Chicago Century Club cyclists celebrate community, Black-owned businesses
As the club’s membership rises, founder Xaver Walton, an educator and basketball coach, curates ride themes centered around empowerment.
Chicago Century Club founder Xaver Walton wanted to start a bike club amid the COVID-19 pandemic with the purpose of changing the narrative surrounding Chicago’s marginalized communities.
“This past summer, I found some people riding bikes, and I did rides with them, and on Thursdays in the month of July and August I started putting together what we will call ‘unofficial rides’ with friends,” Walton said. “We were visiting different ice cream shops in the city of Chicago on Thursdays and Black-owned businesses.”
While the group’s membership rises by the week, Walton, an educator and AAU basketball coach, curates ride themes — cycling to the stadiums of Chicago’s six major sports teams, for example — with a central topic in mind: empowerment.
“I started thinking: ‘OK, this is good — I started getting a lot of people showing up, and then I came up with the idea at the beginning of August to see if people want to try to venture off and do 100-mile rides,” said Walton, who says the group has 103 members who’ve completed 100-mile rides. “To have seen so many people of color buy into it gives me chills.”
Members of the Chicago Century Club often take to social media, posting photos of themselves in front of wherever their 100-mile ride ends, such as Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Wilmette’s Baha’i House of Worship.
As the club gains fame via social media and word of mouth, it has procured a sponsorship with Trek Bicycle Chicago Wicker Park, where club members receive discounts for Trek gear and access to the store as a possible starting or stopping points for rides, along with stopping in to recouperate and rehydrate.
“I got an email from [Walton] last week, and he was telling me about how they started this group out and basically they’re their goal is to try and build this community about going out and riding 100 miles,” said Trek Bicycle Chicago Wicker Park manager Julius Lietuvninkas. “We’re all about building that community, and his organization is really focused on that.
“For me, it was a no-brainer working with a group that’s building such a positive community and working together to succeed and reach this goal of riding 100 miles.”
Chicago Century Club member Georgiana Davis lost her job amid the pandemic and was looking for something to help keep in shape mentally and physically. She had been riding to help her battle depression and anxiety when she met Walton while participating in an unofficial ride.
“Someone I met was, like, ‘Hey, there’s a group of a bunch of Black and Brown folks, and then Coach [Walton] was mentioning a ‘century ride,’ ” Davis said. “I used to cycle to commute back and forth to work, the gym and yoga. I don’t have a car, so my bike is my car.”
Davis, a Humboldt Park resident, says the Chicago Century Club provides “the journey” she has been looking for.
“Cycling is a mental escape from everything that’s happening,” she said. “You just get on the bike and ride and listen to music and roll with different people and not have to think about the fact that there’s a pandemic and people literally dying.
“The fact that it’s filled with so many Black and Brown folks. I am a multi-racial being, and it’s been nice to be able to do fitness and support Black businesses at the end of our ride with a bunch of other Black and Brown folks.”
“We want to try to arrange a neighborhood ride and visit some of the various neighborhoods in Chicago because I want Black people to see people biking that look like them,” said Walton, a Morgan Park High School alumnus. “It’s also mental motivation,and that reminds you that, as humans, we can do whatever we put our minds to. It may not be easy at first, but we can do it if we put our minds to it.”
How to buy the right bicycle for you
Julius Lietuvninkas, Trek Bicycle Chicago Wicker Park manager, says, “The three basic questions I ask are: Do you know where you’re riding? What are your goals? What type of riding are you looking to do?
“It really does depend on how they answer their questions, honestly; it’s such a dynamic aspect of selling a bike.
“If somebody is looking to ride off-road on the Des Plaines River trail, for example, that would lead us toward something like a gravel bike, where that river trail road is a little bit more ‘routey’ — a bit more off-road orientated. Figure out what their goals are, where they’re riding mostly and how they picture themselves on their bicycle.”