What is now the Fox Valley Bicycle & Ski Club began in April 1968 at the invitation of St. Charles Park District with a public meeting and guest speaker Robert Kleckner from the Bicycle Institute of America. The “Bike Club” (St. Charles Bicycle Club) was sponsored for over a decade by the park district, and meetings were held at the “Keg”--basement of the Baker Community Center in St. Charles (a disappointment to some visitors as no alcohol was allowed!)
The first couple years most members had single, 3 or 5 speed bikes, but soon most everyone “graduated” to 10 speeds and had the challenge of learning about derailleurs and “drop” handlebars. The club had weekly Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon rides (mostly local family rides, or a “day trip” such as riding the Salt Creek trail to Brookfield Zoo.) This was before the Fox River Trail existed; we rode on city streets and country roads. Randall Rd was easy to cross—2 lanes and no stoplights!
In 1969 the club held its first overnight trip to the newly developed Elroy-Sparta Trail in Wisconsin (30 mile trail through 3 tunnels on a former railroad bed.) Bikes were transported on homemade rooftop racks and inside vans, and the group camped at Wildcat Mt State Park. Many more bicycle weekend trips followed over the years, especially exploring bike trails and rural roads in Wisconsin and Michigan, at first camping or using sleeping bag space in gyms, and eventually using motels.
In 1970, the club hosted its first invitational Swedish Days Ride (an easy 25 mile ride to enjoy Geneva’s Swedish Days parade and attended by 60 cyclists from Chicagoland clubs.) Now the ride, held the 4th Sunday in June, is the club’s biggest and best known event and draws 700 to 800 riders, has grown to 30-45-65-85-100-124 mile routes, starts by Burlington Central High School, and stays west of Route 47. This year’s ride will be June 24.
The club was encouraged in its early years by Schwinn rep. Keith Kingbay and Phyllis Hursthouse Harmon, then magazine editor for national LAW (League of American Wheelmen), now known as League of American Bicyclists (LAB). Both were prominent figures in the bicycle boom in the 70’s and development of bicycle clubs in the Chicagoland area and nationwide. (Note—another area club that developed was the Elgin Bicycle Club, which for several yrs hosted a ride called the Union Express, which included the train museum in Union, IL. They also hosted an annual fundraiser ride for the Elgin Shoe Fund. When the club dissolved, several members joined the Fox Valley club.)
With a primary focus on bicycling, the schedule soon included other outdoor activities such as cross-country skiing, hiking and canoeing; hence the club short name/logo for awhile was “Self-Propelled”. A winter weekend trip at Green Lake, Wisconsin was added for several yrs, until the cross-country ski shop and trails were closed due to lack of snow. (Members continue to cross-country ski and snowshoe mostly at local forest preserves whenever the weather cooperates.)
Fox Valley and Aurora Bicycle Clubs Combine
In 1998 Fox Valley combined with neighboring Aurora Bicycle Club (ABC), founded in 1973 and long known for its early season Silver Springs Sixty Ride held the 4th Sunday of April in Yorkville. The ride included 30 and 60 mile routes with a rest stop at Silver Springs State Park, and a post-ride pasta dinner prepared by the members. As many as 2000 cyclists attended the event, including riders from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana. The extra manpower continued this invitational for several more years, with the 30th anniversary SSS Ride in 2004. Proceeds provided bicycles for several local police and fire departments including North Aurora’s paramedic bikes.
The Aurora club’s history included organizing bicycle races in 1975-6 at Phillips Park, and continuing 7 or 8 years, eventually moving to downtown Aurora. The event known as the Fox Valley Criterium attracted famous racers including Connie Carpenter and Greg LeMond.
2000-- Pedalling into a New Century
The club’s Swedish Days Ride 2000 offered a T-shirt showing a cyclist on a high wheel bicycle plus a cyclist on a modern bike. That year’s ride included several “Wheelmen” who rode their “ordinary’s.” While none of our members owned any of these vehicles in their “bicycle stables”, members have seen five decades of changes, including aluminum frames/carbon fiber, LED lighting, GPS maps, and the increasing popularity of “fat tire” bikes.
Our earliest members included two cyclists who rode their bikes around Lake Michigan. We were also inspired by a local Girl Scout leader (Fran Buckles) who together with her three daughters (not yet in high school) biked/camped from St. Charles to the state of Oregon with no support vehicle. We had programs by cyclists who shared their adventures riding RAGBRAI and other “across the state” rides. Notable figures Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo (winners of RAAM—Race Across America) spoke to us about their current projects with PAC Tours and leading cycling trips in Peru, combined with mission trip bringing school supplies. Now we have several members who planned their own rides Pacific to Atlantic coast or rode their bikes in Europe, including over the Pyrenees.
The club has done trail clean-ups, hosted bicycle rodeos, given away bike helmets, and helped at workdays to develop the Geneva Riverwalk. It donates approx $10,000/yr to a variety of bicycle related, trail development and community causes such as Illinois Prairie Path, Trails for Illinois, Rails to Trails, League of Illinois Bicyclists (now known as Ride Illinois), Special Olympics, Kane County Forest Preserve District, and area park districts or Bicycle Commissions. Over the years, the club donated at least 30 specially made hand-operated and therapy oriented (pedal operated) trikes for handicapped kids through the Telephone Pioneers “TOT/HOT Trike” Program. Now we direct our efforts locally to Project Mobility (St. Charles), which provides adaptive cycles and events for kids and adults (especially wounded vets) who have physical challenges that need a specially modified bike/trike. See www.projectmobility.org