Rapha Festive 500

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”

--Earnest Hemingway


While we agree with Hemingway, our cycling adventures around Chicago have taught us there is also much to be learned about a country in the spaces between its hills. 

Certainly while cycling around the Midwest, one will find plenty of spots the glaciers missed, but most of the terrain within a day’s bike ride of this region’s major cities is fairly flat, punctuated only by a few short, steep grades. 

Although the sport of cycling more often celebrates the summits, a mostly horizontal terrain does have its advantages. In particular, a cyclist can cover greater distances with less fatigue when elevation gain is limited. 

Secondly, flatness should not be equated with homogeneity of landscape. To the contrary, we found that our rides from Chicago took us through landscapes ranging from urban to rural, prairies to savannah wetlands, beach dunes to forest preserves.

Combined with the increased range afforded by our unique topography, the Midwestern cyclist can ride through many different landscapes in a single ride, or perhaps three rides. 

Rapha once again issued their winter riding challenge, the Rapha Festive 500.  Ride your bike for 500km between December 24th and 31st and receive a commemorative roundel. In California, Arizona or Florida this might not be such a feat, but throw in some Midwestern temperatures and this becomes a little more than a challenge.  This year will be WC-Studio’s first attempt and we would love your company.  Below is our ride list.  We will start from one of our favorite coffee shops each day (since we like coffee and riding our bikes, it seemed appropriate) and set out on our journey.


Living in Chicago and cycling through the winter presents some additional challenges.  The city of Chicago covers 234 square miles.  Lake-locked on the east, cyclists spend the first and last segment of their ride getting away from the sprawling city fabric to less traveled roads. The Windy City is rarely kind to cyclists where temperatures can dip into the teens and sometimes single digits.  The week of the Festive 500 temperatures hovered around the 20’s and 30’s with snow flurries and a wind chill that reached 12 degrees.  Midwest riders tend to be a hearty bunch, as the roads begin to roll with fewer cars the chatter picks up and you begin to see more smiling faces.  It may take a little more effort to get to the best part of our rides, but once we get there we don’t hesitate to soak it all in.

The Festive 500 mapping project started as an idea at WC-Studio to make hand drawn cycling routes for cities around the U.S.   The maps were also a way for us to rediscover our city.  Both being Architects, our eyes are always keen to find decaying ruins, overlooked green spaces and contemporary buildings all the while keeping our bearings in relation to Lake Michigan.  Some of our routes were well known (Wolf Lake and Lemont) while others were undiscovered territory (Barrington Hills).  We used social media to spread the word about our project and were able to meet new friends TenspeedHero while receiving tips from others for new routes.  We will continue riding through our Chicago winter, creating the maps that go with them.

See our next mapping project from Tuscon, AZ . We spent a week riding through the Sonoron Desert, up Mt. Lemmon and Brasstown Bald all the while recording the bits of information that will go into our first online and print resource for hand drawn cycling maps.

December 24th: Lakefront Path south to Calumet Park, past the Chicago VeloCampus and onto the Burnham Greenway
Total distance: 102k
Start: Intelligentsia at 55 East Randolph depart at 10 am

December 26th: Classic North Shore: Evanston to Fort Sheridan
Total distance: 64k
Start: Depart at 10am, coffee at Brothers K

December 27th: Chicago to Lemont via Bluff Road loop
Total Distance: 148k
Start: La Colombe at 955 W. Randolph at 10am

December 29th: Barrington Hills
Total Distance: 150k
Start: Caffe Streets at 1750 W. Division, depart at 10am

December 30th:  Highland Park – Celebratory Coffee Ride
Total Distance: 64k
Start: Evanston, coffee at Perfect Blend

Kelly Nowels