The gateway drug is one of the many banes of Western Civilization. It’s how the crack dealer indoctrinates a good college kid not just into drug use, but well past pot into the kinda of soul-crushing lethality we normally associate with African warlords. Anything but that!
Of course, most of the college kids I knew really never got past Mary Jane 101. That hasn’t stopped the notion of the gateway drug from remaining a fiction we still trot around as if it were fact, much the way we like to think of trickle-down economics as something that works.
The funny thing is every lasting fiction contains within it some exception, some location where the laws of physics are suspended and this anomaly is the root of persistence.
Take spin classes. They are a gateway drug for road riding. Ah, the special case.
There’s not a scenario in which pedaling without moving will ever overtake the attraction of being out in the world, seeing the trees float past. And yet, the efficiency, safety, the brain-dead simplicity, not to mention the easy camaraderie of joining other would-be cyclists in a steamy room for 50 minutes can be argued.
What I would never have dreamt making a case would be using a spin class to unite a large group of people for a charity event, one that manages to put cycling front, center in a stunningly affluent community.
Recently, organizers put on the third Tour de Pier in Manhattan Beach, right on the waterfront. Increasingly, cycling events are marginalized, stuck in some business park or on farm roads 100 miles from the nearest Whole Foods. Making cycling an attraction that can command the attention of a downtown community, even if only for a Sunday morning, is a tough sell.
So when I heard about the Tour de Pier, I suspected organizer Heath Gregory and his compadres, Lisa Manheim and Jon Hirshberg, had hit upon a relatively genius scheme to lift cycling’s image with a fine charity event and masses of bodies. You can never have too much good PR.
This year the Tour de Pier added a new layer: competition using Wahoo Kickr trainers with the Zwift virtual training environment. Four teams competed this year for a chance to make a big donation to a charity of their choice and RKP was there. You’ll find Michael Hotten’s impressions of the Elite Team Challenge in a separate post here.
The basic format of the Tour de Pier is to put a four-person relay together for the four-hour event. The handy thing here is that those who aren’t pedaling tend to mill a bit before and after their ride; some teams stuck around in full for the whole event. Plenty of them come in costume or wore T-shirts to remember a loved one, so what you end up with is a stationary marathon united to raise money for cancer charities. There’s a unity to the effort that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen with a charity ride or marathon; I got chills looking around at the crowd as I circulated, taking photos.
And yes, I heard people talking about getting back out on their bikes, or buying new bikes, post-ride. I even had a woman stop me to ask my opinion about what brand to buy.
Gregory says he wants to expand the Tour de Pier to other cities in time. I can easily see this taking place in Boston, overlooking the harbor, or Chicago, right on Lakeshore Drive.
In looking back over my photos, I’m consistently wowed by the incredible number of people pedaling for a cause. Of course, in a high-power town like Manhattan Beach, the event pulled in some VIPs, including Kiss frontman Paul Stanley. I stood closer to him at this event than I did any concert I attended in the ’70s or ’80s.
Anything that can promote fitness, being fit or getting fit on a mass scale is good for the world. Selfishly, I like events that can promote cycling or at least the idea of cycling. I remain convinced that the more other people identify as cyclists, the better off we all are in terms of access to additional infrastructure, not to mention increased safety.
For my part, I expected a pleasant day with a fun ride on the Wahoo Kickr as I watched other competitors blow by me on the animated course. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I went deep, partly to honor the effort made by my teammates who had placed us in the lead, but also because my old friend Joe Yule—who designed the RKP logo and some of our T-shirts, but is best-known for his work as the graphic designer for the Garmin team—was physically next to me, but stayed tantalizingly out of reach, a dozen or so seconds up the road. He and I both finished the event utterly spent. It was the hardest 45-minute effort I’ve done in ages. Alas, I was no match for Olympian and former pro Tony Cruz, who stuck it on 500 watts and stayed there. Neat trick.
I don’t want to call next year a rematch, but this is an event I hope to make on an annual basis. Oh, and all that pedaling for a cause? They beat their goal of $850,000, raising more than $900,000. It’s an impressive testament to the power of the event.