Event organizer

Fifth Third Bike the Drive organizer hopes to recruit 400 volunteers for fundraising event

With a staff of less than 20 people, how can an organization organize a cycling event of 20,000 cyclists on a major road?

“Volunteers are the keystone, period! »

Thus recognizes Melody Geraci, Active Transportation Alliance Deputy Executive Director. September 4 marks the 20th time to demonstrate how it’s done on his fifth third bike drive.

This DuSable Lake Shore Drive ride is the primary fundraiser for Active Trans, the Chicagoland nonprofit that advocates for safer and easier walking, biking, and public transit to create healthy communities, sustainable and fair.

Christian Helem, volunteer and events manager, whose main responsibility is outreach and recruitment, hopes to order 400 volunteers as receptionists, t-shirt sorters, rest area hosts, ride attendants, and more.

“Groups are a big part of our success: nonprofits, church groups, school clubs. It’s great to experience community building with our volunteers,” Helem said.


Active Trans gives $250 to groups engaging eight to 14 volunteers, $350 for 15 or more.

T-shirt volunteers in 2019, organized and full of enthusiasm.
– Courtesy of Anne Evans/Active Transportation Alliance

Helem needs 45 Marshals to patrol; individuals equipped with simple tools such as pumps, spanners, hex tools; as well as basic repair experience – flat tires, fallen chains, brake adjustments. Marshals travel freely.

All volunteers win a free pancake breakfast, t-shirt and invitation to the September 8 appreciation party. Volunteer for any role at bikethedrive.org/volunteer.

$40,000 of enthusiasm

Hoffman Estates cyclist Tom Lucas came together in 2019, having ridden it “maybe a dozen times. I wanted a different way to approach racing,” he said. “The biggest takeaway, taking a look behind the scenes, is how smoothly it operates. Active Trans is a great organization.”

Volunteers allow a wide range of “bike-ionados”, more than 16,000 in 2021, to enjoy a beautiful sunrise over 30 miles of car-free lakeside – parents carrying toddlers, runners budding, casual tourists, even Chihuahua lovers with handlebar baskets.

“There’s an energy and a positivity that these amazing, generous people bring,” Geraci said. “Their enthusiasm for all the runners is absolutely contagious and lifts the spirits of the staff.

“Riders are equally enthusiastic in their appreciation. All day I hear the steady chorus of ‘thank you for being there!’ It’s hard to put into words.”

It’s also hard to quantify their value, with Geraci suggesting, “Let’s put it at $40,000!”

give back

Giving back is why Chicagoans and 15-year tandem volunteers Ron and Marge Spears return as marshals from their Union Pier, Michigan, home. Their system? Stoker Marge listens to conversations about the incidents on the Motorola radio issued to marshals, while Captain Ron navigates traffic and heads towards arrested runners.

“I’m talking to people involved and gathering information,” Marge said, explaining her personal role as race marshal. “As I write the incident report, Ron has almost finished fixing the apartment.”

“I’m a crack bike mechanic,” Ron admits. “I like to give back. Some people don’t ride a lot, maybe once or twice a year, and then realize how much fun it is. Sometimes people want to pay us for the tubes. We tell them it’s “is what they get when they sign up and pay. If you still want to donate, send your money to Active Trans.”

By adjusting the seats and pumping the tires, race marshals are getting cyclists rolling in 2021.

By adjusting the seats and pumping the tires, race marshals are getting cyclists rolling in 2021.
– Courtesy of Anne Evans/Active Transportation Alliance

Palatine’s Dave Heckelsmiller spent seven years enjoying seeing “young, old and families enjoying the freedom that comes with biking. Plus, seeing Chicago from Lake Shore Drive is breathtaking, especially the North Loop.”

Originally from Iowa, Heckelsmiller repaired bikes at a Dubuque shop, rode the week-long RAGBRAI several times in Iowa, and maintained a lifelong interest in cycling. In short, it is a natural.

“As a bike mechanic and a bit of a geeky engineer, I really have fun fixing punctures and doing minor repairs,” he said. “Seeing someone driving with almost flat tires or needing a seat adjustment, I will offer to make their ride easier.

“Major mechanical breakdowns, like broken cranks, are when the Motorola shoulder microphone comes in handy. I radio my location, describing the person and assistance needed.”

Inspire more cycling

Mechanical problems are recorded on sheets. For “medics,” marshals call for help over the radio using low-key phrasing, according to marshal supervisor Roland Hayes. He laughingly recalls volunteering “maybe 20 years minimum, what was then called the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation”, now Active Trans.

Checkpoint marshals test their flags ahead of the 2021 Fifth Third Bike the Drive.

Checkpoint marshals test their flags ahead of the 2021 Fifth Third Bike the Drive.
– Courtesy of Anne Evans/Active Transportation Alliance

As marshal, Hayes volunteered at several events, observing how things were run. As a supervisor, he estimates that out of 20,000 runners, 300 to 700 are likely to have mechanics. “You just need basic tools and skills to fix most things.”

Before the ride begins, Hayes gathers the marshals and goes over any last-minute advice. It distributes radios, patch kits, assorted tubes, incident cards, basic first aid kits and snacks.

Hayes prefers his marshals to “team up”. For major problems, one diverts traffic while the other assists the rider. For assignments, he explains that more overpasses on the north side means more outages, so more marshals are needed in the north compared to the south.

Early Bird Hike volunteers gather at the lake before Chicago wakes up in 2021.

Early Bird Hike volunteers gather at the lake before Chicago wakes up in 2021.
– Courtesy of Anne Evans/Active Transportation Alliance

“For me, it’s both fun and work,” he explains. “People’s lives are at stake. They can get hurt. So you have to think of it as work.”

What’s a good day?

“Few accidents, warm, sunny and a sense of accomplishment. We hope to help inspire people to ride more bikes and get involved with Active Trans,” said Hayes.

Bike for children

Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley “Bike for Kids” the annual event takes place on Sunday, August 28 at Elgin’s Festival Park with 12, 25 and 50 mile courses along the Fox River. The “All in 100” challenge allows 100-mile runners to split their distances before the event.

Check-in begins at 7 a.m. The course is open from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. After riding, attendees enjoy the party: taco truck, family entertainment, kid-friendly bike parade, and lunchtime bike-friendly showcase.

Easterseals donated 65 adaptive bikes through its Jonathan Goers Bike Club.

• Join the race. Contact Ralph Banasiak at [email protected]