1) How/when did you get into cycling as a profession?
I have always been active and have enjoyed the outdoors my entire life. Growing up in Chicago, I not only regularly participated in many organized sports teams and fitness activities, but also went camping and did tons of other outdoor activities with my friends and through the Boy Scouts.
So after I graduated in engineering in 1998, I absolutely could not pass up the opportunity to bike across the country on the “Journey of Hope”, a cross-country charity bike ride for people with disabilities. Over a two and a half month period, my team and I rode more than 3,500 miles from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., directly interacting with people with disabilities along the way. Even though I had never done anything nearly that physically challenging before, I had the time of my life and realized that I had found my true niche in sports – cycling.
Over the next few years my passion for cycling continued to grow and I completed many one-day century (100 mile) rides and two multi-day rides across Wisconsin and Florida. Naturally, I wanted to bike across my home state of Illinois, but at the time there were no rides across the state. So, based on my direct understanding of the needs of cyclists and my knowledge of how to make things work, I knew I had the ability to start one and in 2003, Bicycle Illinois was born!
2) How does your organization directly benefit cyclists?
We give cyclists the opportunity to attain a significant accomplishment that almost no one else can ever even hope of achieving.
On Bicycle Illinois you bike across the entire state of Illinois (the long way). You start at the very southern tip of the state where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi, which is the perfect place to start a bike ride. Then you bike 500 miles across the entire state over six days at an average of about 85 miles per day, ending in downtown Chicago.
Our other event, the Tri-State Tour, is a one-day ride from Hammond, IN to Kenosha, WI. The coolest thing about this ride is that you get to bike through three states in one day! We follow bike paths and trails about 75% of the way, so it's very safe and easy to follow, and is the perfect introduction to the fun and excitement of longer distance cycling close to home.
Plus, we offer a century option on every day of our rides. You have the opportunity to ride up to 700 miles in seven days – no other event in the country even comes close! In fact, only four people have been able to accomplish it in three years. I consider it to be the cycling equivalent of throwing a no-hitter.
As part of your registration we include everything you need to complete our rides, so you can spend all day riding your bike and not have to worry about anything else. Registration for Bicycle Illinois includes “all you can eat” food, the route, rest stops, vehicle support, lodging, showers, and baggage transportation. We also have an optional transportation service available for you, your bike, and your gear for both events, so you won’t need to worry about getting to or from the start or end of the ride. In fact, just about the only thing we can't do for you is actually pedal!
3) Do you specialize in a certain type of cycling?
Right now our events are focused on longer distance, more challenging rides. If you are looking to challenge yourself to achieve an incredible accomplishment, meet a significant training goal, or experience unparalleled paceline riding across miles of flat, open country close to home, our events are absolutely world class. On the other hand, it's also extremely important to us that all our participants have a great time, so if you consider yourself to be more of a "novice" or "inexperienced" cyclist, our rides probably aren't going to be right for you. We sincerely don’t want anyone to have an unpleasant experience because they didn’t know what to expect.
In the future we plan to offer more weekend-based, less physically challenging events to target people who either can’t get a full week off from their work or family, or who aren’t physically ready for challenging rides. For example, we are currently developing the “Bicycle Illinois Weekender” series, where participants will ride the 6 days of the Bicycle Illinois route over three separate weekends, which is perfect for working professionals. We are also developing a weekend-based “Wine Tour” of southern Illinois wineries near Carbondale. This event will have significantly lower mileage per day, plenty of options, and a premium level of services similar to the wine tours in Napa Valley and Europe, but a lot closer to home.
If you are interested in any of these events or have any ideas for new events to develop please let us know by signing up on our e-mail list! We take suggestions from our participants very, very seriously and are always looking for new ways to serve our riders.
4) What are your "must-have" items for cycling (this could be a tool, an accessory, a food, etc.)
ALWAYS carry a fully charged cell phone with you while riding. Above and beyond anything else, having a cell phone could save your life should a life-threatening emergency happen to you on the road. Also, in the worst-case scenario, you can always call someone to come and pick you up if something unforeseen happens on the road (losing all your money, terrible mechanical problems, getting caught in severe weather, etc.).
5) What do you see as the biggest area of opportunity in your niche market?
I see the biggest area of opportunity to be the more novice or inexperienced cyclists. We can encourage and challenge them to develop their inherent confidence to participate in these types of events.
I really consider cycling to be an addiction worse than drugs and nothing would please me more than to be a pusher of this healthy, active lifestyle. I would love to get newbies hooked, so they get their fix by riding. Because I know the more they get into it, the more they’ll want. Five miles, then ten, then twenty-five. Then before you know it, 500 miles across the state.
And unlike drugs there are no treatment programs for cycling. That’s a very good thing.
6) How do you think the cycling community has changed in the last year or two?
At least in terms of longer distance rides, I see more and more riders relying on handlebar mounted GPS units and GPS-enabled smart phones for navigation, which I think is fantastic. As accurate and detailed as we can make our paper cue sheets and maps, they will always have one fatal flaw that can never be eliminated – you have to actually know where you are in order to use them. GPS completely solves that problem. If you sign up for one of our events, you can download GPS tracks and waypoints for every inch of our route, so you can know where you’re going at all times and never have to worry about being lost again.
7) If you could go on a bike ride with anyone (living or dead), who would it be?'
I would have to say Lance Armstrong at his best because I can’t think of anyone better to absolutely kick my a$$. I love riding with people better than me because it forces me to get stronger and faster more quickly than I ever could on my own. It would be the most motivating thing in the world to get totally schooled by Lance and have him put my over-confident rear-end back in its place.
For much more information about our rides, please visit http://www.bicycleillinois.com. Sign up to be on our e-mail list and say that you heard about us through the Chainlink newsletter to receive a free t-shirt or water bottle when you register for one of our events this year! (new sign-ups only)