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April 2, 2007

Upon returning to the city from Saturday's race, sweat salt still caked on our brows, Mike and I headed to Logan Square's Mutiny, a dive bar renowned for having a urinal the size of a phone booth, for the debut of IRO Sprints, an event put on by the local messenger/hipster/fixed-gear scene.

We were both out of our element -- our element being considerably quieter, squarer and less smoky -- but it felt like an important cultural exchange, like America shipping teenagers to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Our team is trying to help messengers get involved in sanctioned racing, and the messengers no doubt feel out of their element whenever they're surrounded by gratuitous Lycra and carbon fiber. Participating in one of their events was the least we could do in return.

The format was simple: Two track bikes are positioned on rollers, their forks mounted to a stationary stand, their rear wheels wired into a laptop. The rollers offer zero resistance, so the contest is to see who can most quickly spin 36 times, the equivalent of a 250-meter sprint at the velodrome. The spins get ridiculously fast and violent. Progress is projected onto a wall. Winners advance to the next round; losers go drink some PBR. Meanwhile, a rowdy, inebriated crowd is screaming at the riders to go faster.

The set-up was very impressive, as was the stone-soup way in which it came to be. As I understand it, one person wrote the computer code from scratch, someone else designed a GUI, someone else got the frames donated from manufacturer IRO, and various others cobbled together the necessary parts and know-how and put it all together, all in less time than it takes an Amish village to raise a barn.

The bar was crowded and hot, the punk music was deafening, and two days later my jeans still reek from the cigarette smoke, but it was the most fun I've ever had on one wheel.

I didn't even do that well. What do you expect from a climber? I squeaked by the first round, then got crushed in the second. (Between heats I sneaked to Ellen's car to wolf down a Clif Bar, which I think violated IRO Sprints etiquette on multiple levels.) Mike got into the quarterfinals, but after he got beat at 2 a.m., we were both too exhausted to see things to their end.

Photo taken: March 31, 2007