On Sunday, January 1st I had the opportunity to compete in the 69th Annual I-Cycle Derby in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
-The longest continuously running AMA sanctioned event
-Since it started in 1948, it has NEVER been canceled regardless of weather or road conditions.
-Currently hosted by Team Strange Airheads, a motorcycle club in Minneapolis.
What is it?
The I-Cycle Derby is essentially a Time-Trials event held on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In it’s current format it is divided into 6 segments with a lunch break to warm up in the middle.
As a Minnesota resident, I have known about and wanted to participate in the I-Cycle Derby for many years. Before Sunday, I did not know much about it other than that it happens every year on January 1st in Minneapolis no matter what. As a Minnesota resident, I felt that I had a duty to participate in this at some point in my life and thanks to social media, I was well aware of it far enough in advance so I could plan to attend and also figure out what I would need to wear to stay warm!
I think I should preface this by saying that I am by no means cut from the tougher stuff that is required to participate in an event like this. I usually spend most of my winters hiding in my heated garage working on scooter or motorcycle projects. Had it not been for a weather forecast of close to 30°F and reasonably clean and dry roads, I would have just stayed home and left the 69th Annual I-Cycle Derby to the truly hardcore among us.
I decided to take the afternoon on Friday, December 30th to get my scooter out and go for a practice ride. The idea was to get geared up and go for a ride to see how the roads were and how well my gear would protect me from the bitter Minnesota winter cold. Some riders use modern machines with heated seats, heated grips, etc but I intended to use the 1961 Lambretta LI125 I had built for Corazzo last fall so modern conveniences were limited to having a cell phone in case I got lost or my machine broke down somewhere.
My initial gear selection for Thursday’s outing included:
Corazzo Bandito Neck Gaiter (not yet sold in stores)
Thermal Long Underwear
The temperatures for the trial run were 28°F, which is actually quite warm for Minnesota in late December. Since our last real snowfall was almost 2 weeks prior, the roads were relatively clean and free of snow or ice pack. This is also rather unusual in Minnesota as normally all the streets outside of main roads are ice packed until late March so this was very promising. I was mentally prepared to fit my knobby offroad tires and had been looking for an excuse to fit ice racing screws to them but honestly my normal street tires were fine.
Overall I had a great time terrorizing the streets of Mankato on Friday even if everyone was staring at me like an alien. I wasn’t even the slightest bit cold so I was confident in my gear decisions for Sunday although I did decide to also wear my Corazzo Portland Rain Suit on Sunday just as a means to cut the wind.
Time to Derby!
I woke up early Sunday morning and loaded the Corazzo S2 Lambretta into the back of my truck for the trip to Minneapolis. I unloaded my scooter at my buddy Dan’s house and departed from there with a few friends. Temps when we left that morning were a tropical 18°F and sunny. The streets in Minneapolis were clean and clear just as they were in Mankato so it really was the perfect day to derby!
Clearly a lot of other people felt the same way I did as the street outside of Roy’s Repair in Minneapolis was packed full of people and bikes! People came from all different backgrounds to participate, which is clearly a sign of a good event. Everything from vintage Honda Passports all the way up to a Victory Vision, which I think was the largest vehicle that participated this year. There were a few sidecars as well but the majority were motorcycles and scooters.
At 10am they held a riders meeting inside the extremely packed Roy’s Repair to explain the I-Cycle Derby and draw numbers for our starting positions. According to the organizers we had 49 competitors this year which they all felt was due to the warmer weather.
The basic idea is you get a card with directions on it. You follow the directions on the card until you reach the next checkpoint, where you will receive the next card. Riders depart in 1 minute intervals from the starting line with the goal of reaching the checkpoint as close as they can to the specified average speed listed on the card. There are a lot of variables that effect your ability to do that like traffic, time spent at stop lights and your ability to navigate the route accurately. Riders get 1 point for every minute they arrive late and 2 points for every minute they arrive early with the goal of finishing with the least amount of points possible. It’s similar to golf in the regard that points are not a good thing although unlike golf, you cannot earn negative points. Once you get a point, that is yours until the end of the event.
Now seeing as I have not lived in Minneapolis in 14 years, I did feel as though I was at a bit of a disadvantage to those riders who live and ride in the Twin Cities but I figured that worst case I could just follow the rider in front of me and hope they knew where they are going. That was definitely not in the cards for me as when the time came to draw my starting number, I drew number 1! I think some of the more experienced participants would have loved to get that number but not me! I was quick to tell everyone NOT to follow me since I was a first-timer AND had no clue where I was going. In the end, those were words to live by regardless of my starting position!
After receiving the first card, a helpful Ural rider loaned me some packing tape so I could wrap my instructions to my arm and get to the starting line. At 10:31AM I was off the line and on my way:
The first 3 turns went just fine although I had hit all green lights on Lake street so I was worried I was running fast even if I was trying my hardest to hold the speed limit. My It all fell apart for me after that as I didn’t look over the card well enough beforehand and just assumed the mileage on the left column was the distance between the turns and not a running total of miles traveled since the start. This turned out fatal for me as it showed 7 miles in the left column so I went ahead and blasted 7 miles down Lake Street before I even started looking for the next turn. After not being able to find it I eventually just pulled over and checked my phone. After realizing I had essentially blown the turn by over 6 miles, I hot tailed it back to where I should have turned and found myself well into the mix of riders competing this year.
