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Race Night

Evan Farrar

Race night is quite a feeling for me. All of my work and perspiration come together to make a winner, and a night of fun. It’s a 200 meter race in a small room. It’s a party with a structure. It’s the meeting of my favorite things: technology, bicycles and friends. IRO Sprints is “just another Goldsprints(tm) setup”, but the namesake is in honor of the company that donated our bicycles: a nice pair of complete IRO bikes. When Chicago’s bike nerds saw Goldsprints at Velo City’s ’06 afterparty they all said “We have to build this.” Some people worked on pooling the parts, some people worked on making it work, and it was ready to race by late spring 2007.

Informal bicycle races never start “on time.” Friends prefer the expression “bike time.” It is a time estimation technique designed to take into account factors such as yesterday’s mileage, weather conditions, pissed off motorists, street sweeping schedules and mood. Tonight’s race is due to start at 8pm. By 9:30 we were just about ready to go. Bike time notwithstanding, people were getting antsy. The bar was nearing capacity and we had the numbers for a good time—40 to race, 60 to watch, and 20 to fencesit. The racers are all working on a couple of beers and getting rosy cheeks; I am pale-faced and frantically doing a few last minute tweaks. The night before a race is inevitably filled with hacking late into the night with final adjustments on race-day.

Eventually the first two racers step up and the countdown begins. The crowd can’t help but scream along. When the screen says “Go”, both racers will spin those crank arms as fast as their hearts, lungs, legs, and stomachs will allow.

“[IRO Sprints is] a vomit-inducing machine,” Nat Grotte says post-race. The bikes are resting on rollers, which give almost no resistance to the racer, making it a battle of spin. The 200m distance may sound short, but by the fourth round any racer will wish it was shorter. We are on a stage but the crowd spills onto it. The racers don’t seem to care or notice, they just put their head down and pound out the distance. The winner moves on to the next round, the loser is left to watch and wonder when the next race night may be.

Once it begins, the racing goes on back to back for several hours, round after round. The most intense moments are when two racers are absolutely matched pedal-for-pedal. The leader displayed will seesaw back and forth, each swing making the crowd howl louder for their favorite.

Check out for guidance in making your own sensors and downloadable open source software to help get races in your town.

Photo by Chris Ege,