Throughout May, we’ve featured locals commuters. As we’re getting into the season for charity rides, we thought we’d introduce you to a man who not only uses his bike to get to work but also to raise money for charity. Meet Chad Smith who pedals to raise money to fund research into the cause and cure of Multiple Sclerosis. Chad has great advice for those who are thinking about commuting and anyone considering a charity ride.
Chad Smith, 61
HG: How did you first get involved with the MS Society?
CS: My wife has MS. So I was drafted into the MS Movement.
HG: What is your role there?
CS: Past Chairman of the Greater Illinois Chapter. Currently serving Vice Chair.
Once I became engaged with the MS Society, I served on several committees and continue to contribute time and funds to the cause.
HG: How long have you been riding to raise funds for the MS Society?
CS: First bicycle event was 1998. We called ourselves the Smith Family Team. We had five or six participants
HG: How have your fundraising efforts changed through the years?
CS: The charity bike team that was formed to participate in MS Bike Events became the Wheeler Dealers, the most successful charity bicycle team in Illinois – with total funds raised to date of one million dollars.
I, and various team members, have participated in MS Bike events in a variety of states. Last year I went to New Zealand to participate in the country’s first MS Bike-related event.
HG: Tell me more about the Wheeler Dealers.
CS: While the team does participate in other charity causes, our focus is MS. We look for opportunities to ride together and we do some training rides together. Several of us bicycled from the North Shore to the Loop to do Bike The Drive and then bicycled home. For fun many of us do the RAIN (Ride Across Indiana) Ride together, a one-day 162 mile challenge. We are not a racing team.
HG: What is the Tour de Farms?
CS: The Tour de Farms is our name for the two-day multi-route bicycle event the Greater Illinois Chapter organizes in DeKalb, IL. Daily route options range from 15 miles designed to be accessible to anyone to a double metric century of 124 miles.
The event is highly organized with numerous rest stops, medical teams, motorcycle security patrols, on the road SAG vans, everything needed to make it a great event for the 3000 bicyclists, family members and support volunteers who make this a unique two day event. Many participants arrive Friday night, this year June 22nd, for the kick-off festivities that continue through the closing ceremonies Sunday, June 24th.
HG: How has the Tour de Farms grown in the past few years?
CS: Originally the event was not called the Tour de Farms. It became the Tour de Farms while I was on the bike event committee. I’ve been involved with the Tour de Farms since it adopted the name, approximately 10 years ago now. The current location is the most bike friendly location we have been able to develop to date. There is a small very dedicated group of bicyclists at the Greater Illinois Chapter who have been responsible for the rapid growth of the event in a tough economic environment.
HG: What is the best part of such a challenging ride as the Tour de Farms?
CS: Two-day events (you can do one day if you wish) require you to save some energy on the first day so you will have what you need to complete the second day. It is a different challenge, attempting back-to-back century rides, and we have numerous participants who build this event into their training plan. You will be stronger after the event. I enjoy riding this event with my team, we typically get a pace line going that stays together and allows those needing to be pulled to hang in the back and finish with the group.
HG: Any advice for someone who has never done a ride like this but might want to try?
CS: The event is designed to let everyone experience some success. If you are spent after the first day, on the second day you can opt for a short route. Pick a distance you would like to ride and work up some training rides that get you on your bicycle for a few hours. Issues like bike fit, shoe fit and hydration become much more important as the miles pile on. This is not a race; it is an event. You can train as hard or have as much fun as you want on the route.
HG: What cycling gear do you consider essential for an event like the Tour de Farms?
CS: Do you even need to mention a helmet and sunglasses? In an event as large as this someone will become distracted and crash. I know because last year I was playing with my bike computer and hit an obstruction much to the delight of my teammates. Gloves are important if you are going any distance. Obviously I’m wearing a jersey and shorts.
I’m scared of my dermatologist so I keep putting on sunscreen, but never put it on above your eyes. I need sun protection above my eyes so I wear a Headsweats cycling cap under my helmet.
I keep a large garbage bag as an emergency rain suit if there is a chance for rain and roll up a cycling rain jacket and put it in my middle back pocket if there is rain in the forecast.
I take two water bottles which fit on my bike. There are rest stops almost every 10 miles so keeping them full in not an issue. I have a food allergy so I carry some spare food to backup what is available at the rest stops which are amply supplied. There is actually a famous hamburger associated with the event which will fuel you for several miles.
HG: Higher Gear is known for its post-event feasts. Do the Wheeler Dealers have any Tour de Farms food traditions?
CS: At my team tent on Friday night we grill steaks and have plenty of food available for our team and friends as they arrive for the event. Post-ride, my team has a tent with several tables and the team congregates there. I supplement the more than adequate food and beverages provided at the event. Goose Island is an event sponsor, for example. My wife’s needs are best met by our RV, so that is parked next to the team tent. It is a bus-type RV, a little over 40 feet long, so it is a nice shelter if we need it.
HG: I’ve learned that you ride your bike into work. How frequently do you do that?
CS: I try to bicycle into the loop from my house (and back) two or three times a week when weather is favorable. Once a week isn’t enough to do me much good. If I get in three rides, I can tell I’m starting to get in better shape.
HG: How many miles is your commute?
CS: Depending on the route my one-way distance runs 22 to 24 miles.
HG: How long does it take you to make that commute by bike?
CS: I meet up with some other commuters at Plaza del Lago, about 20 minutes from my house, in the morning. In the morning from Plaza del Lago to my bike parking spot takes a little over an hour depending on the group and route. We typically each make our own individual way home later in the day.
HG: How do you get to work on other days and how does that commute compare with the days you ride?
CS: At one time I drove my car frequently but I have become less tolerant of the time wasted in a car. My house was built by Walter Gurnee who controlled the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad and he built a train station just across Green Bay Rd. from my house. There really isn’t any reason for me not to take the train. The fastest train makes the trip in 35 minutes and generally it takes around 50 minutes. From my loop office to the train station is about 20 minutes. In the morning the big advantage of the train is I can get caught up on the news while riding to work and when I arrive I don’t need to take a shower. Conversely bicycling to work is a great way to start the day. I do both.
HG: What’s your least favorite part about commuting?
CS: Cold wet weather blowing against you the entire trip. Some afternoons when I’m heading north, the wind along the lake is blowing hard against you and if it is also cold with rain you can really get chilled. I’ve had to stop and warm up in coffee shops and once I was so cold I just called a cab.
HG: What is your commuter bike?
CS: I have a Trek cyclocross bike. Winter is really hard on a commuter. Something easy to maintain like a single speed makes good sense.
HG: Is that your only bike?
CS: I also have a high end road/race frame I need to build out, two road bikes, one folding bike and a mountain bike. You just cannot own too many bicycles.
HG: What is the most important gadget you take with on your commute?
CS: My phone in a waterproof bag. You don’t need to take the phone out of the bag to use it.
HG: What advice do you have for someone considering commuting by bicycle?
CS: The big issues generally seem to be where to shower and where to store clothes. It is easier to have clothes at your destination as opposed to carrying everything with you. And it is better to carry stuff on your bike as opposed to on your shoulders in a backpack or in a bicycle messenger bag. Riding for 20 miles with a bunch of extra weight pressing on your shoulders will eventually cause problems.