Bike riding, racing opportunities abound within local area
For bicyclists of all experience levels, the Big Ring Flyers Cycling Club offers a wide range of opportunities for involvement.
The Big Ring Flyers (bigringflyers.com) is based out of Hudson but draws members from all around the St. Croix Valley. There are currently 65 members, with about a third of them being competitive bike racers.
For the recreational cyclists, there are a number of group rides around the area that are held weekly. On Monday, a ride leaves from The Centre in New Richmond. This ride takes a moderate pace with a no-drop policy. Another ride is held Tuesday, this time from the St. Croix Government Center in Hudson. This is more of a fitness race conducted at a higher pace. There is also a second group that rides that goes at a more moderate pace.
A ride that usually draws the most riders each week leaves from Barley John’s in New Richmond. This is a ride held at a conversational pace, serving as a good ride for less experienced riders to work up to the pace.
The Flyers is also associated with Chilkoot Cyclery in Stillwater, which also hosts a regular schedule of rides at different paces. Schedules for rides can be found on the Flyers’ website.
Bike racing continues to expand where it has become a year-round sport. Between fat tire races, gravel races and road races, biking is now a 12-month sport.
The evolution of fat tire and gravel racing have filled the seasons where road racing isn’t possible. Most of that has come in the past 10 years, according to Brian Headlee, a veteran member of the Flyers. Fat tire bikes allow for riding in snow and sand.
“It gives cyclists up here the opportunity to ride year-round,” Headlee said.
The Birkebeiner now holds a fat tire race that draws 1,100 riders, the largest fat tire race in the world. Local racers did exceptionally well at the Birkie, led by Chris Stevens of New Richmond, who placed ninth. Thomas Olek of Roberts placed 14th and Pat Ellis of Hudson was 38th.
At the Lutsen Fat Tire Classic, Stevens placed fourth, Olek seventh and Corey Burton 24th.
“The gravel race is also a new genre,” said Headlee. In describing the bikes used, he said “They look like a road bike on steroids.”
Gravel races are held in mostly rural areas. There are a number of challenges in a race of 50 miles or more. The course could wind through several townships or counties and each municipality likely treats its gravel differently. These races are also held in the spring, where weather conditions can vary greatly.
Headlee and Dennis Dressler were among the 275 people who started the Almanzo 100 mile gravel race. One thousand people had signed up for the race, but miserable weather conditions kept the others away. And both local riders didn’t finish the race, with fewer than 100 completing the course in the frigid weather.
Two weeks later, at another gravel race, competitors were facing 96 degree heat.
The Flyers club has a number of racers who can compete, and compete well, in every variety of race. Thirteen members competed in the La Crosse; between them, they earned 24 top 10 finishes in the different stages of the four-day event. Stevens was the champion in the Level 3 time trial and he placed second in the overall results. Olek placed second overall in Level 4 and Joel Beskar took second place in Level 5.
Cyclists compete at five levels. Level 5 is for new entries into the competitive field. Riders need to qualify to move up to Level 4 and top riders make it to Level 3. Level 1 and 2 are difficult to reach and considered professionals, although they regular people with regular jobs.
One of the top performances on a national scale from the team came from Joe Goettl of Mankato. He won the Level 3 and 4 time trial, the criterium race for that level and he took first place in that division.
Beskar and his wife, Jill, took on a new biking challenge over the weekend, with plans to bike up to Pike’s Peak. Several more team members are scheduled to climb Pike’s Peak later in July.
The road race season has reached its midpoint, but there are still a number of key races slated for the rest of the summer.