Bike for a cause

Bike for a cause

The first bicycle University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones ever had was a red and white Western Flyer with streamers on the handlebars.

It was a Christmas present from his parents when he was almost 10 years old, and it was the only new bicycle the family ever purchased.

“It was the only new bicycle my family could afford. That was big deal for them to buy a new bicycle,” Jones said.

Blog PhotoHe had learned to ride on a heavy steel adult bicycle that an elderly neighbor -- a sharecropper who had been born into slavery -- had given his brother.

“My brother taught me how to ride on his old bicycle in the peanut fields, once they harvested the crop. He’d take me up to the top of a hill and push me down. If you fell, you just got some red Georgia clay in you,” Jones said.

Today, Jones is riding his Trek road bike more than 70 miles through the Indiana and Illinois prairie.

He’s joining the Illini 4000 cycling group on one leg of their cross-country journey. They are riding from Rockville, Ind., to the UI campus today.

Vice chancellor for advancement Barry Benson and UI Foundation president and CEO Jim Moore Jr. will also join the ride.

Illini 4000 is a nonprofit organization that raises money for cancer research and patient support services, as well as raising awareness of cancer prevention and treatment, through an annual cross-country bicycle ride by UI students.

An additional fundraising component this year involving Jones’ ride with the group will raise money for the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine.

Blog PhotoThe Illini 4000 group started riding May 18 in New York City and will finish Aug. 3 in San Francisco.

When it was suggested that the chancellor join the group to cycle into Champaign-Urbana, Jones was told he could pedal the last few miles into town.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to do that. If I’m going to ride this thing, at least I’m going to ride a respectable distance,’” Jones said.

Jones always enjoyed bicycling, but he became more serious about it 20 years ago when a knee injury forced him to stop running.

“It’s a chance to spend some time outdoors, and it’s great exercise,” he said of cycling.

It’s also a stress reliever: “I really clear my head when I’m riding.”

Jones really got into riding when he lived near a parkway system in Minneapolis that loops around the city.

He rode up and down hills and around the many lakes in the area. When he lived in Albany, N.Y., he rode along the Hudson River between Albany and Troy.

Jones now often rides west from town along Windsor Road.

“The first time I rode here, I got out there between the corn and soybean fields. I’d ridden 10 miles and I thought it was great. I was just cruising along. It was not like Minnesota and New York where you have to change gears a lot (on the hills),” he said.

He soon found out the flat Illinois prairie has its own challenges.

“I turned around and I had a headwind. It couldn’t have been more than a few miles an hour, but felt like 20,” Jones said. “It didn’t take too long to get out there, but it took me quite a while to get back. It’s windy here more than I realized. It really does give you a good workout.”

With his travel schedule, Jones hasn’t had much time to train for today’s ride, but he tries to stay in shape with his home gym, which includes weight machines and a treadmill. He usually does a lot of upper body and abdominal exercises, but he’s been doing more leg work in preparation for the ride.

While he enjoys bicycling, Jones is also inspired by the cause of the Illini 4000 organization.

“It’s something I’ve always cared deeply about. You can’t find very many families where cancer hasn’t disrupted lives,” he said.

Jones lost his mother to cancer.

“It was one of the most devastating periods of my life to see her fight with all her physical being and religious belief and to see her slowly waste away over a period of two years,” he said. “I want to do this thing in her memory.”

Jones noted the Carle Illinois College of Medicine and the Cancer Center at Illinois will advance research and help the UI become a leader in the fight against cancer.

“It really is important that we raise resources for those causes and bring greater visibility to the need to do more research to find a cure,” he said.


Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at, or follow her at Her blog is at


Photos: University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones rides his Trek road bike last week while wearing his Illini 4000 jersey. Photos by Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette


Event information:

UI Chancellor Robert Jones, vice chancellor for advancement Barry Benson and UI Foundation president and CEO Jim Moore Jr. will ride into Champaign-Urbana with the Illini 4000 group today. A community welcome reception for the Illini 4000 riders will be at 3 p.m. today at the Beckman Institute, 405 N. Mathews Ave., U. It is open to the public.

Anyone wanting to support the Carle Illinois College of Medicine as part of today’s ride by Jones, Benson and Moore can donate online at

More information about the Illini 4000 ride is available on its website at


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