For senior Dylan Harris, biking is best understood on what he calls Firehouse Hill.
It’s a long, winding road right off Old State Road 37 by the Bloomington Township Fire Department. When it was still warm outside, Harris and his three teammates on Pi Kappa Alpha’s Little 500 bike team would ride along the road for endurance workouts.
The road sits on a steep incline, Harris said. Once he thinks he’s coming up to the top, he turns the corner, and there’s another stretch of road. It feels like it’ll never end, but finally reaching the top is worth it.
“It’s an ass-kicker,” he said. “But once you hit the top and go back down, you can get zipping at like 15 miles an hour.”
After more than two years of training, this could be the first year Harris will be competing in IU’s Little 500 race if his team qualifies. His journey to get this far has been difficult but rewarding, he said — a bit like riding on Firehouse Hill.
On a typical day, Harris is very busy.
Sometimes he is at Wells Library, working at University Information Technology Services. Other times he is at the Kelley School of Business, where he is finishing up his supply chain management major, or sitting at his office hours at Pike, where he lends an ear as mental health chair of his fraternity.
But once he gets the chance, he is biking. On an ideal day, he and his three teammates train for a few hours a day.
Although this will be his first time competing, Harris’ history with biking travels back several years.
Senior Blake Jackson, Harris’ teammate, said the two have been friends since high school. When Jackson worked at Summit City Bicycles and Fitness, a bike shop in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Harris would sometimes visit.
By about his third visit, Harris bought a bike.
“He got attached to it,” Jackson said.
The two started training their sophomore years. But about two months later, Harris crashed. He was on a 37-mile ride to his grandparents’ house in Fort Wayne, and a car veered too close.
He clipped the curb and broke his wrist.
“It was a challenge getting back on the bike after that,” he said.
When he was ready to compete again, he got an offer to study abroad in Sydney, Australia, for a semester his junior year.
He had to miss Little 500 again.
“I told the boys, ‘You know I love you guys — I really want to ride in it — but Sydney, Australia,’” he said. “And they were like, ‘Nope, we get it.’”
After six months abroad, Harris returned to IU this past fall and started training again. Now the team is kicking it into gear, he said, with endurance rides, sprint workouts, exchange techniques and foam rollers.
The men's race is April 13. Everyone wants to win, Harris said.
Or, at least, Pike would like to be in the top half of the pack, he said — maybe 10th or 15th place. Regardless, Harris is proud of his team for training hard and working well together, he said.
“It’s going to be an electric atmosphere,” Harris said.
Throughout college, Harris has openly identified as gay.
When he started fraternity recruitment, he decided he was going to be open and honest about his sexuality.
“I didn’t know how I’d go about it,” he said. “But the one thing that was constant the entire time was I just wanted to be my real self. I’m not going to sit there and be somebody fake.”
When he took interest in Pike, Harris said he knew he could rely on them for support and wouldn’t be treated poorly.
Harris said he has received nothing but support from his brothers, and especially his teammates.
“They’re my boys,” Harris said. “I know they’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs.”
After the chaos of the race settles and graduation rolls around, Harris plans on moving down to Fort Myers, Florida, where he has landed a sales job.
He and Jackson will be living in different states, he said, but he will still be close with his teammates. He will bring his bike and likely join a cycling club.
And he will look back on the best parts of IU, riding along Firehouse Hill.