#OptOutside @ Big Marsh was a long time coming and a great change from when we first hosted a race at the now opened Big Marsh in Southeast Chicago. That first race in October 2014 – the Big Marsh Mashdown – held a lot of hope and promise for our friends, the cycling community, and especially the crew on The Bonebell. We’ve been heavily invested in the park’s success, including several of us serving on the Friends of Big Marsh advisory board, and it was a welcome holiday gift to see so many people racing and enjoying the Big Marsh bounty. Initiatives like Big Marsh are substantially driven by volunteer efforts and, physical work aside, countless hours have been devoted to organize people, paperwork, and logistics. The Bonebell made a commitment to be not only a supporter for the park but an integral component to seeing through its success and its future development. Our work doesn’t end here as the best is yet to come, and you can expect more out of The Bonebell to bring you the best that Big Marsh has to offer. Dream big, becuase we most definitely are. Our mayor Rahm Emanuel has committed to securing a USA Cyclocross Nationals race in Chicago, and this is our opportunity to help make that next dream, a reality.

I would like to acknowledge that the #optoutside Black Friday event at Big Marsh would not have been possible without the leadership and organization of Amy Weik, who took on the considerable responsibility of race director to make this race happen with just six weeks planning. – Paolo Urizar

We at The Bonebell are a small but mighty crew who devote ourselves to the #wayofthedirtbag. Volunteerism and making things happen are what we do to ensure the future success of Dirtbag initiatives. When you see Amy at our tent at the Illinois State CX Championships at Montrose Harbor, reward her with kind words or a choice drink. She’s earned it!

Enjoy the race reports from our crew who dominated the day with high spirits and participation!


Lincoln and Sadie Scheer – Juniors in the Intermediate Race

#OptOutside @ Big Marsh was a super fun fast paced race. Laps seemed to take seconds to complete because I was having so much fun. All elements of the course captured a perfect cross course. – Lincoln

Big Marsh was really fun and slick. The back section was probably the hardest, hard to turn and slippery. Overall the race was really quick. I did the intermediate race, my first time racing outside of a Juniors category and with Cat 4/5 racers. The stairs were pretty easy! The park was way different than last time I visited and it looked really good! – Sadie


Joey Two Wheels aka Joe Doyle – Expert Race

Leading up to the race, The Bonebell was quite active in race prep with site visits, clean ups, arrangements and even race direction. All day long I felt a great sense of pride being a part of a team that gives back to the cycling community.

After an hour as course marshal (read: cheering for beginners and kids under 8best part of the day), I strapped into my Big Marsh kit, rubbed on some embro and hit the pump track for 15 minutes. That was the most fun warmup ever. A pump track? Big Marsh is too cool.

Since I chose to wear Big Marsh gear, I was granted a five second lead with two other guys, including our pal Jim Brady. We scurried off ahead of the fastest guys in Chicago. A gap in a CX race is very favorable, and since I was racing Expert (Cat 1-3) – and I’m a Masters 45+/Category 3 guy – I knew I was going to waste it by at least half way through the first lap! That was okay, this was a training race for me and I was going to give it my all for 60 minutes.

Due to rains earlier that week and soft soil, we had to cut part of the planned course on the day before the race. The impromptu course was fast, relatively short (lots of face time with friends) and had some great features, like Belgian stairs, off-camber uphill climbs, and sand traps. The park is only in Phase One, but this is a great start.

Many racers came around me and I settled into a rhythm and place in the pack, about in the middle (I think). I tested a few racers on laps and found I was faster uphill than the group I was with, so we traded off places throughout. It was nice to hear friends cheer, and I think Chicago ex-pat Christopher Jensen was the one who said “but you had a head start, what are you doing back here?” I love a friendly heckle, it takes your mind off the pain.

joed     andrew

Bone Hanger aka Andrew Giniat – Winner of the Expert Race

Last Friday I had the opportunity to race at Chicago’s newest bike park and cyclocross venue, Big Marsh. The course was every bit as rad as I expected with many of my favorite course features; sand, stairs, ups, flowy downs, power sections, a bit of off camber, mud and a paved start finish stretch. It was really everything a racer could ask for. A couple other things that made for a great day on the bike were that I got to race against good friends and that I won.

