I eyed the sleek cycling shoes worn by the person standing next to me, then glanced down at my own clunky sneakers and wondered what I’d gotten myself into. It was a pleasantly balmy afternoon, and I was about to embark on my first ride with the Springfield Bicycle Club (SBC). About 35 riders decked out in colorful cycling gear were gathered around as Scott Sievers, president of SBC, gave a demonstration on how to change a flat tire. A few announcements were made, new riders welcomed, and then we took off from the parking lot of the now-closed Quaker Steak & Lube parking lot and headed south on the Interurban Trail towards Chatham.
Though I’d ridden my bike around the neighborhood as a kid, I’d never before participated in a large group ride. The Tuesday evening ride that I’d showed up for was listed as a C-level social ride, which means riders averaging 12-15 miles per hour. SBC leads organized group rides every day of the week, ranging from A-level rides for faster, experienced cyclists, all the way to D-level rides designed for folks looking to enjoy local bike trails at a leisurely pace. Fancy gear isn’t required, but when I spoke with him, Sievers stressed that the club strongly supports wearing helmets for riders of all abilities.
Whatever your experience level, riding in a group is typically safer than riding alone, Sievers said. “One of the great benefits of riding with SBC is that traffic is more likely to spot a group of riders than an individual, and if you get a flat tire or have some other mechanical problem there will likely be someone on the ride who will be able to help you out. And certainly if you have a medical problem, if you’re on a group ride, there will be people around who can get you help quickly,” he explained.
We rolled along the paved, tree-lined trail as the riders spread out, with the faster riders grouped in front. My friend Harv Koplo, longtime member of SBC, rode alongside me in the back and filled me in on plans for the club’s upcoming Capital City Century (CCC) ride, taking place on Sept. 8.
This year will mark the 47th annual CCC, one of the oldest and most popular recreational cycling events in Illinois. Each year, the CCC draws about 800 riders to the capital city, and this year’s event will start from the UIS student union and feature all-new routes.
The CCC is not a race, and although some fast riders will certainly be participating, every year there are many first-time riders. Cyclists can choose from distances ranging in length from 25, 40 and 62 miles (a metric century) all the way up to a full 100-mile century or a 125-mile double metric century.
“We make sure to mark the routes extremely well with multiple green arrows before every turn as well as with above-ground signage,” Koplo said, “And there are water and snack stations set up every 10-20 miles and support vehicles out during the ride that day, so it’s a really nice way to ease into group riding with other people on open roads.” Every year, volunteers distribute over 300 dozen cookies along with hundreds of apples and bananas, and gallons upon gallons of water and Gatorade. Upon their return, the ride participants are invited to enjoy food and drinks at a Post Pedal’n Party held open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the UIS student union.
The CCC is the SBC’s primary fundraiser of the year, and much of the funds go to support its advocacy work in supporting bike access and infrastructure in Springfield and the surrounding area.
“Research has shown that two of the main signs of a vibrant community are green space and bicycle access, and creating a bike-friendly environment is an essential part of that,” Koplo said.
SBC has worked with the City of Springfield, the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council and the Springfield Park District over the years to develop the current system of bike trails and lanes and has advocated for policies that make the city safer and more accessible to cyclists. Some of these projects include supporting the Springfield Mass Transit District in installing bike racks on city buses, installing bike racks downtown and partnering with the Park District and local business to site and fund eight publicly accessible bike repair stations.
“We also put on bicycle rodeos to show children how to properly ride bikes in the roadways, how to stop safely at stop signs and definitely encourage them to wear helmets,” Sievers told me.
The evening air was cool by the time we finished the ride. Though my legs were a little wobbly, I actually felt refreshed. It turned out my clunky sneakers weren’t a problem after all, though I definitely recommend padded bike shorts. The people in the group had been warm and welcoming and the experience was an enjoyable break from the daily distraction of screens and noise.
Ashley Meyer is a Springfield-based food writer and resident baker at Custom Cup Coffee, where she serves up her mother Julianne’s three chocolate-three nut cookies, a recipe that was clipped out of a Springfield Bicycle Club newsletter back in the 1970s and has since become a family staple. Ashley enjoys getting out on the local bike trails with her husband and two daughters.