Little 500: The Greatest College Weekend in America

“Riders, mount your Schwinn bicycles.”   The famous last words the riders hear as they throw their legs over the cheap bike frames that are about to give them the experience of a lifetimes. Originally began as a fundraiser for student scholarships, the Little 500 Bicycle Race, aka Little 5, was made nationally famous thanks to Dennis Quaid’s Breaking Away, a Bloomington-based film ending in the Little 500 race (in what is currently the Arboretum on campus at 10th St. and Fee Lane).

To most of the student population and college students across the nation, it is the biggest party weekend of all time; scratch that…not a weekend, a full week, sandwiched between two liquor filled weekends of madness. Many students don’t go to class to participate in festivities such as concerts starring Little Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, and more; along with celebrities such as Lance Armstrong and Barack Obama.

To those who race though, it is the most intense athletic moment they will ever experience: thousands of screaming fans, a national broadcast, 365-days of training and dieting, and most importantly: bragging rights for the whole school year.  Coaches, mechanics, trainers, dieticians, and specialized equipment are used by teams to train for the race.  What makes the race unique from any other bike race in the country include the track, bicycle, and the exchange.  The cinder track is unlike any other: it is so temperamental that it can be dangerous – a sunny day can cause up to 2,000 gallons of water to evaporate from the track, causing a dry, loose surface which can lead to wipe outs on turns.  And wiping out on this historic track is another story of its own – ask any racer and I guarantee that 9 out of 10 of them will be able to show you cinders still in their body somewhere from a wipe out.  Secondly, the unique, single-geared Little 500 bicycle.  You might wonder where are the brakes – they are in the back bracket, where the rider must back pedal to slow the 25mph rider to a slower speed to make the exchange.  It looks painful, and trust me it is the first few times; the bike never stops moving, meaning the initial rider slows the bike and brings it in to the upcoming rider who begins to run and grabs the bike while the initial rider jumps off and the upcoming rider then jumps on, without the bike stopping at all.  Any professional rider would be unable to do what we do on the track because of this exchange: hours of practice go into every exchange you see.

If you are a freshman, or you are in town, or live nearby, or have never seen the race before, you must see it and experience it for yourself.  Traffic, reservations, and people will be abundant, but it is worth it.  Trust me.  I’ve been a spectator once, a rider once, an overseas spectator, and hopefully a rider once again.  Watch out for Hillel Cycling this spring on the track, and get out there experience The Greatest College Weekend in America.

-Jeremy Levin

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