the area biking community. The first type will carry an entry fee, but there’s more support and festivities, and the route appeals to out-of-towners. The second type will probably be free and might have grown into an established, well-attended ride promising safety in numbers, though the starting point and route might not be as visitor-friendly. Either way, they tend to be well organized, somewhat of a workout but not too much and very safe.

Logistically, out-of-towners only have to worry about getting a bike to a ride that starts around bedtime and finishes around closing time. Most events don’t offer bike rental. You either have to drive to the event with your own bike, fly with one or rent one on your own once you arrive (and most bike rentals are priced for an hour or half-day of sightseeing, not overnight keepage). For the trouble, you get to ride in mild after-dark temperatures, see part of a city from an unusual perspective and do something kind of nutty. Spectators sit in bars and front yards along the route and cheer you on. Riders are hyped up on Red Bull to stay awake and inexplicably wearing Halloween costumes. Plus: free glow-in-the-dark T-shirts!

Here’s where you can saddle up this summer:

London and Paris: The Nightrider isn’t for beginners. The 100-kilometer (62-mile) ride takes six to eight hours to complete, starting at 10:30 p.m. But it’s probably one of the world’s most scenic workouts, passing nearly every major landmark in the city aglow against the starry sky. The Nightrider is organized by a producer of “worldwide charity adventures” called Classic Tours, and participants can raise money to offset some of the entry fee. June 8 for London and Sept. 21 for Paris, £39 and up

Indianapolis: The N.I.T.E. Ride fundraiser for the regional biking association is nearly as established as Chicago’s and covers 20 flat miles through the heart of the city, passing monolithic war memorials bathed in golden light. It attracts about 2,000 people. Before the 11 p.m. start time (early enough for a 1 a.m. finish), you can warm up on the city’s brand-new urban bike path, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. June 22, $31

Denver: No bike? The Moonlight Classic is the only organized ride where you can rent wheels on site. Around 4,500 riders hit the 10-mile closed course, and unlike other events, they can choose a starting time. Join the Gonzo Wave for the 11:30 p.m. departure and you’ll have some fired-up company (see video). June 27, $40

Chicago: The L.A.T.E. Ride is a 25-mile flat route from downtown’s Grant Park through Chinatown, the Greek neighborhood and northside residential areas. It links to the city’s excellent Lakeshore Trail and runs right along Lake Michigan for 7 miles back to Grant Park. Problem is, that usually happens around 2, 3 or 4 a.m., and everything’s just pitch-black. You can’t even tell you’re near water. Still, this fundraiser for Chicago’s Friends of the Park Foundation draws an insanely large and entertaining crowd. Someone always dresses like the Blues Brothers. June 30, $45

St. Louis: The Moonlight Ramble got an auspicious start 50 years ago, when only one person showed up for the inaugural event in 1964. Now thousands attend and choose from a short closed route of 10.5 miles and a longer one of 18.5 miles. The route changes every year, but the timing coordinated to August’s full moon doesn’t. Everyone is done by 3 a.m. Aug. 17, $25

Los Angeles: In 2004, a group of counter-culture bikers called the Midnight Ridazz stopped partying long enough to put together a late-night ride open to anyone. Then they started hitting the streets the second Friday of every month, joined by about 1,000 others. The organizers have stepped down and the community they created has taken over, announcing loosely coordinated rides on the website. The Ridazz aren’t as menacing as the name suggests. They follow a set of “Rulezz” to keep the rides safe and organized. Ongoing, free


San Jose: The grassroots San Jose Bike Party covers between 15 and 30 miles the third Friday of every month, from around 8 p.m. to midnight. Though the course is not closed and the event doesn’t offer the live music and support vans like larger ones do, it’s still attended by 2,000 to 4,000 people and led by experienced volunteers. Ongoing, free

Paris: Several tour companies offer a nighttime excursion, taking in the big sights. To cruise with a pack of locals instead, rent one of the Velib bikes stationed around the city and join Rando Velo. Just show up at City Hall a little before 10 p.m. any Friday night. The leisurely route goes through the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 11th and 12th arrondissements, ending just after midnight. Ongoing, free

Google To Build Its Own Airport In California

If owning its own fleet of private jets wasn’t already enough, Google wants to go one better and build its own airport.

The Internet giant is just a step away from starting construction on an $82 million dollar facility in San Jose, which would include an executive terminal, facilities for aircraft maintenance and ramp space big enough for large business jets like the Boeing 737 and 767 (see artist rendition of the airport above).

Google is still waiting for city officials to sign off on the deal, which proposes building the airport on an old parking lot next to the existing Mineta San Jose International Airport.

Right now, Google keeps its fleet of planes at Moffett Federal Airfield, which is a military airport. San Jose Airport officials believe a new commercial airport would be better suited to house the company’s aircraft. It’s likely other private and corporate jets would be allowed to use the new facility as well.

Once Google gets the green light to start construction, it’ll probably be another two years before the 29-acre airport is up and running.

