Charity bike rides can be a barrel of fun. You are raising money for some cause (presumably a good one). You don’t have to think about the route—there are marshals, cue sheets, arrows on the road, etc. At the finish line you’ll find ample food, drink, and entertainment—often in the form of amateur drumming groups, jugglers, incidental guitar playing, and of course frolicking dogs and babies. And, you feel great because you have ridden with a large group of high-minded charity-oriented cycling folks.
I got to partake of these pleasures on Sunday June 8, participating in the Bikes Not Bombs ride in Boston, MA. Bikes Not Bombs (https://bikesnotbombs.org/) is the perfect grassroots organization—operating on a shoestring budget, they “use the bicycle as a vehicle for social change”. They collect bike donations, ship them to needy places in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, teach bike riding and bike repair to urban kids in the Boston area, and above all, teach better citizenship through their educational programs.
I had previously been a bit leery of big charity rides for a few reasons. But having done this one for 3 years now, I am a real proponent of them. Here are a few things that I used to worry about, and how I stopped worrying.
Worry #1: Raising Money
The point of a charity ride is to raise money for a cause. Most rides have a minimum amount, so you’re on the hook if you don’t make your fundraising goal. The biggest athletic charity event in the US—the Pan-Mass Challenge (http://www.pmc.org/) requires a minimum of $5000 for those doing the two-day ride of 180 miles. Whoa.
However, when I started doing the Bikes Not Bombs ride (which has only a minimum of $150 of fundraising), I discovered something: many people are happy to donate to my ride. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of people who gave money, and it makes me more likely to donate to others’ events. This is undoubtedly a good thing.
Worry #2: Riding Alone
I do lots of group rides, and also don’t mind riding by myself. But for this ride, I didn’t have a buddy to do my 50-mile route. My partner Dan was doing the 80-mile route with his friends, and I wasn’t up to either that distance or their average speed. However, even before we rolled out I had met folks, discovering common connections (someone knew my bike mechanic or friend of a friend who races for blah-blah team) and making new ones. People tend to be perky and happy at the start of a charity ride, so it’s easy to make conversation.
When we rolled out, we quickly clumped into groups, and also played leap-frog with other groups going up and down hills. I ended up riding with a guy from London, Ontario (yes, Tracy and Sam, it’s true!) to the first rest stop, about 18 miles in. For the next 16 miles, I traded places with a pair of riders, and then was largely on my own for an hour. Sooner than I expected, though, I found myself at the second rest stop, and caught up with many of the folks I had been riding near and with. It was like a party—people chatting, eating, and one person was even interviewing riders for the Bikes Not Bombs website. Dan’s group rolled in, and I rode the last 16 miles with him, catching up to more of the 50-mile folks I hadn’t seen since we started more than 3 hours before. We also caught up with some of the 30-mile riders, and were encouraging and leading them through the more densely trafficked end of the ride. It was truly an experience of cycling solidarity.
Worry #3: Sketchy/Inexperienced Riders
There were 746 riders this year, which is actually pretty small for a charity ride (the Pan-Mass Challenge Ride had 5,500 riders last year). However, many of these folks are not so experienced, either with road riding or with group riding etiquette. Especially early in the ride, it’s important to be vigilant and prepare for people swerving, braking suddenly, slowing down or even stopping on the road (all of these have happened around me).
There were also people riding who were clearly unprepared for a 50-mile ride: they had no tools or tubes for changing a flat (and probably didn’t know how, either), and didn’t carry bars, goo, or even enough water or sports drink. Several people I passed or rode with for a bit had no bottle cages on their bikes, so they didn’t have a way to drink regularly. And it was hot and sunny—a high of 86 (30C), which means you need to drink a lot and often. The good news is that the more experienced people checked on the less-prepared people, and made sure no one was stuck on the side of the road without help. This meant that most people (including me) didn’t break any speed records, but this is not what a charity ride is about. It’s about spreading bike love throughout the route…
Worry #4: Getting in Shape
The Bikes Not Bombs ride is in early June, and when we have a late spring I’m not always in the best shape by then. Luckily, this year I got some help from my fit and feminist blogger friends Samantha, Tracy, and Christine, when we did some riding in southern Ontario during a conference (we blogged about this a few weeks ago here and here). The ride served as a good motivator to get out and put down some miles and log some saddle time, which I did, so all went well. But even if I hadn’t been so prepared, there were options. Charity rides usually offer multiple distances, and this one had 10, 30, 50 and 80-mile options. Also, the routes tend to start out together, with the different length rides splitting off later on, so you can decide at the last minute (but no swerving, please!) to take a shorter route.
I’m also pleased to say that I met my fundraising goal of $750 and then some, but if you are feeling inclined, my fundraising page is still open for a while:
I’d love to hear what other people’s experiences have been with charity rides—what are your favorite ones? Any other worries I missed? Any other benefits?