At the first checkpoint I got my new card and quickly reused the tape from my first card to attach my second card. I had no clue where I was in the mix of riders but I did know I needed to drop the hammer and pass as many people as I could to make up all the time I lost on my little excursion.
With the hammer dropped, I was motoring past rider after rider on Penn Avenue until I passed 50th street. About 50 feet past that intersection my 2nd card flew off my arm and right into the middle of the street. If I was not trying to make up time, I could have just followed the person in front of me until I got to the next checkpoint but since I was passing riders, there was a good chance I might miss another turn and not be able to find the route ever again. So with that I had to stop and turn around to get my card out of the street. Penn was so busy with traffic that I got to watch a grip of riders I had just passed motor along down the road while I waited for my chance to grab my card. Eventually I was able to rescue my route card from the street and from here on out I kept my route folded into one of the velcro straps on my left glove and just referenced it as necessary.
Thankfully the remaining first half of the Derby came without issue. I was able to pass a few riders and eventually came in as the 22nd rider at Roy’s Repair for lunch. Since the idea is to come within a target average time/speed, I should have ended in the same position I started in but now I know how the cards work. 😉
Lunch was included in the entry fee with hot coffee and tea provided by the fine folks at Diamonds Coffee Shoppe in Northeast Minneapolis. After lunch and a quick gas up, we reconvened for another rider meeting before I once again took the pole position to start the afternoon leg of the derby.
The afternoon leg ended up taking us into St. Paul and I have to say, I really thought I was finally in my groove for this leg. I kept an eye on my speedometer to make sure I wasn’t speeding and also making sure I wasn’t hammering it off the line. Overall I performed all 3 of the legs on this half flawlessly. I never missed a single turn and never got passed by anyone so at least I wasn’t dragging my heals or messing up my navigation.
It was not totally without issue though as when I got to St. Paul, my Speedometer starting making some seriously ill noises. The needle starting bouncing pretty fierce but the odometer was still working until I reached Shepard Road, when the whole thing made one last long and labored squawk that sounded like I ran over a mouse and that was the end of it.
Rest in Peace dear Veglia speedometer. You can now join all your speedometer friends in my other Lambrettas in that place where rest is your primary concern. No longer will you be required to offer lazy approximations of travel speed. You can now sleep at zero knowing that you have spent most of your life committed to being 60% accurate. Thanks Veglia speedo for your 55 years of below par performance.
With my speedo and odometer now defunct, I spent the remainder of the the last segment using my butt speedometer to determine my travel speed. I arrived at Roy’s Repair a little after 2pm to no fanfare. In fact nobody was even outside since apparently the 2nd half of the Derby should have taken me about 1 1/2 hours and I did it in a little over 1 hour. Remember when I said that you get 2 points for each minute you arrive early? Whoops!
After about 20 minutes the remaining riders started rolling in either alone or in packs of 2. The rules clearly stated that if the judges could see you put your foot down on the street where the finish line was, they would count that as your finish time regardless of if you crossed the line. This led to more than a few riders taking the opportunity to practice their low speed maneuvering and figure 8 skills in an effort to stall for time. For those that did, this probably helped them keep a few points off their final score although none of the riders that placed in the top 5 had to perform such expert acrobatics.
Once all the riders had returned we all hung around and drank more coffee and ate Christmas Cookies until the final points could be tallied and trophies awarded. As a first timer, seeing the point totals it takes to win an event like this was a real eye opener. The 5th place trophy started at 6 points with this years winner coming in at an incredible 0 points! That means they came within 59 seconds of the exact time specified for each of the 6 legs of the Derby, which is a pretty incredible feat and as one of the volunteers noted, the first time he ever has seen that happen.
Since clearly I was playing by my own rules on Sunday (those being only to start and finish the I-Cycle Derby), I ended with a whopping 109 points! Some of my friends did much better than that with Mr. John Schepers coming in at 8 points and Bart at 22 although none of those guys absolutely clobbered it like I did. Apparently that was not the worst score this year so I can only imagine that whoever got more points than I did has probably got a pretty good story to tell…
What I would do differently:
If I decide to do this again next year, here is a few things I would do differently so that I would be more competitive:
-Mount a 6″ x 9″ clipboard to my handlebars to hold the route cards. I saw this on quite a few of the bikes and they hold the route cards perfectly.
-Mount a calculator to the clipboard. The basic idea is they give you the total mileage of the segment and the average speed but you need to figure out the time it should take. Since doing the math in your head while riding and avoiding ice is practically impossible, this would be quite helpful for me.
Here is an example: Let’s say one segment is 8.9 miles and has an average speed of 12 miles an hour. 60 minutes/12 mph=5, which means on this segment each mile should take 5 minutes to complete. The segment is 8.9 miles so 5*8.9=44.5 minutes. That means it should take you 44 minutes and 30 seconds to complete that segment. Since they use a 59 second buffer zone, you should arrive at some point between 44 minutes 30 seconds and 45 minutes 29 seconds. If you can do that, you will get 0 points. That’s a lot of mental math to do so either having a calculator or a passenger with a calculator would be ideal.
-Mount a stopwatch to the clipboard to monitor segment time.
Now I understand that I will lose time by taking off my glove and calculating my time but I think that is negligible. I could easily make up the 20-30 seconds I might lose doing that or maybe I could just reset the stopwatch when I get the new card and do the calculations at the first stop light?
Overall I had a really great time on Sunday. Everyone that participated and volunteered on Sunday were super friendly and helpful. It definitely was a great experience and now even a cream puff like me is starting to seriously consider making another go of it.