The Little 500 - Breaking Away with The Greatest College Weekend
The Greatest College Weekend
Panache has been making custom apparel for several Little 500 teams over the past few years and this year I went out there to take in the scene. Most people’s knowledge of the event (outside of the state of Indiana) comes from the movie “Breaking Away.” For the folks who know absolutely nothing about the race, here are the basics. The race takes place at Indiana University (don’t call it the university of Indiana… you will be corrected.) There are 33 teams of four people in the race. There is a women’s race on Friday and a men’s race on Saturday. The riders race on a 425-meter oval track made of cinders.
Now for the rules: The bikes are very specific to this race. Each team is provided two race bikes per year by Schwinn. They are coaster brake, single speed bikes with flat pedals. They have a one-piece bottom bracket, metal wheels, and Panaracer tires. You can change the crank length, saddle and seat post, bars, and stem. The frame and fork can not be changed in any way. The gearing also has to be a 46/18 which is a 69 inch gear. For folks who don’t know what that means, it is a tiny gear!! Check out the bikes on this VeloNews video.
Each team always has one person in the race on the track. When that person wants to come out of the race, they come into the pit and another member of the team goes on the track. See video here to see an exchange. This is one of the deciding factors in this race because if you mess this up, you will have a huge gap between you and the field. Most teams switch riders and bikes so they can get the seat post set for the rider that is going into the race. The faster way (and more dangerous way) to perfor an exchange is to have the racing rider give the incoming rider the bike they are riding. The momentum never stops, but it is much easier to make a mistake. There are also a minimum number of exchanges that need to be performed so you can’t just field one incredible rider to win the race for you.
Now for why they call this the greatest college weekend: This race is a big deal. There is a ton of pride for the team that wins the race. So much so that the winners of the race make banners to hang on their house for each race they have won. The school has a purpose built stadium for this race. It is a 425-meter cinder track with plenty of stands for the spectators. It is called the Little 500 because it kicks off the season in Indiana for the Indy 500. The official pace car from the Indy 500 even leads the riders around the track for the first 3 laps. Before the race parashooters fly into the stadium and they sing “Our Indiana.” Everything about the race feels like a big deal.
Both days had great races. The women’s race on Friday had five Panache teams in the race. One of them, The Theta girls pulled off a huge win with a move at the right moment. They had a half lap lead on the rest of the field with 6 to go. The gap started to come down, but with an impressive exchange, they managed to run away with the race. Another Panache team, The Ski Girls (aka IU Ski Club) rode like champions. They chased every move and were always in control of the race. They finished an impressive 4th place. There was a little bit of rain for the ladies, but that made the track perfect for racing! Check out this women's exchange video at the bottom of the page
The men’s race was a bit wilder. There were 12 crashes overall and four in the first four laps. The track was a little dryer and the cinders were a lot looser causing a number of crashes in the corners. The scariest moment in the men’s race came when a coach from the Black Ice team mistakenly got in the way of another teams exchange. He was not paying attention to the exchange and ended up getting hit in the head by the incoming rider's helmet. He blacked out for a few minutes and was rushed to the emergency room. The race was put into caution for 8 or so laps while the EMT’s went to work. Thankfully the coach is fine, but he definitely gave the Little 500 community a huge scare. The men’s race had two Panache teams in the race both of them rode the front of the race all day Christian Student Federation (CSF) was taken out by a late crash, but both them and the Lambda boys rode really well. The race came down to four teams. The Black Key Bulls (BKB) boys took the win with a late breakaway. The ever-famous Cutters gave a good fight and ended up in third place. Check out a men's exchange at the bottom of the page.
Do they call it the best college weekend because of the race or because of the partying that happens the entire weekend? I guess that will always be up for debate, but I will say the race was a blast. It introduces the sport of cycling that we all love to people who would never think to try it out. It brings a lot of people together to celebrate the sport and to celebrate their teams. I definitely had a great time and will be going out to enjoy the festivities again next year!
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Special thanks To Megan Huibregtse and Elliott Parshall for showing me the ropes in Bloomington!