A pink Hello Kitty bike named Glenda, along with some encouragement from mom and dad, was what 5-year-old Ava Monroe said helped her ride nine miles of Bike the Gem throughout Flossmoor on July 13.
“I was tired out, but Mommy gave me some water,” Ava said.
Ava’s mom, Stephany Monroe, said she takes her daughter on family bike rides often, and they plan to cheer runners on from their Flossmoor home during the Hidden Gem Half Marathon Sept. 7.
“(Bike the Gem) was amazing,” Stephany Monroe said. “I loved being able to see parts of Flossmoor that either we’ve only seen riding by in a car or never at all.”
The Monroe family was among about 180 people who rode bikes through the Chicago Area Runners Association-certified course that has been mapped out for the Hidden Gem Half Marathon.
Flossmoor police officers rode bikes along the course as well and directed traffic for riders to safely cross intersections.
The 13.1 mile ride began at 10 a.m. in front of Infant Jesus of Prague Church and was finished by about 11:30 a.m. Many cyclists stopped by the Flossmoor Station Brewery after the ride for a celebratory Hidden Gem Kolsch.
The drink debuted for Bike the Gem and will be available for runners after the half marathon. It will also be on tap at the brewery for the next few months.
Ryan Czaja, head brewer at Flossmoor Station, said the brew is a light, German ale with grapefruit puree added for a crisp, fruity flavor.
“They wanted to have something that each individual runner could get at the end of the race to have a little reward at the end,” Czaja said. “We came up with this creation together. It’s something that’s going to be enjoyable after you just sweat for two hours.”
Tom Dobrez, an organizer of the half marathon, said the collaboration was one way to use the race to highlight features of Flossmoor.
“The village is the hidden gem itself, but it’s made up of a number of gems, and this Flossmoor Station Brewery is one of them,” he said. “People don’t realize, this was a microbrew before microbrews were cool.”
Dobrez said July 13 was the “perfect day” for Bike the Gem, with sunny skies and a steady breeze present all morning.
Another plus was the “multigenerational” aspect of the bike ride, with riders ranging in age from small children accompanied by their parents to 75-year-olds, he said.
It also brought together lifelong Flossmoor residents with newcomers, and even those familiar with the village saw it from a different perspective.
“There were people saying, ‘Wow, I’ve never been down this street; this is a beautiful neighborhood,’” Dobrez said. “That’s really another part of this, exposing all the various burroughs and getting people excited to be here.”
Dobrez said one of the goals of Bike the Gem was to test the route for potential issues that might have been overlooked.
Other than noting a few areas that could be improved, such as needing clearer path markers past the high school, the bike ride went off without a hitch, he said.
“It was pretty smooth sailing traffic-wise and keeping everybody in tune,” Dobrez said.
Informational community meetings are planned for 7 p.m. July 25 and Aug. 14 at the Flossmoor Library for residents who want to learn about road closures and other logistics.
About 300 people from 11 states have registered for the race so far, with only 30 percent of them being from the Homewood-Flossmoor area, Dobrez said.
“This race has already attracted people from all over Chicagoland, northern Indiana, New York, Colorado, Wisconsin, Alabama,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive.”
The goal is to register 300 to 500 people to participate in the race and have 200 people on hand as volunteers.
Links to register or volunteer are available at www.hiddengemhalf.com.
Homewood resident Tamara Brantley said she rode Bike the Gem so she could check out the course before she runs it in September.
She said viewing the houses and landscaping along the route was her favorite part.
“I got a chance to see Flossmoor like I’ve never seen it before,” she said. “I’ve never seen that side of Flossmoor.”
Brantley has been running for about seven years and said the best advice she could give someone considering the half marathon would be to “start and finish.”
“Don’t worry about time; don’t worry about, ‘Can I finish?,’” she said. “Even if you have to crawl across, just finish. Train for it, but just have fun.”