Organized rides are a great way for new bikers to get a taste of longer distances, to test themselves against miles and terrain, and to see how they perform compared to other riders. I’ve had a couple of good experiences with organized rides, and I’m looking forward to taking part in more this year.
It’s pretty easy, at least where I am, to find rides. Several web sites list rides coming up in the area and the state. If you’re aware of a bike club in your area, visit their web site and see if they list rides. Local bike shops always have an array of flyers for upcoming rides. If you wanted to, you could register for a ride every weekend from now well into autumn. The problem is, how many to do, and which ones?
A good ride will have enough volunteers to handle the number of cyclists, SAG support (SAG = support and gear. These are the vans that travel along the course, and help cyclists with impromptu repairs. They’ll also give rides back to the start for cyclists who can’t finish the course.), directions and route markings, and rest stops (with facilities). The route should avoid heavily-trafficked highways, construction zones, and railroad crossings.
Most rides set up their own web sites with information about the route(s) and support. It’s easy to get a feel for the ride by visiting the site, and route maps are probably available for downloading. Many ride sites have online registration, making the whole process relatively easy.
Since most rides begin around 8 a.m. in the warmer months, figure in travel time to the start. You want to get there early enough to avoid that feeling of being rushed. But you might also be hitting the road before daylight, if the ride is any distance from you. To really make a weekend of it, you could arrange to travel to the ride site the night before, and spend the night at a motel or campground.
It’s probably also worth considering what you want from the ride. Just a riding experience? To see some new country? To gauge your improvement against the pack? To shoot for a farther distance than you’ve ever ridden before?
I’ve been visiting some ride calendars, and am building a short list of rides I want to try this year.
My wife will be riding the Hill Country Ride for AIDS again next month, and I might go, too. It does require each rider to raise $500 for the cause, and I’ve always been uncomfortable about asking people for money. So that’s still a maybe.
In April, the LBJ 100 Bicycle Tour celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Lyndon B. Johnson. It starts from the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, Texas, and has 45 and 62 mile routes, either of which might work for me. I’ve been to the ranch before, and the countryside around there is quite nice.
On May 10, the Austin Cycling Association puts on the Armadillo Hill Country Classic in Liberty Hill, Texas. It will cover many of the roads I rode in the Rip Roarin’ Ride last fall, and I really enjoyed the countryside. This one is a local must do.
The Tour d’Italia in Italy, Texas in June has a reputation for excellent organization, but has been plagued in recent years by rain. It’s closer to Dallas than to Austin, so I’d probably drive up there the night before if I decide to go ahead with it.
One I’m seriously considering is the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred in Wichita Falls in August. Since completing my metric century in November, I’ve been thinking about going for the full 100 miles. This is supposed to be the place to do it. It’s also a major happening, with about 11,000 (not a typo) riders. If I wimp out, I can always fall back to the metric century route.
My actual organized ride schedule will probably turn out much different than this one, but it’s always fun to plan ahead.