Thursday, May 13, 2021
Bloomington on Two Wheels
By Tessa Yannone
There are few things more iconic in Bloomington, IN than basketball hoops and Bobby Knight, but one of them is most certainly its cycling scene. Tucked into the hills of Southern Indiana, Bloomington’s terrain can be compared more to that of the rolling hills of North Carolina or Georgia than to the flat farm fields of the upper half of the state. Whether you’re looking to go out for a leisurely ride around town, get a few laps in at Indiana’s first mountain bike park, or are searching for your Breaking Away moment in the Little 500, the Bloomington cycling scene has it all.
Road Cycling or Mountain Biking: Finding What’s Best for You
First thing’s first, do you prefer the intensity of the road and the confines of the city, or are you more of a kick-your-feet-up and get-a-little-muddy-out-in-the-woods type of cyclist? Whichever style of riding suits your fancy, Bloomington has everything from beginner routes to more advanced-style riding.
“You can get anywhere in Bloomington on a bike,” Shannon Johnson, a local rider, said. “I think Bloomington has done a great job of merging and mapping out routes for everyone from commuter cyclists to people who want a little more of a challenge.”
Not only does the city of Bloomington make sure the routes and roads are up to par with what the riders want, but the Bloomington Bicycle Club (BBC) and Hoosier Mountain Bike Association (HMBA) also hold rides every week to help those who aren’t familiar with the routes get acquainted.
“It’s nice to have someone show you the ropes and the routes in Bloomington,” Johnson said. “It’s fun to get lost out in Bloomington; it makes for many great adventures and you’ll always make it back, but I think it’s good to have a mentor, and the local clubs are perfect for that.”
Ernie Baker, a mountain biker from Bloomington, said both clubs are great organizations to contact for more information. The BBC is more active in Bloomington and the HMBA is more of a statewide organization.
Where to Road Bike
Well, on the road of course, right? Although that would be the simple solution, there’s much to be said for the difference between simply hitting the road and hitting the good spots in Bloomington.
“Up towards Morgan-Monroe State Forest, the scenery is just beautiful, and the riding is great,” Johnson said. “It’s a combination of hills, farm life, and this might sound weird, but the smells are great. When you ride, you’re just so aware of things like that.”
Where to Mountain Bike
The first mountain bike park in the state, Wapehani Mountain Bike Park, has to be the first stop on your list if you’re heading to Bloomington for trail cycling.
“Wapehani is a great place for tourists,” Baker said. “The park department continually maintains it and will change up the trails to keep them from getting really eroded. There are some flat trails and some harder ones that you can put together to fit your level of difficulty, and it’s so close you can get to it from practically anywhere.”
Baker also mentions the Hoosier National Forest as a great place if you’re looking for something a little bigger and more challenging.
“You can get some pretty rugged stuff out there,” Baker said. “Lots of rock gardens that you have to carry your bike over, creeks, hills, quite a lot to offer. And you can also hit some flowy stuff, kick your feet up, and have a good time.”
Commuting on Two Wheels
Bloomington is recognized as a Gold-Level “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists due to the “long-standing commitments to providing safe accommodation and facilities for bicyclists, and for their efforts to encourage bicycle travel for transportation and recreation.” According to the City of Bloomington website, Bloomington has “a total of almost 73 miles of bike lanes and trails, including 11 miles of dedicated bike lanes and 35 miles of designated bike routes,” making it a perfect place to ditch the car and opt for transportation on two wheels.
“I feel like I’m doing my part by commuting,” Kassie Jensen, Feast Market & Cellar pastry chef and local bicycle commuter, said. “It’s fun and so much less stressful than being in a car stuck in traffic.”
Around Indiana University’s campus, there are a ton of bike lanes and wide shoulders specifically for commuters, and the B-Line Trail can be used to get from virtually one side of the town to the other.
“I don’t like to rely on a car,” Jensen said. “We live on the outskirts of town on the south side, and biking is still really accessible for us, which is nice.”
Even her early morning start at 6:00 am and the cold Indiana winters don’t stop her from riding her bike every day to work.
“It’s all about the gear,” Jensen said. “I have reflectors on my bag, shoes, and jacket for when it’s dark, and I layer up in the winter. Plus, being a pastry chef, commuting helps me to stay active and feel less guilty for eating that croissant for breakfast.”
No Bike, No Problem
Visiting Bloomington and don’t have a bike, or want to start biking and don’t have a bike? No problem! Stop by one of the many bike shops to pick up a rental to try out for the day or to make your first purchase.
