Looking for an awesome event to fill your Sunday? One that includes bicycling, beer and a scavenger hunt through the city with 1,000 of your best Des Moines buds?
You’re in luck, then, because the Urban Assault Ride is rolling into town.
Now in its third year in Des Moines, Urban Assault is an adventure challenge event for cyclists of any skill level. The premise is simple: Visit all the checkpoints (there are seven), complete the challenge at each stop and try to cross the finish line first. You get one teammate — you can sign up as either an all-male, all-female, coed or family team — and you’re ready to roll.
The event is hosted by New Belgium Brewing Company, and Des Moines is one of only 10 cities in the country to host a ride. And it has been successful here for a number of reasons.
“We have one of the country’s best trail systems. We have very avid bikers. We have a very high percentage that is the biker population,” said Brad Overholser, shop manager at the Des Moines Bicycle Collective. “And having RAGBRAI doesn’t hurt.”
He also said that where biking can be a fad in other cities, Des Moines sustains a constant bike population because it’s a continually changing and growing community. The event here also draws some of the biggest crowds in the nation.
“People are always shocked when I tell them the Des Moines event is one of our largest,” said Dan Coppola, event manager for the Urban Assault Ride. “Initially we brought the event to Des Moines because Iowa really gets behind cycling events, and distribution of New Belgium Beer was just hitting the market in a lot of Midwest locations.
“It continues to surprise us — in a great way — the following the event gets in Iowa.”
Organizers have laid down the gauntlet for Des Moines. If the ride reaches 1,500 participants (the event’s max), it would be the biggest Urban Assault Ride ever, and “we’ve promised the crowd some great prizes that other cities have not yet seen,” Coppola said.
The event is designed to show people the routes through their cities and how to travel safely by bike. It also encourages folks to use human-power as an alternative to fuel-power when getting around town. There are some busy streets that are off limits, but outside of those restrictions, you are in the driver’s seat.
Overholser said the event isn’t really a race (though some people treat it as one) — it’s a fun ride.
“It’s sort of a carnival atmosphere,” Overholser said. “There’s a water slide at the starting point. They have adult Connect 4.”
And the challenges are fun, too.
In the past, there have been activities like a bike limbo, slalom races on kids’ bikes and obstacle courses.
“Challenges change from city to city, so you don’t know what you’ll get every year,” Overholser said. “They’re pretty good at switching it up.”
Though he wouldn’t give away the details, Coppola offered some teasers about Sunday’s ride.
“From a participant’s perspective, they’ll see all new obstacles this year, with a good variety of physical challenges and some more mental puzzle type obstacles,” he said. “Racers will get wet this year, ride skateboards and big wheels. And of course we’re throwing our signature after-party at Mullets, serving up some great beer and giving away a ton of prizes.”
If that’s not enough to get you off the couch and onto your bike this Sunday, check out the event’s sustainability. Ninety-five percent of the leftovers don’t go to landfills because vendors have to provide compostable or recyclable material for their food and drink.
And the proceeds from each ride go to a local nonprofit — in Des Moines, that means The Des Moines Bicycle Collective. It receives all the proceeds from the race — something Overholser said, “we feel great about.”
Normally for a ride this size, the money would go to two nonprofits, but Overholser said The Des Moines Bicycle Collective receives all the proceeds because it supplies all the volunteers for the ride — 60-80 people. The collective uses the money to fund its other programs, like building bikes for groups that support children, battered women and the homeless population, among others. Last year it sold 570 bikes and gave away another 213, Overholser said.
In the end, Urban Assault is a party for a good cause — and you’ll learn a thing or two along the way. Coppola said one of his favorite things about it is seeing how much fun riders have — regardless of their ability level. “It’s really gratifying to see folks who haven’t pumped their tires up in two years come out and realize they can use their bikes for transportation, exercise and a tool for having fun,” he said.
You can still get involved as a volunteer or as a participant by visiting urbanassaultride.com.
Urban Assault Ride
When: Sunday, starting at 9 a.m.
Where: Starting point is Mullets, 1300 S.E. First St.
What to bring: A water bottle, comfortable biking shoes, a helmet, a cellphone (one per team), a set of dry clothes (you may get a little wet) and, of course, a bicycle.
What to expect: Depending on which roads you choose, the ride spans about 20-25 miles, but it’s mapped to fit any skill level. You’ll have three hours to hit all the checkpoints and complete the obstacles — but remember, come ready with a plan of attack.
How to register: Visit urbanassaultride.com/desmoines or at packet pick up, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at el Bait Shop, 200 S.W. Second St. There is no day-of registration. Cost is $60.