Riding the Friends for Life Bike Rally at a friendly pace


I just recently completed the Friends for Life Bike Rally, a six day cycling adventure that’s the main fundraiser of the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. The bike rally is many things. It’s a fundraiser, sure, but it’s also a community, an experiment in cooperative, communal living, a chance to make friends and share stories, and it’s also a very long bike ride. I don’t find 100 km that challenging but six days of it is challenging, especially when you’re camping at night and riding in all conditions.

Other people do a much better job than me at explaining what’s so beautiful about the bike rally. Ken Allen writes, “Once again I’ve arrived in Montreal by bicycle, left emotionally reeling from having spent a magical week living in a world where challenges are met with collaboration rather than competition, where kindness is commonplace, and where hugs are plentiful. It’s a rare and beautiful thing, to find a world outside of my imagination that so perfectly meets my needs while also acting as a mechanism for helping others. A week is too short a time to live in that world. ‪#‎f4lbr17‬” That was Ken’s Facebook status update but it was set to to public so I assume it’s okay to quote.

Stephanie Pearl McPhee, aka The Yarn Harlot, writes this about the rally, “There is an intimacy that happens on the Rally, and it happens right away. There is no way that this many people, all moving toward a common goal, all hurting for the same thing, all in the same place, eating together, riding together, putting up tents together – can avoid feeling a togetherness that’s remarkable. You become each others world very quickly, you’re the only people who really understand what’s happening, and friendship is the thing that makes it so – and friendship in all its forms. The sort that springs up when you brush your teeth with someone you just met, together at 6am, all squeezed into spandex and about to do something epic. Another sort thrives as you see old friends revealed in new ways or discover new depths and build on a friendship you thought was at its fullness.” See more of her words here but prepare to get weepy. I did.

(Want to come with? Registration for #F4LBR18 is open with an early bird discount until August 7th.)

One thing it isn’t is a race. There’s lovely company, beautiful scenery, and many days to get through/enjoy weather depending. Six days, six hundred and sixty kilometers.

Not only isn’t it a race, it’s also not a fast training ride.

When on the bike rally and on cycling holidays, I find myself happily switching into touring mode. I try to find a quick sustainable speed that I can enjoy and still appreciate the journey. That’s good because I was riding the bike rally with my friend and guest blogger Susan. She’s pretty fast for a brand new cyclist but this is her first year on the road bike so there’s a bit of a speed gap between us. Drafting helped us bridge the gap.

Susan told her story about learning to draft here. She’s great at drafting now.

(You can compare my speedy training rides with the bike rally thanks to Strava. Average speed on speedy training rides, 28 to 30 km/hr. Average bike rally speeds 22 to 24 km/hr. More telling though is average heart rate. It’s 140 to 150 on the training rides, 120 to 130 on the bike rally. And that is exactly as it should be. Even cycling coach Chris Helwig’s instructions were to ride easy, staying mostly in Zone 2, except on hills.)

Indeed my one exception to the policy of moderation was hills. I think I’ve caught the bug. I see hills now and want to race up them. Luckily the landscape between Toronto and Montreal is mostly downhill, and the prevailing winds are behind us. I have work to do though on being the person drafted versus being the person hanging on the back for dear life. I’m so often in the latter role that my skills at the former are rusty. I’m good at maintaining a steady speed but not so good at remembering to ease up from that steady speed on hills.

Also, in the taking it easy category, I did excellently at putting into practice the principal that it’s not my job to correct wrong people everywhere. As they say, I don’t have to attend every argument to which I’m invited.

I didn’t feel the need to announce my reasons for being slower than others. I heard one young man tell everyone around that the only reason he was just getting into lunch now is because he was sweeping. (The sweeps ride in last so the volunteers working “road safety” know that we’re all in.) Don’t do that dude. There’s no need. It’s not a race. And think about how it made the people who were riding that pace feel.

I didn’t correct the young woman who didn’t believe in drafting because it doesn’t work. The riders in bike races ride so close for fun, I’m sure. You save your words of cycling advice for riders on the Tour de France. They’ll be happy to hear that drafting is unnecessary.

I also didn’t correct the man who told me he’d done his research and clipless pedals don’t make a difference. I just smiled and said I liked mine. No argument.

At 50 I’m finally growing up! (Though I still feel fifteen an awful lot of the time.)

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