Smoothest Bike Ride In The World

July 21, 2001

Indianapolis, Indiana

52.5 miles

Bicycle:  Fuji Newest

Ride Info: American Diabetes Association

Before I was even old enough to drive, I watched the Indy 500. In those days, drivers such as A.J. Foyt, Bobby Unser, Al Unser (this was before  Al Jr.), Rick Mears, Tom Sneva, and Mario Andretti contested the Memorial Day weekend classic. In 1994, I visited the track and its museum. Unfortunately, the pavement was being repaired so I couldn't take the van tour around the famous oval. Fast-forward seven years. After doing a number of event bike rides, I wanted to find something unique. The American Diabetes Association's (ADA) " Smoothest Bike Ride In The World" fit the bill. It was run entirely on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Not only would I finally get to go on the track, but I would be self-propelled, too. I had several bikes to choose from, but the obvious choice was my " go-fast" bike, the Fuji Newest road bike.

After spending the night in a nearby motel, I arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 8 AM for the 8:30 start. Of course, John (Cougar) Mellencamp was playing on the radio at the registration table. I've never traveled through Indiana without hearing one of his songs. I received my T-shirt, which included a play on the Indy 500 slogan, " The Greatest Spectacle In Racing."

The building in the background is the Hall Of Fame & Museum, which I visited in 1994.

The ride was a casual affair with no clocks or lap counters. I could do as many 2.5-mile laps of the oval as I wished until the track closed at 2:00 PM. The first few laps were lots of fun. I stopped often to take pictures and to soak up the ambiance and history of the place. Since I was riding at one tenth of the speed of the race cars, the track seemed much bigger than on television.  I gathered that the majority of the riders weren't as awestruck as I was, but maybe they were Indy natives or people who had done the ride in previous years, so it wasn't such a big deal for them.

The strip of bricks at the start/finish line commemorates the original pavement of the track that earned it the nickname " The Brickyard."

This shows the view down the front straightaway. The pits are on the left.

On race day, the vertical  board shows current positions for all drivers.

When  I tried to run some fast laps, I only managed about 21 mph. Bike racers would not be impressed, but it wasn't so  bad for someone who is definitely more of a cyclotourist than a racer. After twelve laps (30 miles), I was averaging a surprisingly high 19 mph.

The banking of the curves didn't seem to make a lot of difference because the curves were not tight enough. At bicycle speeds, I fought to stay upright on them more than I was able to use them to my benefit. I guess that's why they don't have 2.5-mile velodromes! It probably would be even more difficult to ride a bike at a NASCAR track like Daytona since their banks are considerably steeper. The downhill effect of taking a turn wide and high, then angling down toward the infield on the straightaway was fun, though.

This is Turn One. All turns are banked at 9 degrees, 12 minutes. No, none of those skid marks are mine!

In 2001, the Smoothest Bike Ride In The World was held during the Tour de France. Because of this, the narration in my head throughout the ride was a bizarre mixture of Scottish auto racing announcer Jackie Stewart and English bicycle racing announcer Phil Liggett. There were a couple of loosely organized pacelines going around. I stayed with one for a lap, but the leader accelerated hard into Turn Two, and as Phil would say, I " popped" and was left behind. On the other hand, most riders were just casually cruising around the track. This was a family event with a number  of kids riding. Unlike in most group rides I have done, I was actually one of the faster riders (top 20% or so).

There were several interesting vehicles on the track. One man had a recumbent tricycle. Another had a four-wheeler with an empty passenger seat. He looked lonely I was tempted to ask if I could " sit in" for a lap. The most interesting vehicle was a fast HPV powered by Richard Myers from Xenia, Ohio (it said so on the side). It was a narrow white fin with only a few inches of its wheels sticking out below and a little bubble on top where the rider looked out. He was flying around the track, mostly up toward the wall since the slower riders stayed closer to the infield. Even when I was really cooking, he was passing me every other lap!

This shot looks back from  the end of pit row.

Riding many laps around the same oval course eventually started to get a little boring, even if it was a world-famous racetrack. The wind was picking up a bit, too. I noticed that I always felt like doing more laps when I was on the backstretch with the wind at my back than I did as I crossed the bricks with a headwind. Since I had started with the modest goal of at least ten laps/25 miles, I decided that 40 miles would be enough for me, fifteen laps. But as I hit forty, I didn't want it to end yet, so I took a few more laps. At this point, the crowd had  thinned out and they were  running out of refreshments in the " pits."

When I crossed the bricks after 19 laps, I announced in my Jackie Stewart voice that the white flag had been dropped, meaning one lap to go. A lap later, I took the checkered flag (figuratively, although it would have been a nice touch to have somebody waving one). According to my cyclometer, I rode 52.5 miles in 2:52:00. I had done 50 miles of track, but the 2.5-mile laps are measured nine feet from the inner white line. All the weaving up and down the banks to pass people added some distance, plus my cyclometer may not have been perfectly calibrated. My average speed had slipped to 18.3 mph after the wind picked up, but I was still happy with my ride. The track would be open for another 90 minutes, but 50 miles seemed like the appropriate place to stop since it was one tenth of the Indy 500. Coincidentally, my speed was about one tenth of the fastest Indy 500 on record (Arie Luyendyk averaged 185.981 mph in 1990), meaning that the elapsed time was about the same.

Someone volunteered to take my picture as I rode through the pits.

This was a great ride to do once, but I don't know if I would do it again. Once the initial thrill of riding on this famous pavement wore  off, it wasn't very exciting to go around and around. And after growing up watching cars zip around in excess of 200 mph, I felt extremely slow on a bike. Still, it was fun and I raised $290 for the ADA.

  Note: Another ADA bicycling fundraiser in Indianapolis, the Tour De Cure, also offers the opportunity to ride this famous track.

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