Participants gear up for the Urban Assault Bike Ride

By J_Howard

Bikes lined the streets and the sun glistened off of 450 helmets as people crowded together in the parking lot outside Murphy’s Bleachers, 3655 N. Sheffield Ave., for the New Belgium Brewing Urban Assault Bike Ride. Contestants showed off their spirited costumes as they waited for the signal to race toward the first checkpoint.

The Urban Assault Bike Ride is a national event that combines a bike race, a scavenger hunt and a festival all in  one. Beginning in 2003 in Austin, Texas, the Urban Assault Bike Ride is now held in 13 U.S. cities with 7,000 riders across the country participating in the events

this year.

“The event is a really funky, fun way for people to see how great bikes are for transportation around the city,” said Josh Kravitz,  founder and producer of the Urban Assault Bike Ride.

According to Sharon Cutler, spokeswoman for the event, the goal is to encourage people to grab their bike lock instead of their car keys.

“We just want people to have a great non-threatening, non-intimidating opportunity to go and ride in downtown Chicago, and have the epiphany that it’s easy, it’s faster than taking a car,” Cutler said.

The race features different checkpoints throughout the city that include obstacles participants must overcome before finishing the race. Some of the obstacles include human bowling, wheelbarrow racing and bike jousting.

“We don’t get many opportunities as adults to let our guard down, be silly and play,” Cutler said.

Kravitz explained directions to the checkpoints were not provided; participants must plan their own route.

“That’s the element of the event where people actually teach themselves how to use their bikes for transportation,”  he said.

Volunteers are a big part of the event, as they participate in running the different obstacles and oversee the competition. Lauren Sailor, a volunteer from Bridgeport, Ill., spent her time supervising the wheelbarrow race.

“It’s very comical to watch, there are definitely a lot of spills,” Sailor said. “Getting started seems to be the hardest part.”

This race was like a traditional wheelbarrow race, with the twist that the participant who would normally walk on their hands had to balance on a wheel and be pushed across the field by their partner.

The event advocates being environmentally friendly during each stage of the race. The venues are solar powered, event trucks are run on biodiesel fuel and 95 percent of what is discarded is recycled.

Dan Klezynski, participant and ambassador for the Urban Assault Bike Ride, said  he thinks the focus on the environment is a bonus and the Urban Assault Bike Ride advocates it in a         really creative way.

Kravitz explained that,  along with the environmental initiative, the Urban Assault Bike Ride partners with nonprofit organizations. Out of the 13 cities that host the event, there are approximately 25 different organizations that are beneficiaries.

West Town Bikes, 2459 W. Division St., is the beneficiary for the Chicago event. West Town Bikes is a bike shop that teaches youth and adults how to ride and repair their bikes, the primary focus being  on youth.

“We like to work with organizations that line up to what our values are,”Kravitz said.

The proceeds from the beer sold at the after-party in Chicago go to West Town Bikes.

“We teach bicycle mechanics and safe cycling instruction to youth along with social and environmental association,” said Alex Wilson, executive director of West  Town Bikes.

Kravitz said Chicago is a great city for biking, which is one of the reasons it was chosen for the event three years ago.

“The city is rather progressive for people using bikes as transportation,” Kravitz said. “And people in the Midwest certainly like their beer. So we thought it would be a good fit.”

After every race, participants get to enjoy the afternoon as Urban Assault Bike Ride hosts an after-party. It includes two free beers from New Belgium Brewing, competitions and music, as well as people sharing their experiences of their trip.

“I like to see the smiles on everyone’s faces when they get back,” Kravitz said. “[And listening to] stories of their ride, enjoying a beer and a nice afternoon.”

The final New Belgium Brewing Urban Assault Bike Ride of the year will take place on Sept. 26 in Madison, Wis.