Approximately 500 people are gathered in and around the lot of Murphy’s Bleachers on a clear Sunday morning. At 9am, the 250 pairs of bikers take off on a three-hour scavenger hunt around Chicago. This Urban Assault Ride, started by Josh Kravetz in Austin, Texas in 2003, is one of ten that takes place throughout the country.
The five checkpoint sites for the race were listed on the UAR Web site months ago, Kravetz says. At each checkpoint, the partners have to work together to complete an obstacle course. Once completed, the team receives a colored bead from a staff member. The bead is then placed on a necklace chain, given out before the race, for safekeeping. There are also two mystery checkpoints that bikers can ride to for bonus.
“It’s a really cool way to get people out in the city on bikes,” he says. “We took it to big cities where bikes play a big role.”
Riding up to one checkpoint behind the Windy City Fieldhouse, riders must wear a helmet with a small, water-filled plastic container attached on top and ride a few feet down to a circle of orange cones, ride around them then ride back to the start.
At Oz Park, teams don’t need their bikes. Instead, they ride up to find a line of shoes—all men’s size thirteen—with a Frisbee attached to each pair and three tennis balls sitting inside the disc. For this Keen Blue Ball Balance challenge, each team member must put on one shoe from the pair, making sure their foot is crossed over their teammate’s, and walk down to a line of orange cones, then walk back. Should the balls fall out, they have to pick them up and put them back on the Frisbee. Lincoln Park’s Whole Foods on Kingsbury, Kozy’s Cyclery on Milwaukee and Wicker Park are also checkpoints.
The scavenger hunt doesn’t have a set path. Instead, teams must figure out their own way to get to each checkpoint and can arrive at them in any order they choose. Kravetz says it’s a good way for people to figure out how to get around the city safely.
“The cool thing is that a lot of the people who do our events don’t race bikes,” he says. “Since they have to figure out the route around town…what they’re doing is giving themselves safe routes to get around. Ninety percent of people who do our race end up using their bikes more for transportation.”
The first team to hit all the checkpoints and arrive back at Murphy’s Bleachers gets a set of New Belgium Brewing cruiser bikes and first dibs on beer at the after party, which Kravetz says is a major highlight.
UAR also works with cycling nonprofits in each city where the race is held. In Chicago it’s West Town Bikes. Kravetz says UAR also works “off the grid” by using solar-powered trailers for their venues.
“It’s my idea of a perfect day,” Kravetz says. “It’s a team event. You’re hanging out with your buddy or girlfriend or somebody you don’t typically do bike races with. You ride your bike around town and get to feel like a kid again.” (Beth Wang)