I've had a long career of telling the television that I could do what all the contestants on The Amazing Race and similar shows were doing, while not doing any racing myself. So when I heard about UAR coming to town, I signed myself and a friend up for the ride.
The UAR is a race around Minneapolis, taking in five named checkpoints all around town, and three mystery checkpoints. At each named checkpoint, there was a challenge to complete.
We collected our race packets and race numbers the day before. Each one had a bike bottle, t-shirt, and bike bell with sponsor New Belgium Brewing's logo on it. My team-mate's five-year-old daughter was very taken with the bike bell. We debated whether a five-year-old should be allowed a beer company bike bell on her bike. We decided to leave it up to her mom.
On race day, things started badly, when I left the bag with our race numbers at home, and had to go back St. Paul to get them. We started 35 minutes late, but were confident that we had a clever strategy and would make it around the course in the three hour time limit.
The checkpoints seemed to have a logical route to them, so we decided to go around backwards and try to avoid lines at the challenge locations. This meant a long ride out to Richfield to the most southerly checkpoints at REI and Penn Cycle, while almost everyone else headed to the closest checkpoints in Uptown or Cedar-Riverside first.
At REI in Richfield, one team member had to ride a banana seat bike around a tight course with several other racers and throw newspapers to the other team member to catch in a box, while not falling off. After my team mate fell off, narrowly avoiding causing a pile-up, we completed the challenge then headed off to the other checkpoints. The other tasks were bike limbo, mini-bike racing, big wheel bike riding, and picking up coins wearing oven mitts while being squirted with water.
I evened up the score by embarrassingly falling off my bike on a plain old road and skinning my knee somewhere west of Lake Calhoun.
As well as the challenge checkpoints, clues pointed to mystery checkpoints around Minneapolis. The first clue indicated we had to find a fairy with an afro somewhere at Lake Harriet. We swung onto the bike path at the lake, and thought we could save time if walkers could point us in the right direction around the lake.
Us: Have you seen a fairy with an afro?
Walker: [thinks for at least 10 seconds] Yes! He's that way.
Are fairies with an afro that forgettable? I could understand if we had been at Lake Calhoun, where there's a lot of unusual people... We chased down the fairy, a man in a very distinctive outfit including big green sparkly wings, and got the next clue. The clue hinted that the next checkpoint was One On One Bike in the Warehouse District. We rode up the Kenilworth Trail towards downtown Minneapolis, a beautiful wooded trail where the leaves are just starting to change to fall colors.
The clock was ticking, so due to our late start time, we missed out the last two checkpoints. If we had begun on time, we would have been on course to complete the whole race. I'm not an especially fast or fit cyclist, so if I can do it, just about anyone can.
The last challenge, back at Midtown Bike Center, was a bouncy obstacle course. Racers fell out the end of the obstacle course into the dirt in front of the finish line to complete the race. Then they could take accumulated race blood, sweat, dirt, and bike grease to the after party.
Racers packed the Midtown Bike Center on the Midtown Greenway to celebrate finishing the race. All the racers got free pizza, burritos, and iced tea, coffee and beer flowed. A mini-bike limbo contest was followed by a raffle and more contests. We danced and played ball to win some more swag, had one last go on the bouncy obstacle course, and headed home.
The Urban Assault Ride is held in several US cities, and the point of the race is to show off how bike friendly your town is, how easy it is to get around, and all the interesting things that can be seen on two wheels. Even some long-time residents commented that they had ridden new trails and seen things they hadn't seen before.
Cool things seen on the Urban Assault Ride
- House on Penn Avenue with hand-made Tin Men for sale
- The Kenilworth Trail. Very pretty. head out in the next few weeks to see the fall colors right in the middle of town.
- The new Minnesota Twins Stadium, being build on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. It's going to be very cool.
- Wipeouts during the mini bikes limbo contest at the after party. Crashes! Rolls! Spills! Fortunately no blood.
- Time race was supposed to begin: 9 a.m.
- Time our team began: 9:35 a.m.
- Number of times our team members fell off a bike: 2
- Injuries sustained: 1 (scraped knee)
- Checkpoints completed (out of eight): 6
- Race time: 3:37 hours (with two 10-minutes time penalties)
- Distance Ridden: 27 miles
- Pints of ice cream eaten by team after race: 1.5
Welcome to Minneapolis, Urban Assault Ride. We had a blast, and so did everyone else we met on the race and at the after party. We hope you'll be back next year!