One of Indiana University’s most iconic events — the Little 500 bicycle race — has been part of the cultural fabric of IU for nearly three quarters of a century. But for the 72nd running of the Men’s Little 500 and the 35th running of the Women’s Little 500 this year, some changes to the event will put a new twist on the storied tradition.
Here are a few of the new features of the races, which will be held Friday, April 21, and Saturday, April 22, at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
An official bike exchange
For the first time in decades, the Little 500 grand marshals will not kick off the races by instructing riders to “mount your Schwinn bicycles.” That’s because State Bicycle Co. has been selected as the new official bike supplier for the event.
The most significant new feature of the bikes is a three-piece crankset, which includes a sealed cartridge bottom bracket. Little 500 bikes used in the past featured a single-piece crankset, a feature found mostly on older bikes. Unlike single-piece cranksets that can be finicky and may require assembly from an expert mechanic, the new bottom bracket makes the Little 500 bikes easier to build and maintain. In theory, this change can level the playing field and remove barriers for newer teams with less access to or knowledge of bike building.
Riders have already tested out the new bikes during Spring Series events and are impressed with the changes. There were no mechanical failures during Little 500 Qualifications, an event that usually sees at least a dropped chain or two.
Also for the first time, teams will be able to choose from three bike sizes: 50 cm, 54 cm and 58 cm. In the past, teams only had two options: a men’s frame, roughly 56 cm, and a women’s frame, roughly 52 cm.
Team participation in philanthropy
While the Little 500 has always had a philanthropic focus — it was founded in 1951 to raise money for student scholarships — recent races and events leading up to them have encouraged peer-to-peer philanthropy to combat food insecurity among fellow students.
Like last year, the IU Student Foundation is running the Students Helping Students campaign to raise donations for the IU Bloomington Food Insecurity Fund, which can help finance the Crimson Cupboard and support other food insecurity programs and initiatives on campus. Every dollar raised in the campaign will be matched up to $15,000. Also, $1 of every student ticket sold for the Little 500 races will go to the campaign.
New this year is a focus on rider participation. Each team is encouraged to meet a fundraising goal, and teams that do so will get to sport a Students Helping Students patch on race-day jerseys.
Former champs get in free
This year, the IU Student Foundation is offering any former Little 500 champion free entry to both the men’s and women’s races.
“The Little 500 connects athletes across generations in the spirit of competition and philanthropy,” said Emily Carrico, Little 500 race director. “We are thrilled to welcome former race champions back to Bill Armstrong Stadium to honor their achievement, as they are forever part of the IUSF legacy. In honor of the 35th running of the Women’s Little 500, Willkie Sprint, the first women’s team to win, will be the grand marshals for the races this year.”
So far, nearly 75 former champions have requested tickets, including some three-time Little 500 champions and a winner from 1954.
Newcomer teams to watch
Sophomore Dorothy Curran-Munoz was determined to ride in this year’s Little 500 — so much so that she participated in fall events without a team.
When she performed well, she caught the eye of Novus men’s team captain Tommy Domian, who asked if she’d be interested in putting together a women’s Novus team. Domian also recruited sophomore Jenna Reed at the Student Involvement Fair. Eventually Curran-Munoz convinced her roommate — sophomore Shay Conroy — and friend-of-a-friend freshman Daniela Rios-Rojas to join, too.
When the self-described “rookiest of rookies” began training at the track with the more established teams, they started to feel out of place.
“Little 5 is such a welcoming community, but it can be intimidating to try something new and be the new guy,” Curran-Munoz said. “So many of these athletes have been training for years, and I was showing up to the group rides with a bike I got for $50 on Facebook Marketplace.”
But the team members overcame their imposter syndrome to place 12th out of 27 teams at qualifications and were successful on their first attempt. At Individual Time Trials, Curran-Munoz placed 16th out of 135 riders, and other team members performed better than expected, too.
“Quals helped me come to the conclusion that I needed to stop comparing myself to riders who have been training for three or more years when I just got here,” Rios-Rojas said. “At the end of the day, I’m really only competing against myself.”
On race day, the riders say, they hope their team surprises people.
“I’m so proud of all we’ve been able to do so far in such a little amount of time together and how we’ve all grown together,” Conroy said. “I hope on race day we are able to soak in that we have this opportunity and appreciate that out of thousands and thousands of people here at IU, the four of us ended up together on this track.”
On the men’s side, another newcomer team is surprising people: Human Wheels, a team of rookie sophomores.
After last year’s Little 500, Owen Teed, Zachary Crowe and Josh Evans were sitting in Crowe and Evans’ dorm and decided that they’d be riding in the next race. When it came time to pick a name for the team, it felt fitting to resurrect Teed’s father’s team from the 1990s and become Human Wheels.
“When my dad started their team, their goal was to just finish the race,” Teed said. “When we first started, our goal was to just qualify.”
The team — which also includes Collin Monesmith and Alexander Macharaschwili — had no problem achieving that goal. Human Wheels placed ninth at qualifications out of more than 40 teams.
“We went dead last at quals, so by the time we were finished, we knew we had placed in the top 10,” Monesmith said. “We were all jumping up and down, and our families got to watch us put our name up on the board. It really gave us the momentum we needed to get through the last month of training before race day.”
The group, which is made up of close friends and one set of cousins, said it’s their close bond that gives them the edge over other teams. They hope that this bond, along with their hard work and preparation, will earn them a spot in the top 15 at the Little 500. Mostly, though, the team is planning to use this year’s race as a learning opportunity.
“We have zero race experience, so it’s more about using this year to get prepared for the future,” Teed said. “I want to use these next few weeks to make ourselves smarter for the race in 2024 and especially 2025.”
New merch at the IU Bookstore
For the first time ever, the IU Bookstore will offer official Little 500 gear for sale online and in stores. Products include hoodies, beanies, T-shirts, polos, crewnecks and drinking glasses.
A portion of the sales will go to the IU Student Foundation.