Thursday, September 8, 2016

More fun, more ice cream, more chain grease: Babes in Bikeland 2016 Race Report

I rode the Babes in Bikeland women/trans/femme alleycat bike race last weekend for the fifth time. It's the only organized bike event I do each year, and it's become one of my favorite late-summer events. It hits the sweet spot of competition, hilarity, community, and --at a $5 entry fee -- value. Every race has been memorable: Three years ago, it was in pouring rain. Two years ago, I won free beer for life from Sidhe Brewing (!). Last year, with great conditions and hard riding, I posted my best finish, just out of top 10 on the long course.
Obligatory pre-race selfie
This year, I rode for the first time with a friend, Stephanie. We've run together at Endless Summer and at Afton, but this was her first Babes. The humid and warm weather prompted us to choose the short course (estimated 13 miles, compared to 25 in the long course). I'm pleased to report that we were entirely successful, despite mechanical failures, lost gear, and an impromptu ice cream stop. Here's the story.


We met up at Kenwood Park with 600+ of our best friends, an hour before race start. So many people! It was the 10th Babes and it was a big one. I hauled out my giant Minneapolis street map, survivor of two previous races, and we planned our route as the field around us filled up with riders, many in costume, and bikes.
Bikes and riders assembling. The
line was long but it moved fast.
This year's manifest was cleverly designed -- the long and short courses had different checkpoints (four for the short course, five for the long course) to minimize crowds and make the courses distinctive, and then three common ones, including a mystery stop, to be announced at one of the other checkpoints.

Our route planned, I made some ballpoint pen notes on my left forearm (why haul out the map?) and we were ready just as the organizers called the prerace meeting. After a 10-minute briefing and mosquito attack (yikes! the only place we needed bug spray was there), we were off.

On our way

Stephanie and I mounted up and headed for our first checkpoint at Bryant Park. It was great to start riding and feel the warm damp breeze. We rode south a dozen or so blocks, passing and being passed by small and large groups of riders. All evening long we would see Babes riders everywhere we went, and it was a great feeling of fellowship and joy to see so many amazing women on the roads.

At Bryant, we tossed beanbags into tires and collected our first stamp. We were on our way!
Challenge level: Moderate
Next stop was over in my neighborhood. We got on the Midtown Greenway and rode, catching up on each other's lives as we went. It was fun to bring Stephanie over the stunning Sabo footbridge (she'd never been on it) and onto familiar ground.

Solcana Crossfit volunteers greeted us. "You can check in at the back. But careful -- THE FLOOR IS LAVA!" Awesome! We climbed over boxes and hopped from one platform to another to reach the back of the gym. (Then realized we'd left our manifests at the front, so we did it again!)
My "forgot my manifest" face
On to the next stop, we crossed the Washington Avenue bridge and made our way to the Oak Street Hub bike shop. They stamped our manifest and, for fun, I attempted a handstand.
Stephanie: "We're not taking any more pictures, 'cause
no picture can possibly be greater than this one."
Next we headed onto campus and down to the footbridge. This was a photo stop checkpoint, and we paused to admire the view and smile for the camera.
Credit: Min Enterprises
Somewhere along here, we got the information about the secret stop. It was by the Convention Center, and we were supposed to pick up a piece of trash along the way to dispose of. We rode off the bridge watching for trash.

Having gathered a pop-top lid and a crumpled bottle, we rode into downtown en route to the secret stop. Right past Izzy's Ice Cream. It occurred to me that I wasn't riding to win it this year. And that I was a little hungry. "Hey, want to stop for ice cream?" We pulled over and locked up as another group of Babes riders in tie-dye shirts did the same. Into the crowded shop, through the fast moving line, and back out to enjoy the best mid race snack ever. (I had mint chocolate chip, Stephanie had raspberry sorbet.)
Refreshed and feeling sassy, we pressed on to our next stop, the Convention Center plaza. We rode through downtown Minneapolis, enjoying the rush of warm summer air and feeling effortless. With a minimum of random-walking (and only a small amount of following other riders headed the same way), we found our way to the plaza and it GIANT, interactive, pedal-powered moose and deer sculptures!
(Figure 2, Giant bike powered moose)
Also rope-powered
"This bike is tiny!"
"This is what it feels like to be tall!"
On we went, toward Cherry Cycles in Loring Park. As we rode up the Loring Greenway, I noticed my back wheel wasn't turning well. Huh. I stopped and messed around with it. Didn't seem to be rubbing anything, just... didn't turn well. But hey, we were heading toward a bike shop, so I got back on and kept riding.

As we entered Loring Park, the chain fell off. With minor effort and major chain grease on my fingers, I replaced it. Then Stephanie's chain fell off. "Whatever we're doing, let's stop doing it," she declared. I agreed heartily. We got back on our bikes.

Halfway through Loring Park, my back wheel skewer broke and MY BACK WHEEL FELL OFF. I semi-gracefully dismounted to the sound of grievous mechanical badness, prompting the pedestrian in front of us (who had witnessed the chains-falling-off episode too) to turn around and comment, "I think there's something wrong with your bike."

Thanks, dude. 

We were a block from Cherry Cycles. I picked up my bike and carried it in.

The checkpoint volunteers and Cali, the owner, saw us coming and Cali met me in front, saying, "Need that looked at? I'll take it." With absolutely no drama, she carried it into the shop, mounted it on a stand, removed my back wheel and started diagnosing. It seemed to be a problem with the wheel hub. Cali offered a temporary fix and I gratefully accepted.
Sick bay
While we were standing around in the shop watching her work magic on my wheel, I said, "By the way, my name's Robyn." Another woman, one of the tie-dye wearers we'd seen in Izzy's, had wandered in. "Hey, I'm Robyn too!"
"Wait a minute. Robyn... WITH A Y???"
"Yes! You too???"
20 minutes or so after arriving (and remembering to get my manifest stamped), Cali had repaired my bike hub "at least enough for tonight." We thanked her profusely and paid her for her time. We had one more checkpoint, and then it was a fast ride into downtown and the finish line.

In the early twilight, we turned on our headlights and rolled out, leaving downtown and crossing the bridge to Bryn Mawr. On the bridge, Stephanie discovered she'd lost her bike pump. We stopped, looked, backtracked. It was nowhere to be found. Declaring it a casualty, and keeping an eye on the clock (it was now after 8 pm), we pressed on to the final checkpoint on Glenwood Avenue.

The checkpoint guys were friendly, funny, glad to share our chocolate, and glad to share their observations about the sketchy people they'd been watching going in and out of the convenience store across the street. "Maybe they just need... uh... prepaid phone cards," I suggested. "Nobody needs THAT many phone cards," the volunteer assured me. We thanked them and headed off to First Avenue and the finish line!
The completed manifest!
Rack after rack after rack of bikes!
First Avenue was a pretty great spot for an afterparty, with the DJ, music, and professionally MC'd awards ceremony making up for the fact that we had to pay for beer. That's a deal I will take! We got in the interminable line to buy food (Foxy Falafel and Cafe Racer were there) and were the last people to get dinner before they ran out. Score! A couple of beers and we were well content. We didn't win the bike raffle, but that was okay. We'd still had an awesome evening.

Babes in Bikeland continues to be an amazing event, with a fantastic organizational and volunteer force. Thank you to the organizers for continuing to produce an even that creates community, fun, and laughter. I'll be back!
Yay Babes!!!

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