“All the shops in town do very similar things,” Eryk Bennetti, owner of now-closed Salt Creek Cycles, said. “They vary based on what they carry and what specific niche they serve. Some shops cater more towards racers and road riders, and some cater more towards mountain biking and commuting, but they’ll all be able to service any type of bike.”
Although Baker is a firm believer that you need a bike for every day of the week, the local bike shops in Bloomington make it easy to rent for a day/week or make an informed purchase for a lifetime.
Popular Rides in Monroe County
Take your riding to the next level or meet people who share the same passion as you by taking advantage of the many great rides, scenery, and events Southern Indiana has to offer cyclists.
The Hilly Hundred is about as big of a deal as the Little 500 in the Bloomington cycling community. It’s the last ride of the season, giving riders of every level the opportunity to come out and enjoy each other’s company, as well as a variety of different events, activities, entertainment, food, and craft beer.
“The Hilly is a variety of things to a variety of people,” Brad Bolling, Assistant Director of the Hilly, said. “But it’s not to be confused with a race; it’s a recreational ride. You’ve got more advanced racers who ride it and you’ve got people that will be lucky to ride up a hill without walking. It’s one of those rides where you just want to go out and challenge yourself a little bit and have some fun.”
The Hilly is a not-for-profit ride put on by the Central Indiana Bicycling Association Inc. (CIBA), benefiting three different charities — everyone who works the event is a volunteer. There are two different routes offered on Saturday and Sunday — a 50-mile option and 35-mile option — and they offer free food, entertainment, a large vendor tent, and costume & photo contests. The Hilly truly is a ride for everyone in the community, regardless of skill level.
“We’re always open to suggestions from riders on how to make the ride better,” Mark Bettinger, Managing Director, said. “If you’re in the area, please join us. The scenery is wonderful; the roads, music, company, and vendor tent are awesome, and at the end of the day, the surrounding Bloomington area has so much to offer.”
Little 500: The World’s Greatest College Weekend
The legendary, iconic Little 500 was not forgotten on our list of cycling to-dos. Talking about cycling in Indiana without at least mentioning the largest collegiate bike race in the United States would be a sin we’re not willing to commit.
“There’s just a lot of support for the Little 500 and the riders because Bloomington is such a great cycling community,” Beth Miller, Assistant Director of Operations for the Indiana University Student Foundation, said. “The roads here are great, the culture is great, and the competition has just exploded as a result of all that.”
The Little 500 is held every year in April through the Indiana University Student Foundation as a way to raise money for private support of Indiana University students. It's modeled after the also-legendary Indianapolis 500, and the riders compete in four-person teams around a quarter-mile cinder track at Bill Armstrong Stadium. The women’s race is held on Friday and totals 100 laps (25 miles), and the men’s race is held on Saturday and totals 200 laps (50 miles).
“Our philanthropic background is big,” Tara Vickers, Director of the Indiana University Student Foundation, said. “All of the ticket proceeds from the Little 500 go to helping undergraduate students, which is unbelievable. I think it’s really about being a part of something bigger than you, whether you’re a rider, worker, or spectator.”
As a Little 500 rider in 2014, Shannon Johnson can attest to that. She said there’s so much energy on race day and everyone is so happy that it doesn’t matter if you came in last or first. Everyone is hugging each other, high-fiving, and congratulating one another because it’s a group accomplishment. You work so hard for so long, and it all culminates at this moment.
“Many of the riders weren’t cyclists before they started training for Little 500,” Andrea Balzano, Race Director at the Indiana University Student Foundation, said. “When you’re thinking about the Bloomington cycling community, Little 500 feeds that and really turns the sport that some of these riders have never experienced before into a life-long hobby.”
Many of the Little 500 riders ride in the Hilly Hundred, and many of the local shops help out with the race and maintenance of riders’ bikes.
“If you like to cycle and you haven’t been to the Little 500, you’re doing it wrong,” Vickers said. “I would encourage anyone who is into the cycling scene to come with an open mind and forget any bad rumor that you may have heard because it’s an amazing event.”
From April until November, a century ride (100-mile ride) takes off from Bryan Park swimming pool every Wednesday. All rides feature 40-80 feet of climbing in the hilly Southern Indiana countryside. Rest stops and places to eat are provided — plan on an entire day for these rides.
So whether you’re new to cycling or a seasoned veteran, Bloomington has everything you need to take your cycling to the next level. Gear up on two wheels — we’ll see you on the road.
Looking for more about cycling in Bloomington? Check out these blogs:
- Bikes & Beer: Cycling Tips Around Bloomington
- Little 500: Not Just for Students
- Urban Trails in Bloomington
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