Thursday, June 5, 2008

How to Get Started in Bike Racing & Spectating

[This article runs in the May 22 issue of Time Out Chicago:
http://www.timeout.com/chicago/articles/sports/29734/breaking-away]

By John Greenfield

“I love speed and Chicago is all about speed,” says local bike racer Shane Winn. He says the focus of racing here is criterium (laps around a closed course on city streets) and track (riding single-speed, fixed-gear cycles on a velodrome.) “It’s a gladiator phenomenon.”

If you dig velocity, there are over 30 teams in the area, many of them geared towards mentoring newbies. But if you’d rather kick back with a beer and a brat while watching chiseled folks in lycra zoom past, it’s gonna be a great summer for spectating. Get up to speed at chicagobikeracing.com, with info on teams, rides and races.

XXX Racing-AthletiCo (xxxracing.org) is one of the biggest, most inclusive local teams. To get involved, just show up for one of their Saturday training rides, leaving at 7 am from Wicker Park, 1425 N. Damen, for a 50-mile roundtrip to Highland Park and back. There’s a “no drop” policy for the first half; ride home at your pace.

For a taste of the track, head to the Northbrook’s Ed Rudolph Velodrome, Meadowhill Park, 1500 N. Maple Ave. (northbrookvelodrome.com). Established racers compete on Thursday nights but on Fridays from 6/13 to 8/15 between 6 and 10 pm, all ages and abilities can participate in the Developmental Bike Racing Series.

The big news this year is the debut of the Chicago Criterium on Sun. 7/27. Part of Mayor Daley’s campaign to bag the 2016 Olympics, this showcase will be the first Loop crit since 1987 (Google “Chicago Criterium.”) Races starts at 7 am. Thousands of people will flood Grant Park for the event, which features $40,000 in prize money, most of it earmarked for the pro competition at 2:25 pm.

The races take place on a mile-long circuit of streets: Jackson, Columbus, Balbo and a rare closure of the northbound lanes of Michigan Ave.“It’s going to be a great event for fans: high-intensity with lots of turns which makes for a very exciting racing,” says Anne Davis from the Mayor’s Office of Special Events.

Two other crits are coming to the city’s South Side this summer. XXX-Racing hosts the Sherman Park Criterium on Sat. 6/14, with races starting between 8 am to 4:40 pm (xxxracing.org.) Spectators are invited to bring barbecue fixins and a live DJ will spin at the park, 1301 W. 52nd St. in the Englewood neighborhood.

The Beverly Hills Cycling Classic (bapa.org) on Fri. 7/8 is a 100K, 50-lap crit, a great excuse to trek down to the remote neighborhood of Beverly and take in its historic mansions and surprisingly hilly terrain. The race starts at 6 pm at a festival at 107th St & Longwood Dr.

Bicyclist who like to swim and run as well might want to give the multisport scene a “tri.” A good way to get your feet wet is the monthly happy hour and clinic hosted by the Chicago Tri Club, first Wednesdays at Fizz, 3220 N. Lincoln Ave. at 6:00 pm (chicagotriclub.com.)

The area’s most popular multisport event is the Accenture Chicago Triathlon (chicagotriathalon.com), with about 6,500 competitors in the main race on Sun. 8/24, starting with swimming at Monroe Harbor, 101 S. Lakeshore Drive.

On the other side of the racing spectrum, the Chicago Couriers Union and other messengers are bringing the 11th annual North American Cycle Courier Championships to town with City-sanctioned, closed-course races in Garfield Park, 3400 W. Washington St., on Sat. 8/30 and Sun. 8/31 from 10 am – 4 pm (chicagonaccc.com.)

Although the main “alleycat” races will be messenger-only, “civilians” are welcome to compete in the sprint, trackstand, skid, and bike polo competitions. Organizer Augie Montes promises “There’ll be all the jack-assery you might expect.”

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