On Sunday, Sept. 19, the Evanston Bike Club (EBC) will host the 36th annual North Shore Century, a fun and invigorating ride that attracts about 2,000 amateur cyclists of all levels and speeds as they bike through scenic suburban neighborhoods before returning south to Dawes Park in Evanston.
Riders choose from the Classic Century (100 miles), Metric Century (62 miles, or 100 kilometers), Half Century (50 miles) and Quarter Century (25 miles) with routes identified via street markings, an app and a printed cue sheet. Children are welcome to ride when accompanied by an adult. Riders do not need to belong to the EBC to register for the ride.
Online registration opened July 1 and closes 11 a.m. Sept. 19 or when capacity is reached. Because of COVID-19 concerns there will be no in-person registrations. This year’s ride has pent-up demand, as last year’s ride was cancelled due to the pandemic. The number of registrations received to date is ahead of registrations around the same time in 2019, and more are expected over the next week. Many riders wait until the last minute to register because of concerns about the weather. The ride occurs rain or shine.
Event offers variety of lengths
The route varies slightly each year although it always starts and ends at Dawes Park in Evanston. Classic Century riders count on making a large loop from Evanston to someplace in Wisconsin – this year the destination is Pleasant Prairie – before turning around and heading south via the lakefront communities of Carol Beach, Winthrop Harbor and Zion. Given the length of this ride and travel required on busier roads, the club says this one is best for “confident and conditioned cyclists.”
The Metric and Half Century routes venture to Lake Bluff via mostly residential streets in Glenview, Northbrook, Highland Park and Lake Forest. The Quarter Century ride is the most leisurely route offered and passes through Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe and Kenilworth; the club recommends it in particular for families and new riders.
Ninety percent of registered riders live in Illinois, although in 2019 (the most recent ride), 10% of registered riders came from 34 other states. While more men than women typically register, this year more than 700 women are expected to ride, a record.
Local bike shops provide support at each of the six rest stops. Each stop offers restroom facilities, supplemented by portable toilets to reduce wait times, and refreshments to replenish fluids and provide an energy boost. There are special foods at each stop in addition to standbys like bananas, protein snacks, energy bars, pickle juice (to replace sodium lost by sweating) and various carbohydrates. Special foods might be pizza, grilled meat, ice cream or some other local delicacy.
Riders are being asked to wear masks and observe social distancing at rest stops this year. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic and precautions being taken at the rest stops, the RoundTable was informed that homemade baked goods would not be offered this year. Riders who’ve sampled the EBC’s banana bread know what a huge loss this is.
Ride requires army of volunteers
The ride is staffed by nearly 200 volunteers. Most are members of the EBC, now in its 50th year. Membership in the bike club offers amateur adult cyclists organized rides of various lengths and speeds every day of the week except Monday from mid-March through October, plus access to an online library of more than 260 bike routes, discounts on bike services and equipment, safety seminars and social get-togethers. As the club says, it offers: “Fun. Friendship. Fitness. And Food.”
Another essential group of volunteers who participate every year are members of the North Shore Radio Club, an amateur (ham) radio group, who coordinate Support and Gear, or SAG, communications. Anyone ever rescued by one of the SAG vans knows how important radio communications are.
Hosting a major ride like the North Shore Century requires a sophisticated level of organization and attention to detail. The EBC leadership team works from a highly refined spreadsheet that lists more than 100 major tasks by month, starting with December of the prior year through two months after the ride.
There are 12 major committees that make the ride happen. The rest stop committee is the largest with 70 volunteers. Volunteer turnover occurs naturally as members resign from the club, retire or move away. Three of the rest stop captains, all longtime volunteers, are newbies this year.
Grants awarded to charity
Charitable giving is a mainstay of the bike club. Eighty percent of the net proceeds from the ride registration is allocated to local charitable organizations that promote bike safety and cycling. There is a grant application process to award funds raised each year.
In 2021, $20,000 was allocated to 16 community groups and nonprofit organizations. Some are local to Evanston such as the Evanston Public Library, Recyclery Collective, Center for Independent Futures and the Evanston Parks & Recreation Department. Others are based in Chicago neighborhoods, help with local or national cycling advocacy or target underserved populations like adults and children with disabilities.
The club encourages first-time riders to take the plunge to register and ride. The friendliness of the people in the club, the other riders and even the passersby one sees along the route creates a feeling that is meant to be shared. Plus it’s great exercise. It’s an Evanston happening that only occurs once a year. For more information, visit https://www.evanstonbikeclub.org/nsc.