While most people sit down to a hearty meal with their families during the Thanksgiving holidays, others participate in a charity bike ride through the Champaign-Urbana area collecting non-perishable food for the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.
Originally started in New York City over 10 years ago by bike messengers, Cranksgiving has now become a popular event in cycling communities all over the country. Luke Thompson, organizer of the Cranksgiving event, brought the ride to the Champaign-Urbana area with his wife, Pieta, three years ago as a way to give back to the community. Thompson described the ride as a scavenger hunt on a bike. There was also a race aspect to the ride in that “the first one back wins,” Thompson said. However, the main focus of the ride is a food drive, Thompson added, and that all bikers need to follow safety rules.
The ride began outside of the Urbana Bike Project, on the corner of Elm Street and Broadway Avenue, on Sunday, November 14 at one o’clock. Participants gathered and talked before the ride and shared bike stories with one another. Once everyone had finished registering, the bikers were told to lay their bikes down in the parking lot and line up about 50 feet away to await the starting call. Once the organizers gave the signal, the bikers ran to their bikes to try and beat the other riders out of the parking lot, a style of starting called a Le Mans start, originally started in car racing. Once they got on their bikes, the riders dispersed all over the city to try and collect the most food, and for some, as fast as they could.
The riders were given a manifest, similar to a map, demarcating the cities of Champaign and Urbana into four zones. Participants had to visit at least one store in each zone to pick up food items. However, this was not as easy as it sounded as some stores were four to five miles from the start.. After visiting the distant stores, participants had to bike back to the other stores located in Northern and Southern Urbana. People should expect to “ride 10 – 15 miles,” Thompson said.
Once the riders got to the respective stores, they had to lock their bikes up, go inside, find the items they were required to buy and checkout. After the riders paid for their goods, it was back on the bike to the next location.
The biggest difficulty of the day was the 15 – 20 mph winds that slowed the bikers down. Pieta Thompson said the wind was something she heard a lot about throughout the day. “That’s part of the territory here in the fall,” Pieta said. “The first thing we checked was the wind this morning.”
Kyle French, a volunteer at the Bike Project in Urbana and participant in the ride, described the start of the race as the “craziest part.” “The ride is light-hearted. People come to have a good time. There are slower riders who donate a lot, and others who are more competitive,” French said.
Cranksgiving drew in 58 riders this year, far more than earlier years, and although the ride is only in its third year, Thompson wanted to donate over 1,000 pounds of food. “The first year we raised about 600 pounds of food with over 40 riders. The second, we donated 900 pounds with less than 40,” Thompson said. This year, the Cranksgiving event donated 1,921 pounds of food to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.
The race aspect of the ride comes into play with who will win prizes. There are several categories of prizes that include the “fastest man, fastest woman and most generous individual,” Thompson said. “There are tons of prizes this year, it’s mind-blowing.” The prizes include gift certificates to restaurants around the city, such as Black Dog Smoke & Ale House in downtown Urbana and Sandella’s on campus. Other places that donated and/or sponsored are “local businesses and bike stores,” Thompson added.
The most generous individual, a category viewed above speed, went to Charlie Smyth, 54, an Urbana resident. Smyth is a long-time bike commuter and a member of the Urbana City Council. This year, Smyth “vowed to fill [his] bike trailer,” after winning 2nd place for most generous in last year’s Cranksgiving. He also said finding a route that most blocked the wind was his main strategy.
After the ride was completed and everyone had stacked their cans of food up, the riders headed downstairs into the Bike Project for conversation, rest and a well-earned meal. The riders discussed the routes they took and how they fared against the wind. Something that Pieta noticed this year was that “many people wanted to have their pictures taken next to the food.” “There was a real sense of pride this year,” Pieta said.