Skipping the T-Shirt Ride

I’ve been mulling over my riding plans for this year. You might recall that I mentioned in an earlier post that I hoped to do more organized rides than I did in previous years. But I’ve reassessed that idea.

Organized rides are a lot of fun. You get to see other bikers and look over their equipment, size up their riding abilities, and put down lots of miles in the company of people with whom you share at least one interest. You plunk down your $30, or $35, or $40, and in return you get a route that’s been scouted out, sag support during the ride, and rest stops manned by usually helpful volunteers. There’s also a goodie bag that might have a water bottle, an energy bar, a discount coupon or two for biking supplies, and other tchotschkes.

But the other evening, I was enjoying a ride with my friend David, and talk turned to those rides. “Yeah, you pay 35 bucks for a t-shirt,” he said.

David has done his share of those rides over the years, but is no longer interested in them. He noted that in most cases, the rides run over routes that can be ridden for free if the rider is willing to forgo the kind of support the organized rides provide.

Now, I know that most of these rides are sponsored by worthy charities. In fact, that used to be one of my criteria for taking part. But I’ve been rethinking that aspect, too. For the past several years, my wife and I have picked a small number of charities to support — only two to three — and that’s where we send our money. I’d like to think that I’m not entirely selfish.

In my area, the biggest riding group around, the Austin Cycling Association, does informal rides on Saturday and Sunday mornings. You show up, get a map, get some brief instruction from the ride starter, and then you’re pretty much on your own. Even if the rides don’t exactly mirror some of the better-known organized rides, they do cover a lot of the same ground.

Or, you could just sit down with a map and plan out an excursion on your own.

Last night, I started doing just that. Nothing definite yet, although I do have several ideas in mind. I think I’ll start riding places I haven’t been to yet, even if they look like a lot of places I have been to, just so I can break new ground. I had already made up my mind to skip the MS 150 this year (although that’s one I’ll probably do again in the future), and I think I’ll drop my plans to take part in some other rides.

The weird thing about this is, I’m surprised it’s taken me so long to come to this conclusion. I follow lots of biking blogs, and it seems that most of their authors just hop on their bikes and go. But I, on the other hand, have had a pretty well set repertoire of routes, and I need to expand on that.

So, one of these days I’ll put the bike on the car rack and head out to the Pedal Thru the Pines route. I’ve been meaning to do that ride for three years, and haven’t yet. But I’ve got the route map, and I’ll go without the crowds. Ditto the Real Ale Ride in Blanco, Texas. And the Wurst Ride in New Braunfels (which I’ve actually done once, but it’s been awhile, and I’d like to tackle it alone). I’m looking forward to the rest of this year, and all the new places to go and things to see.


  1. johnt says

    Perhaps when I am a more seasoned rider I’ll see things more your way. I really enjoyed all the “t-shirt rides” I participated in my rookie season last year and enjoyed the new folks I met and the post ride beer or 2, lunch and band. I brought home all the stuff in the goodie bag and my boys love looking at all the trinkets etc….This season I have gotten a lot of pleasure out of planning which rides to participate in and like to find the out of town rides where we have friends or relatives we can visit that we normally wouldn’t be able to see. And remember some rides like the Chipotle ride we did last year to Andice was free and we had a great time along with a free burrito, a beer and more than a few laughs sitting in the shade after the ride.

  2. says

    I’ve been at that same point for a while now. We have charity rides around here nearly every couple of weeks during nice weather, and it occurred to me that I was paying a lot of money for snacks at rest stops that I didn’t really need and riding the same routes I ride on my own anyway.

    I’ve not missed the T-shirts!

  3. says

    I’ve been on the bike for a few years now. The first year, the organized rides were a great way to see popular routes. Usually, an organized ride will be designed by knowledgeable riders that choose safe and more fulfilling routes. When I feel adventurous, I choose a new ride / event and I can go there and not worry about anything but riding. Everything is taken care of.

    In an organized event, I always ride the century (except in the mountains). I like knowing that if I have serious issues 50 miles from home, I can get a sag. Also, I feel safer when riding in an event as opposed to riding solo as cars are acutely aware that there are cyclists on the road.

    That being said, I am not inclined either to pay a registration fee for a shorter ride or local routes I ride on a regular basis.

  4. says

    Without the T-Shirts, what would you wear to Church? :)

    I like exploring on my bike, but I’m not confident enought to head out on my own for 100 miles or more. As with most of the other commenters, I think this may be the natural progression of a cyclist. In a few years, I may find myself thinking much as you do. Good luck!

  5. says

    Interesting perspective.

    Here in Belgium, organized rides (or cyclotourist events, as they are called here) cost much much less. You have over ten events every Saturday and Sunday in the entire country, most of them around 5-10 euros (which would be around 8-14 USD). So for that price, you get to discover local routes and ride with lots of people, plus the sag and food stops. The money goes into the organization, and for the smaller events, supports the organizing bike club. T-shirts are extra though, when they have them. I think it is quite a fair deal!

  6. aaronwest says

    That was a thought-provoking post.

    I take part in many organized rides, but that’s mostly because I am part of a bicycling “wellness” club that pays the entrance fee. Even if I did not have this luxury, I would probably still attend several of the larger events. I enjoy the festivity, safety and camaraderie, and found that they make great calendar goals to keep me motivated and in shape. I always meet people and have interesting conversations along the way. At times they can push me further than I would otherwise go, which happened to me yesterday. Mostly I like the opportunity to ride 60-100 miles in relative comfort, not having to worry much about directions, traffic, fueling, etc., while helping a worthy cause and getting a snazzy (err usually not) t-shirt and some hand sanitizer in the process.

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