Maria Larkin was in a predicament.
After moving to Chicago in 2010, Larkin needed a way around the city. She didn’t have a car, and public transit didn’t make sense for her schedule and budget.
Instead, Larkin headed to a local bike shop and bought a bike for just under $100.
That was the start of an unexpected cycling career for Larkin, a native of County Mayo in Ireland. Larkin will be in the field for the Pro 1/2 Women’s Race on July 19 as part of the Prairie State Intelligentsia Cup’s Beverly Hills Cycling Classic.
“When I moved here in 2010, I didn’t know Chicago well,” Larkin said. “I went in, bought the used bike, and it was a great way to plug into the bike community. There is a lot of teaching, and there is so much to learn. That’s what keeps me racing and riding.”
Working on her architecture degree from the Dublin Institute of Technology, Larkin visited Chicago in summer 2010 on a student visa and permanently moved here in 2012.
Through cycling, she met her future husband, Kyle, who was working as a mechanic at a bike store, and her close friend and professional cyclist, Daphne Karagianis.
Ever since, cycling has been a huge part of Larkin’s life. She biked around the city and eventually started riding at the Northbrook Park District’s cycling track.
“That first year, I couldn’t even finish races. It took me 2 and 3 years,” Larkin said. “To be able to control yourself and be a part of the race, that’s very satisfying. It’s great satisfaction to see that growth over time. It’s the little things that keep you going.”
Larkin typically splits her time between road racing in the summer and cyclo-cross in the fall and winter. Cyclo-cross is bike racing on short courses featuring a mix of pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles that require riders to dismount and carry the bike at times during the race.
Racing in the cyclo-cross format, Larkin is a three-time silver medalist at the Irish Cyclocross Nationals. She was the first woman to represent Ireland at the World Championships, competing in Valkenburg, Belgium in 2018.
Before she can head to the fall season, Larkin is taking part in the 10-day Intelligentsia Cup series that starts July 19 with the Beverly race.
Larkin has competed in Beverly the last three years and loves racing in the South Side neighborhood.
“It’s the first race of the series, and there’s a great atmosphere out there on a Friday night,” Larkin said. “It’s a really exciting race. The crowd is great. Last year, I was called up to the front [before the start], and that was awesome. It’s a really exciting course to race on. The series is great. I get a really big fitness deposit from competing.”
The 17th annual Beverly Hills Cycling Classic will be the second year with a revamped course with the starting line on Longwood Drive in front of St. Barnabas Church.
The 1.54-kilometer lap zips through Beverly, featuring tight corners, a ride up the hill at 102nd Street, down the hill at 100th Street and a long straightaway down Longwood to the finish line.
“Beverly has that hill. It’s a challenge,” Larkin said. “Cycling in Chicago, you’re usually racing on pretty flat courses. It’s uphill and downhill in Beverly, and that final corner is quite technical.”
Rainy conditions have forced riders to improvise a bit in the last two classics. However, Larkin likes the rain.
“It takes a lot of skill to make that last corner,” Larkin said. “A lot of people don’t like the rain, but if you’re good at it, you can take advantage and put it to good use.”
In recent years, Larkin has raced with the Chicago Women’s Elite Cycling, a non-profit organization that supports female cyclists in the Chicago area.
She hopes to encourage young athletes to give cycling a shot no matter their experience level.
“Cycling is one of those sports that athletes try after college. You have such a friendly community,” Larkin said. “It’s an easy way to meet strong, inspirational women. I love doing the clinics and teaching. All the things you learn over the years, you can pass that info along.”