Now that summer has arrived, many of us will be gearing up for big charity rides. These fundraising rides often give cyclists the chance to train before the event in an organized group. They offer newer riders the prospect of building up their mileage in a safe environment.
We were first exposed to these training rides several years ago, when my wife decided to sign up for the Hill Country Ride for AIDS (HCRA). She’d never ridden in an organized ride before, and was worried that she might not be up to the challenge of 50 miles. But the HCRA starts offering training rides in about February for the late April event. After building up her endurance on several training rides, Pat finished the 50 miles, and that’s what got us into biking.
Now, we often tag along on these training rides, whether we’re planning to enter the main event or not. The reason? Well, they’re very much like a regular organized ride. Although there aren’t any rest stops, there is often sag support. The typical HCRA training ride has two or three pickup trucks patrolling the route, and one or two motorcyclists who can respond quickly to any trouble, or help out with directions. Before the ride begins, everyone enters the numbers of the sag drivers into their cell phones, to call them if a rider has problems. In addition, ride leaders are sprinkled throughout the group to shepherd along slower cyclists, or make sure everyone else stays on course. These folks are usually experienced riders, and may even be able to assist with minor repair work.
Earlier this year, we joined an HCRA training ride in Georgetown, Texas, about 30 miles north of Austin. I did the 45-mile route, and Pat did 29 miles. Because Pat is often the slowest rider, she usually finds herself riding with the “sweep,” the ride leader whose job it is to be the last rider on the course. But this time, she got out ahead of some slower riders and left them behind. As I and two others from the 45-mile ride reached a small town with about 12 miles to go, we caught up to the “sweep.” He was with two newbie riders, pedaling along slowly on their discount store hybrids. They were doing the 29-mile route, and it would be a long time before they got back to the starting point.
These rides start easy, and get more challenging closer to the main event date. The first ride might be less than 20 miles. Then, there will be multiple route choices — or at least two different distances. More hills get thrown in a few weeks before the event.
Saturday, we both went out to a training ride for the Mamma Jamma Ride for Breast Cancer Research, which won’t happen until October. This one was a little different from the HCRA rides. It piggybacks onto a regular Austin Cycling Association ride. Usually, the ACA gives you a route map and cue sheet, and once you’re on the road, you’re on your own. But the Mamma Jamma folks supplied ride leaders, too. Pat and I were both part of the 28-mile group, but after a few miles we split into a 15 mph contingent and a slower group that was targeting 12 mph. Pat was bringing up the rear of the 12 mph group, but a sweep stayed with her. Then, her rear hub broke, and she called me to come back to get her. I told the sweep to catch up to everyone else, and that I would take care of Pat.
If you’re gearing up for your first big charity ride, and are concerned about being able to cover the mileage, check to see if they offer any training rides. You’ll learn a lot, you’ll get faster and stronger, and you’ll meet some folks who might become future biking buddies. You can’t go wrong.