It's true that the Trek Urban Assault Ride could be called a bike race. Some of the two-person teams participating in the event on Sunday were vying for prestige at the front of the field, along with prizes such as New Belgium bikes. But even more than a race, the ride is perhaps best described as an amusing spectacle.
Lighting out from Olin Park at 9 a.m., and following routes of their own choosing, each team set off for a series of checkpoints that they could visit in any order they wished. This scattered the field all over town, particularly on the far west side, where you might see one team racing through the parking lot of West Towne Mall en route to checkpoints at REI or Fleet Feet or the Trek Bicycle Store. Helmets were required, and the race rules mandated that all participants obey traffic laws and signals.
What a hoot. There were teams on tandem bikes, teams on recumbents, teams punked out in costumes and fright wigs with boom boxes blaring from their handlebar baskets. Some sort of wacky challenge awaited riders at each checkpoint. Failure to complete a task incurred a time penalty. As if anyone other than the driven competitors cared as much about time as they did about having fun.
In the parking lot outside the west-side Trek Bicycle Store, for example, the challenge was a bicycle limbo. Each participant was required to ride their wheels under a crossbar not once, not twice, but three times -- with the standard lowered each time. Some were able to whiz through this challenge in less than a minute. Others struggled. A few crashed. Many laughed or exulted.
At the Fleet Feet store on Old Sauk Road, an out-and-back course was set up for each team to negotiate on ultra-mini-bicycles with in-line skate wheels -- bikes so tiny that it was difficult for some participants to get their feet on the pedals, their hands on the handlebars and their butt on the seat all at once. For spectators, the amusement factor was enormous.
Participants who parked their bikes at the west-side Princeton Club and raced up to its rooftop court area found quite a different challenge awaiting them. Donning oven mitts, they were required to fumble about on the ground and try to pick up enough little wooden disc-shaped tokens to fill a small bowl -- a task made all the more difficult because they were the targets of a handful of adults and a couple of kids armed with supersoakers and bent on drenching the participants from helmet to cleats.
Over on the lawn at REI, bicycle wheels with handles extending on either side of their axles awaited participants at the human wheelbarrow checkpoint. While one member of the team gripped the handles, the other was supposed to hoist the human wheelbarrow's legs and propel them across the lawn and back. Some teams struggled at REI's human wheelbarrow checkpoint. After a couple of false starts, the team in this next video was starting to find its technique and gather momentum when it hit a bump in the turf that sent it tumbling to the ground. After a couple seconds of stunned silence, both women dissolved in great peals of the sort of helpless laughter induced by good goofy fun.
And great peals of helpless laughter induced by good goofy fun may be the best way to convey the amusement to be found at the Urban Assault Ride, which was sponsored by Isthmus. Sure, it's a race. Sort of. But it's also an opportunity to rediscover the sense of play most of us leave behind in childhood. It's playtime. Big-time playtime.