On the scene at Cranksgiving Chicago, the annual "food drive on two wheels"



Cranksgiving riders
  • Nico Deportago-Cabrera
  • Cranksgiving riders
Last Saturday, Adrian Gonzalez, a bike delivery person with an empty messenger bag and a mental to-do list, whipped down Oakley Avenue, away from Bucktown's Holstein Park and toward his first stop: the nearest grocery store. Like many errand runners last weekend, Gonzalez was racing to pick up canned veggies, bagged stuffing, and cranberry sauce.

Unlike most other shoppers, Gonzalez was racing, literally, against a small throng of Chicago bike messengers and cycling enthusiasts. He and the others weren't pedaling in the name of recognition or jonesing for sweet prizes. They were part of Cranksgiving, "a food drive on two wheels," according to the New York organizers who dreamed it up back in 1999. The race aims to provide cyclists with an opportunity to give back—and in the process, to soften the sometimes prickly reputations attributed to members of the cyclist subculture. The last 13 years have seen Cranksgiving events crop up everywhere from Seattle to Miami, with 40 rides organized in 2012 alone.

K.C. Winter's haul
Gonzalez, a first-time participant, said the race shows a different side of a community that often gets a bad rap. "Today was [about] doing a good deed," he said at the finish line, adding that it was also a chance to match his cycling skills against some seasoned messengers. (He finished fourth.) The rules of Cranksgiving are simple: each rider has to hit every grocery story on his or her manifest, or list of checkpoints, and buy at least one item at each stop. Organizer Nico Deportago-Cabrera, a partner and messenger at Four Star Courier Collective, stressed before the race that Cranksgiving is "a food drive primarily" and reminded riders on their manifests: "There is more glory in feeding the hungry than being the fastest."

Still, it is a race, and Devin Dizzle, a bike messenger and recent Milwaukee transplant, was the first to complete the winding 15-plus-mile race, clocking in at about an hour and a half. Though the first-place finish earned him some fancy swag (Deportago-Cabrera locked in prizes from Bern and Chrome), Dizzle was more interested in rehashing his route and showing off his shopping haul with friend and fellow messenger Taylor Garbin, who slid across the finish line just after him. Adam Walsh, a local dog walker, finished a close third.

"People typically think [of a messenger as] someone younger, maybe a little bit punk rock or a little on the fringe, and that's true," Deportago-Cabrera explained. "But something [as] simple as a food drive—it can transcend any subculture or social group. It fits into messenger culture because we're as much of a part of the city as any." Though Deportago-Cabrera was hoping for a larger turnout of do-gooders, about 15 cyclists showed up to race (compared to 30 or 40 in years past). But unlike "the usual suspects" he typically sees, Deportago-Cabrera said many of this year's participants were new faces.

At the suggested donation of $10-$15 per person, 15 riders should have raised about $150-$225 in food. In addition to that, riders forked over even more money for groceries (Marie Snyder, the last to finish, spent $87), and cyclists who didn't participate in the race still donated nonperishable items. In the end, Cranksgiving Chicago collected $428 in donations for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

"We love our city," Deportago-Cabrera said. "We work in Chicago through the burning hot summers and the freezing cold winters because we love it here, and I think an event like Cranksgiving plays into that. I'm essentially a corporate servant all day, but this is my way of not being a servant and doing something a little more meaningful than just zipping envelopes around."

Keep an eye on the Chicago Cuttin' Crew website for info on other races.

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