During cold weather, some bike clubs switch to indoor gatherings, alternate activities

During cold weather, some bike clubs switch to indoor gatherings, alternate activities

While winter may not be your liking,

You can still enjoy cold without biking,

No such thing as bad weather,

When friends get together

For coffee, snowshoeing and hiking!

Viking biking, anyone? At our latitude, winter cycling may not be for everyone. Acknowledging this, bike clubs offer various activities to connect members, some even offering “Zero Mile Rides,” “ZMRs,” aka Zimmers. Wha-a-a-at?

I first learned about Zimmers several Januarys ago when the Arlington Heights Bicycle Club invited members to breakfast at a local coffee shop, biking optional. Since then, I've observed many clubs organizing ZMRs, and not just during winter. Some involve coffee, others stronger libations. Still others are simply alternate activities. As one rider remarks, “It's the camaraderie, not the miles.”

19-year-old concept?

Gary Gilbert, former AHBC president, notes that a January 2003 “conversation between myself and Jim Shoemaker (now deceased) spawned the idea.”

“On club rides, we are used to breakfast stops most weekends. We decided to have social gatherings monthly on one weekend in December through March, either Saturday or Sunday, providing a chance for nonriding spouses to join. It expanded to include a dinner each winter month. Jim suggested we give mileage credit for each pancake consumed,” said Gilbert.

Speaking of mileage credit, Ella Shields notes that ZMRs also refer to club rides where “we just don't count the miles” in the cumulative club tally, a practice that many clubs follow. Her club, Wheeling Wheelmen, organizes both.

Wheeling Wheelmen enjoy a "zero mile ride" at Deerfield Bakery. Pictured, from left, are Ella Shields, Kilian Emanuel, Pam Burke, Joe Beemster and Dave Waycie. Courtesy of Ella Shields/Wheeling Wheelmen

Wheelmen President Deb Wilson is proud of their “variety of zero mile activities. We walk, snowshoe, or cross-country ski at Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve. We always wind up at Deerfield Bakery to share coffee, tea or pop, sometimes doughnuts or coffee cake. But we all enjoy each other's company while we seek to solve all the world's problems.”

Indoor trainer rides

Some club members on indoor trainers “partake in virtual online riding on the Zwift or RGT platforms,” Wilson continues, a more active type of ZMR. The Zwift app lets riders link to each other for more collegial indoor riding experiences.

Downers Grove Bicycle Club President Jeff Bolam echoes that indoor riding connection among members, with “weekly Thursday Night Indoor Escape meetup rides on Zwift with a Discord audio chat channel.”

COVID permitting, club riders meet monthly at Downers Grove's Ballydoyle Pub. No doubt, they also solve the world's problems.

Club members pursue many off-season activities, per Bolam, including weekly trail hikes or cross-country skiing at various locations.

“We also have a small but hardy group that ride outdoors all year long, typically at Palos or on other trails, with fat bikes in the snow,” said Bolam.

'Love being outside'

Newly-elected Joliet Bicycle Club President Janae Hunziker notes weekly club hikes to the Cook County and Will County forest preserves and to state parks.

“Each week the hike either gets longer and/or more strenuous due to terrain. Most of our members just love being outside.

“Some members work out at home using a trainer,” she continues, “meeting up with other club members on Zwift. In non-COVID years, we host a chili bowl: potluck chili cook-off, followed by bowling.”

Ride leader Joanne Davis explains that her Evanston Bicycle Club has adapted zero mile rides for multiple activities. “I often use zero mile when inclement weather precludes the planned ride. We're still able to socialize and enjoy fellowship, which often includes a meal. EBC's moniker is the 'Eating Bicycle Club.'”

Rides throughout the year attracting zero-milers include destinations like art exhibits, Chicago Botanic Garden, tours of Rosehill Cemetery and Chicago Architectural Foundation sites.

“But, generally, we just meet at a restaurant - often Panera,” Davis says.

Elmhurst Bicycle Club members savor a meal at Brick's Pizza in Wheaton. Pictured, from left, are Armaline Mirretti, Ken Vos, Roberta Rehor, John Reardon, Kim Messina, Michael Driscoll, Ron Richards and Donnie Seals. Courtesy of Kim Messina/Elmhurst Bicycle Club

By incorporating “zero mile ride” in the description, “anyone can join us at the destination,” Davis adds. “In this way, riders who are not up to speed or time constrained can participate. Riders get the mileage, nonriders become zero-milers. It's the most inclusive invitation for folks to participate.”

Get it in gear

Chicago Winter Bike Swap in 2020 was a very popular event. Courtesy of Hal Honeyman

The Chicago Winter Bike Swap returns from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13, with 32,000 square feet of exhibition space at Kane County Fairgrounds Event Center in St. Charles. Last held in 2020, the swap outgrew the space on Palatine's Harper College campus, per organizer Hal Honeyman.

Owner of The Bike Rack in St. Charles and founder of Project Mobility, Honeyman made the venue switch due to the event's popularity, now piggybacking on biking's own surge since COVID.

“I want to offer more than just vendor space,” he notes.

Besides an expected 80 vendor tents and information tables, a bike corral is available for test-riding new/used bikes on an indoor track.

In the corral's “Singles Swap Section,” individuals can sell a single bike for a $15 fee.

Honeyman also boasts of a separate seating area on the swap floor where speakers will conduct seminars, like “Bike Safety Tips for All Ages” and “Mountain Biking for Beginners.”

Regional bike clubs and groups like CAMBr (Chicago Area Mountain Bikers) and Ride Illinois, the statewide, nonprofit biking advocacy organization, will distribute information. A separate pavilion for adaptive bikes - specialized bikes for individuals with disabilities - will include staff helping participants test these bikes.

All participants will be required to wear masks, per Illinois Department of Public Health mandate. Public admission is $5 ($5.50 credit card) for those older than 12. For information, visit

Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at

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