Charity Training Rides

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.

HCRA cyclists are briefed before a training ride. Ride leaders wear hi-vis green helmet covers.

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.

Starting another HCRA training ride. Rides like these help new cyclists learn to ride in a group.

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.

Ever Thought About Riding for 24 Hours?

A 24-hour bike ride. It’s been done before, but for most of us, it’s way beyond the realm of possibility.

Tommy Foster

But one Bike Noob reader, Tommy Foster of Marietta, Georgia, plans to do just that.  In an effort to raise money for the Livestrong Foundation and to fight cancer, Tommy is going to circle the track at Marietta High School  for 24 hours straight. The ride will be on June 19-20.

In August, Tommy will ride the Livestrong Philly ride, and he’s set an ambitious fundraising goal of $10,000. The 24-hour ride is part of his effort to reach that mark.

I asked Tommy about the planning and organization that goes into riding 24 hours. “There are references to 24 hour rides on-line,” he said. “I know it can be done. From what I can see, someone that can ride several times a week for three hours can accomplish the 24 hours.”

Tommy himself hasn’t been riding all that long. After a fling with biking during college, he knocked off riding for 25 years, and only took it up again 13 months ago. Now at age 47, he’s turning in lots of miles each week.

“Right now my normal week is: Tuesday, 48 miles, Thursday, 48 miles, Saturday, 40 miles (hills and rollers, with intensity). Recovery ride any other day I feel like it for 35-40 miles, easy spin. I have completed three centuries already this year.”

But the 24-hour will be different, because it will be on a quarter-mile high school track. “The high school track is Olympic quality Mondo – very high tech composite material and it took a near act of Congress to get permission to ride on it,” Tommy said.

He’ll take a 5-10 minute break every one and a half hours. “I think everyone expects me to take a break when needed for bio, refueling, fresh riding gear, etc.,” he said. “I will use Hammer gels, balance bars, and G2 Gatorade (low-sugar) for fuel and hydration.”

He thinks the boredom of riding a closed track over and over will be his biggest challenge. “I’ll switch direction after every break,” he said. “That way I will have two very boring 12-hour versions of scenery. When insanity sinks in I might even change lanes for each lap! Riding at night will be different too. The track will be fully lit.”

For equipment, he’ll use the same bike he rides every day. It’s a 2009 Trek Madone 5.2 with 23mm tires inflated to 115 pounds. “Logic would suggest that a hybrid or mountain bike would be better for 24 hours but I have promised to use a bike with no treads and minimal tire to track contact,” Tommy explained. “That means a skinny, smooth tire. Also, I have read that the greatest mistake 24-hour riders make is changing bike or setup. They strongly suggest riding whatever you have been riding and are comfortable with and not changing the setup.”

Tommy is not forgetting that the whole point of the ride is not to call attention to himself, but to the fight against cancer. “Livestrong does not have the visibility and high profile in Georgia as it does in other parts of the country,” he said. “I would like to change that. The more time I spend talking about Livestrong the deeper my conviction to not only continue but intensify my efforts on behalf of all of us that have to fight cancer.”

If you’re interested in supporting Tommy in his 24-hour effort and his fundraising for Livestrong Philly, you can donate here:

The Pad Makes a Difference

A short while ago, we were discussing the pros and cons of different saddles.

But I’d like to offer a different take on the comfort issue.

What about your shorts?

Different shorts have different styles of chamois pads. And in my experience, these pads perform differently on different saddles. Here’s an example.

On my Selle San Marco Ponza saddle, I could wear only my good Pearl Izumi shorts with a “Race 3D” chamois. It’s a large pad, with different thicknesses in different sections. It proved to be the most comfortable for the longest time on that saddle.

I also have a pair of Sugoi shorts with an even larger pad than the PIs.  But surprisingly, that didn’t work as well on the Ponza. I got uncomfortable a lot faster than I did with the PIs. I also have a couple of pairs of older Nashbar shorts with minimal thin padding, and found that they were to be avoided altogether.

The Pearl Izumi pad, left, and the Nashbar pad, right.

Now that I have my new WTB saddle with a squishier feel, I find it reacts differently to different shorts. The Sugois are now terrific. My favorite pair of PIs are still OK, but not as good as they were with the Ponza, and no longer as good as the Sugois. My PI bibs, which I had always considered to be an inferior pad to the shorts, even though it’s the same model pad, are now excellent.

The other morning, I rode in those old, cheap Nashbar shorts.  I’ve avoided these ever since getting the Ponza saddle. But now they’re just fine. I rode about 15 miles in a little less than an hour, and didn’t notice my bottom the entire time.

That’s not to say I’m endorsing cheap shorts with a simple thin pad over the high-priced ones.  There’s still a problem with the shorts.  The material is thin, it bunches, and doesn’t hold everything in place as well as the more expensive shorts. Still, I have to say with my new saddle, the thin pad works.

It’s kind of like getting two new pairs of shorts, since I hadn’t worn them for at least a year. The cheapies can be used for hour-long rides. I had what I call a one-hour saddle — these can be one-hour shorts.