By Sheila Ascroft
If you are a casual cyclist who has thought about trying a charity cycling tour, but feels a little intimidated, this is the year to—go for it! Sign up for some fun, comradery, a good sweat, and help raise funds for a worthy cause.
In my hometown – Ottawa, Ontario – charity rides begin with the CN Cycle for CHEO on May 1st. Then in mid-June comes the Cycle for Sight. The Rona MS Bike Tour takes place in mid-August. Its website offers training tips for the one-day or two-day 150 km Ottawa-Kemptville event. However, I’ve put together even more helpful information below to make sure you have a great ride.
If you’re not quite ride-ready in mid-August, there is Greg’s Ride by the Share the Road Coalition at the end of that month. And these are just local events! Many major cities in both Canada and the U.S. hold bike rides for various charities like Toronto’s Ride for Heart in June or the Ride the Rouge in mid-May.
And don’t even think about hanging up your bike on Labour Day, some of the best rides happen after that when the air is fresh and the bugs are gone. One that I love to do is the Kiwanis Colour Cribbage Ride in Picton on the first Saturday in October.
Preparation equals success
Prepare your bike in advance. Give your bike a serious check-up a week before the event, and know you will a stress-free ride in August. Although, bike mechanics are usually available at the start and along the route for emergency repairs, don’t count on it.
- Pump up those tires. Go up to the maximum pressure listed on the sidewalls, then check later to see if they are still hard. If your tires don’t seem to be holding air and you can’t find the leak to patch it, then new inner tubes are in order. Examine the tire rubber to make sure there are no cuts, splits or sharp objects imbedded (if there are you might want to consider new tires). Remember to pump up to maximum pressure on the morning of your ride.
- Brakes should work well without squealing. Dirty rims or worn brake pads are usually the culprits.
- Gears should shift smoothly on all cogs without any skipping. If they skip, then the derailleur cable has probably stretched and needs adjusting.
- The chain should be clean and lubricated to improve pedalling efficiency…
- Eliminate any weird noises, squeaks, rubs or scary-sounding clunks. Any bike shop can fix these problems for you.
Think bike position now. If you find your neck hurts after an hour ride or that your butt is sore or your hands go numb, it means your bike is not fitted perfectly to you. Don’t wait until start time to get some advice. All bike shops have personnel who can advise you on proper positioning. It may simply require lowering your saddle (if your hips are rocking) or raising your stem (if your neck hurts).
Lighten your load. If you are riding 75 km (45 mile) on the day, a kilogram (2 pounds) off the bike will mean more enjoyment on the road. You won’t need your rack and saddlebags, unless you can’t eat what’s offered enroute or expect miserable weather. (For example, overnight bags are carried by the MS sag wagon.) Leave that child carrier at home, unless, of course, you are bringing the baby! The lightened load will make you feel like a child playing on a bike again.
Take one or two filled water bottles and drink. You can fill up again at the rest stops located every 15-20 km. Remember to fuel yourself before the ride, during the ride and after. On event day, if you sleep-in and miss breakfast, don’t panic. Tuck a banana and a bagel (plus an energy bar) in your pocket and munch away as soon as you can. The tour organizers provide refreshments during and after the ride.
Event day preparation
Warm up before the start. Slow cycling around the start area will help loosen cold muscles, if you didn’t ride over to the event. Some tours provide free massages before you ride. Try it!
Wear a helmet. An approved bike safety helmet is mandatory (for sponsors; liability). If you don’t have one already, get one that fits snugly, has plenty of air vents to keep you cool and wear it. Adjust the straps so that a V forms just under your ear when buckled. Keep it level on your head, not back like a skullcap.
Don’t overdress. You will warm up as you ride so it is best to feel a bit cool at the start. A wind-proof vest is smart protection that can easily be carried.
Position for the start. Although charity tours are not races, some people do ride them fast so do NOT position yourself near the starting line unless accustomed to 25-35 km (15-23 mph) pace. Stake out space further back in the pack. (You can usually tell the speedsters by the skinny-tire, expensive-looking racing bikes with tiny pedals.) If you have a child in a carrier attached to your bike, wait at the back of the pack for safety’s sake. The actual start might be tricky because of the crush of cyclists trying to move at once. Keep one foot on the ground and step your bike forward until you have enough clear room to pedal properly. Don’t be in a rush. A fall here could cause a pileup and injuries.
Think positively. You CAN go farther than you think. Even if you have never done 75 km before, you can always ride one-third further on event day.
Take your time, keep a steady but comfortable pace and conserve your energy at the beginning. The adrenalin rush at the start is normal – hey, it is exciting – but try to curb your enthusiasm. It is NOT a race. If you couldn’t get any friends to ride with you, don’t panic. Eventually the pack will thin out and you will find other cyclists going at your speed. A little chat and you’ll find yourself in your own pack. Once in the company of other cyclists, you will no longer notice the wind. A pack ride is always faster because the rider in front of you blocks the wind. Do take your turn at the front in the wind, but don’t overdo it.
Ride smart. If you are puffing, slow down and wait for the next group of riders to reach you. They may be more your speed. Remember to enjoy the ride. Take time to talk to your new cycling companions. You don’t have to worry too much about traffic, the routes are generally well monitored and some are even closed to vehicles for safety. However, don’t forget to look behind before pulling out to pass others and don’t ride so close that you touch the wheel of the cyclist ahead or you will crash.
Use the rest stops. Portable bathroom huts, water and medical assistance are normally available at rest stops along the route. Take five to ten minutes to catch your breath and have some water and some orange slices. Look around at the whirring wheels, brightly coloured jerseys and bikes. This is fund-raising in action and you are part of it! However, don’t linger too long or your muscles will start to stiffen.
Stretch. After you cross the finish line, enjoy your achievement. Not only did you finish but it was for a worthy cause. Stretch a little to ease any stiffness and get the blood flowing to all body parts again. Get out of sweaty clothes as soon as possible. Stretch. Eat something with complex carbohydrates and a little protein within 30 minutes of finishing – it will help your recovery. Stretch. You get the picture; the more you loosen up now the less you will ache later.
Celebrate. Stay around awhile for the official ceremonies, entertainment and draw prizes and food! You’ve earned it!
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