If the open roads and country setting don’t motivate you to hop onto a bike, perhaps a pasta dinner will.
It seemed to work for more than a thousand bike riders – 1,625, to be exact – who took part in last year’s Udder Century Invitational, hosted by the roughly 125-member McHenry County Bicycle Club (www.mchenrybicycleclub.org). And even more riders are expected this year, said Mary Winkel, club president.
In its 32nd year and kicking off June 1 from Donley’s Wild West Town in Union, the ride grows annually both in popularity and size, Winkel said.
“Our ride is one of the most premier bicycle rides in the Midwest because of the number of people we get to come and because we offer that pasta dinner,” she said. “When they ride 100 miles and they come back, they want to eat. Don’t give me a bagel and say, ‘Thanks for going on the ride.’”
The dinner, which comes with the registration fee ($29 until May 29, $35 on the day of the event), is served from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. that day at Donley’s, 8512 S. Union Road.
Riders also are treated to refueling snacks, such as bagels, fruit, sandwiches, cookies and energy drinks, along the way.
The ride allows riders – young and old, experienced and inexperienced – to choose from the options of 32-, 50-, 62-, 75- or 100-mile rides.
It draws all types, Winkel said.
“Some clubs come and ride our Udder because they’re doing it for training for races,” she said. “They’re out there at 6 in the morning, and they’re trying to do under a 5-hour, 100-mile bike ride, and they do.
“That’s their thing. They’re in their 20s, and they have lots of energy. Not my cup of tea.”
At age 67, Winkel joined the McHenry County Bicycle Club in 2000 after retiring as a physical education teacher for McHenry Community High School.
As a teacher, she said, she was running around with students all the time, going from the gymnasium to the locker room and elsewhere.
Upon retirement, she realized she needed to stay active.
“It’s been my lifesaver,” she said of the club, which charges an annual fee of $15 a member. “The people in the club seem to be of the same mindset. They want to be active. They don’t want to be slugs. We kind of motivate each other to be the best we can be.”
Winkel rides at least three times a week, progressing with the club as members go from rides of about 20 to 25 miles in the spring to the roughly 38-mile rides they’re doing now. Every ride has various routes, with riders having the option to ride slower or shorter distances.
All club members always meet up for a meal afterward.
“You just show up,” she said of the weekly rides. “You get to know who rides your speed, who has medical problems today.”
Members become friends who meet up all year long not only to ride, but also to hike, kayak, camp, cross country ski, snowshoe, even just to play dominoes.
“It goes beyond and beyond,” Winkel said.
As for the race, it provides enough funding for members to host an annual banquet, but the majority of the money raised goes toward nonprofit groups such as the McHenry County Conservation District and Rails-To-Trails Conservancy and other groups that promote bicycling.
The club’s members work hard to host the Udder annually, Winkel said, both to bring riders together, draw in members and simply celebrate bicycling.
“This is the best thing that’s every happened to me,” she said of her involvement in the bicycle club. “You make so many new friends. It’s just a very active group that likes to do a lot of things. ... And we take care of people on those routes.”