Staging was not a thing so I we all just kinda lined up and I was sitting in 2nd or 3rd row when the whistle blew but was able to employ some crit skills to slip through the charging starters and slot in 2nd wheel before the first turn. 2nd wheel is where I sat until after a u-turn, separating two fast stretches, where I decided to attack and make my escape from the field, my thinking was that attacking here would cause the pursuing field to experience a strong accordion effect and really string things out. Not much later that lap I was joined by a bridging Nick Adriano who I worked with to distance ourselves from the field until about halfway through the race when we were also joined by Michael Dutczak who also bridged the gap. Dutczak is one of the Midwest’s strongest CX racers and also a close friend. The three of us worked together but pretty early after the group formed, Dutczak dropped his chain and he had to stop to get it back on. About halfway through the race now, and holding a decent gap on most of the field I began to consider shaking my breakmate and going to the line solo. It was fortuitous that he had a small bobble and I hit the gas and opened up a gap. However, I wasn’t alone for long as Dutczak got past Nick and was able to get back up to me in a massive bridge effort. The two of us decided to work together to keep Nick away for the following laps and then we’d battle it out for the finish.

Michael and I smashed the following laps, with the last lap being the fastest of the day (according to Strava). Going into the bell lap Dutczak went full gas trying to keep the pressure on. He led through the majority of the lap, even attacking up the small climb on the course. However, I stayed with him and conserved what I could in his draft. On the last power section I attacked into a short technical section before the stairs and took the lead. I knew that was the spot because it’d be hard to race fast through the technical section and whoever made it over the stairs and into the last couple turns first would be able to come into the finishing stretch alone. Things went according to plan and I was able to blaze onto the start-finish chute first and let out a quick sprint to take the win!

A-Dub aka Amy Weik – Race Director

Last fall we had discussed with park partners REI about holding an event at Big Marsh for their first #OptOutside on Black Friday campaign, but a number of factors kept us from moving forward – mostly the continuous flow of trucks dumping dirt at the site spoiled the idea.

Fast forward a year to fall 2016 and the option for a race was floated again. However, as a date hadn’t been nailed down for the official bike park opening (which later occurred on November 6), we weren’t confident that we should move forward with race planning for Black Friday. After meeting with Friends of Big Marsh board members Jay Readey and Dan Stefiuk, interim executive director and secretary respectively, on October 17 to talk it over, we began feeling more comfortable in of spite the unknowns, and later that day I received notice “Let’s Just Do It”.

All was quickly set into motion. The Bonebell had agreed to once again oversee race planning and execution, and I volunteered to perform as race director – which turned out to be a whirlwind of effort packed into a little over a month. I quickly compiled a crew of folks from local teams XXX Racing, South Chicago Wheelmen, Spidermonkeys, SRAM, and of course The Bonebell, to divide and conquer. And when Ten Speeds Production and 2WheelSports unexpectedly offered to donate their race services including chip timing, officiating, equipment and registration, it was like manna from heaven.

Photo: SnowyMountain Photography

In addition to general planning and logistics, several course plotting and trail workdays were required whereby batches of additional helpful individuals stepped up to pitch in with sweat equity. Promotions, equipment, sponsorship, scoring, registration, fundraising raffle, food options, trail planning, and some clever time bonus promotions all came together in time, even with the challenges of race day bumping up to a holiday.

All of the work was rendered worthwhile upon witnessing the faces of the participants and spectators, as it was clear they were enjoying themselves at our glorious new park. We had set out to make this an inclusive event which can also be marked as a win as many folks showed up to compete in their first-ever bike races! The day went smoothly, thanks in large part to 40+ volunteers and willing attitudes, and everyone soaked in the good vibes. Thanks for making #OptOutside @ Big Marsh a success!

Some personal wins included:

  • 82% of my Chicago-based Bonebell teammates either volunteered or raced (or both!) before or during the event!
  • It was also satisfying to have a large group of my family members attend to finally check out the park, participate in the walking tour, and later watch my nephews race to earn 2nd, 3rd and the “Effort” award in the Kids race. My youngest nephew did the whole race on a scoot bike!

Watch out for a 2017 Bonebell Juniors Team – you heard it here first!
Photo: SnowyMountain Photography

* All photos provided by Amy Dykema unless otherwise stated

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