Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 12:07 am
Creating a cycling community
Springfield Bicycle Club offers group rides and outreach to all ages and fitness levels
A cruise down Springfield’s recreational bike trails and city streets on any given day will reveal a myriad of cyclists of all ages and abilities. It is easy to understand why – almost anyone can ride a bicycle. Cycling is a low-impact exercise, easy on the joints and knees, making it an enjoyable fitness activity for the young, elderly or anyone recovering from injury. Those already in good health can use cycling to maintain a healthy weight and help build cardiovascular endurance. Additionally, cycling presents environmental and social benefits, such as an environmentally friendly means of transportation from point A to point B as well as a prime opportunity to socialize with friends and family while enjoying the benefits of exercise.
The Springfield Bicycle Club has been touting the benefits of cycling and advocating for a more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly Springfield since their inception in 1972. The club formed when a group of local cyclists, inspired by the fitness craze of the 70s, opted to form a club with the goal to “promote bicycling in all of its manifestations.” Over the years, the Springfield Bicycle Club has worked closely with the City of Springfield, Sangamon County and the regional planning commission to support transportation infrastructure that makes central Illinois a more bicycle-friendly place.
Recently, the SBC has ridden headfirst into a handful of community partnerships designed to increase visibility for cyclists and provide enrichment to Springfield’s cycling community. One such method is by reaching out to families. In April, the SBC partnered with the City of Springfield to provide a bike rodeo during the city’s Earth Awareness Fair, held in conjunction with Earth Day. Additionally, the organization teamed up with the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association in 2016 and 2017 to create a neighborhood bicycle club for children in grades 3-8. In another recent community partnership, the SBC partnered with local businesses and area residents to purchase bike repair stations which Springfield Park District installed on area bike trails and in Washington Park. Other recent community partnerships include bicycle helmet giveaways sponsored by St. John’s Hospital, Scheels and SIU ThinkFirst.
According to Springfield Bicycle Club president Tom Clark, a major, long-term goal of the SBC is to attain designation from the League of American Bicyclists for Springfield as a bicycle-friendly community. This is no small feat, as there are currently only 416 communities designated by the LAB as “bicycle-friendly” in the United States, despite having received more than 1,200 applications to date since the program’s creation in 1995. Although the group’s main focus is improving conditions for cyclists in the capital city, the SBC does additional outreach with statewide organizations such as Ride Illinois to improve cycling conditions both locally and statewide.
A misconception regarding the Springfield Bicycle Club is that the organization is only geared towards elite cyclists. That isn’t true. According to Clark, “Many people see groups of fast riders around town in red, white and blue jerseys and think those riders are the Springfield Bicycle Club. That’s actually Team Mack Racing Club – they’ve been around as long as the bike club, and many of their cyclists are members of the SBC, but the SBC is a much larger and broader group, organized for cyclists of all ages and abilities.” In fact, some of the most rewarding aspects of SBC membership are the opportunities to learn the ins and outs of cycling from the ground up, as well as the ability to share the joy of cycling with riders who are new to the sport.
Some of Clark’s top tips for beginners include choosing a new or used bike in good mechanical condition from a local bike shop, learning basic bike maintenance skills, riding with a cellphone and personal identification in case of emergency, and wearing appropriate gear, especially a helmet. Additionally, cyclists are encouraged to hydrate with water or electrolyte replacement drinks during rides to avoid and mitigate cramping, learn and obey all rules of the road, and use head and tail lights to increase visibility when riding at night.
Clark notes that many riders are most comfortable on paved bike trails which are devoid of motor vehicles. To encourage more people to ride on the road, the SBC supports city and county efforts to provide bicycle accomodations, including bike lanes such as Second Street, sharrows (share the road symbols), and bike/parking lanes such as the lanes found on Laurel and Ash streets. According to Clark, “Creating these lanes narrows the roadway, which causes drivers to slow down – something that area residents and businesses appreciate.” Finally, Clark encourages new riders who want to increase their cycling abilities to pace themselves and set goals, updating them over time. One way for cyclists to stay motivated is to join a riding group with individuals who ride at a speed and pace similar to their own.
One of the primarily functions of the Springfield Bicycle Club is to organize group rides for cyclists of all ages and abilities. One does not have to be a member of the Springfield Bicycle Club to participate in the group rides, which are posted to the club’s website. Rides start at many Springfield and central Illinois locations, at all times of day and on the weekends. The group has implemented an easy-to-read ride classification system so that cyclists may quickly and easily identify which rides correspond with their level of fitness.
In addition to daily and weekly group rides, the Springfield Bicycle Club hosts a variety of events including socializers, an annual picnic and a winter party. The club’s signature event is the Capital City Century, the largest recreational bicycle event held outside of a major metropolitan area in Illinois. The CCC is hosted by the club every September and draws up to 800 riders annually. Distance options of 10-125 miles are available, with food stops, bike shop services and SAG support, plus a post-ride party featuring food and live music. To help riders prepare for the Century, the group leads a variety of weekend “cycling challenges” in the months leading up to the CCC. This year’s Capital City Century will be held on Sunday, Sept. 10, and registration is available online through Sept. 8.
For more information about the Springfield Bicycle Club, including a full list of upcoming group rides, visit http://spfldcycling.org.