And, even if the rest of us won’t get to use the slick new facilities, they’ll still be a huge boon for the local economy, bringing in $2.6 million dollars in rent as well as creating hundreds of new jobs.

[Photo Credit: Mineta San Jose International Airport]

Find hotel deals with new booking site Guestmob

hotel deals guestmob collectionsThe Internet has brought us many ways to research and book hotels at prices much lower than the hotels’ published rate. Aggregate sites like Kayak and Orbitz give you the best available rate (BAR) without pre-payment on a specific hotel, while “opaque” sites like Priceline and Hotwire allow you to bid for a room below BAR but the actual property remains hidden until after you book and the purchase is non-refundable. Now a new booking site offers you hotel deals well below BAR while ensuring consumers flexibility and a standard of quality.

Guestmob differs from other hotel booking sites by combining high-tech algorithmic pricing and expertly curated properties hand-picked for their high user ratings. The site works by grouping hotels into collections of four to eight properties in a given category and neighborhood. You enter your travel dates and can immediately see a room rate of up to 50% below BAR for each hotel collection. The Thursday before you check in, the exact hotel is revealed but you are guaranteed one of the specific hotels in the collection. Best of all, unlike other opaque booking sites, you can cancel your reservation up to three days before check-in.hotel deals guestmob booking pagePreviously, some savvy travelers have tried to “game the system” with sites like Bidding for Travel, a forum that tries to guess winning bids and participating hotels on opaque sites by sharing successful bookings. Guestmob removes the need for this research by specifying hotels in each collection and immediately offering a deeply discounted price. While room upgrades, frequent guest points and other requests are still at the discretion of the hotel upon check-in, it’s still a great option for travelers with flexibility.

A Guestmob search for a hotel in Chicago on a weekend in mid-May yielded a price of $164 for a 3.5 star hotel on Magnificent Mile (such as a Courtyard or Embassy Suites), or $203 to bump up to a 4 star in the same area such as a W or Westin Hotel. The same properties ranged from $221 to $279 on other sites. Most Guestmob hotels are part of well-known chains such as Marriott or Starwood, or smaller chains like Kimpton and JDV.

Guestmob soft-launched last year in San Francisco and has now expanded to include New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Diego, San Jose, Seattle, Boston, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Portland and Phoenix. The site is well connected to social media so you can get help, learn news or give feedback on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can also chat with them right on the site if you have questions.

‘Egyptomania’ grips Houston

EgyptomaniaThe Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, has just opened a new exhibition exploring the West’s fascination with ancient Egypt.

Egyptomania” collects forty objects from the Egyptian revivals of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This was the time when the West became widely aware of the great civilization of Egypt and started excavating there. Cutting open mummies became popular entertainment, the rich collected Egyptian artifacts, and it seemed like everyone wanted to own something in the Egyptian style — like this Art Deco perfume bottle shown here in a photo courtesy MFAH. It was designed by Baccarat c. 1930. Other items on display are Egyptian-style furniture, garden sphinxes (much cooler than garden gnomes) and even Egyptian asparagus tongs.

Visitors to the museum can get a double dose of ancient Egypt right now because the traveling exhibition “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” is on display through April 15. This exhibition features more than a hundred artifacts, most of which have never been shown in the U.S. prior to this tour.

If this isn’t enough to stave off your Egyptomaniacal cravings, I suggest a trip to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium in San Jose, California. This place is a strange hybrid of serious museum and cultish quackery founded by a modern spiritual group inspired by ancient Egypt.

“Egyptomania” runs from March 18 through July 29.

Sustainable cities to watch in 2012

sustainable citiesThink of sustainability, and San Francisco is probably the first city to come to mind. But a new crop of green urban centers is emerging, and they’re not where you might think.

Leon Kaye, editor of GreenGoPost.com, recently published a list of his picks for emerging sustainable cities to watch in 2012. Some spots were to be expected, like Detroit, with its preponderance of urban renewal projects, and Accra, which recently topped Siemens’ and Economist Intelligence Unit’s index of Africa’s greenest cities.

But there were also a few wild cards. Mexico City made the list for its 10-point Climate Action Program, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 7 million metric tones between 2008 and 2012. The plan included massive improvements to the public transportation system, including the construction of Latin America’s largest rail system and investments in green roofing, water conservation, and waste management.

Also on the list was Naples, Italy, whose trash crisis has made headlines since 2008. Once city residents started realizing that the government wasn’t going to take action, they started taking matters into their own hands. Through grassroots activist movements, like guerrilla gardening and flash mobs, Neapolitans are slowly beautifying their city, and this year will host the UN’s World Urban Forum.

The other cities on Kaye’s watch list were Adelaide, Australia; Belgrade, Serbia; Brasilia, Brazil; Doha, Qatar; San Jose, California; and Seoul, Korea.

[Flickr image of Mexico City via Alfredo Gayou]