How McHenry County Bicycle Club has stayed active for 40 years
I know what it takes for a marriage to flourish 40-plus years. What about a bike club?
Organized in spring 1981, the McHenry County Bicycle Club celebrates its 40th anniversary with a 40-mile ride Saturday, June 26. The ride departs at 9 a.m. from the McHenry Township building in Johnsburg. A club meeting/celebration is planned for noon.
Predating the 1990 opening of McHenry County's Prairie Trail, MCBC at one time claimed about 160 members
Club President Dan Farster added, "Currently, it's 102 and has been for the last two to three years."
To an outsider, the MCBC looks as if it will roll on another 40 years.
'Love of riding, comradeship'
A couple of themes throughout its history may provide clues to its longevity.
Farster put it succinctly: "The 'glue,' as you call it, is the love of riding and comradeship."
MCBC's calendar of 9 a.m. rides on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday includes more than 75 scheduled May-October.
The pure love of riding drew its early founders together. John Shiel, MCBC's first president, recalls meeting in Erin Hynes's (first secretary) living room in late 1980, with Jean (Hervert) Niemann (first vice-president) and Chuck Howenstine (first treasurer).
Howenstine said, "We kept discussing the idea of riding when John finally declared, 'Let's just start a bike club.'"
In those days, Howenstine reminisced, "The club attracted all kinds -- road racers, track racers, guys like me riding to work, even older adults toodling around the neighborhood."
According to Hervert and Shiel, racer Lon Haldeman was their "draw" for the first official meeting. County planning work meant evening meetings for Hervert, who bumped into Haldeman frequently at Woodstock's Dairy Queen. He would buy DQ's frozen bananas for quick cycling energy on rides home after wrenching as an Elgin bike shop mechanic.
An ultradistance cyclist/racer from Harvard, Haldeman was already setting cross-country records when MCBC was forming. People came to hear his racing talks, more than once, at the University of Illinois County Extension in Woodstock. Afterward, the club founders pitched membership. The rest is history.
Setting cycling records
Haldeman and his wife, Susan Notorangelo, literally did make history.
In 1983, when the club's first "Udder Century" ride began, Haldeman had won the second 2,900-plus mile Ride Across America (RAAM). He'd won the very first RAAM in 1982, cycling from Santa Monica, California's, famed pier to New York's Empire State Building in a grueling nine days, 20 hours.
These back-to-back victories followed his two 1981 attempts at biking cross-country in under 10 days. His New York to Santa Monica ride took 12 days, 18 hours. Having missed the 10-day mark, he rested for six hours, then remounted his bike and cycled back to New York in 10 days, 23 hours!
No slacker herself, Haldeman's wife, Susan Notorangelo, won the 1985 RAAM in 10 days, 14 hours, and in 1989, in nine days nine hours, nine minutes.
Setting the mixed tandem record in 1986, they crossed the U.S. in nine days, 20 hours. Their current bike touring business, PAC Tour -- Pacific Atlantic Cycling Tours -- specializes in long-distance touring (www.pactour.com/index.html).
'Udder Century' ride amuses the cows
Within two years MCBC had launched its major ride, the "Udder Century," with more than 90 participants. Held in conjunction with Harvard Milk Days, that 1983 ride departed Crystal Lake, routing itself through Harvard, self-proclaimed Milk Capital of the World, "so riders could stop for lunch," said Howenstine.
The 1984 "Udder" added a metric century route -- 63 miles -- attracting 250 cyclists. With so much scenic, open farm/dairy country, the "Udder" was almost christened "Amuse the Cows," per John Shiel.
A favorite among cyclists for 36 years, the "Udder" drew 1,650-plus riders in its heyday, rolling out for the last time in 2019. Mary Lou Mumford organized the ride for eight years through 2017.
"I'm not sure we looked at it as a fundraiser," she said. "People enjoyed running it because it was another chance to socialize."
Like bike riding, club comradeship also comes in many forms, not just on two wheels. Mary Lou and Geoff Mumford, club historian and longtime ride coordinator, can attest to how deep it goes.
Struck by a car in late November 2017, both suffered extensively, including spinal injuries that left Geoff wheelchair-bound.
"The bike club has been an absolute saving grace for us after the accident," Mary Lou said. "They will come over and do anything."
Facebook page photos show their garage entryway transformed in 2018 to accommodate a wheelchair lift by a crew of club members and friends.
Winter indoor picnics, an annual banquet and competitive Dominoes maintain social connections. Outdoor events include hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Holding its first overnight ride in 1983, the club lay the groundwork for annual camping outings over the years.
This year, four multiday camping/cycling trips are scheduled, three to several scenic Wisconsin areas: Door County July 18-23, Spring Green Aug. 15-20, Madison Sept. 16-20, and a fourth at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois Oct. 4-8.
Another founder, George Mann, was not surprised by the club's focus on the outdoors and conservation.
"A lot of conservation people working in the county," comprised the founders, Mann said.
Shiel was an education staffer with the McHenry County Conservation District and Hervert, a McHenry County planner. Even Hynes was involved in horticulture, according to Hervert.
Besides riding and other outdoor activities, MCBC is active within the community in different ways.
"The road cleanup started in 2003, and is done twice each year," Farster said. "We didn't do it in 2020 because of the pandemic."
That meant extra litter as they scouted along Greenwood Road this past April.
The club has also supported other cycling organizations over the years. Through the nonprofit organization Project Mobility and The Bike Rack shop in St. Charles, MCBC has donated several adaptive bikes to special needs riders.
Founded by The Bike Rack's owner, Hal Honeyman, Project Mobility focuses on specialized bikes for individuals with disabilities and offers organized recreational events. For information, visit www.projectmobility.org.
Late 'braking' news
Like Palatine Mayor Jim Schwantz, Downers Grove Mayor Robert Barnett and Broadview Mayor Katrina Thompson, proclaimed May as National Bike Month, using Palatine's proclamation as a template.
In Broadview, Mayor Thompson is known for leading Saturday community bike rides.
The Cook County Board of Commissioners also passed a resolution May 13, spearheaded by Commissioner Scott Britton (14th District), celebrating May as Cook County's Bike Month.
Joined by eight co-sponsors, the resolution underlines the county's commitment to "its first-ever plan for bicycle infrastructure," and to equitably "enhancing facilities to support bike commuting and other purposeful bike trips."
Sharing the road
Schaumburg kicks off its bike month Sunday, June 6, with its annual Fahrrad (bicycle in German) Tour von Schaumburg. Open to the public, the free, 5-mile, police-escorted ride departs the Robert O. Atcher Municipal Center Plaza, 101 Schaumburg Court, at noon, cruising through nearby neighborhoods and parks.
A picnic-style lunch will be served immediately after, with social distancing in place on the Municipal Center grounds. All riders must register online at bit.ly/3tEM2Fq. Helmets are encouraged. Beginners and training wheel riders are advised not to participate.
For more bike month activities, visit www.schaumburg.com/bikeevents.
• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at email@example.com.