We all have our own cycling journeys. We do different styles of rides. We ride for different reasons. We have varying opinions about what makes a great ride. But, we all love cycling. And, that common ground brings us together. With that in mind, I’d like to recommend that you try some events this year.
When I began cycling, I was encouraged to do the Bike MS: Tour de Farms ride. I thought to myself, “Why should I pay to ride my bike?” I did the ride a year and a half later, and I understood why. It opened up a whole new world for me. I met so many people who were affected by MS, and were riding in support of a friend or relative. I met people who were racing the course in search of a new personal best. I met people who brought their young children out for the experience. And, after Day 1, there was an incredible PARTAY! What an introduction to charity rides!!! After that ride, I began to do lots of rides in the area, and now, if I’m free, I’m game to do just about any ride.
For those who have done these kinds of rides before, I’m sure you have your favorites. And, I’d encourage you to look at some other rides that may be interesting and a good new experience. We are fortunate that here in the Chicagoland area, we have many terrific rides from which to choose. I won’t name all of them, but I’d like to recommend some that you may not have considered.
Before I discuss particular rides, I’d encourage you to look at your 2017 calendar over the winter and pick rides that you intend to do. Why? Well, I believe that if you know what events you’d like to do, then you can properly train for them. And, for those who don’t think of this as an athletic endeavor that requires training, I’ll word it differently. If you know what rides you’d like to do, then you can prepare your body to do the rides so that you can do them to whatever standard that you deem appropriate. And, if you register for these rides early, they are often discounted.
Now…about those rides. There are many resources that one may use to find interesting rides, including our own, The Chainlink. I’d also encourage you to look on Mike Bentley’s website and Ride Illinois. Just be sure to check often. As organizations finalize the details on their rides, they generally show up soon enough. FYI, Mike Bentley’s site and Ride Illinois are mostly geared toward Illinois rides. Finding rides in other states will require a bit more research. If you are a member of Ride Illinois, they do have a once a year mailing with registration information for the rides in Illinois.
Early in the season, the St. Patrick’s Day Ride is a good choice. It’s inexpensive, and it has good route choices for those of us who have spent the winter not doing much more than channel surfing. This is an opportunity to begin the season with a good ride on low-traffic roads north of the city. The ride is on March 19th this year.
Another good early season option is the Easter Ride, put on by Folks on Spokes. South of the city, this ride is a good option for those who’d like to stretch their legs a little. The shortest route is only 17 miles, but you can ride up to 70 miles if you’d like. And, once you’re all done, food and entertainment awaits you at the start/finish line. At the time that I wrote this article, the date for this ride has not been published.
Care to ride with 20,000 of your closest friends? Then MB Bike The Drive is for you. All the cars are cleared so that we can ride on Lake Shore Drive once a year. This ride will be on May 28th, 2017. The route is about 30 miles, too short for some of us. But, my friends and I wake up REALLY early and start riding at 5:30 am. This allows us to get 2 or more loops done, and we are happy with the ride. After the ride, there is a fantastic party downtown. Be sure to make time to enjoy that!
June 4th is the date of the Udder Century. You will find many people from the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago and IA2R riding as many of them have expressed that this is their favorite ride. The roads are amazing, and the food afterward is delicious. The volunteers are awesome and help to make this a great event. There are route options from 31 – 100 miles. Many of us are beginning to get our cycling legs by then, so perhaps this is the time to go for a little bit of a longer distance than you usually ride. No matter how far you ride, you’re bound to have an “udderly good time!”
On June 11th, the Tour de Cure will take place in Aurora. This is a charity ride for which each rider should raise $250 or more. In my opinion, this is a good cause, and raising that amount is not very difficult if you start early enough and are diligent. The ride itself is an awesome experience and the organizers give you lots of choices. You may ride as few as 10 miles all the way up to 100 miles. Talk your friends into doing this ride, and form a team. Your team doesn’t necessarily have to ride together, but it helps when you have everyone committed to raising the money and doing the ride. And, if a friend or two doesn’t want to do the ride, perhaps they will donate to this very worthy cause.
If you’re interested in a 2 day event, the Bike MS: Tour de Farms is on June 10th and 11th. This ride is near and dear to my heart as it’s the 1st organized ride that I had ever done. It begins and ends at Northern Illinois University on both days. This ride is also good for a team of friends to do together. The organizers give you lots of route choices as you can ride anywhere from 15 – 125 miles the 1st day, and 15 – 75 miles the 2nd day. You may also choose to ride one of the days if you are unable to ride both days. The fundraising minimum is $300 for this ride, which should not be an issue for most of us. This is a great rolling party, with great food and entertainment after the ride on both days. I highly recommend this ride.
The BCLC Ramble is a terrific ride with a hospitable bike club organizing the event. The volunteers are very helpful and friendly. For those of us from the city, this ride has a few more inclines than we’re accustomed to. So, just keep pedaling. You do get used to it. At this time, the date has yet to be announced, but keep this one in mind. It’s inexpensive and a great time!
My personal favorite is the Two Rivers Century in Kankakee, IL. It typically takes place on the 1st Sunday in August (the 2017 date isn't on the website yet). It usually starts at Splash Valley Aquatic Center, and if you do the ride, you get a discount for entrance to the water park afterward. However, the website says that the park will be closed this coming summer, so the ride will likely start at Ice Valley Center Ice Arena, as it did last year. Riders are allowed to shower afterward in this facility. It’s on low traffic roads, it’s flat, and fast. There are route options from 22 – 128 miles, plenty to choose from. I’ve taken some children there who not only enjoyed the ride, but they loved the provisions at the SAG stops. I’ve also ridden with a fast group that motor-paced the ride the whole time. Either way, I’ve had lots of fun, and I suspect that you will too.
There is an out of town ride that I’d also like to mention. If you’re adventurous enough to try some different terrain try the Michigan Mountain Mayhem Spring Classic. I’ve done this ride for the past couple of years, and I plan to do it again next year. It’s on June 17th in Boyne City, MI, which is about a 5-6 hour drive from Chicago. The ride is set in a small beach town along Lake Charlevoix. Describing this ride as picturesque would be an understatement. If scenery is important to you, this ride won’t disappoint! Registration for this ride opens January 14th, and typically sells out in about 24 hours. The organizers limit the ride to 1500 cyclists. Also, I’d recommend booking a hotel right away as many of us book our hotels upon leaving the year before. It’s a small town, so there aren’t the many choices of hotels as we have here in Chicago. This is a fantastic “bikecation” and last year, the Major Taylor Chicago Club had about 20 members there. There is also a post-ride the following day for anyone who hasn’t had enough. As the name suggests, the ride is challenging, but the challenge is well worth it.
I do not intend to list every ride in the area. The Chainlink has more centuries listed on the calendar. Just search the calendar for "century". There are many other good rides. Feel free to mention your favorites in the comments below. I would suggest that you register early, and begin to prepare your body for any ride that you do.
See ya at the rest stops!!!
Shawn Conley is a Chicago native who loves road cycling. He has a passion for helping others discover their cycling legs, which he typically does through the Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago (MTC3). Shawn was chairman of MTC3, and also is a member of the Chicago Cycling Club (CCC) and the Friends of the Major Taylor Trail. When he is not on 2 wheels, he coaches track and field, and is a real estate investor. He is a Chainlink Ambassador who has an affinity for pizza and ice cream. Follow him on Twitter: @ShawnGeauTigers and on Instagram: antonlove1.