For Gia Roberts of Hazel Crest, the highlight of the Bike the Gem community ride on Saturday, Aug. 7, was the people along the route who cheered the riders and offered them bottles of water on a hot day.
"At that 10-mile mark I was like 'I'm not going to make it,'" Roberts said. "They were cheering you on. They were standing out there saying, 'You can do it!'"
Bike the Gem is a preview and promotion for the Hidden Gem Half Marathon, which will be run on Sept. 11, giving non-runners in the community a chance to see the route and connect with each other.
Race organizers convened the first ride in 2019 as what they expected would be a small, informal introduction to the race route, but more than 200 cyclists showed up that first year.
The ride was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the response this year suggests it appears to be growing into an event in its own right. More than 300 participants registered this year, according to Tom Dobrez, a member of the Flossmoor's Future team that organized the ride.
Irwin Friedman, sporting a "Cycling Dad" T-shirt while waiting for the ride to begin, said the event was an inspired move that got more people involved in the Hidden Gem idea.
"I'm not a runner," he said. "To combine it (biking) with the race is a nice hook. It's obviously popular."
The hospitality along the route wasn't actually part of the event plan, according to Dobrez, but was an indication that the community is embracing the Hidden Gem.
"There's always something unexpected that happens at every Hidden Gem event. Today it was kids on the sidewalks with 'Go!' signs. It was neighbors that had music playing in the driveway," Dobrez said. "The community spirit was something else. They knew it was coming by their house and they wanted to participate and be part of this great day."
Laurie Flowers of Flossmoor agreed with her friend, Roberts, about the magic of the community coming out to cheer on the cyclists. She appreciated the chance to connect with the community in a new way.
"When my kids were younger, I was out all the time doing kid-related things -- school, PTO. Now, they are grown and in college, and I don't get out as much," she said.
She is a regular participant in rides sponsored by GoodSpeed Cycle, and had ridden 16 miles that morning before joining the 13.1-mile Bike the Gem ride.
She said the pace and spirit of the event were just right.
"You don't have to go fast. You don't have to be the first one across the line," she said. "This is just about enjoying yourself, getting good exercise. It's a great way to connect. It was a great ride. I can't wait to do it again."
Blenda Robertson said the hills on Braeburn Avenue were a challenge, yet she, too, was ready to go again.
"I hope they continue it," she said.
The pace and distribution of the riders were managed by Flossmoor police who helped keep riders safe as they wound their way through the village, crossing major thoroughfares like Governors Highway and Kedzie Avenue along the way.
Before the event started, Flossmoor Police Chief Tod Kamleiter explained the rules, noting that police would monitor major intersections but that riders should follow the rules of the road in any case.
Kamleiter, riding a bike, and a Flossmoor patrol car, set the pace, and riders were expected to stay together as much as possible during the ride.
Derrick Small of Flossmoor said he was impressed with the way police managed traffic and helped keep the riders safe.
Mayor Michelle Nelson also thanked police, fire and public works staff for supporting the event.
Photos by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle.