Bloomington, Bikes and the Little 500

When we decided to add a three day stop in Bloomington, Indiana to our trip, I suggested to Caroline that we watch Breaking Away the first night we were in town. I hadn’t seen that movie for at least 30 years, but I knew it was set in Bloomington because of the Little 500. I didn’t actually know anything about the Little 500 other than it was a bike race held at Indiana University and was featured in the movie.

What a great suggestion that was! First of all, the movie is a really good movie. Dennis Quaid is one of the stars and the story itself is quite good, especially if you like cycling. Second, I had no idea how cool of a race The Little 500 is. It is a mass-start, relay-style, 200-lap cycling race held on a quarter-mile cinder and dirt running track that was first held in 1951. Now they have a series of qualifying rounds to narrow the field to 33 teams, each with 4 riders and 2 bikes. All of the bikes are the same – single-speed 700c bikes with a coaster brake and flat pedals. All are made specifically for the event and are pretty much identical. Teams have to make at least 10 rider switches during the race and even though they are allowed 2 bikes, my understanding is that it is quicker to switch to the same bike rather than start someone on the extra bike. In the movie, this process looks crazy and I’m sure it is even crazier in real life. The race draws 25,000 spectators and is held in April. Contrary to the movie, all of the participants are students. However, there is a team called the Cutters (the name used in the movie), which is now the most successful team in the race’s history, having won 14 titles.

When I was in town I managed to stop by Revolution Bike and Bean and got to meet a couple of mechanics there who had raced the Little 500. I also got to see some of the bikes up close. They are a trip. Not as bad as in the movie, but not something I’d want to knock out 50 miles on as fast as I could be surrounded by a bunch of college knuckleheads on an unbanked dirt running track.

Besides getting my fill of Bloomington, IU and Breaking Away, I managed to sneak in a good ride with two ElliptiGO riders who live in the area, Craig and Kevin. Kevin was kind enough to give Craig and me a tour of IU before guiding us out past Griffy Lake and onto the surrounding country roads. There’s a good amount of climbing you can do close to town, which made it fun. The weather was perfect and the scenery was surprisingly picturesque. It was fun to end our stay in B-town riding on some of the roads featured in the movie and getting a much better appreciation for a really cool cycling tradition in the Midwest.

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