'Stupor Bowl' time in Minneapolis

AMBER SCHADEWALD | Updated 8/17/2012

Cyclists flock this weekend to the coldest two-wheeled race in the nation.

Bike messenger James Hastings runs with his bike at the first-ever Stupor Bowl, then known as the Minneapolis Winter Alleycat Invitational, back in 1998.

Every year, on the weekend of Super Bowl Sunday, Minneapolis hosts one of the largest, longest-running bike races of its kind. It attracts riders from across the country and gains attention from bike communities worldwide. What race is this, you ask? Shhh. It's a secret. The first rule of this race is: Do not talk about the race.

But what happens when an underground event celebrates its 12th year and grows to nearly 400 participants? It's only natural that it will muster some outside curiosity, and come to a crossroads. The name of the race (read quietly): the Stupor Bowl, which takes place on Saturday.

Acquiring information for a story on the event was a legitimate pain. Dozens of voice mails and e-mails went unanswered, and this year's organizers refused to comment. Fans of the race seem to have made a pact of silence, citing valid concerns of being shut down if the race gets too big. Racers are also worried about legal issues and police interference, especially after seeing the popular Critical Mass group rides turned into a police-led parade.

With all that said, this Stupor Bowl is an incredible event that bike enthusiasts from east to west mark on their calendars. It's a race that people join for bragging rights, for friendships, maybe for a trophy, and most important, for the chance to be part of something completely insane.

The first Stupor Bowl, in 1998, had about 50 registered riders, and although the years have brought more participants, the process hasn't changed. The bowl is like any other bike-messenger-run alleycat race, just with a lot of snow and for some, similar amounts of booze.

Riders have two choices: to race competitively, or to ride in the drunk race for the title of Stupor Champ. Those who choose the first option get a list of 14 to 18 locations where they must get a confirmation stamp. The first to obtain all of the stamps and cross the finish line wins. Those in the drinking race have fewer stops, but must finish a drink before receiving a stamp. In the end, there are three winners -- one for speed, plus a male and female Stupor Champ.

Brad Emery, a barista at One on One Bicycle Studio, has raced in all but two Stupor Bowls and organized the event once. The bike messenger of 13 years says the bowl started as a way for messengers to have fun with their day jobs. He's not worried about the race's future.

"Regardless if people talk about it or don't, the Stupor Bowl will happen," he says, sipping his coffee. "I don't see it ever not happening."

As for safety or police issues, Emery says it's a matter of being responsible adults. Riders are expected to follow traffic laws, and to not drink more than they can handle. Emery claims that last year an off-duty police officer rode in the Stupor Champ race. "There's no question everyone has stories of good times when the race is over," he says.

The race generally takes between two and three hours to complete, and racers return with sore muscles, bruises and icicles strung to their facial hair. As sick as this torture may sound, the Minnesota cold is exactly what draws out-of-towners to this unparalleled event.

Last year's Stupor Bowl winner, Susan Lee, 24, and her accomplice/boyfriend, Landon Bouma, 31, say the key to riding is layering in ridiculous amounts. "You need a wool-based layer," says Lee. "Cotton is the worst because it gets wet." Bouma wears mountain-climber mittens, a face mask and an outrageous number of socks. "I buy boots three times larger so I can wear more socks," he says. "I get colder than most people. I even wear a sock on my. ... " Lee stops him before he can finish.