Words: Courtney Bell, Pix: Maurice

On June 23, the only thing separating us from the Urban Assault Ride in Austin, TX was 1,400 miles of blazing asphalt.  A few days, and countless pit stops later, we had reached our long-awaited destination…only to screech to halt in Friday rush hour traffic.  The skyscrapers of downtown Austin seemed close enough to reach out and touch, yet our trusty steed (a ’94 Toyota Camry, packed to the gills) was forced to crawl at inchworm speeds. Fortunately the spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughn was with us.

By the time we reached our hotel, we were itching to trade our four wheels for two.  Steering clear of the traffic-laden main roads, we set out to explore the funky and colorful neighborhoods that have helped put Austin on the map as a Mecca for all things kitsch.  What we found were streets bursting with colorful bungalows, eye candy in the form of tacky lawn ornaments, every kind of food cart imaginable, and Mexican influence galore…which led us to a find some amazing grub at local hot spot Curra’s Grill. After devouring the last morsel of Carnitas marinated in Coca-cola, orange juice and milk (sounds strange, but sooo good!), I sat back, closed my eyes and laughed at the idea of ever eating another cheese slathered platter of soggy enchiladas and beans-from-the-can “Mexican” food again.  Bellys happy, now the only thing separating us from the crown jewel of our adventure was a solid night’s sleep.

Sponsored by the New Belgium Brewing Company, the Urban Assault Ride’s motto is “beer, bikes and big wheels,” all of which were aplenty at this celebration of all things bike.  Around 7:30 a.m., cyclists began trickling in.  A half hour later, a mob of nearly 2,000 had gathered- young and old, some in costumes, others in racing kit, seasoned veterans and newbies alike.  The whole scene was, in effect, an example of the power the bicycle has to bring people together, make people smile and spread good vibes in general.

Although technically a race, for many this ride was more about the fun factor: exploring Austin by bike while taking part in silly obstacle courses.  For example, one of the more popular obstacles required team members to ride a kids’ big wheel around a race course.  The best part:  these big wheels were designed to make huge skidding stops and turns.

Another obstacle that was almost as fun for participants as it was for spectators was “skateboard bowling.”  You guessed it; one person lays flat on the skateboard while the other pushes them, feet first, into plastic bowling pins.  I must say, we were pretty talented at this one.  We both got strikes on the first try!

Piggyback polo.

And, of course, because Texas summers are stinkin’ hot, more than one obstacle involved water.  Giant floating rubber duckies awaited participants at a stop along Lady Bird Lake.  The object was for one team member to jump on the ducky’s back while the other pulled the ducky from point A to point B on a leash.  For many, this was just as much about cooling off as it was about completing the obstacle.

Around noon, as temps shifted from hot to sweltering, riders made their way to the finish line.  What awaited them was the thumping bass and crooning of a local alt-country band (a nod to Austin’s musical roots), burrito carts, sponsor tents (Keen, Globe Bicycles, REI, Clif, Timbuk2, among others), a free massage tent, and, of course, cold New Belgium beer on tap. Check out the handlebar tap handle here:

As we made our way through the crowd, handing out free issues of Dirt Rag and Bicycle Times along the way, we were greeted with many tired but content faces. A few savvy participants were even treated to free Panaracer tires when they wisely subscribed to our magazines. Thanks for the help, Panaracer!

The festivities concluded with one final wacky competition on the main stage, which included the classic “feet strapped to tin cans” stilt walk, a mini bike limbo and a wheel hoola-hoop contest.  Good times were definitely had by all!  The next stops include:

Ft. Collins- 7/18
Denver – 7/25
Minneapolis- 8/8
St. Louis- 8/15
Des Moines- 8/22
Chicago- 9/12
Madison- 9/26

More about our Austin adventures:

Thanks to our friend Hill Abel, a long time Austin native and owner of Bicycle Sport Shop, for suggesting that we check out Barton Springs and the nearby Greenbelt trail system.

The Greenbelt trail system has some rocky, highly technical trails in close proximity to the entrance to Barton Springs (more about that in paragraph 2). As a mountain bike novice, I was challenged to my very core here.  As I stumbled and cursed down the trail, my usual motto of “speed is your friend” became more important than ever.  As we looped back to the trailhead, I felt a little surprised (maybe disappointed too) that I’d finished the ride without shedding a single drop of blood.  Even a seasoned expert like Moe found the trail righteously challenging in parts.  Definitely recommended for those who want to cut their teeth on some rocky technical trail.

Barton Springs is a monstrous (3 acres to be exact) spring fed public swimming pool with an average year round temperature of 68 degrees.  Not surprisingly, we found rows of bikes locked up outside the gates of this “crown jewel” of Austin.  According to one cyclist we met, it’s not unusual to see upwards of 500 bikes locked up outside the gates following one of the popular Thursday night rides.  And it’s no wonder; dipping into the cool spring waters makes for a perfect ending to a day of riding under the hot Texas sun.

By the way, Austin is bike-friendly…