Who needs a sleigh? Area bike groups to take part in Holiday Toy Ride on Dec. 10

Hibernate for three months? No way, say some cyclists. Despite the wintry cold, these weather-defiant riders cycle year-round. Hard core or a tad crazy? I'm planning to find out for myself at two upcoming events.

On Friday, Dec. 10, the 18th annual Amling's Cycle Holiday Toy Ride rolls out with cyclists hauling toys for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots drive. One difference this year - shop owner Joe Reichert is organizing a "reverse toy ride."

In the past, cyclists have gathered at 6:30 a.m. at Amling's Cycle & Fitness, pedaled 14 miles to Corcoran's Grill & Pub, 1615 N. Wells in Chicago, and unloaded their toys into the Marine Corps truck.

They then celebrated with a hearty breakfast, hot coffee and the high-energy fellowship of cold weather cyclists. I'm told that some enthusiastic revelers knocked back more than just hot coffee. The long-standing friendship between Reichert and Eamon Vaughan, owner of Vaughan's Hospitality Group, has made this free breakfast possible.

Oak Park Cycle Club riders are all decked out in winter holiday layers for Amling's Cycle Holiday Toy Ride. Courtesy of Donna Oswald

This year, inspired by Gary Gilbert, ex-president of the Arlington Heights Bicycle Club, Reichert is inviting local bike clubs and individual cyclists to make his bike shop, 8140 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles, their toy ride destination on Dec. 10.

Santas, costumed elves and two-legged reindeer have always made the early morning, two-wheeled trek from home to Amling's with their toys, so that tradition will continue.

Instead of free breakfasts at Corcoran's in Old Town, however, Reichert and his partner, Julie Keating, will host an open house, serving coffee, hot chocolate and snacks at Amling's from 8 a.m. to noon. Cold weather fellowship will still prevail among the hardy cyclists.

6,000 toys donated

Reichert originated this group ride in 2003, only canceling during the 2020 shutdown. His first toy ride in 2002 was quite simple - tandeming with Keating, "delivering toys to WGN's Drive Thru Toy Drive. On the way home we decided to turn it into an event. Our Holiday Toy Ride was born."

Per Reichert, in 2003, 35 riders transported about 350 toys. In 2019, 125 riders from several bike clubs hauled nearly 6,000 donations. Participating clubs have included Arlington Heights, Elmhurst, Evanston, Oak Park and Wheeling.

Recalling past toy rides, bike club members bubble with excitement.

Wheeling Wheelmen President Debbie Wilson said, "We just had a blast! It's usually a cold, dark morning, but there's just this energy and camaraderie in the bike shop that is so positive. It brings out all kinds of riders."

Wheelmen member Ella Shields added, "It is just so fun to ride on the city streets. People are honking, clapping, yelling encouragement. It's just a happening, with people decorating their bikes or themselves. Hanging out at the restaurant is a great time."

Early morning cyclists brave the cold and dark on a previous Amling's Cycle Holiday Toy Ride. Courtesy of Arlington Heights Bicycle Club

David Barish, former Evanston Bicycle Club (EBC) president, recollects he has "probably done the ride since the beginning, over 10 years anyway."

He knew Reichert, also an EBC ex-president, back when he bought Amling's in 1999 from Dave Amling, son of original owners Bob and Bev.

A bike commuter and winter cyclist, Barish enjoys "doing something good for the community while winning our personal battles with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). A couple rides get me through December - the toy ride, plus the Winter Solstice Percussion Concert."

Cycling 'Joie de Vivre'

Donna Oswald, Oak Park Cycle Club member, has ridden five years.

"What's so great is its 'joie de vivre,' just so much joy and creativity each year in costumes and decorated bikes. The ride brings a smile to people's faces.

"It's so unexpected seeing 120-150 riders heading down the street, holding up traffic. Shortest ride of the year for me, but one I enjoy the most. Our group has Santa and Mrs. Claus, and four (or) five cyclists who've done it many years."

Arlington Heights Bicycle Club members join the fun in several ways. Besides bundling up to ride, some donate cash, while others bring an unwrapped toy to their annual November banquet. Vice President Paula Matzek reports they collected $340 and nearly 20 toys this year.

"One suggestion is to place a toy order online and have the toys sent directly to Amling's Cycle in Niles," Matzek said. "Of course, you can also buy toys and drop them off there, but phone ahead."

Cyclocross Nationals

Six days of cyclocross racing provides cold weather excitement at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Courtesy of USA Cycling

Bundled up and spectating, I plan to enjoy the 2021 Cyclocross National Championships, scheduled Dec. 7-12 at Wheaton's Cantigny Park, Colonel Robert McCormick's 500-acre estate. Nearly 2,000 athletes will compete on the grounds of this DuPage County landscape, transformed by newly built off-road racecourses.

According to Beth Marchetti at Discover DuPage, this event, "never before seen in DuPage County," is hosted by Cantigny Park, DuPage Sports Commission, and DuPage Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Competitors will vie for 34 national titles in various events/categories, some qualifying for the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) cyclocross world championships in early 2022. UCI governs sports cycling worldwide.

Cyclocross races, typically fall/winter events, consist of many laps over a short course - under two miles - with challenging terrain: steep hills, wooded trails and various obstacles. Racers shouldering their bikes is not unusual.

At the festive, family-friendly event, spectators can purchase wristbands covering parking and offering access to the racecourse, expo tent, local food trucks and entertainment. It all makes this a celebration of cyclocross as a sport as well as a national competition.

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at

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