The Chainlink

Chainlink Spotlight: Grand Illinois Bike Tour

By Brett Ratner

Does a week riding your bike along winding rivers and through rolling prairies sound appealing? Do you love exploring quaint, historic towns, while learning about our state’s rich history and culture? Do you prefer a more intimate riding experience? Do you like it when your registration fees benefit an organization committed to promoting bicycle access, education and safety in Illinois?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, the Grand Illinois Bike Tour is worth checking out.

Entering it’s 15th year, the Grand Illinois Bike Tour is a supported bike tour that takes place June 11-16, 2017. Starting and ending in Byron, Illinois, participants will stay overnight in four historic towns peppered along a scenic, 300-mile route (50 miles-per-day average), with optional loops enabling riders to increase total mileage to 450.

Amenities include long-term parking, camping, dinners, breakfasts, showers, gear transport and full SAG support. Hotel accommodations are available for an additional charge.

The ride is limited to 240 participants, and spots are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Proceeds from the event benefit Ride Illinois, a nonprofit organization working to improve bicycling conditions throughout the state.

Since registration is now open and spots are filling up, The Chainlink caught up with Ride Illinois' Ed Barsotti for his take on Grand Illinois Bike Tour's longevity and why it has grown into a top cycling event in Illinois.

CL: Speaking to those unfamiliar with Grand Illinois Bike Tour, how does it compare to other multi-day, supported tours? For example, I’d describe RAGBRAI as a rolling party to some extent. How would you describe the Grand Illinois Bike Tour?

EB: The Grand Illinois Bike Tour has a more personal and laid back feel, without the big crowds. On the routes, you can ride alone or in small groups, taking in the countryside. In our towns or our overnight stays (camps or motels), you will quickly recognize and during the week get to know many of your fellow riders. Many friendships are formed and renewed each year on our ride.

CL: What's the riding like in this region of Illinois? It looks quite pretty in the photographs. What can participants expect as far as scenery is concerned?

EB: Being primarily an agricultural state, Illinois has a great network of quiet, farm roads that make for very peaceful and enjoyable riding. This year, we are featuring the small towns and vistas along the scenic Rock and Mississippi River valleys. This includes an entire day on the Mississippi River Trail route, where riders will see tall bluffs, an old Dutch windmill, a Native American archaeological site, Illinois cactus – and the big river.

CL: What can you tell us about the overnight towns?

EB: Our first campsite, in historic Dixon, is a nice linear park on the banks of the Rock River, next to downtown. From there, we head to a Grand Illinois Tour favorite: Savanna, a small Mississippi River town that is home to Palisades State Park. We next spend two nights right on the banks of the Mississippi at either Illiniwek Forest Preserve or, for motelers, in revitalized downtown Moline. Our layover day offers Quad Cities activities ranging from touring their fantastic trail system to a canoe ride down the Mississippi. Finally, our last night is in Sterling-Rock Falls, with both campers and motelers overlooking the Rock River.

CL: Tell us about the optional loops and ways to lengthen or shorten your ride, from 255 up to 450 miles. Is the purpose to make it enjoyable to a wider range of ability levels and personal tastes?

EB: Yes, the Grand Illinois Tour recognizes the individuality of its riders. Some like to go all out and put many miles on their bikes during the tour. Others just enjoy the settled ambiance of taking it slow and easy. And then there are those who like to ride quickly to a destination and then stop and enjoy the attraction. To each his or her own!

CL: Since RAGBRAI is a point to point ride that starts on the Iowa-Nebraska border and ends on the Iowa-Illinois border, it can create some logistical challenges for Chicago-area residents. The Grand Illinois Bike Tour, on the other hand, is a loop, it takes place much closer to Chicagoland, and offers free parking during the event. All in all, it's seems like a very attractive option for someone who wants to get in a great week of riding without having to expend a lot of time and effort getting to the start line. What are your thoughts on this?

EB: We usually get riders from 15-20 other states, and we are proud to show off Illinois.   But for most of our riders, you only have to be away from home for six days total – and you are riding each of those days.  We intentionally pick our starting point and a loop route to make that possible.

CL: Another thing I find appealing about this ride is you don’t have to worry about finding places to eat or camp. Everything is taken care of and all you have to do is pedal. On top of that, you also provide entertainment, a photo contest, awards and other activities. How would you describe the "off the bike" experience?

EB: We have fun both on and off the bike. We eat together, camp or motel together, and come together in the evening for meetings filled with laughter, information, and fellowship with a great group of friendly people. Even when a rider stops to visit an attraction or grab lunch in a town along the way, the familiar face of a fellow rider is usually there for those who want to share the experience.

CL: How did the ride come about? To me, $500 is a total bargain considering the length of the ride and all that’s included. The fact that it also benefits a worthy organization is icing on the cake. What are your thoughts on this?

EB: Back in 2003, when Ride Illinois was known as the League of Illinois Bicyclists, board member Chuck Oestreich proposed a week-long ride to showcase the Grand Illinois Trail, a 535-mile loop trail in northern Illinois.  The tour quickly became our largest fundraising event and enables us to advance our mission of making biking better in Illinois.  More than that, it shows off our state as a prime bicycling destination, and we are pleased to be able to help people explore and “Ride Illinois”!

Registration for the Grand Illinois Bike Tour is $465 for current Ride Illinois members and $500 for non-members. The optional motel package is an additional $610 for a single occupancy room and $690 for a double occupancy room ($345 per person).

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