Cycling has become a vehicle for acts of good. From the MS150s to the AIDS Lifecycle rides, cycling has been used to raise billions dollars for a variety of different causes. Name a medical need or a disadvantaged group and you can likely find a ride meant to help raise funds to help. That observation isn’t meant to make light of plight, but to demonstrate the far-ranging appeal and success these rides enjoy. Of course, to us, there’s no mystery why. Going for a bike ride is way better fun than doing a walk in some stadium, no matter how great the cause is.
Over the years I’ve been impressed by the way the MS150 rides have taken on education of riders in an effort to ensure they have an enjoyable and successful ride. They’ve evolved from simply show up and ride to include training rides and how-to clinics. The effort has allowed the rides to avoid the spectacular saline -drip flameouts by newbie riders that were a regular part of the Tanqueray AIDS rides, and turned one-event riders who hung up the bike after returning home into dedicated cyclists.
I’ve often wondered how to take these riders from doing group rides where everyone rides single file and never closer than about 10 feet apart into the completely rad experience of riding in a paceline. For everyone who has experienced it, the whoosh of a paceline is an exponent added, fun squared or perhaps delight cubed. What if you were to make the event itself an education in that fun?
That’s the question my friend Richard Fries undertook when he joined Best Buddies and began shepherding people through the rides.
I’m all for doing good just for the sake of doing good, but there are dozens of causes to rope in those with a charitable heart. While there might be someone in your life who has suffered with multiple sclerosis, the buddies you roped into doing the ride with you might not, and next year, your sales pitch might be the only thing getting them to consider the ride again.
But what if they remembered the ride as the most fun they’d ever had on the bike?
That’s a tall order, Herman Munster tall. But that’s precisely what Richard aims to accomplish with as many riders as possible. For the Hearst Castle ride he put together a group of riders he called the “welders.” They were meant to help put the group back together when things started to break apart. Honestly, nearly every other ride in my life has operated with the opposite goal—to shell as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The exceptions have been those small groups of friends where the ride was more about the company than the ride. The welders included 1990 US Pro Champion Kurt Stockton and 2011 National Road Race Champion Robin Farina, who also happens to be the head of the Women’s Cycling Association, and me.
George Hincapie and ex-teammate Dylan Casey put something like the hammer down within the first couple of miles and a group of 100+ riders moved clear, and once they were away, that’s when Richard went to work, even before we reached Highway 1, beginning to gather riders into a small, but growing group.
Our targets were weren’t just titans of industry. Certainly, there were some Fortune 500 CEOs present, but anyone unaccustomed to riding two abreast in a paceline was eligible. Richard’s goal was to give people a new experience, to increase their skill and comfort and deliver them to the finish at a pace they previously thought a fantasy. What I’m talking about is an experience that is probably beneath the skill and fitness level of most RKP readers, so the day I had might not be that attractive to some of you.
On the other hand, very few organized rides take in the stretch of Highway 1 between Carmel and Hearst Castle. Big Sur is beautiful, but also isolated, so it’s nearly impossible to make a loop of it unless you’re willing to start in the dark and finish in it, too.
Richard’s approach carried with it a couple of ancillary benefits. We spent the day shepherding Anthony Kennedy Shriver, the founder and chairman of Best Buddies. He’s a remarkably fit guy, with with a bit of help from the welders, the plan was to help him finish the ride in six hours, while also meeting and riding with as many of the participants as possible. By gluing a group together around him, it gave him a chance to interact with those who had come together for the Best Buddies cause.
It struck me as a pretty genius plan.
Richard told me of previous rides where he’d tell someone to get on his wheel and he’d take them up to 20 mph and they’d drop off the pace, not because they were spent, but because they didn’t think they were capable.
There were four rest stops and each was a surprise. I’ve done so many centuries and other rides over the years that were stocked with M&Ms and Oreos that I’ve taken to rolling out with a fair amount of food in case what’s on offer is crap. Richard swore to me I wouldn’t need anything (I still took two gels), but it turned out he was right. Each rest stop was stocked with foods made from recipes in Allen Lim and Biju Thomas’ book “Feedzone Portables.”
With more than 600 riders present, the majority of riders, I have to admit, never knew what we were up to. But we’d give riders a push on the hills, encourage them to get on our wheels over the top and tow them to the next rest stop. I’m sure we encountered at least 100 riders and it may have been upward of 150.
I don’t want to overstate our effort. I’ve never been a good host for a party because I don’t want to miss the good time; I don’t spend enough energy focusing on everyone else’s needs. The ride I did wasn’t a sacrifice. I had a great time riding around with new faces and sitting on the front riding at a nice tempo. We rolled in a bit over six hours after the start, and while I’ve ridden much faster centuries, there was a nice satisfaction that we’d helped a number of riders complete their first sub-eight or even sub-nine-hour century.
The mission of Best Buddies is to foster one-to-one friendships, employment and development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Down’s Syndrome is a common feature among the buddies, which makes them easy to pick out. They were at each of the rest stops as well as at the finish. Their presence was a powerful reminder of the cause behind the ride, something driven home by the hugs they gave out to the finishers.
I’ve never had an experience quite like the Best Buddies Challenge. The issue here isn’t that this ride was better organized than any other ride, but it was well done. No, it got me to thinking about how I can share the experience with others and what an event could potentially do to give its participants a rewarding and memorable experience. What if more events had welders on the course to ride with participants rather than blow them off their wheels? There’s nothing wrong with laying out a fantastic buffet and leaving guests to try stuff, but I’ll try more different foods and think more highly of what’s present when someone circulates through the crowd with a plate and says, “You’ve got to try this!”