By Jim Sullivan
---- — Get ready. Get set. Go really slow!
The Coastal Trails Coalition is gearing up for its third annual Slow Bike Race Wednesday, and this year the race will be right in the middle of downtown.
“It’s like the tortoise and the hare in reverse,” said race director Cyd Raschke. “Slow and steady, but not slowest and steady often wins the race.”
Previously held at Cashman and Cushing Parks, this year’s Slow Bike Race will be held during Yankee Homecoming at Brown Square on Pleasant Street between Green and Titcomb Streets.
“We’ve always enjoyed having a park for the spectators,” said Raschke. “And we picked the Brown Square because the race is so short. It will be a nice place for people to put out a blanket or sit on the sidewalk. It’s also in the heart of downtown where all the festivities are and the food vendors. And hopefully the race will be over in time to hear the music down on the waterfront.”
The rules for the Slow Race are simple: the last one across the finish line wins. There are three causes for disqualification: going out of a marked lane, going backwards and no foot must touch the ground once the race has begun.
“People with good balance win,” said Raschke. “It tends to favor people that are experienced bikers only because, if you’re an experienced biker, there are so many opportunities or emergencies where you have to go slow. So, if you use your bike for errands a lot, or family outings, that’s the kind of skill it requires.”
Raschke got the idea for the Slow Race when researching fundraisers for another organization and came across a single sentence in a magazine about a slow race in the Midwest.
“It stuck in my mind,” said Raschke. “And I said, ‘That would be so much fun.’”
A big fan of the Coastal Coalition, once Raschke joined its board a few years ago, the race jumped back into her mind as a great match for the Coalition’s only Newburyport fundraiser of the year.
“There are so many misconceptions about the race,” said Raschke. “Some people think the bikers are all over town going like, really slow. Some people think it is on the Rail Trail, and you see how slow you can go on that. So it’s been building slowly.”
Raschke cautions that this is not a kids’ race either, as most racers are adults and fans of the Newburyport Rail Trail.
“The first year we had a tandem bike, a father and daughter team,” said Raschke. “And they won, principally because they focused on simply going as slow as they could. We also had some sort of macho type of bikers, these strapping, athletic guys (who got) into some sort of a competition where they just wanted to go slower than this guy next to them. One time, one of them got disqualified because they ran into him. So that’s what you get. You get people who are trying so hard to be last that they’ll end up either swerving out of their lane or giving up.”
Prizes will be awarded to the first-, second- and third-place slowest racers and there will also be a Judge’s Prize for the best costume.
“The first year, the best costume winner was painted head-to-toe in green,” said Raschke. “And she put someone’s Ninja Turtle (shell on) and she came as a turtle. And last year, someone had a live African Grey parrot in a backpack. So there was no contest.”